Cooperative economics at work!
In Toomsboro, Georgia, a group of 19 Black families banded together to create what has the potential to be the next Black Wall Steet.
Black people are resilient, we’ve had to be to thrive under systems that weren’t built for us. This resiliency has created innovative solutions to impossible problems such as racial injustices, food insecurity, and a lack of secure and safe communities.
Ashley Scott, a realtor living in Stonecrest, Georgia, was reaching her breaking point after watching the murder of Ahmaud Arbery in her home state. In a Blavity op-ed, she wrote that she was distraught, and for the first time in her life, she felt disempowered, which caused her to seek help.
“I sought counseling from a Black therapist, and it helped. It helped me to realize that what we as Black people are suffering from is racial trauma. We are dealing with systemic racism. We are dealing with deep-rooted issues that will require more than protesting in the streets,” Scott wrote. “It will take for us as a people, as Atlanta rapper and activist Killer Mike so eloquently put, “To plot, plan, strategize, organize and mobilize.” So that’s what I and my good friend Renee Walters, an entrepreneur and investor, did.”
Scott and her good friend Renee Walters spearheaded The Freedom Georgia Initiative, which recently purchased 96.71 acres of land in Toomsboro, Georgia, to establish a self-sustaining Black community. After attending local zoning and city council meetings, Scott said she realized creating a new city would create change and build “real Black power.”
“We figured we could try to fix a broken system, or we could start fresh. Start a city that could be a shining example of being the change you want to see. We wanted to be more involved in creating the lives we really want for our Black families,” she continued. “And maybe, just maybe, create some generational wealth for ourselves by investing in the land. Investing in creating a community that is built around our core values and beliefs.”
The purchase of these sprawling acres comes at a time when Black land ownership has shrunk drastically. However, recently Black families have been purchasing large acres of land to combat this loss and create a legacy for themselves.
After the Civil War, newly freed Africans never received the 40 acres and mule they were promised, which led to them working to buy their own land. At the end of the 20th century, former slaves and their families owned more than 14 million acres of land, there were more Black farmers per capita than white ones. However, 90 percent of that land was lost by the turn of the 21st century due to the Great Migration and racist, yet legal, dispossession of land from Black owners.
One such legal loophole that plagues Black farmers is heirs’ property, an unstable form of ownership where land is inherited through generations without a will with ownership being divided among all living descendants. A ProPublica report stated The U.S. Department of Agriculture has recognized it as “the leading cause of Black involuntary land loss.” Heirs’ property is estimated to make up more than a third of Southern black-owned land — 3.5 million acres, worth more than $28 billion. These landowners are vulnerable to laws and loopholes that allow speculators and developers to acquire their property. Black families watch as their land is auctioned on courthouse steps or forced into a sale against their will.
Scott and the rest of the 19 families are reclaiming the generational wealth that has been denied Black people for generations now that they own Toomsboro and plan to equip it with Black farmers, BIPOC and women vendors, suppliers, and contractors. Their goal is to have a community where all Black people feel safe without fear of being murdered for who they are.
“Amass land, develop affordable housing for yourself, build your own food systems, build manufacturing and supply chains, build your own home school communities, build your own banks and credit unions, build your own cities, build your own police departments, tax yourselves and vote in a mayor and a city council you can trust,” Scott wrote. “Build it from scratch! Then go get all the money the United States of America has available for government entities and get them bonds. This is how we build our new Black Wall Streets. We can do this. We can have Wakanda! We just have to build it for ourselves!”
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This kind of cooperative land ownership isn’t a new concept. Jamaican social theorist, Sylvia Wynter, described ways enslaved Africans survived off communal grounds or “the plot” given to them by some slave masters. They’d established social orders on these granted lands and preserved traditional African customs and food staples such as yams. It was a way to create connections, enable survival and resist.
Post-Slavery in 1907, W.E.B. DuBois believed that there was a need for “Economic Co-Operation Among Negro Americans,” to combat the impact of segregation and, then, Freedom Farms organized by civil rights activist, Fannie Lou Hamer in 1969.
