Opinions & Features June 10, 2021 at 09:30 am

Tulsa race riot: The ingenious way a survivor’s descendant is keeping ‘Black Wall Street’ alive

Abu Mubarik June 10, 2021 at 09:30 am

June 10, 2021 at 09:30 am | Opinions & Features

Bobby Eaton Jr., whose grandfather survived the 1921 Tulsa Massacre, now operates a radio station out of the same Tulsa building where his family ran a barbershop for decades. Source: CNBC Make It

Bobby Eaton Jr. is a survivor’s descendant of the Tulsa race massacre. His grandfather, Joseph, was a respected member of the Tulsa community and a businessman who owned a barbering shop. Joseph was among those who helped rebuild the Greenwood District of Tulsa which became known as Black Wall Street.

At the time, Eaton’s grandfather was a factory worker in his 20s and joined the effort to rebuild the community in the aftermath of the massacre. He built the home where Eaton lives now and the barbering shop from which he operates his radio station. 

In addition to the home and the barbering shop, Joseph also ran a grocery store in the Greenwood District of Tulsa. However, the barbering shop is the only surviving business, which has been passed down to the next generation of Eaton’s family.

“He built this home that I occupy right now,” Eaton told CNBC Make It. “And next door to it was the barbershop … He went to work every day inside this barbershop. And as his children — my dad, Bobby Sr., and my Uncle Jerry — got older, they became barbers there as well.”

Now 66 years old, Eaton is carrying on the tradition of Black entrepreneurship and helping to revive Black Wall Street. He owns a radio station and a media firm located in the same building where his grandfather’s barbering shop was operating from decades after the massacre.

As America and the Black community mark the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre, Eaton is hoping the media attention on the unfortunate event of 1921 will help revive the once vibrant hub of Black excellence and entrepreneurship.

“Everybody’s talking Black Wall Street, for right now,” he said. “My thing is, can we restore and rebuild Black Wall Street? he quizzed. “Can we get it back to where it was intended to be?”

Eaton started life as a musician. His music career took him away from Tulsa until 2016 when he returned to continue with the legacy of his family as an entrepreneur in Tulsa. “I realized that being able to have a business and doing it, kind of, like the Black Wall Street way [as a Black business owner] was real important, and something that I really wanted to do,” he said.

Eaton’s grandfather, father, and uncle cut hair at the family shop. His other family members also ran successful businesses. While operating his radio station and media firm in Tulsa, his brother, Dwight Eaton is also a co-owner of a coffee shop in Tulsa known as Black Wall Street Liquid Lounge.

He told CNBC Make It that he now feels like he’s carrying on multiple traditions as a Black business owner in the city.

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