This post was last updated September, 2016.
I love entrepreneurship. I talk about it. I live it. I stand behind it. I encourage all people, especially black people to go on and do it. If you’ve ever had a desire to own your own business, I say to go for it. Don’t wait until the time is right. The time will never be right. Here are some black-owned communities that prospered to get your blood pumping:
Free Blacks of Israel Hill
This community is actually the inspiration for my novel in progress. In Renaissance: The Nora White Story, Nora is descendent of the free blacks of Israel Hill. It is how her father Gideon inherited five acres of land and why, although Nora’s not very impressed, they’re doing well financially compared to those around them. Anywho, it was during my trip to New Mexico last year while reading Melvin Patrick Ely’s book Israel on The Appomattox, winner of THE BANCROFT PRIZE, A New York Times Book Review, and Atlantic Monthly Editors’ Choice, that the first inklings of a story idea emerged.
Settled in Prince Edward County Virginia in 1810-1811 by ninety formerly enslaved persons who received freedom and 350 acres from Judith Randolph under the will of her husband, Richard Randolph, these Israelites and other free African Americans worked as farmers, craftspeople, and Appomattox River boatmen; some labored alongside whites for equal wages and the family of early settler Hercules White bought and sold real estate in Farmville. Israel Hill remained a vigorous black community into the twentieth century.
Rosewood, Florida is not mentioned very often except for the massacre that took place but it was before then a thriving community. The quite town prospered in 1870 when a railway depot was set up to transport the abundant red cedar, from which the town got its name, from Rosewood to a pencil factory in cedar key. By 1900 it was predominantly African American with a school, turpentine mill, baseball team, general store, and sugarcane mill. The community had two dozen plank two-story homes, some other small houses, as well as several small unoccupied plank structures.
There was much revelation during my New Mexico trip. It was also during that time I learned of Blackdom, another little known African American community about 18 miles southwest of Roswell New Mexico and was founded by Frank and Ella Boyer. Walking 2,000 miles on foot from Georgia to New Mexico, Boyer left his wife and children behind to cultivate land in the free territory of the West before sending for his family some three years later. At this time in history, Blacks had begun migrating from the south in great numbers in a movement called “The Great Exodus” following the Homestead Act of 1862, particularly in Kansas. Henry was a wagoner in the American-Mexican war when he first set eyes on the New Mexico land. The Artesian Water sprang in abundance as more and more blacks were invited and nourished on the land. Blackdom had its own school and post office.
Mound Bayou, MS
The first all-black town in Mississippi, Mound Bayou was founded by two former slaves, Isaiah Montgomery, and his cousin, Benjamin Green. In December of 1886, according to a Cleveland Mississippi article of July 1887, Montgomery and Green bought 840 acres of land from the Louisville-New Orleans & Texas Railroad for $7 an acre. That acreage would serve as the site of Mound Bayou.
The men were successful, their town reaching a population of 4,000 people (99.6 percent black) by 1907. It had a train depot, a bank, a post office, numerous successful industries, a variety of stores and eateries, a newspaper, a telephone exchange and, eventually, a hospital. Mound Bayou was a thriving community.
Nicodemus Township in Graham County, Kansas
This town was founded in 1877 by a corporation of seven members, six of whom were Black along the south fork of the Solomon River. Benjamin “Pap” Singleton, a former slave and Underground Railroad conductor helped to produce what was called the “Kansas Fever” of the late 1870s. Tens of thousands of African Americans left their homes headed for Singleton’s Cherokee County colony or Nicodemus, in Graham County, Kansas.
Promoted as the “Promised Land” throughout the south, founders hosted visits by potential settlers. By 1879 the town’s population stood at about 700.
The All-Black Community of Boley, Oklahoma
The all-black community of Boley OK was founded in 1904. With Railroad access and land, that helped, Boley became one of at least 20 Black towns in Oklahoma, to thrive. By 1907, it had at least 1,000 residents, and twice that many farmers settled outside of town. There were several businesses and an industrial school.
Speaking of Oklahoma, I’m sure many of us are already familiar with Greenwood, a neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma that was one of the most successful and wealthiest black communities in the United States during the early 20th Century, popularly known as America’s “Black Wall Street” due to its financial success that mirrored Wall Street. During the oil boom of the 1910s, which gained the town such titles as “Oil Capital of the World”, the area of northeast Oklahoma around Tulsa flourished, including the Greenwood neighborhood. Home to several prominent Black businessmen, the neighborhood held many multimillionaires. Greenwood had grocery stores, clothing stores, barbershops, banks, hotels, cafes, movie theaters, two newspapers, and many contemporary homes. The dollar circulated 36 to 100 times, sometimes taking a year for currency to leave the community.