[Marxism] A vast wealth gap, driven by segregation, redlining, evictions and exclusion, separates black and white America.
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Dec 23 19:13:46 MST 2019
(Just ask yourself why WSWS, et al would want to discredit a project
that includes an article such as this.)
NY Times Project 1619, AUG. 14, 2019
A vast wealth gap, driven by segregation, redlining, evictions and
exclusion, separates black and white America.
By Trymaine Lee
Elmore Bolling, whose brothers called him Buddy, was a kind of one-man
economy in Lowndesboro, Ala. He leased a plantation, where he had a
general store with a gas station out front and a catering business; he
grew cotton, corn and sugar cane. He also owned a small fleet of trucks
that ran livestock and made deliveries between Lowndesboro and
Montgomery. At his peak, Bolling employed as many as 40 people, all of
them black like him.
One December day in 1947, a group of white men showed up along a stretch
of Highway 80 just yards from Bolling’s home and store, where he lived
with his wife, Bertha Mae, and their seven young children. The men
confronted him on a section of road he had helped lay and shot him seven
times — six times with a pistol and once with a shotgun blast to the
back. His family rushed from the store to find him lying dead in a ditch.
The shooters didn’t even cover their faces; they didn’t need to.
Everyone knew who had done it and why. “He was too successful to be a
Negro,” someone who knew Bolling told a newspaper at the time. When
Bolling was killed, his family estimates he had as much as $40,000 in
the bank and more than $5,000 in assets, about $500,000 in today’s
dollars. But within months of his murder nearly all of it would be gone.
White creditors and people posing as creditors took the money the family
got from the sale of their trucks and cattle. They even staked claims on
what was left of the family’s savings. The jobs that he provided were
gone, too. Almost overnight the Bollings went from prosperity to
poverty. Bertha Mae found work at a dry cleaner. The older children
dropped out of school to help support the family. Within two years, the
Bollings fled Lowndes County, fearing for their lives.
The 1619 Project is an ongoing initiative from The New York Times
Magazine that began in August 2019, the 400th anniversary of the
beginning of American slavery. It aims to reframe the country’s history
by placing the consequences of slavery and the contributions of black
Americans at the very center of our national narrative. Read all the
The period that followed the Civil War was one of economic terror and
wealth-stripping that has left black people at lasting economic
disadvantage. White Americans have seven times the wealth of black
Americans on average. Though black people make up nearly 13 percent of
the United States population, they hold less than 3 percent of the
nation’s total wealth. The median family wealth for white people is
$171,000, compared with just $17,600 for black people. It is worse on
the margins. According to the Economic Policy Institute, 19 percent of
black households have zero or negative net worth. Just 9 percent of
white families are that poor.
Today’s racial wealth gap is perhaps the most glaring legacy of American
slavery and the violent economic dispossession that followed. The fate
suffered by Elmore Bolling and his family was not unique to them, or to
Jim Crow Alabama. It was part of a much broader social and political
campaign. When legal slavery ended in 1865, there was great hope for
formerly enslaved people. Between 1865 and 1870, the Reconstruction
Amendments established birthright citizenship — making all black people
citizens and granting them equal protection under the law — and gave
black men the right to vote. There was also the promise of compensation.
In January 1865, Gen. William Sherman issued an order reallocating
hundreds of thousands of acres of white-owned land along the coasts of
Florida, Georgia and South Carolina for settlement by black families in
40-acre plots. Congress established the Freedmen’s Bureau to oversee the
transition from slavery to freedom, and the Freedman’s Savings Bank was
formed to help four million formerly enslaved people gain financial freedom.
When Lincoln was assassinated, Vice President Andrew Johnson effectively
rescinded Sherman’s order by pardoning white plantation owners and
returning to them the land on which 40,000 or so black families had
settled. “This is a country for white men, and by God, as long as I am
President, it shall be a government for white men,” Johnson declared in
1866. The Freedmen’s Bureau, always meant to be temporary, was
dismantled in 1872. More than 60,000 black people deposited more than $1
million into the Freedman’s Savings Bank, but its all-white trustees
began issuing speculative loans to white investors and corporations, and
when it failed in 1874, many black depositors lost much of their savings.
