Nicodemus, Kansas; The last of the all-Black Towns left standing west of the Mississippi

A Forced Life of Necessity

why we need to return to that mindset

We just can’t seem to get it together. Time after time, talk of our condition spirals into the many and plenty ills. Sometimes this discussion can go on for a few minutes and sometimes it could be hours. But at some point, someone always asks the question — ”what’s the solution?”

And that’s a stumper. Many people may interject but no solutions will be found. Most of us feel we are too far gone; that the descent that we’ve been on is irreversible. It certainly appears that way.

But the Black man and woman are addicts. Yes, addicts. While some of us are addicted to substances or sugar, that’s not what I mean. What I mean is, the vast majority of us are addicted to a death-style; a culture of dependency that, until we’re forced to admit we practice, we can never grow beyond.

We step out into the world with the expectation that someone will provide us with all our needs. Despite us lauding “boss shit,” romantic views of “the hustle,” and chants of being “self-made,” that really only falls under our ability to consume. And, if anyone is familiar with the addict, they know that that addiction takes over until they are no longer consuming the substance…the substance is consuming them.

We can never answer any of the questions of how we can do better or what do we have to do until we come to grips with our addiction. And like any addict, the solution is simple — separation. If left in the same environment, the addict will find it impossible to break their addiction.

That’s the solution in six simple paragraphs, but as you know, it’s not that simple. The addict enters rehab out of necessity. It’s that or death. It’s that or lose the love and respect of family. It’s that or continuing to live a life devoid of dignity. It’s that or a life of chasing that first high.

And that’s us; chasing the illusion of “a dream,” chasing the chemical rush of that first purchase, chasing a lifestyle that does not suit us. We have to see that we need to be separated and that’s what this paper is about.

Where All Negro Stories Begin

Fort Mose, FLA

Yes, yes — we have an illustrious past of kings and queens, pyramids and gold, innovation and progress, so on and so forth — this is not that paper.

The enslaved African, inherently strong enough to survive the horrific Middle Passage, whippings, 13 hours of labor, the worst diet, no sense of stability, loss of identity, and centuries of terror, was no longer the same person that was first brought to the Americas in 1555.

One could search the annals of time and would be hard pressed to find another situation like the enslaved African made Negro. Of course, Europeans would make an attempt to emulate this same type of socializing throughout the world — stripping children from their parents and community and training them to be “civilized” European clones. This can be found from Canada to Australia — but alas, nothing like the Negro.

The enslaved African was forced to be totally dependent on his or her enslaver. Food, clothing, shelter were all provided by the enslaver, all of which were low-grade, bare minimum, squalid. Forbidden to speak their native language, the enslaved African even depended on the enslaver for the method of communication.

In that way, the enslaved African became property in as much as livestock.

Despite all of that, the spirit of the enslaved African was strong and insurrections were common.

This is just background information. But it was needed to explain the challenge of the African who escaped the clutches of his or her enslavers’ clutch. Breaking free was throwing oneself into the abyss of nothingness in a strange country where they would be hunted like wild game and beaten or killed if caught.

Yet, as early as 1738, Africans who had escaped Carolina (when it was one state) fled to the Spanish-ran Florida and did the unthinkable — they formed a town; Fort Mose. The first free-town for Black people in the Americas. But we’re going to fast-forward a bit to a little after the civil war. Again, that was just to lay a base.

From Under Their Thumb

The trajectory of Black people’s lives after they were supposedly freed, follows the timeline of the growth of America from agriculturally dependent to industrial powerhouse and is also the first glance of Blacks throwing themselves back into the arm’s of their former enslavers.

Because right before the Civil War, and directly after, Black people’s first order of business was starting their own town. Either the land was acquired from their former enslavers or they bought the land outright, Black towns popped up from Maryland all the way to Alaska.

One of the first things that was built was the church, which became the focal point of the community. Where the enslaved African often had to practice his or her religion in private, they were now open to praise the Lord openly and free of restraint.

The second most important institution that was established was the educational system. Again, education was denied to most of the enslaved Africans so the opportunity to learn was extremely important. Even if the facilities and supplies were miles behind their white counterparts, it was around this time that the age-old Black adage was coined — you have to work ten times as hard as the white man if you want to be successful.

