Ariel Investments Founder and Co-CEO John W. Rogers hails from a long line of resilient lawyers who have worked tirelessly to remedy the wrongs of his family’s injustice during the Tulsa Race Riots. The Chicago native, who developed the first Black-owned mutual fund firm, is proud to fight for diversity on corporate boards and better financial opportunities for Black firms.
In an insightful discussion with BLACK ENTERPRISE, Rogers shared the devastating story behind his great-great grandfather’s journey of losing his empire at the hands of a disapproving white community. JB Stradford was a leader in Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood, having architected his own empire of real estate income from two dozen rental properties—worth nearly $2 million. For Rogers, his late elder’s journey maintains a constant reminder that there is more work to do today—now more than ever.
John Rogers at an Ariel Financial Literacy Event / Credit: Powell Photography
“It’s a modern-day Jim Crow that Black and Brown people are mostly encouraged to be engaged in the least wealth-building parts of our economy,” Rogers told BE.
“The doors have been shut often in the most lucrative parts of our economy. The areas where the best opportunities are that’s where we’re the least likely to be found in leadership roles. That’s where I see the discrimination. Even in Tulsa today, the major anchorage institutions still don’t work with Black entrepreneurs and the part of the economy where the wealth is created,” Rogers said.
He added: “That’s why Black Enterprise is so important. It does shine a light on the successes we have and the challenges that we continue to face in this country.
A crowned jewel lost too soon
J.B. Stradford was the son of a former Versailles, Kentucky, slave named Caesar by his enslaver. He was proud to accomplish his personal goal of becoming an Indiana University-trained attorney in honor of his father’s vision. From social justice and racial solidarity to real estate development, Stratford fought for change in many ways, sparking unwanted attention from much of Tulsa’s white community. He publicly rallied against Oklahoma’s Jim Crow Laws and litigated against the railroad in Tulsa for not providing proper Black accommodations. After arriving in Tulsa via railroad in 1898 with his wife, Augusta, Stradford would witness the meteoric successes and losses of being a Black man in America.
“As an African American entrepreneur, traditional diversity initiatives when it comes to Black businesses have always focused around construction, catering, and janitorial services,” Rogers explained. “But the wealth and economic opportunity is so much broader than that in this country. So much of the wealth in this country comes from technology, media, investment banking, private equity, and hedge funds.”
In 1921, an inflammatory incident report regarding a Black man and a white woman ignited the long-smoldering fire that brought down the legendary Black Wall Street in Tulsa. According to Tulsa’s history, “Jim Crow, jealousy, white supremacy, and land lust, all played roles in leading up to the destruction and loss of life and years of Black achievement on May 31 and June 1, 1921.”
Stradford was profiled, detained, accused, and charged for “inciting a riot.” He was facing life in prison or death. With the help of his son, C.F., a Columbia School of Law graduate who resided in Chicago, Stradford fled to the Windy City and would successfully fight extradition to Tulsa.
Discrimination in Chicago was no different than what was endured in Tulsa. Chicago’s most famous race riots, known as the Red Summer, occurred in 1919, just two years before the Tulsa Massacre. The opportunities to rebuild as a Black entrepreneur who lost everything were few.
“He [j.b.] left Tulsa without any wealth. He lost his whole nest egg. The fact that all of his wealth had been destroyed, starting from scratch in Chicago was exceedingly challenging. He tried in various ways but he was not able to replicate the success that he had in Tulsa,” Rogers explained.
The Stradford legacy
The J.B. Stradford legacy was enriched by education. His mother, Jewel Stradford, was the first African American woman to graduate from Chicago Law School. Her dad, C.F. Stradford, was a pioneering civil rights attorney and co-founder of the National Bar Association and the Cook County Bar Association. He helped argue the Hansbury vs. Lee case that challenged the racially restrictive covenant that didn’t allow Blacks to live in certain neighborhoods in Chicago.
“Even though we’re not getting our businesses burned down and destroyed the way that we did in Tulsa, but the same time, we’ve lost of all our big Black businesses here in Chicago,” said Rogers of the current state of black business.
“They were destroyed because there wasn’t a commitment to do business with Black businesses here in Chicago and in around the nation. We lost the Ebony and Jet building. They were these extraordinarily successful businesses. We used to have two of the five largest Black banks in the country, [which] were here in Chicago: Independence Bank and Seaway National Bank. They’re gone.”
Source: Black Enterprise