Historic Contributors to the Racial Wealth Gap in the United States

The following timeline documents policies and institutional practices that have contributed to the racial wealth gap in the United States. The racial wealth gap — measured as the difference in wealth accumulated by white Americans and black and Latino Americans — is the largest it has ever been since the Federal Reserve started tracking it. In 2010, for every dollar held by the median black or Latino family, the median white family had eight.

IABG is committed to addressing the growing racial wealth gap by a advocating for policies that expand access to the tools all families need to build financially secure futures.

1921 – Tulsa Riots (Destruction of “Black Wall Street”)

By the summer of 1921 parts of Tulsa Oklahoma had begun to reach prominence and the black community and black businesses began to prosper despite segregation confining the community and their assets. This upward progress was viewed as a threat by the white establishment and sparked the Tulsa Race Riot. This riot led to the complete destruction of black businesses and homes in Tulsa effectively halting any upward movement by the black community. At the riot’s end, upwards of 10,000 blacks were left homeless, more than 25 city blocks of the black community were burned down including the only black hospital, and conservative estimates stated that 39 African American individuals were killed. This event directly targeted areas of economic prosperity in the black community in an effort to halt the upward mobility of African Americans in Oklahoma. Sadly, the incidents in Tulsa were not unique during the early 20th Century. Incidents similar to the Tulsa Riots had taken place years prior such as the Wilmington Insurrection and events would occur after including the Rosewood Massacre in Florida. Incidents in which black economic engines are targeted and black land and businesses were seized became the principal actions for creating and maintaining systems of oppression.

1492 - Native American Land Thefts Begin

In the Fall of 1492, Christopher Columbus and European Colonists stepped foot onto North America to claim it on behalf of, “The Crown.” Resistance from the Native Americans was met with violence and subjugation. This would mark the beginning of the forced transfer of land, land assets, and power of Native Americans to the colonists.

1862 - The Homestead Act

This act took land from 42 Native American Tribes and redistributed the land to white homesteaders. The Act stated that white farmers would receive free land if they could first farm it for 5 years. This legislation is often cited as an early asset building program but when viewed from the perspective of the Native Americans who lost land under this act it is more akin to asset reduction. Over the next 40 years tribal lands would continue to reduce from 138 million acres to roughly 48 million acres.

1776 - Land Grants to Colonists

Land Grants or land patents were issued to early European colonists giving them legal permission to begin establishing colonies along the northeastern coast of what would become the United States. These land grants were given, exclusively, to European colonists and thereby allowed them free access to land and land related assets. In early colonial days access to land meant access to producing food and self-sufficiency. By barring all non-European colonists from acquiring free land a power hierarchy was seeded that would continue to develop throughout the founding of this country.

1787 - Slavery in the Constitution

The first enslaved African people were brought to Jamestown in 1619 in what began the history of slavery in the United States. Almost 170 years later, The Constitutional Convention of 1787 further formalized slavery by galvanizing it into laws and the constitution. Some of the new laws included the 3/5th Compromise which deemed people who were enslaved as part person and part property. As enslaved people, African Americans were unable to earn wages or any compensation for their labor and therefore were barred from building assets. It is estimated that if people who experienced slavery were to have earned wages there would be an additional 4 trillion dollars in the black community today.

1787 - Northwest Ordinance of 1787

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 was initially created in good faith towards Native populations. This ordinance stated that the US could not take land without the consent of Native American leadership. The initial prospect of this ordinance faded as European settlers arrived and needed places to plant root. This ultimately led to the forced signing of 400+ treaties stripping land and assets of the land to colonial settlers.

1790 - Naturalization Act

Established that any, “free white persons” of “good character” living in the U.S. for 2 years was eligible for citizenship. This time frame later changed to 5 years and eventually 14 years to merit, “good character.” This act also stated that all Native Americans, Free Blacks, and any woman whose fathers had not been U.S. Citizens as ineligible for citizenship.

1824 - Bureau of Indian Affairs

Created in March of 1824 the Bureau of Indian Affairs was seen as a governing body for issues related to Native Americans. This Bureau placed all remaining Native American assets under government jurisdiction and therefore was used at the disposal of the government, not Native American communities. The Bureau created policies for land and governing Native Americans although these policies were said to have rarely benefited Native peoples.

1830 - Indian Removal Act

Signed by President Andrew Jackson, this authorized the removal of Native Americans to predetermined federal lands west of the Mississippi. Initially branded as voluntary, this became a forced relocation of Native American people to unused land in the west. This forced tens of thousands of Native Americas to move westward in an event that is now called the, “Trail of Tears.” Once moved, the resources and benefits of the vacated land were now owned by the state.

1841 - The Dorr Rebellion

Tensions increased as voting rights were only allowed to free white land owning men with land valued at least at $134 or above. Thomas Wilson Dorr mounted a rebellion to open voting rights to free white men regardless of land value. Dorr initially supported and advocated for voting rights for free black men as well but changed his position after pressure from established white immigrants.

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