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During the 19th and early 20th century, says Wallace, “physicians owned medical schools. There were also pawn shops everywhere, brothels, jewelry stores, churches, restaurants and two movie theaters. It was a time when the entire state of Oklahoma has only two airports, yet six Blacks owned their own planes. It was a very fascinating community.”
“Just to show you how wealthy a lot of Black people were, there was a banker in the neighboring town who had a wife named California Taylor. Her father owned the largest cotton gin west of the Mississippi River. When California shopped, she would take a cruise to Paris to have her clothes made.” He adds.
As Wallace argues,”In 1910, our forefathers and mothers owned 13 million acres of land at the height of racism in this country...we had our act together.”
Black enterprise developed in segregated America because blacks were excluded from white shops and the two races were kept deliberately apart. Unlike today, white own business did not go out of their way to target black customers, even if they could. The black dollar was spent with black business. Today, in contrast it’s estimated, via the U.S Census, that 95% per cent of the black community’s wealth is spent with white owned business.
Today the few traditional large black owned businesses like haircare products are in the hands of white owned corporations. In the era of segregation a black owned business was likely to cater to every aspect of a black person’s needs. From newspapers to restaurants, to beauty salons, to undertakers, every kind of minority owned business existed in every town and city in America.
Greensboro’s East Market Street, Savannah’s West Broad Street, and Jacksonville’s Ashley Street are Florida examples of thriving black business districts that once anchored black communities across the segregated South.
Today, few traces of these bustling hubs of African American economic, political, and social activity remain. During the 1960s thousands of black-owned banks, restaurants, insurance companies, funeral homes, barbershops, theatres, and other businesses disappeared, victims of urban renewal and shifts in consumer activity encouraged by the dismantling of segregation.