Black History Month 2023
Black Women Making History
Bridge External Board Member and Acclaimed Producer, Debra Martin Chase, Talks Hollywood and Creating Opportunities for Black Actors on Good Morning America
Stepping into this year's Black History Month, we wanted to actively highlight Black individuals specifically in the real estate industry, and appreciate the powerful influence of Black History. Black History is American History. It's not just a story of oppression or pain – it’s a story of resilience, excellence, joy, and hope. We will be spotlighting a different Black individual each week and include opportunities for us all to learn more about our history and reflect on how far we've come as well as how far we still must go.
If you have questions about the highlights, please reach out to Maren Caldwell at email@example.com
Robert Clifton Weaver
Robert C. Weaver is one of the least known of the civil rights pioneers who struggled throughout the middle half of the twentieth century to obtain rights for Black Americans. Born December 29, 1907, Weaver was the great grandson of a former slave who became the first Black man to graduate from Harvard's Dental School in 1869. From 1929 through 1934, Weaver himself attended Harvard University, earning economic degrees at the Bachelor of Science, Master’s, and Ph.D. levels. While he was an active member of the civil rights movement, (even becoming the chairperson of the NAACP in 1960) his most impactful work was in his government roles. His most noted positions were serving as the Department of the Interior’s first Black adviser on racial problems and the executive director of the Mayor’s Committee on Race Relations in Chicago.
Simultaneously, Weaver taught at several universities, wrote two books, and directed the fellowship department at the John Hay Whitney Foundation (1949-1955). He then became a member of New York State’s governor’s cabinet as its rent commissioner. In 1961, he received the highest federal appointment assigned to any African American when he became Administrator of the Housing and Home Finance Agency. Four years later, he became the first African American on the presidential cabinet, when President Johnson appointed him to the top position at the newly formed U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Weaver’s career was full of firsts - in each position he held, he brought to the forefront the struggles of Black America and actively tried to remedy them.
Opportunity Gaps in Black Communities
The opportunity gap is the way uncontrollable factors can contribute to lower rates of success in educational achievement, career prospects, and other life aspirations. This gap disproportionally affects the Black community and can impact not just career aspirations but the overall health and success of whole communities. Understanding the ways in which these inequalities have been reproduced across generations is an important first step in creating a more equitable society.
Annie Turnbow Malone
Just one generation removed from slavery, Annie Turnbo Malone became one of the richest Black women in the United States as an inventor and philanthropist. Born August 9, 1869 as the tenth of eleven children, she experienced the death of her parents at an early age and was taken in by her older sister. While she didn’t graduate high school, she had a love for chemistry and hair. Though she faced many challenges, she was a natural entrepreneur. She saw the desire and need for improved hair products made specially for Black people. She knew hair played an incredibly important role to the access of opportunities for Black Americans, so she created a line of hair products that did not have the negative side effects that other hair products had at the time.
Annie went door-to-door to the homes of Black families who did not have access to traditional stores and products, creating a devoted customer base. Wanting to expand her client base, she moved to St. Louis and started hiring Black women as salespeople, including Madame C.J Walker, providing them with financial opportunities not normally available at the time. She grew her business until she became one of the most successful business owners of the time.
Always the philanthropist, she opened the Poro College for Black women to have business opportunities of their own, established the local Black YMCA, donated to the Tuskegee Institutes and Howard University of Medicine as well as supporting multiple students by their paying tuition. At one time, she employed almost 75,000 women, mostly women of color. She also opened an orphanage (now named after her) in 1888 that is still in operation today, providing resources to those in need. While often overlooked in history, her impact on the Black community and St. Louis is still seen and felt today.
The Inequality in Access to Resources
The history of redlining, segregation, and the outright destruction of Black communities has created a legacy of underinvestment in predominately Black communities. This results in 1 out of 5 Black Americans living in a food desert, 74% of Black and Brown communities living in areas without access to nature (parks, hiking areas, even grass to play on), and lower rates of homeownership as well as lower property values. These systemic failures negatively impact the health, education, safety, and economic mobility of these communities.
Bridget "Biddy" Mason
Although Bridget "Biddy" Mason was born into slavery in Mississippi in 1818, she became one of the first real estate moguls in American history. Little is known about her early life except that she was moved to California. Biddy secured her freedom in 1856 through a suit brought against the man who held her and thirteen others in slavery, including her three daughters. This was an extraordinary win, particularly because California was a free state in name only. A decade after winning her freedom, Biddy became one of the first Black women to own land when she purchased commercial property for $250 in what is now the heart of downtown Los Angeles. She turned her initial investment into a small real estate empire worth about $300,000 in 1884 (an equivalent to about $9 million today). In addition to being the 19th century version of a real estate mogul, she founded a school and orphanage, and her home on North Spring Street became a refuge for many destitute settlers. She spoke fluent Spanish, cared for the sick, and became a mentor to many. Because of her kind and giving spirit, Biddy, who passed away in 1891, is known to many today as "Grandma Mason."
