[Closing The Gap, Part 1] This land is your land? A legacy of asset-stripping in Oklahoma

This is the first post in a running series based on our recent report, Closing the Opportunity Gap: Building Equity in Oklahoma, which assesses the racial wealth gap and proposes solutions for closing that gap through asset-building.  There is a slight but important nuance in the difference between wealth that comes from building assets, and wealth that comes from rising incomes.  There is mounting evidence that wealth in the form of financial assets – e.g. homes, businesses, and savings accounts – promotes financial security, interrupts intergenerational poverty, and improves household health and quality of life.

In terms of racial wealth in Oklahoma,  our history is replete with examples of state-sanctioned efforts to appropriate assets from people of color.  The now infamous Tulsa Race Riot resulted in the overnight dissolution of hundreds of Black homes, banks, and businesses – set ablaze by White rioters.  Before the violence, the wealth amassed by Tulsa’s Black middle class was an impressive tribute to a community determined to prosper in the rough and unsettled Oklahoma territory.  The White community in Tulsa opposed and obstructed the reconstruction of Black infrastructure for decades after the riot.

In the early 1920s, members of the Osage Nation were the richest people per in capita in the world, with legal claim to vast holdings of oil-rich Oklahoma territory.  While a strong Nation today, the Osage were stripped of much of that wealth during the so called ‘Reign of Terror,’ when headrights were violently transferred to Whites by murderers and conmen. It’s easy to see the roots of Oklahoma’s racial wealth gap in these examples.  The children and grandchildren of those whose assets were stolen or destroyed lost the advantages that would have come from the wealth of their parents and grandparents.  Perhaps more importantly, they lost the opportunity to build on that success. 

The effects of historical instances of asset-stripping in Oklahoma can still be seen today.  When wealth is measured in terms of financial assets, White households in the state have accumulated significantly more wealth than households of color.  Households of color in Oklahoma experience asset poverty at twice the rate (39.1 percent) of White households (21.9 percent).  A household is asset poor when they lack sufficient financial assets to subsist at the poverty level for at least three months if they lost their income.

This persistent inequality is a structural impediment to economic development and a drag on growth.  Oklahoma is transforming from a state with a predominately White population to one that is increasingly diverse. Children of color now comprise a majority of the population of children in 11 of the state’s 77 counties, and 44 percent of all children in Oklahoma are racial and ethnic minorities.  Diverse communities are inextricably linked by commerce, travel, and investment.  Ignoring equity in the face of theses demographic realities ensures that economic growth will become shallow and lethargic. 

Our report, Closing the Opportunity Gap: Building Equity in Oklahoma, details why closing the opportunity gap for people of color is a central concern for a prosperous Oklahoma.  The next post in this series will measure the wealth and asset gap by race and ethnicity in Oklahoma, beginning with a person’s most foundational assets, health and education.  Subsequent posts will continue with data measuring the gap through every level of an individual and household’s development.


5 thoughts on “[Closing The Gap, Part 1] This land is your land? A legacy of asset-stripping in Oklahoma

  1. Reminds me of the Pew study on wealth gaps.

    “The median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of newly available government data from 2009.

    These lopsided wealth ratios are the largest since the government began publishing such data a quarter century ago and roughly twice the size of the ratios that had prevailed between these three groups for the two decades prior to the Great Recession that ended in 2009.” more


    1. Thanks David. The Pew research is really fantastic. It’s too bad we don’t have more reliable state-level measures of wealth to replicate their work.

  2. When I was director of music at Corpus Christi Catholic Church, located in NE Oklahoma City, I met people who had been forced to move as many as three times by various Oklahoma City schemes. They said they never received what they felt were fair prices for their properties, and all believed they were worse off than they would have been without the eminent domain efforts of OKC.

    It should be noted that all of the development now going on in the Deep Deuce is on land once owned by African Americans, who were forced to sell for cheap prices to OKC by eminent domain. Now, the financial advantage of that property accrues to white people. I’ve always considered OKC’s land grab of the Deep Deuce to be the equivalent of Tulsa’s race riot, only ours was a “due process riot”, with a veneer of peace hiding the naked force of the law operating through the court system.

  3. Good article – good points – does mention Osage – but neglects sooooooooooooo many other circumstances of robery of Native lands/income – the whole state/country/continent is build on it – This is what the Idle No More movement is about. Trying to stop (this time the Canadian Harper Government) from building wealth by stripping Aboriginal rights. Reference by the IDM movement has been made to US Dawes Act.

    I certainly agree with the statement – America was build on slavery & genocide.

    from a Oklahoma Cherokee in Canada – Wado

    1. Yeah there are far too many instances of asset-stripping to discuss unfortunately, but these are good instructive examples I think. Thanks for the input!

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