The population of towns varied; from as little as 300 to as large as 8,000, and while there were some Black towns in the former slavery states, Mount Bayou, Mississippi being one of note, many Blacks took up Homesteading and headed west. Oklahoma alone had between 20–50 Black towns.

Note: Greenwood, Oklahoma (The famed Black Wall Street — also a misnomer, no stocks and bonds were sold there) was not a separate Black town. It was merely a segregated neighborhood of Tulsa. It was indeed razed in the riot of 1921, but what few people realize — the neighborhood was rebuilt shortly thereafter. Ironically enough, the end of Greenwood came due to Blacks abandoning the area when segregation laws fell.

The proclivity to build Black towns was short-lived, however and many towns disappeared with very little recorded about them aside from their name. Towns like Nicodemus, Kansas, were (and still are) well-branded and well-documented. But towns like Brooksville, Oklahoma (one of 13 still extant all Black towns in Oklahoma) are largely unknown.

“To some it seemed that, now that they were in actual possession of it, freedom was a more serious thing than they had expected to find it.” Booker T. Washington

Mr. Washington’s words were profound on many levels. Black towns were often like trading posts in enemy territory and were subject to the constant attack of whites — whether that be physically or economically. They often paid more for land (than whites) and their crops were bought at a lower price.

As word spread about factory opportunities “up north” and “out west,” many Blacks packed up their bags never to look back.

Into The Fryer

It’s been well-established that Black folk’s dreams were deferred when they moved away from the south seeking a better life in what is known as the Great Migration.

We know about the poor living conditions in the major cities. We know about the predatory mortgage lending companies. We also know that this was the first stages of white flight…imagine an all-white Harlem — because it used to be that.

Please, please, please, please, read “The Warmth of Other Suns”. If you’ve read it before, take a weekend to refresh your memory. No finer book has been written about the challenges faced by Black people who made that great move.

But this (writing) is not about that. This writing is about the institutions that Blacks created despite the segregation, despite the racism, and despite the lack of resources that we were faced with.

It would take a book (soon come), not an article to list the many Black owned businesses throughout America, so we will instead focus on different industries and discuss some of the well-known (and some of the less known) businesses.

Media

It goes without saying that white media was not concerned with the happenings in the Black community. Unless someone was murdered or some sort of riot happened, there was no coverage of anything Black.

Where there is a need, there is a business opportunity waiting to happen. Black newspapers popped up throughout America beginning as early as 1905 (The Chicago Defender) and most major cities boasted their own: Kansas City had The Call (1918), Cleveland, the Call & Post (1928), Atlanta, the Atlanta World (1928), Houston, Houston Defender (1930), Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Sentinel (1933), etc. Most of these papers were weeklies and covered everything from pageants to weddings, and of course, the news; local politics, sports, all of that.

The newspapers made money via advertising local businesses which in turn exposed it’s readers to said businesses.

The most popular and circulated paper of the time was The Pittsburgh Courier. Founded in 1910, the Courier grew from a four page sheet to a nationwide circulation of 200,000 and was in constant competition with the Chicago Defender for readership. (Note: Those numbers would be blown away eventually by The Muhammad Speaks which ballooned to 950,000 by 1974.)

Informing Black people of where to go and what to see (and where to stay away from) was not only a necessity but also a business unto itself, one that Victor H. Green took advantage of by producing The Negro Motorist Green Book.

For 30 years, (1936–1966) The Green Book was a travelers Bible for the few Black people who did own cars and needed to avoid white only businesses and “Sun Down Towns” (towns where Black people had to be out of before the sun set).

The Green Book originated in New York but by 1966 covered most of North America and parts of the Caribbean.

Similar to the Newspapers, The Green Book was a form of advertising for Black Hotels, gas stations, and other forms of entertainment.

Entertainment

Contrary to modern thought, basketball wasn’t always our sport. Hard to believe, I’m sure, considering that the NBA is currently 75% Black. But up until Elgin Baylor burst on the scene in 1958, basketball was boring, slow, plodding.

Which are three adjectives that people now use to describe baseball, which, at the time, was the Nations most popular sport.

You ever wonder why you never hear about who integrated the NFL or the NBA but know that Jackie Robinson integrated baseball…well, that’s why. It was the only sport of consequence and we had our own — the off and on barnstorming Negro Leagues that died a quick death once Major League Baseball sucked away all the talent in and around 1950–1.

