Black Wall Street
Greenwood is a historic freedom colony in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As one of the most prominent concentrations of African-American businesses in the United States during the early 20th century, it was popularly known as America's "Black Wall Street" until the Tulsa race riot of 1921, in which white residents massacred as many as 300 black residents, injuring hundreds more, and razed the neighborhood within hours. The riot was one of the most devastating massacres in the history of U.S. race relations, destroying the once thriving Greenwood community.
Tulsa is the second-largest city in the state of Oklahoma and 45th-most populous city in the United States. As of July 2016, the population was 413,505, an increase of 12,591 over that reported in the 2010 Census. It is the principal municipality of the Tulsa Metropolitan Area, a region with 991,005 residents in the MSA and 1,251,172 in the CSA. The city serves as the county seat of Tulsa County, the most densely populated county in Oklahoma, with urban development extending into Osage, Rogers, and Wagoner counties.
Oklahoma is a state in the South Central region of the United States, bordered by Kansas on the north, Missouri on the northeast, Arkansas on the east, Texas on the south, New Mexico on the west, and Colorado on the northwest. It is the 20th-most extensive and the 28th-most populous of the fifty United States. The state's name is derived from the Choctaw words okla and humma, meaning "red people". It is also known informally by its nickname, "The Sooner State", in reference to the non-Native settlers who staked their claims on land before the official opening date of lands in the western Oklahoma Territory or before the Indian Appropriations Act of 1889, which dramatically increased European-American settlement in the eastern Indian Territory. Oklahoma Territory and Indian Territory were merged into the State of Oklahoma when it became the 46th state to enter the union on November 16, 1907. Its residents are known as Oklahomans, and its capital and largest city is Oklahoma City.
African-American businesses, also known as Black-owned businesses or Black businesses, originated in the days of slavery before 1865. Emancipation and civil rights permitted businessmen to operate inside the American legal structure starting in the Reconstruction Era (1863–77) and afterwards. By the 1890's, thousands of small business operations had opened in urban areas. The most rapid growth came in the early 20th century, as the increasingly rigid Jim Crow system of segregation moved urban Blacks into a community large enough to support a business establishment. The National Negro Business League, Promoted by college president Booker T. Washington the League opened over 600 chapters, reaching every city with a significant Black population.
Within ten years after the massacre, surviving residents who chose to remain in Tulsa rebuilt much of the district. They accomplished this despite the opposition of many white Tulsa political and business leaders and punitive rezoning laws enacted to prevent reconstruction. It resumed being a vital black community until segregation was overturned by the Federal Government during the 1950s and 1960s. Desegregation encouraged blacks to live and shop elsewhere in the city, causing Greenwood to lose much of its original vitality. Since then, city leaders have attempted to encourage other economic development activity nearby.
Many African-Americans began moving to Oklahoma for the land rushes 1889 through 1891 and continued in the years leading to 1907, the year Oklahoma became a state, hoping that a majority black population could build a firewall against further extension of the system of racial degradation and segregation known as Jim Crow. Oklahoma represented the hope of change and provided a chance for African Americans to not only leave the lands of slavery but oppose the harsh racism of their previous homes.Travelling from other states Oklahoma seemed to offer these people a chance to start over. They travelled to Oklahoma by wagons, horses, trains, and even on foot.
Many of the black Americans who traveled to Oklahoma had ancestors who could be traced back to Oklahoma. Many of the settlers were relatives of Native Americans who had traveled on foot with the Five Civilized Tribes along the Trail of Tears. Others were the descendants of people who had fled to Native American Territory. Many Black residents were also from the various Muskogee speaking peoples, such as Creeks, Seminoles, and the Yuchi, while some had been adopted by the tribe after the Emancipation Proclamation. They were thus able to live freely in the Oklahoma Territory.
The term "Five Civilized Tribes" derives from the colonial and early federal period in the history of the United States. It refers to five Native American nations—the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek (Muscogee), and Seminole. These are the first five tribes that European settlers generally considered to be "civilized". Examples of colonial attributes adopted by these five tribes include Christianity, centralized governments, literacy, market participation, written constitutions, intermarriage with white Americans, and plantation slavery practices. The Five Civilized Tribes tended to maintain stable political relations with the Europeans.
The Trail of Tears was a series of forced relocations of Native Americans in the United States from their ancestral homelands in the Southeastern United States, to areas to the west that had been designated as Indian Territory. The forced relocations were carried out by government authorities following the passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1830. The relocated peoples suffered from exposure, disease, and starvation while en route to their new designated reserve, and many died before reaching their destinations. The forced removals included members of the Cherokee, Muscogee (Creek), Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations, as well as their African slaves. The phrase "Trail of Tears" originates from a description of the removal of many Native American tribes, including the infamous Cherokee Nation relocation in 1838.
