Reflections on what could have been.

Author:Serumaga, Kalundi
Position:NATIVE INTELLIGENCE - Insights into the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot and the discrimination against black African businesses in colonial Uganda - Column

There are interesting parallels between the US and colonial-era Africa, where policies and actions were deliberately designed to thwart African entrepreneurship. The ramifications linger to this day.

To clear up any possibility of misunderstanding: I must reassure our readers that I was as surprised as I imagine they must have been, to find that my name had not been included in the December 2018 issue of New African's list of the 100 most influential Africans.

Given my humble and self-effacing manner, I do understand how the editorial department could have committed such an oversight, and bear them no ill-will over it. I fully expect to be just as influential this time next year, so there will be another opportunity to get it right.

Such reflections on the mysteries of frustrated ambition led my mind to an American neighbourhood called Greenwood, in the northern part of the city of Tulsa, in the mid-western state of Oklahoma, US.

Today, Tulsa holds a population of nearly four hundred thousand, and functions like any small American city. One hundred years ago, the story was different. Greenwood alone, with nearly 80,000 residents, was the largest, and the wealthiest of all the neighbourhoods occupied by Americans of African descent.

It was known as a 'Freedmens' town'. These were settlements established by emancipated former slaves. Having started as a small settlement, it was to grow into a thriving black town within a town, and was referred to as 'the Black Wall Street'.

In June 1921, this 'Little Africa' was burned to the ground. During one day of mayhem, over 70% of the town, holding an estimated 108 black-owned businesses, including 41 grocery and meat markets, 30 restaurants, one hospital, several churches, 11 lodges and other establishments, was destroyed.

Using the pretext of defending the honour of a young white lady who was said to claim to have been accosted by a black youth (a serious transgression of the US apartheid racial code then in place), Tulsa's white residents proceeded to invade and then destroy Greenwood and its inhabitants. The spark was a stand-off between some members of the black community, who sought to prevent a white lynch mob from forcibly seizing the accused young man from the police jail. Many black residents tried to defend themselves and their property. This was because the law enforcement officers, all white, either merely looked on or, in some cases, actually joined in the pogrom. Over 6,000 black people...

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