A Negro League Baseball game was like second-church; it was an occassion. We got dressed up to go the game and everyone was there.

Of course, sports wasn’t our only form of entertainment. As music became more accessible due to the advent of radio, traveling bands barnstormed like the Baseball leagues, driving from town to town and performing in theaters in what became known as the chitlin circuit.

It’s important to note that clubs like Chicago’s Regal Theater, Philadelphia’s Uptown theater, as well as D.C.’s Howard Theater and Baltimore’s Royal Theater, some of the top destinations, were not owned by Black people — with the latter three being owned by Sam Stiefel, a descendant of Russian immigrants. (We’ll explain this point a little later)

Needless to say, I’m not writing this to wax poetic about a past that I’ve never seen. This, like media, has more to do with economics. And we can’t discuss economics without discussing banking.

Financials

St Luke Penny & Trust chartered by Maggie Walker in 1903

Like most things post-Civil War, the first bank that serviced the formerly enslaved African, the Freedmen’s Savings and Trust Company, was formed by Congress in conjunction with the Freedmen’s Bureau, March 3, 1865, eventually grew to 37 branches in over seventeen states (one of the first multi-state banks), and by 1870, most branches were run by Black people.

Incidentally, Frederick Douglas (yes, that Frederick Douglas) became president of the bank in 1874 to combat mismanagement and a possible collapse of the bank. It was too little to late, the bank crashed and took $3,000,000 dollars of the 61,000 depositors down with it.

Several Black-owned and operated banks followed: True Reformers Bank (1888), Capital Savings Bank (1888), Tuskegee Federal Savings and Loan Association (1894), the Wage Earners Saving Bank (1900), St. Luke’s Penny and Loan (1903), etc. By 1913 there were over 57 Black banks operating throughout the Nation. These banks were the lifeline of the Black community, doling out loans to small businesses, providing mortgages for prospective home owners, and most commonly, receiving the deposits of employees and employers alike.

More than half of those banks closed when the white man’s safes opened up and became a resting place for the Black dollar.

A New Form of Slavery

I n Minister Farrakhan’s annual Saviour’s Day address he pointed out the difference between Seperation and Segregation stating that, “Segregation is imposed on an inferior by a superior” and went on to state that, “seperation is arranged by equals.”

It’s a key point.

It’s seldom said…unless someone is bringing up statistics on health, wealth, or education disparities — we live in a separate and unequal society. Very few of us achieve any true success; the type of success that benefits future generations. The masses are lulled to sleep with the belief that one day they can achieve a life of riches. But never has the path seemed so grim.

Up until 1966, a Black child would grow up seeing the many fields of opportunity that he or she could work out in — he saw Black barbers, truck drivers, warehouse workers, dentists, doctors, lawyers, scientists, teachers, bankers; the list is endless.

Now, as we stated in What Did De La See, the route to what people see as success is incredibly limited: athletics, modeling, stripping, rapping…and maybe a few fields that feed those professions, ie physical therapist, photographer, DJ, producer. Recently, I went in to open a bank account, was helped by a young, Black banker, and upon further conversation, he said what he really wanted to do was rap. Why?

Earlier, we made it a point to out that some of the top theaters in the chitlin circuit were not Black-owned. What proceeded that description was the abandonment of the Negro Leagues for Major League Baseball. Here’s the reason. As early as the 1900s and at the very onset of recorded music, it became apparent that Black people were a great source of entertainment…and that translated into greenbacks.

There has never been an equal playing field in entertainment when Blacks were employed by whites.

I’m sure Thorstein Veblen didn’t have the Black man and woman in mind when he coined the term conspicuous consumption but no verb better describes our actions. Team owners, record labels, etc. never have to worry about any sort of rebellion from athletes or musicians. No. They know that with a few crumbs, the entertainers will spend what little (in comparison to the owners) they make to acquire luxury goods to “publicly display economic power” which is why so many athletes and entertainers end up broke — the addiction to consumption.

So it begs the question….what must be done?

Even King Saw it Was a Farce

I don’t care what the discussion is — if race is involved and anyone makes a comment about Black people doing for self or uniting or anything that doesn’t include white people — someone, could be white, could be Black, but someone will throw Dr. Martin Luther King in your face.

Of course we know by now that the only Dr. King that most people know is the sanitized, everyone love one another, almost Jesus-like figure. We know what will be evoked as his gospel is the only speech that people are even familiar with — I Have a Dream.