Throughout our history, we’ve used resistance and resiliency to work together to create communities where we could self determine. Norman L. Crockett, the author of “The Black Towns,” wrote in his book that the Black-town idea reached it’s peach fifty years after the Civil war.
“The dearth of extant records prohibits an exact enumeration of them, but at least sixty black communities were settled between 1865 and 1915,” Crockett wrote. “With more than twenty, Oklahoma led all other states. Unfortunately, little is known about many of the black towns.”
Here are some of the all-Black towns that were created for us, by us, throughout America.
Location: Kansas Plains
Year Founded: 1877
Founders: W.H. Smith, Ben Carr, W.R. Hill, (the one White member), S.P. Roundtree, Jerry Allsap, William Edmunds, and Jeff Lenze
Founded by newly freed slaves in 1877, Nicodemus was a refuge from the Reconstruction-era South, a reflection of a mass black migration from the South to the Midwest after the Civil War. Nicodemus was the first black community west of the Mississippi River and is the only predominantly black settlement west of the Mississippi that remains a living community.
Name: Mound Bayou
Year Founded: 1887
Founders: Isaiah Montgomery
According to Blackpast, the town was designed to have little to no contact with whites. It had a post office, church, banks, schools, and stores. Booker T. Washington called it a model of self-sufficiency.
Years Founded: 1887
Founders: Joseph C. Clark, Lewis Lawrence
First named Maitland, Eatonville was the first all-Black city incorporated in Florida, according to Blackpast. Purchased from Josiah Eaton, one of the few white landowners who would sell to Black people, the town was named in his honor. Columbus H. Boger was the town’s first mayor of the government made up entirely of Black people. One of the most famous residents was writer Zora Neal Hurston, it was featured in her famous novel, “Their Eyes Were Watching God” and an essay published in 1928, “How It Feels To Be Colored Me.”
She came back home to study Black folklore to incorporate into her works.
“First place I aimed to stop to collect material was Eatonville, Florida,” Hurston wrote in the introduction of Of Mules and Men. “And now, I’m going to tell you why I decided to go to my native village first. I didn’t go back there so that the home folks could make admiration over me because I had been up North to college and come back with a diploma and a Chevrolet. I knew they were not going to pay either one of these items too much mind. I was just Lucy Hurston’s daughter, Zora.”
“I hurried back to Eatonville because I knew that the town was full of material and that I could get it without hurt, harm or danger. As early as I could remember, it was the habit of the men folks particularly to gather on the store porch of evenings and swap stories.”
Location: Tulsa, Oklahoma
Year Founded: 1906
Founders: O.W. Gurley
Gurley was a wealthy Black man who owned land in Arkansas, but moved to Oklahoma in 1889 during the “Oklahoma Land Rush.” He purchased 40 acres on the outskirts north of Tulsa, which had been incorporated eight years earlier, according to Blackpast. As the oil boom grew, so did the town of Tulsa, which annexed Greenwood in 1910.
Booker T Washington dubbed it “Black Wall Street” due to the flourishing population of working and middle-class citizens. City directories say by 1920 there were twenty-two churches, a music hall where Count Basie heard big-band jazz for the first time, along with 108 other Black-owned businesses. According to CNBC, every dollar spent in the Greenwood District circulated at least 36 times.
On May 31, 1921, an armed white mob attacked the city, killing more than 300 people. They were infuriated that a Black man, Dick Rowland, had come into contact with a white woman, Sarah Page, in an elevator. Over the course of the day, they laid waste to the town shooting, firebombing, and pillaging the town, until the National Guard showed up. However, some reports claim the National Guard and Tulsa Police joined the mob and arrested Black residents instead of their attackers.
By 1922, the town had been rebuilt without government assistance, which denied them aid. However, with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ending segregation, less money was spent in Greenwood, and the city began to decline.
The road to creating a self-sufficient community may be long, but Scott and the other 19 families are well on their way to realizing our ancestors’ dreams deferred.
You can support The Freedom Georgia Initiative here.
Good Luck to you all!
Photo Credit: Blackpast/New York Times