Black History Fun Fact Friday: 8 Black Communities That Prospered

Originally Published: 9/28/2016

Updated: 1/22/2021


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 it is within their means to do so. If you’ve ever had a desire to own your own business, I say to go for it.

Here are some black-owned communities that prospered to get your blood pumping.

Free Blacks of Israel Hill

This community was the inspiration for the backstory of Renaissance: The Nora White StoryNora is a 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. It was during my trip to New Mexico in 2016 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 the back story emerged.

The community was settled in Prince Edward County, Virginia, in 1810-1811 by ninety formerly enslaved persons. These slaves (now freedmen) received freedom and 350 acres from Judith Randolph under the will of her husband, Richard Randolph. These Israelites and other free Blacks 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 vibrant black community into the twentieth century.

Rosewood

The Rosewood community came back into people’s consciousness when John Singleton made a movie for it starring Ving Rhames in 1997. The quiet 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 Black 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, and several small unoccupied plank structures.

Blackdom

There was much revelation during my New Mexico trip. During that time, I learned of Blackdom, another little-known Black 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 West’s free territory before sending his family some three years later. At this time in history, Blacks had begun migrating from the south in significant 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, reaching a population of 4,000 people (99.6 percent black) by 1907. The community had a train depot, a bank, a post office, numerous thriving industries, various stores and eateries, a newspaper, a telephone exchange, and, eventually, a hospital. Mound Bayou was a flourishing community.

Nicodemus Township in Graham County, Kansas

This town was founded in 1877 by 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 produce 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.

Fort, Mose, Florida

Located just north of St. Augustine, Fort Mose was the first free black settlement in what is now the United States. King Charles II of Spain issued what would become one of the first proclamations that any male slave on an English Plantation who escaped to Spanish Florida would be granted freedom if he joined the Militia and converted to catholicism. We see this a lot throughout history. Whether we are talking Catholicism, Islam, or Christianity, none of these religions had anything to do with the black man, woman, and child’s natural Israelite way of life (Muhammad converted blacks to Islam a thousand years before the Europeans came with Christianity.)

In any event, by 1738, there were hundreds of blacks, mostly runaways from the Carolinas, living in what became Fort Mose. They were skilled workers, blacksmiths, carpenters, cattlemen, boatmen, and farmers. They created a colony of freed people with accompanying women and children that ultimately attracted other fugitive slaves.

Black Wall-Street

There were over twenty black communities in Oklahoma.

Greenwood, a neighborhood in North Tulsa, Oklahoma, was one of the most successful and wealthiest black communities in the United States during the early 20th Century. It was 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 business people, the community held many multimillionaires.

Greenwood had grocery stores, clothing stores, barbershops, banks, hotels, cafes, movie theaters, two newspapers, and many contemporary homes. The dollar circulated thirty-six to one-hundred times, which means that sometimes it took up to a year before the dollar left the community. To put this in perspective: today, the black dollar leave the black community in fifteen minutes.


Check out more Black History Fun Fact Friday Articles Here

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Greenwood Dist. is passionate about “proving that a black-owned business can celebrate black excellence while still making the market’s dopest clothing.” Greenwood believes that “fashion, culture, media, and art can and SHOULD help advocate and ensure that people’s voices are heard. Black culture is the biggest determinant of what’s “cool” and popular. Our culture determines everything from the way society talks to the brands that are popular.”

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Truth is Stranger than Fiction

When I started this blog and chose “truth is stranger than fiction,” as the tagline, it was puzzling to people. Someone even reached out to correct, me, saying, “don’t you mean the truth is stronger than fiction?”

No. Stranger is the word I meant.

What it seeks to communicate is that nothing we can create can be as unusual as what we find in actual life, and speaks metaphorically of the unsettling realness of truth—the “strangeness” of reality. You think something is weird until you find out just how deep the rabbit hole goes. You think my blog name and the tagline is strange until you understand what it means.

Everything that is happening right now, I could quickly put in a novel. Except, there is no story I can conjure up that would be equivalent to the real-life terror that blacks face and have faced every day in this country.

As someone who writes Black Historical Fiction, there is a strangeness about what’s going on because what happened in the 60s is still happening. And as I place my fictional characters amid events that actually happened, I realize that I am a character in the present world, a world that mirrors the one passed. Our children and their children will read about what happened this year, and they will ask the question, “what was it like living in a world with civil unrest because of the mistreatment of blacks during a pandemic?”

The first five months of 2020 have been brutal on every level, and we are living in what will one day be part of America’s history, and it must not be lost to us that we are part of that history.

