Color of Money: Four myths about black wealth
WASHINGTON -- Blacks know how to make money.
In fact, even during times when black folks were just a parent or grandparent removed from slavery, there were black millionaires.
Right here I want to make a qualifier: The average net worth of black households is concerning -- and indicative of the disturbing wealth gap in America.
As a Pew Research Center report stated last fall, "The Great Recession of 2007-2009 triggered a sharp, prolonged decline in the wealth of American families, and an already large wealth gap between white households and black and Hispanic households widened further in its immediate aftermath."
In 2016, the median net worth of white households was $171,000, according to the Pew report. This is compared with black household wealth of $17,100 and $20,600 for Hispanic households.
But there is a backstory to black wealth that isn't well known. So, it's fitting that in the month we celebrate black history, that I select for the Color of Money Book Club "Black Fortunes: The Story of the First Six African-Americans Who Escaped Slavery and Became Millionaires," by journalist Shomari Wills (Amistad, $26.99).
"African-Americans who achieved wealth were often attacked, demonized, or swindled out of their wealth," Wills writes. "The black elite in their first decades of existence survived assassination attempts, lynchings, frivolous lawsuits, and criminal cases all meant to destroy or delegitimize their wealth."
Wills' ancestors had money. They owned land, stocks and businesses.
"The creation of black wealth is an important but overlooked subject in the economic and social history of the United States," he says. "I believe black millionaires are important in part because they disrupt stereotypes of black economic impotence."
Some of the black entrepreneurs profiled in the book include Robert Reed Church, who escaped slavery during the Civil War to become one of the largest landowners in Memphis; Annie Turnbo Malone, who developed the first national brand of hair-care products; and O.W. Gurley, a teacher, who built an all-black community in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that became known as the "Black Wall Street."