“The origins of the racial wealth gap start with the failure to provide
the formerly enslaved with the land grants of 40 acres,” says William A.
Darity Jr., a professor of public policy and African-American studies at
Duke University. Any financial progress that black people made was
regarded as an affront to white supremacy. After a decade of black gains
under Reconstruction, a much longer period of racial violence would wipe
nearly all of it away.
To assuage Southern white people, the federal government pulled out the
Union troops who were stationed in the South to keep order. During this
period of so-called Redemption, lawmakers throughout the South enacted
Black Codes and Jim Crow laws that stripped black people of many of
their freedoms and property. Other white people, often aided by law
enforcement, waged a campaign of violence against black people that
would rob them of an incalculable amount of wealth.
Armed white people stormed prosperous majority-black Wilmington, N.C.,
in 1898 to murder dozens of black people, force 2,000 others off their
property and overthrow the city government. In the Red Summer of 1919,
at least 240 black people were murdered across the country. And in 1921,
in one of the bloodiest racial attacks in United States history,
Greenwood, a prosperous black neighborhood in Tulsa, Okla., was burned
and looted. It is estimated that as many as 300 black people were
murdered and 10,000 were rendered homeless. Thirty-five square blocks
were destroyed. No one was ever convicted in any of these acts of racist
“You have limited opportunity to accumulate wealth, and then you have a
process where that wealth is destroyed or taken away,” Darity says. “And
all of that is prior to the effects of restrictive covenants —
redlining, the discriminatory application of the G.I. Bill and other
The post-Reconstruction plundering of black wealth was not just a
product of spontaneous violence, but etched in law and public policy.
Through the first half of the 20th century, the federal government
actively excluded black people from government wealth-building programs.
In the 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal helped build a
solid middle class through sweeping social programs, including Social
Security and the minimum wage. But a majority of black people at the
time were agricultural laborers or domestic workers, occupations that
were ineligible for these benefits. The establishment of the Home Owners
Loan Corporation in 1933 helped save the collapsing housing market, but
it largely excluded black neighborhoods from government-insured loans.
Those neighborhoods were deemed “hazardous” and colored in with red on
maps, a practice that came to be known as “redlining.”
The G.I. Bill is often hailed as one of Roosevelt’s most enduring
legacies. It helped usher millions of working-class veterans through
college and into new homes and the middle class. But it discriminatorily
benefited white people. While the bill didn’t explicitly exclude black
veterans, the way it was administered often did. The bill gave veterans
access to mortgages with no down payments, but the Veterans
Administration adopted the same racially restrictive policies as the
Federal Housing Administration, which guaranteed bank loans only to
developers who wouldn’t sell to black people. “The major way in which
people have an opportunity to accumulate wealth is contingent on the
wealth positions of their parents and their grandparents,” Darity says.
“To the extent that blacks have the capacity to accumulate wealth, we
have not had the ability to transfer the same kinds of resources across
Seventy years later, the effects of Bolling’s murder are still felt by
his children and their children. “There was no inheritance, nothing for
my father to pass down, because it was all taken away,” says Josephine
Bolling McCall, the only one of Bolling’s children to get a college
degree. Of the seven siblings, those with more education fared best; the
men struggled most, primarily working as low-paid laborers. Of Elmore
and Bertha Mae’s 25 grandchildren, only six graduated from college; of
those, two are McCall’s children. The rest are unemployed or
underemployed. They have never known anything like the prosperity of
Trymaine Lee is a Pulitzer Prize- and Emmy Award-winning journalist and
a correspondent for MSNBC. He covers social-justice issues and the role
of race in politics and law enforcement.
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