If America were a house, racism would be the foundation on which this house sits. People don’t want to hear that many of the founding fathers were slave-owners. They don’t want to hear about the Slave Patrols turned southern police departments. People don’t want to hear that dismantling systemic racism means to dismantle that system. And people certainly do not want to hear about the spiritual connections between the afflictions blacks have endured, their real identity and heritage, and their place in America.

But there is no one way of looking at everything that’s going on, but this is also what makes writing a powerful tool for shedding light on these truths, exposing prejudices, and breaking down barriers, and eventually whole systems.

Everyone can’t be on the ground. I won’t say “on the front lines,” because I don’t believe there is one way to be on the front lines. The term comes from the military line or part of an army that is closest to the enemy. To be on the “front line” means to be closeted to the enemy, which is usually depicted as physically facing him. But there are other ways to face the enemy, and one way is to write with accuracy.

Write the truth. Write it as raw and as bloody as it is in real life. Pass down stories to the next generation that will teach them the truth about who they are. Take Toni Morrison, for example, who in the 60s and 70s chose to publish the books of black writers telling the truth and exposing lies. Books play a significant role in educating a people, and miseducation has a lot to do with what is and is not, written in books.

Writers are, therefore, also on the front lines and in a powerful way. In the words of Nina Simone, “you can’t help it. As far as I’m concerned, an artist’s duty is to reflect the times.” 

As devastating as things are right now, what black writers write today, be it a poem or blog post or scholarly article, can make a difference in the next world.

In this 99th year of the destruction of Black Wall Street, I am thinking about ways to improve my fiction, poetry, and other writings to provide a better historical context and learning experience for the next generation.

I hope I can adequately contextualize it in a way that clearly communicates what today’s world was like for those who lived it.


Be Sure to Pick Up Your Copy of my Black Historical Fiction Series, The Stella Trilogy and to leave a review on Amazon. Click Here.

Black History Fun Fact Friday – Black Wall Street and the Power of Community

On June 1, 1921, in Tulsa Oklahoma, occurred just one of the worst catastrophes to ever grace the communities of Black people (Red Summer of 1919 was another one). It was when the systematic destruction of years of building had made manifest in less than 24 hours. Also known as “Little Africa”, the black business district of north Tulsa lay fuming—a model community destroyed, mansions melted down to the ground, hope stretching its mournful arms forward in a desperate attempt to hold on to its dear Greenwood.

It began the same way it always has, with a black man accused of accosting a white woman. On May 31, 1921, “the Tulsa Tribune reported that a black man, Dick Rowland, attempted to rape a white woman, Sarah Page. Whites in the area refused to wait for the investigative process to play out, sparking two days of unprecedented racial violence. Thirty-five city blocks went up in flames, 300 people died, and 800 were injured.” (Fain, Kimberly, 2017)

This was the beginning of what culminated in the destruction of the Greenwood community.

Greenwood is a neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It 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 business people, the community held many multimillionaires.

Greenwood boasted a variety of thriving businesses that were very successful up until the Tulsa Race Massacre. Not only did blacks want to contribute to the success of their own shops, but also the racial segregation laws prevented us from shopping anywhere other than Greenwood, forcing us to be in support of our own people and thus contribute to the success of our own people.

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Greenwood became the mecca of opportunity to build up what they had been shut out of because Blacks could not shop anywhere else. Instead of complaining that they were not included in the all-white Newspaper, they created their own (two). Blacks were discouraged from using the new Carnegie Library downtown, for example, for whites, so they built their own smaller all Black branch libraries. Not stressing over being left out of restaurants, grocery stores, and public schools, they made their own on the backs of a drive toward honest entrepreneurship.

Clothes bought at Elliot & Hooker’s clothing at 124 N. Greenwood could be fitted across the street at H.L. Byars tailor shop at 105 N Greenwood, and then cleaned around the corner at Hope Watson’s cleaners at 322 E. Archer. The dollar in this community rotated 36-100 times, taking as long as a year before it left the town (today the dollar leaves the black community in less than 15mins).

These were not people who started wealthy; they were neither businessmen nor businesswomen, but being locked out the whole of society (stripped from employment in the oil industry and from most of Tulsa’s manufacturing facilities), these men and women toiled at troublesome, often dirty, jobs. They worked long hours under trying conditions, but it was their paychecks that built Greenwood and their hard work that helped to build Tulsa. Following the massacre, the area was rebuilt and continued to thrive until the 1960s until integration allowed blacks to shop in areas that were restricted before.

“By the 1940s, the Greenwood District was rebuilt, but due to integration during the Civil Rights era, never regained as much prominence.” – Kimberly Fain, 2017

This community is one of many examples of the power of support, not just for black businesses, but for entrepreneurship in general. While liking social media posts is beautiful, it is financial support, dedication, and consistency that ultimately helps small businesses to grow into larger companies, to support and hire its own, to thrive, and to empower an entire community.