In May 1921, the neighborhood of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma was a thriving Black community of approximately 10,000 residents known as America’s Black Wall Street. But it was destroyed in less than a day by a mob of white rioters who injured and killed hundreds and wiped out homes, businesses, and even a church. Many historians cite resentment of Black prosperity as an instigator of the violence. According to the New York Times, property loss claims would be equal to $27 million in today’s dollars. In addition to the immediate impact, the loss of future family wealth is tragic. Young Black children born today could still be financially benefitting from businesses their ancestors launched a century before, had they not been burned to the ground. This event also exemplifies the whitewashing of history. News about the massacre was erased from official sources for many decades and it has only gained more widespread recognition as the result of television programs like Watchmen and Lovecraft Country and recent news coverage of the 100th anniversary. 

Greenwood is only one community of many to see their economic gains obliterated because of external violence and rampant discrimination. In the post-Civil War United States, African American families were excluded from enlisting in public programs aimed at building the middle class, including higher education financial aid and affordable mortgages and business loans. The Federal Housing Administration refused to provide insurance for mortgages in or near Black neighborhoods until 1968. Organized violence such as Ku Klux Klan terror campaigns decimated the wealth of Black families.  

The long-term effects of these shameful acts continue to this day. In 2019, African American families had a median net worth of just $24,100 as compared to $188,200 for white families.  For Black women, the picture is even more stark with their median wealth being less than 70 percent that of Black men and less than 18 percent that of white men.   

To address these ongoing inequities NOW fights for policies that raise income gaps based on gender and race, ensure fair pay for work and help address student and medical debt that swamp so many BIPOC families. We fight for equitable access to safe, affordable housing, addressing reparations and enshrining the Equal Rights Amendments (ERA) into the Constitution, which could help further pay equity legislation (which has been stalled in Congress for more than 20 years) and provide a more effective tool for litigation on sex-based employment discrimination. It may even spur the adoption of stronger equal pay (substantially similar jobs) laws at federal and state levels.   

Read more about our Economic Justice policy priorities.