Commentary

Philly’s Africatown could be resurrection of Tulsa’s ‘Black Wall Street’ | Michael Coard

I’ll expect to see you there every day, supporting SW Philly’s renaissance

December 13, 2022 6:30 am
Africatown logo, left, Voffee Jabateh, CEO of African Cultural Alliance of North America/ACANA, right (ACANA/Philadelphia Tribune).

Africatown logo, left, Voffee Jabateh, CEO of African Cultural Alliance of North America/ACANA, right (ACANA/Philadelphia Tribune).

This is volume 20 of my monthly column entitled Black Dollars Matter. As I point out each month, this column is generally designed to compel Philadelphia’s white businesses/entities and white employers to treat Black consumers and Black applicants/employees/firms with respect.

But, more important, it is also designed to convince Black people in Philadelphia to “do for self” economically because money talks and B.S. walks.

At the outset, I must proudly declare that this volume is by far my favorite among the 20 because this one highlights not only Black economic independence but also Black cultural independence. And it’s all about Philadelphia’s Africatown.

Philly’s Africatown was established as a result of the great economic and cultural vision of Jannie Blackwell, a former member of City Council and the current chairperson of the Mayor’s Commission on African and Caribbean Immigrant Affairs; Stanley Straughter, the chairperson of the African and Caribbean Business Council of Greater Philadelphia, and Voffee Jabateh, the CEO of the African Cultural Alliance of North America (ACANA).

For me, Philly’s Africatown is so necessary, so important, and so powerful because it is the resurrection of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s, “Black Wall Street.”

But before I discuss “Black Wall Street” as an introduction into Philly’s Africatown, allow me to briefly discuss America’s original Africatown, which was created in Mobile, Ala., way back in 1866, just one year after passage of the 13th Amendment.

Philly’s Africatown project to get $9M in state aid

On July 7, 1860, which was more than a half century after the importation of enslaved Africans into America had been banned in 1808, the “slave” ship Clotilde illegally docked in Mobile with 110 kidnapped Black men, women and children from Benin near the west coast of the Motherland. Among those 110 were a Back woman named Redoshi and a Black man named Oluale Kossola – the last two known enslaved persons in America on the last known “slave” ship in America.

Following their emancipation, Redoshi, Oluale Kossola and others from the Clotilde – many of whom were Yoruba and Fon – had raised funds from their employment doing hard labor for about a year in the lumber mills and on farms and then pooled all their resources together in order to pay the exorbitant travel cost of returning home to Africa.

But they weren’t able to raise enough money. Accordingly, they decided to create Africa in America in 1866 by purchasing approximately 10 square miles of land located three miles north of Mobile in an area known as Magazine Point, hence the birth of “Africatown.” In Mobile’s “Africatown,” which (although struggling financially) still exists, the residents opened a school, established a cemetery and built a church.

Fast forward to “Black Wall Street,” the wealthiest Black community in America at the time. It was located in Tulsa, Okla.’s Greenwood section, which was established in 1906. and encompassed an approximately 40-block radius.

Black people there eventually founded more than 200 prosperous Black-owned, Black-operated, and Black-patronized businesses including, but not limited to, 30 grocery stores, 20 restaurants, several law offices, six single-plane transport airlines, two newspaper publishing companies, two movie theaters, a bank, school, library, hospital, bus line and post office.

Tragically, murderous white rioters, during an 18-hour hellishly terrorizing rampage from May 31 through June 1, 1921, completely burned down each of the 200 Black businesses and the 1,250 Black homes throughout the “Black Wall Street” area. They also hunted down and killed over 300 Black, men, women and children and severely injured more than 800 others.

But like the phoenix rising from the ashes, “Black Wall Street” rises and is resurrected each time a Black person establishes or patronizes a Black business. And Philly’s Africatown is one of those Black businesses.

Here’s the background of Philly’s Africatown: ACANA was founded in 1999 by African musicians who were seeking to establish themselves in America as artists. But by the early 2000s, they decided to expand their goal by providing necessary social, health and legal services for the African immigrants and refugees in Southwest Philadelphia.

Since then, many of our brothers and sisters created businesses there to provide for themselves, their families and their communities. Those Black-owned, Black-operated and Black-patronized businesses have united Black people in Southwest Philly just as Chinatown unites Asian people in their own neighborhood and the Italian Market area unites Italian people in their own neighborhood.

And just recently, on Nov. 25, ACANA received a $9 million Commonwealth grant that will be added to other funds designed to promote the Africatown initiative. That state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant is for the purpose of funding cultural organizations that promote “employment, tax revenues, or other measures of economic activity.”

Various state and local elected officials as well as private partners in Southwest Philly were instrumental in seeking and acquiring the necessary funding to jump-start this Africatown project.

The ultimate goal of Africatown is to promote Black economic development, which will include, among other businesses, an expanded neighborhood supermarket, a tourist destination, and the construction of a $16 million ACANA headquarters that will host a banquet facility, health clinic, youth programs, job projects, technology training and community center.

As reported by Alec Larson of The Tribune on Nov. 28, “According to ACANA, the Africatown concept has been ‘designed to become an economic development initiative to create jobs …, increase business ownership … and eliminate poverty ….’”

During a Dec. 3 interview on my WURD961.FM radio show featuring Blackwell, Straughter, and Jabateh, I was informed by Jabateh that Africatown promotes the interests of all people – especially those he insightfully describes as “Black diaspora people.” That means all Africans and African descendants. That means Africans from the Motherland, African-Americans descended from the Motherland and Africans from the Caribbean. In fact, it includes all Black people throughout the planet.

Therefore, all Black people must support Africatown because all Black people are African. I mean no disrespect to any other ethnic groups, but we’re not Asian and we’re definitely not European. In fact, Bob Marley put it best when he sang, “Don’t care where you come from. As long as you’re a Black … [person], you’re an African. No mind your nationality, you have got the identity of an African.”

Africatown will cover the Southwest Philly area from South 47th Street and Baltimore Avenue to South 74th Street and Lindbergh Boulevard.

In order to support Africatown and to get more information about it, reach out to Jabateh, Blackwell, Straughter, and others at ACANA by dialing (215) 729-8225 or by visiting the ACANA office at 5530 Chester Avenue.

Oh, by the way, during the aforementioned radio interview, ACANA CEO Jabateh appointed me as one of the official ambassadors of Africatown. And because that is the most important position I have ever held in my entire life, I will fulfill my duties enthusiastically, ecstatically and excellently.

I’ll also be doing all my shopping and dining and business at the resurrected “Black Wall Street” and the updated Mobile Africatown, both now known as Philly’s Africatown.

And I hope to see you there every day.

This column was first published by the Philadelphia Tribune, a publishing partner of the Pennsylvania Capital-Star. 

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Michael Coard
Michael Coard

Opinion contributor Michael Coard, an attorney and radio host, is a columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune. His work appears on Tuesdays on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may follow him on Twitter @michaelcoard.

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