What You Need to Know
- Black Americans lack access to basic financial services, pay more fees, suffer various forms of predation and have little trust in financial institutions.
On June 19, the US rightly celebrates the end of slavery on its soil — specifically, the day in 1865 when a Union general informed enslaved people in Galveston, Texas of their freedom.
Yet on the federal Juneteenth holiday, Americans must also recognize that the nation’s movement toward racial equity has been far from smooth or consistent, and that it is yet again under threat.
Time and again, progress has elicited intense backlash that has left Black people even farther behind.
In major league baseball, for example, Black athletes played an important role long before April 15, 1947 — now celebrated as Jackie Robinson Day to commemorate the sport’s integration.
Moses Fleetwood “Fleet” Walker, for example, played catcher for the Toledo Blue Stockings in 1884, more than 60 years before Robinson took the field for the Dodgers.
Yet the hostility of many White fans, players and team owners led the league to ban Black players in 1887. American football has a similar history: Black players were stars in the 1920s, banned in 1933 and reintegrated in 1946.
The economy offers numerous examples of such retrograde motion. After emancipation, Black farmers significantly increased their land ownership.
But amid government policies that denied them credit and even deliberately separated them from their land, their holdings declined by more than 70%, from 16 million acres a century ago to less than 5 million acres today — a loss valued at about $326 billion.
Or consider the Freedman’s Savings Bank, chartered by Congress in 1865 to give newly-free Black Americans financial independence. The bank attracted as much as $100 million in deposits with national advertisements touting (nonexistent) federal guarantees, then collapsed after making high-risk loans to politically connected businesses and to friends of its White directors.
It left depositors with only a small fraction of the compensation that other failed banks provided.
To this day, Black Americans are targeted for wealth destruction, as their greater-than-50% decline in net worth during the 2008 recession demonstrates. They lack access to basic financial services, pay more fees, suffer various forms of predation and, quite reasonably, have little trust in financial institutions.