The Muscogee (Creek) Nation is a federally recognized Native American tribe based in the U.S. state of Oklahoma. The nation descends from the historic Creek Confederacy, a large group of indigenous peoples of the Southeastern Woodlands. Official languages include Muscogee, Yuchi, Natchez, Alabama, and Koasati, with Muscogee retaining the largest number of speakers. They commonly refer to themselves as Este Mvskokvlke. Historically, they were often referred to as one of the Five Civilized Tribes of the American Southeast.
When Tulsa became a booming and rather well-known town in the United States, many people considered Tulsa to be two separate cities rather than one city of united communities. The white residents of Tulsa referred to the area north of the Frisco railroad tracks as "Little Africa". The success there led Booker T. Washington to visit in 1905 during which he encouraged them to continue to build and co-operate among themselves, reinforcing what he called "industrial capacity" and thus securing their ownership and independence.Washington highlighted that he had directed the creation of a 4,000 acre totally black-owned district in Tuskegee under the direction of C. W. Greene and designated Greenwood when it was formally organized in 1901 to create a demonstration of his vision. The Tulsa community was formally organized in 1906 and took the name Greenwood. By 1921 it was home to about 10,000 black residents.
Greenwood Avenue in Tulsa was important because it ran north for over a mile from the Frisco Railroad yards, and it was one of the few streets that did not cross through both black and white neighborhoods. The citizens of Greenwood took pride in this fact because it was something they had all to themselves and did not have to share with the white community of Tulsa. Greenwood Avenue was home to the black American commercial district with many red brick buildings. These buildings belonged to black Americans and they were thriving businesses, including grocery stores, banks, libraries, and much more. Greenwood was one of the most affluent communities and it became known as "Black Wall Street."
Greenwood Tulsa, AKA Black Wall Street, was one of the most commercially successful and affluent majority-African American communities in the United States. Booker T. Washington, who is a well-known African-American scientist, referred to the Greenwood neighborhood as “Negro Wall Street.”Many Americans, including African-Americans, had moved to Oklahoma in hopes of gaining a shot at quick economic gains through the mining and oil industries. Even though blacks were only a small percentage of the overall population in Oklahoma, the percentage of African-Americans in Tulsa had significantly increased to around 12.3 percent during the oil boom. Many African-Americans had come from the Deep South and Kansas because of the opportunity to strike gold because of the rich oil fields. Even though Jim Crow Laws and other racially biased laws were in place to inhibit African-Americans from achieving economic mobility and social status, racial segregation helped African-Americans in Tulsa because Black Wall Street was one of the few neighborhoods where blacks were even allowed to gain and spend their money. During the Jim Crow era, African-Americans were not allowed to make purchases or services in predominantly white areas. In particular, Oklahoma was known to have some of the harshest and most unjust Jim Crow laws in the country as there were countless lynching parties in Oklahoma and “whipping parties,” which were social gatherings where white people would whip black people for entertainment purposes. This forced many blacks to spend their money where they would feel welcomed, which allowed the Greenwood community to flourish and prosper.
On Black Wall Street, there were African-American attorneys, real-estate agents, dentists, entrepreneurs, and doctors who offered their services in the neighborhood. One primary example of the black entrepreneurial spirit is illustrated in this example: J.B. Stradford. J.B. Stradford had graduated from Indiana University with a law degree and had moved to Greenwood to purchase various land vacancies in the area. After buying these vacant spaces, he would then sell them to African-American residents for redevelopment so that these empty spaces could be transformed into residential houses and profitable businesses. By 1921, Stradford had been considered one of the wealthiest African-Americans in the country as he owned numerous properties in Greenwood and even had his hotel named after him: Stratford Hotel.In addition to Mr. Stradford, there were also investment and reinvestment into the community. One executive of the local YMCA recalled that there were several barbershops, several grocery stores, and even a funeral home service. Not to mention, Greenwood was known to be an active religious community as there were numerous black-owned churches, Christian youth services, and other religious organizations.
Around the start of the 20th century O.W. Gurley, a wealthy black land-owner from Arkansas, came to what was then known as Indian Territory to participate in the Oklahoma Land run of 1889. The young entrepreneur had just resigned from a presidential appointment under president Grover Cleveland in order to strike out on his own."
In 1906, Gurley moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma where he purchased 40 acres of land which was "only to be sold to colored".
Among Gurley's first businesses was a rooming house which was located on a dusty trail near the railroad tracks. This road was given the name Greenwood Avenue, named for a city in Mississippi. The area became very popular among black migrants fleeing the oppression in Mississippi. They would find refuge in Gurley's building, as the racial persecution from the south was non-existent on Greenwood Avenue.