Redlining in Real Estate Continues to Create Systemic Barriers
Redlining in real estate began as early as 1934. This process of marking neighborhoods as "risky" by banks and the federal government solely based on race made obtaining federal mortgage loans nearly impossible. Redlining didn't just affect where people lived but how they lived and continues to impact schools, health, generational wealth, policing, and quality of life. The impact of this process is still felt deeply today and contributes to ongoing segregation in areas across the U.S. Watch this 6-minute video to learn more.
Maggie Lena Walker
Born to an enslaved mother and an absent Irish father, Maggie Lean Walker once described her childhood by saying, "I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but instead, with a clothes basket almost upon my head." Her mother was a laundress and became the sole provider for the family after Maggie's stepfather died in 1876. Though Maggie struggled she was always focused on giving back to her community, becoming a schoolteacher and joining a local aide group that provided resources to the sick and elderly. Rising the ranks at the Independent Order of St. Luke, Walker pushed for more community resources and social changes to challenge the oppression that affected her community during reconstruction.
In 1903, Walker did the unimaginable: she started St. Luke Penny Savings Bank and hired Black women to run it. As the only Black woman bank president in the nation, she advocated for Black working women and girls by creating jobs, funding educational institutions, and participating in prominent civil rights organizations. By 1924, St. Luke’s Penny Savings Bank had spread to other parts of Virginia and included more than 50,000 members. While other banks collapsed during the Great Depression, St. Luke’s Penny Saving survived. The bank eventually consolidated with two other large banks and moved to downtown Richmond. It is still in operation today.
Black Wall Street
The term Black Wall Street is often associated with the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. While the brutality and destruction of Tulsa’s Black Wall Street is important to know, many don’t realize that Tulsa was just one of many Black Wall Streets that existed. Bronzeville in Chicago, Hayti in Durham North Carolina, Sweet Auburn in Atlanta, and West Ninth Street in Little Rock are just a few examples of the spaces Black people carved out during reconstruction with a strong self-driven economy that provided stability and wealth to the Black community. While some of these communities still thrive today, most suffered a slow death due to a combination of things like redlining; “slum clearance,” which razed older buildings and entire neighborhoods; and highways developed in the 1960s and 1970s that cut through these areas and enabled drivers to bypass. Watch this ten-minute video to learn more.
Phillips Payton Jr. - The "Father of Harlem"
Phillip Payton Jr. was born on February 27, 1876, and was a trained barber by the age of fifteen. Wanting to make more of himself, he moved to New York City in 1899 without the support of his family. When he arrived in the city, he worked at a department store, as a barber, and then as a porter for a real estate company earning $8 a week. That role would become his inspiration for his life’s work and passion.
He opened his first company, Brown & Payton, in Midtown Manhattan, a real estate agency focused on servicing Black tenements. While he built his company, his family faced hunger and poverty, with his wife Maggie supporting the family as a tailor while the business struggled. They eventually moved to Harlem where Payton noticed the high vacancy rates caused by white property owners who did not want Black renters. His first big break was a result of racism and prejudice due to a dispute between two property owners in West 134th Street. One property owner aimed to "get even" with the other by turning his house over to Payton to fill with Black tenants. Payton continued to convince white property owners to put “profit over prejudice.” At the time, Black renters were charged significantly higher rents rates than white tenants. Payton would often ask owners why they would want a unit to sit empty when they could be making even more money if they could overlook race.
This strategy worked especially well during a time of the Great Migration when Black Americans were moving to New York City to escape the oppression, White Supremacy, and danger in the South. Payton eventually became a building owner, not just a manager. In 1905, he started a new company, the Afro-American Realty Company, which operated until 1908. He later founded another firm, the Philip A. Payton, Jr. Company, a year before his death in 1917. Philip A. Payton, Jr. is known as one of the first Black real estate moguls in the United States and the "Father of Harlem."
Education Leads to Understanding & Greater Allyship
It's important for all of us to take the time to learn more about Black History. So much of it has been left out of the education system and has limited our view of what "being Black" is. The lack of knowledge and difficult conversations have stripped Black people of their core identities and humanity. Black people have a rich history of being innovators, activists, doctors, lawyers, bank presidents, and civil servants, to name a few. We can continue our work of making Bridge a safe and diverse organization by taking the time to learn about these people, movements, and moments. Read this short article on why Black History is so critical to talk about not only every February, but throughout the year.
2023 Black History Theme: Black Resistance
"By resisting Black people have achieved triumphs, successes, and progress as seen in the end of chattel slavery, dismantling of Jim and Jane Crow segregation in the South, increased political representation at all levels of government, desegregation of educational institutions, the passage of Civil Rights Act of 1964, the opening of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History in DC and increased and diverse representation of Black experiences in media. Black resistance strategies have served as a model for every other social movement in the country, thus, the legacy and importance of these actions cannot be understated.
As societal and political forces escalate to limit access to and exercise of the ballot, eliminate the teaching of Black history, and work to push us back into the 1890s, we can only rely on our capacity to resist. The enactment of HR 40, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, the Breathe Act, and the closure of the racial wealth gap is not the end. They too will require us to mobilize our resources, human and material, and fight for “freedom, justice, and equality”; “self-determination”, and/or “social transformation.”
This is a call to everyone, inside and outside the academy, to study the history of Black Americans’ responses to establish safe spaces, where Black life can be sustained, fortified, and respected." Read more here.