I must confess that, uh, that dream that I had that day has in many points turned into a nightmare. Now I’m not one to lose hope; I keep on hoping. I still have faith in the future. But I’ve had to analyze many things over the last few years and I would say over the last few months I’ve gone through a lot of soul-searching and agonizing moments and I’ve come to see that, uh, that we have many more difficult days ahead and some of the old optimism was a little bit superficial.

That quote is from King, four years after the March on Washington. What did he see? In that same Sander Vanocur interview, Dr. King pointed out how the majority of the soldiers being shipped to Vietnam to die were disproportionately Black. Dr. King recognized the glaring amount of poverty that existed in the cities that many Blacks fled to during the Great Migration. Dr. King could see that integration was merely a pivot by the white power structure but by then, we had already lost so much.

As stated in the introduction, we have become a people who are addicted; not only to the goods provided to us by white people, but we also have become addicted to the reality of being second class citizens. We willingly take a back seat to whites and anyone who desires to exercise their RIGHT to vote. We shun the (already poor) education provided us. We rather rent or lease. We feel better off without the responsibilities of ownership. We prefer for someone else to tell our stories, form our narratives, give us an image of who we are. It’s an addiction. A call to boycott purchasing goods from white people for a measly two months was often met with questions like, “well, if we want to purchase (large ticket item), is there a Black person that sells it?” As if there’s a Black man or woman that has a large ticket item company.

The only way we will ever get better is to do like we did after chattel slavery…we have to seperate.

Men and women who had only known living under an enslaver, had been subjected to every form of cruelty imaginable, who grew accustomed to having their families separated…or family members murdered, were able to organize and start towns throughout the U.S. and that was against the backdrop against lynchings, riots, Jim Crow — all of that.

Now, we have a choice. Even with the police murdering us, we still have a choice. And we all need to be onboard. If I’m struggling to get off crack, but all my friends are still smoking, the likelihood of me staying clean is slim to none.

It’s not enough for our athletes and entertainers to throw their hands up in protest. It’s not enough to march. The average NBA team has at least 12 Black players, the average NFL team has 32, (our numbers are almost non-existent in baseball and of course hockey) — between those 44 players, at $550gs a year, collectively, they make $24 million a year. Of course, they make much more than that, but even at that rate, those athletes have the ability to change an entire community. Hell, they could start a car company and employ an entire neighborhood. Tesla Auto’s intial Series A financing was $7.5 million…the car company is now worth billions.

We have Black people that are experts in every field imaginable but their work doesn’t benefit anyone but their employer. And I know the argument, the same that would be given about the entertainer/athlete — well, their life is better so isn’t that a reason to not do anything different? My answer is it’s not.

Integration didn’t just kill the Black neighborhood, it killed our collective sense of belonging. Those who have “made it” are able to separate themselves from their friends, family, whoever, and never feel the pain that their indifference produces; all the while living among people that that very indifference benefits. (Kanye’s “Real Friends” is a PERFECT example of this)

As it stands, we continue to allow ourselves to be pushed out, priced out, eminent domained out of whatever neighborhoods we once lived in. We need to make it a conscious effort to find a place to live, collectively.

Yes, it sounds idealistic…but only because we are not used to taking control of our own destiny. But it’s done everyday. Whether it’s done by the migrant who starts off six in a one bedroom apartment, to three in two (apartments), to a family in the building, to two buildings on the block, etc or if it’s done by the gentrifier who moves into the worst neighborhoods, buys up properties, slaps up a business that his community and those with like minds desire: bagel and/or coffee shops, bike shops, whatever.

“They” aren’t representing us properly, “they” won’t give us business loans, “they” don’t educate us — all statements made by someone who feels that white people suddenly have given up the institution of white supremacy.

But that is all the more reason to do for self. We can make our own media outlets, our own sports leagues, our own neighborhoods, our own banks (we still have 21 by the way), we can do all of this because we’ve done it before…when we knew we had to. The need is still there.

It doesn’t take any more than a determined idea, a plan, the will to succeed, and most importantly, it will take us to admit that as sure as we live in a world backed by white supremacy, that we have in turn accepted Black inferiority.

The first step is admitting that there’s a problem. Let’s do so before we hit rock bottom.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated mauludSADIQ’s story.