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Excerpted From: Lynne Marie Kohm, Katrina Sumner and Peyton Farley, Empowering Black Wealth in the Shadow of the Tulsa Race Massacre, 57 Tulsa Law Review 243 (Winter 2021) (262 Footnotes) (Full Document)
The Tulsa Race Massacre was and remains a dark and tragic disgrace for Oklahoma and the entire United States. Black citizens were killed, thousands were left homeless, and thirty-five blocks of the wealthy community known as Black Wall Street were burned to the ground during the attack. The accumulation of vast wealth among the residents of Black Wall Street seemed a motivating factor for the intentional destruction of hundreds of homes and businesses. Insurance policies were not honored, lawsuits by the victims were dismissed, and no financial or judicial remedy was ever provided to the victims. Aside from the terrible loss of life and the destruction of property, one lasting economic consequence of the destruction of Black Wall Street was the inability of the residents to transfer their destroyed properties and wealth to future generations.
This article suggests that the Massacre and the wealth destruction that followed present a quintessential example of Black Americans being prevented from wealth protection and transfer because of the very fact that they possessed wealth. Racial inequality in early twentieth century life seemed to manifest its very existence in those events in Tulsa in 1921, as Black wealth was destroyed through terrible acts of government-sanctioned violence.
Numerous questions remain, such as was Black Wall Street targeted because of the general white disdain for Black wealth? Was that sentiment simply a symptom of 1921 Tulsa or does it persist? Why has there been no restitution for the living victims whose homes and businesses were destroyed preventing them from transferring destroyed wealth to their descendants? Whatever may be the answers to these significant questions, this article presents a fresh approach and a fresh question: Is wealth transfer planning for Black families a solution to wealth protection and maintenance, or simply a missed opportunity, irrelevant to achieving racial fairness? While the residents of Black Wall Street could no longer reap the full benefit of estate planning tools in relation to destroyed wealth, these tools can have enormous benefit for Black families today. This article examines how the laws of wealth transfer can facilitate the intergenerational transfer of Black family wealth and empower future generations when wise financial and estate planning is supported by the rule of law and made advantageous by and to Black families.
Section I reviews the past obstacles to the transfer of Black wealth to subsequent generations by events such as the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. It highlights the extraordinary efforts undertaken by the City of Tulsa to prevent victims from rebuilding their homes and businesses, while reviewing the tireless and, to date, unsuccessful efforts at providing any measure of restitution or reparations to the living victims of the Massacre or their descendants. Section II then considers and analyzes the apparent cycle of creation and destruction of Black wealth, reviewing legal hindrances to its creation, the vast individual losses through race-riots, and obstructions to potential Black wealth via Black owned patents. This section also considers the events surrounding the establishment of the Freedman's Bank, and its later unrecovered losses by Black families. Section III then works to present solutions for empowering stable wealth attainment and wealth transfer protected by the rule of law.
This article proffers that laws of wealth transfer can work to protect Black family wealth advancement toward economic equality and growth. We argue that planned Black wealth succession reveals an opening to an essential doorway to the protection and preservation of Black wealth through clever estate planning.
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This article presents a fresh approach to the tragic concern of Black wealth exploitation. Wealth transfer planning for Black families may provide at least part of a solution to achieving racial equity in wealth protection. In examining the dramatic wealth loss during and after the Tulsa Race Massacre, this article has considered how the laws of wealth transfer can benefit Black families and Black family wealth toward economic command with wise financial and estate planning. Supported by the rule of law in wealth planning, we have offered tools and ideas that can be extremely advantageous to Black families who use them.
Section I discussed in detail the indefensible property loss during the Tulsa Race Massacre. Reviewing the numerous lawsuits filed against the city and state which were denied, we examined zoning ordinances that prohibited rebuilding in the Greenwood area after the Massacre and subsequent property devastation. This section effectively proved the failure of government to protect life and property of Black families and revealed the reprehensible wealth exploitation in the aftermath of the Massacre. Section II then considered and analyzed the cycle of creation and destruction of wealth for Black families, reviewing other massacres and redlining policies, for example. It highlighted the denial or loss of Black owned patents and related intellectual property, along with the events surrounding the Freedman's Bank, and its tragic unrecovered losses by Black families. Section III then considered wealth transfer tools, strategies, and solutions to empower authority in the preservation, protection, and transfer of wealth. It worked to present some solutions for empowering stable wealth attainment and wealth transfer protected by the rule of law in the context of estate planning.
This article proffers that laws of wealth transfer, when fused with strong families doing advance planning toward independence, can work to benefit Black family wealth advancement toward economic equality and growth. Events such as the Tulsa Race Massacre and the destruction of Black Wall Street in Greenwood reveal the quintessential inability to transfer Black wealth in a context of racial violence and inequality, particularly when governments refuse to protect assets. This piece has argued, that regardless of those failures, planned Black wealth succession today exposes, reveals, and presents an opening to an essential doorway of the imperative to empower Black wealth in America.
Lynne Marie Kohm, ohn Brown McCarty Professor of Family Law, Regent University School of Law; BA, Albany 1980, JD Syracuse 1988.
Katrina Sumner JMA, Regent University, 1998; MDiv, Regent University, 2017; JD Regent University School of Law 2021.
Peyton Farley, BS, Hampton University 2017; JD Regent University School of Law 2022.
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