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The Forgotten Stories of America's Black Wall Streets

A century after the Tulsa Race Massacre, what happened there is finally more widely known—but other "Black Wall Street" stories remain hidden.

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Arpita Aneja, TIME

The Rise and Fall of Richmond’s Jackson Ward

Designed to help safeguard Black Americans’ investments and savings, the Freedman’s Bank was incorporated by President Abraham Lincoln in 1865. But it failed in 1874 after white trustees squandered billions of dollars of Black Americans’ money on risky ventures and speculation.

“With the loss of the Freedman’s Bank came the loss of millions of dollars of African American wealth but also a loss of confidence in the banking system,” historian Shennette Garrett-Scott, author of Banking on Freedom: Black Women in U.S. Finance Before the New Deal, told TIME in an interview for this video. “It also really attuned them to the fact that, the belief that they needed to control their own banking institutions.”

It was during this period, after the Civil War and the rise of Jim Crow, in the late 19th century and early 20th century, that Black Wall Streets first emerged, as Black Americans in segregated areas created their own businesses to support their communities.

Established in 1871, the Jackson Ward district of Richmond became known as “the Harlem of the South.” The Southern Aid and Insurance Company (also known as the Southern Aid Life Insurance Company), founded there in 1893, was considered the first Black-owned and operated life-insurance company. At the center of the success of these institutions in Richmond were entrepreneurs like Rev. William Washington Browne, who went from escaping enslavement during the Civil War to starting a mutual aid society called True Reformers; John Mitchell Jr., the 20-something editor of the Richmond Planet newspaper, which sought to expose lynchings; and Maggie Lena Walker, the first Black woman to be a bank president. In addition to running a newspaper, a department store and a life insurance company, she ran the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank from 1903 to 1934.

Walker explained her vision for a Black-owned bank in 1901, at the annual convention of the mutual aid society that inspired the bank, the Independent Order of St. Luke. “First we need a savings bank,” she said. “Let us put our moneys together; let us use our moneys; let us put our money out at usury among ourselves, and reap the benefit ourselves. Let us have a bank that will take the nickels and turn them into dollars.” During the Great Depression, Walker’s bank merged with two other banks and became the Consolidated Bank and Trust Company, and was at one point the longest-running Black-owned bank in the U.S., until it was acquired in 2005.