By 1900, 20,000 Blacks owned businesses in the U.S. despite hurdles put in the way.
The National Negro Business League was formed to meet and deliberate at conventions, show each other that they could thrive in the capitalist economy they found themselves if they applied their skills.
Such business owners became anchors of black communities in the north and south including Memphis, Tennessee.
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Historian, Paula Giddings submitted that “blacks were on the way to becoming first-class citizens.”
Thomas Morse was one such man who owned the Peoples Grocery Store in Memphis. It was a co-op “cooperative society” owned by at least 10 African-American citizens in the town. While a town with such enterprising people will be happy for it, Michelle Duster, author of ‘Descendent of Ida B. Wells’ rendered that blacks were rather viewed as a constant threat. In Mr. Morse’s community, another grocery store was being run by a white, William Berret.
In March of 1892, fearful and jealous of the success of the Peoples Grocery, Berret instigated a mob attack on his competition. Men came in the middle of the night and dragged him out. He would be arrested and sent to the jail and then taken about a mile out north, tortured alongside men from the grocery store and shot dead.
Local journalist and close friend, Ida B. Wells will note that the lynching of Morse “exposed me to lynching. It was an excuse to get rid of Negroes acquiring wealth and property and thus keep the race terrorized.”
Lynching was sweeping across the nation such that in 1892 alone, 161 Blacks had been lynched and given the glee with which the press owned by white men published such stories plus the supposed guilt of the Blacks, Ms. Wells decided to investigate.
Wells launched a national investigation that found that lynching was typically motivated by white resentment of Black economic competition.
When she published the report, her life came under threat. A mob destroyed her Memphis Free Speech newspaper office lying in wait to lynch her on her return. Wells had traveled to Philadelphia at the time.
With the threat, she chose not to return to Memphis. In 1893, a year after she fled, she delivered a blistering speech at the Chicago World’s Fair.
Before a packed house, she condemned racism in the mainstream press. Establishing that the men who send other men to actually lynch Blacks were those who owned the telegraph wires, newspapers and other communication with the outside world.
She added these same men write the reports which justify lynching which is accepted by the world without questions.
Then there is the May 31, 1921 destruction of Tulsa’s Black Wall Street by a white mob.
White Tulsans then attacked the Greenwood neighborhood for two days. Smithsonian Magazine reported the mob destroyed 35 blocks and killed almost 300 Black people. White rioters, aided by city government and the National Guard “were deputized and handed weapons” to carry out the massacre.
Greenwood had restaurants, furriers, jewelry stores and hotels earning its Wall Street nickname but the wealth infuriated White residents and business owners, and their anger exploded with the attack under the pretest that a white lady had been raped by a Black.
A look at the lynching acts against Blacks by white mob often are initiated with a claim that a white had been raped, assaulted, beaten or killed but history has recorded many instances where the supposed victims recanted their story decades later. The woman who claimed Emmett Till flirted and held her confessed 60 years later that the poor lad just bought a sweet at her shop.
Tulsa’s black district destruction came from private planes commissioned either by the city or White business owners which bombed Greenwood, making Well’s argument that beyond the rape and assault allegations, the real motivation for lynching is to curtail economic advancement of Blacks. Even now, African-Americans continue to be lynched (kill without legal sanction) with the police leading the pack while the prison industrial complex swallows up many innocent people.