In addition to his rooming house, Gurley built three two-story buildings and five residences and bought an 80-acre (32 ha) farm in Rogers County. Gurley also founded what is today Vernon AME Church.
This implementation of "colored" segregation set the Greenwood boundaries of separation that still exist: Pine Street to the North, Archer Street and the Frisco tracks to the South, Cincinnati Street on the West, and Lansing Street on the East.
Another black American entrepreneur, J.B. Stradford, arrived in Tulsa in 1899. He believed that black people had a better chance of economic progress if they pooled their resources, worked together and supported each other's businesses. He bought large tracts of real estate in the northeastern part of Tulsa, which he had subdivided and sold exclusively to other blacks. Gurley and a number of other blacks soon followed suit. Stradford later built the Stradford Hotel on Greenwood, where blacks could enjoy the amenities of the downtown hotels who served only whites. It was said to be the largest black-owned hotel in the United States.
Gurley's prominence and wealth were short lived. In a matter of moments, he lost everything. During the race riot, The Gurley Hotel at 112 N. Greenwood, the street’s first commercial enterprise, valued at $55,000, was lost, and with it Brunswick Billiard Parlor and Dock Eastmand & Hughes Cafe. Gurley also owned a two-story building at 119 N. Greenwood. It housed Carter’s Barbershop, Hardy Rooms, a pool hall, and cigar store. All were reduced to ruins. By his account and court records, he lost nearly $200,000 in the 1921 race riot.
Because of his leadership role in creating this self-sustaining exclusive black "enclave", it has been rumored that Gurley was lynched by a white mob and buried in an unmarked grave. However, according to the memoirs of Greenwood pioneer, B.C. Franklin,Gurley left Greenwood for California. Whichever version is true, the founder of the most successful black community of his time drifted into obscurity and almost vanished from history. He was honored in a 2009 documentary film called, Before They Die! The Road to Reparations for the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Survivors.
On May 30th, 1921, a young African-American male and shoe shiner named Dick Rowland went to a restroom in Drexel’s Building, which was one of the few restrooms that African-Americans could have used. Sarah Page, a young white female, was currently on the elevator that Rowland was on. Next, many sources claimed that Page screamed, “RAPE” and then proceeded to run off. Page claimed that Rowland “sexually assaulted” her without any sufficient evidence.
For many news media sources in the area, this was the perfect opportunity to create a juicy storyline. The newspaper distributed a headline that said, “ To Lynch Negro Tonight.” Another headline read, “ Nab Negro for Attacking Girl In Elevator.”. These controversial headlines sparked outrage amongst the white residents in the Tulsa community. As a result, a massive crowd of mostly angry white men marched at the Tulsa Town Hall demanding that Rowland is lynched for the allegations. Soon afterwards, a group of mostly fifty to seventy black men arrived to provide support for the sheriff in protecting Rowland from the hostile white residents. J.B. Stradford and several other influential black residents began to create their counter-response to the angry white mob by offering their support to the white sheriff in protecting Rowland. After arriving, a verbal dispute broke out where a white resident threatened to take one of the black male’s rifle by calling him several derogative words. After the black man refused, shots were fired, and one of America’s most violent race riots emerged.
According to first-hand sources, thousands of armed and hostile White residents surrounded Greenwood Tulsa and trapped the residents. Many of these angry protestors began to break into ammunition stores to secure bullets and another loaded weapon for their attacks. Law enforcement also supported the brutal attacks against the black residents by arresting several black residents during the scattered alterations around the community. In response to the large white mobs, the black residents began forming defense lines near the Frisco railroad lines, which served as the boundary between the segregated black and white communities in Tulsa and began to exchange firepower with the organized white mobs. While this outburst of violence was occurring, Law enforcement officials had refused to halt the organized white mobs and even reportedly encouraged white residents to throw flamethrowers at the black residents. During the trial, one white resident claimed that a local law officer had said, “ Go get a gun and go get a nigger.”Other white residents even boldly claimed that law officers even joined the angry white mob in breaking into windows and destroying property. Furthermore, it is also reported that the local Tulsa chapter of the National Guard had begun deploying aircraft over Black Wall Street and used this advantage to rain bullets on the residential houses of black residents.
After the initial attacks, many members of the organized mob had begun to loot from many of the businesses and residential houses located on Black Wall Street. After looting these properties, they destroyed the vast majority of the properties, which left the vast majority of Black Wall Street in destruction and flames.
By June 1st, most of the race riot had come to an end. The vast majority of Black Wall Street residents were either murdered, fled from the city, or in custody by law officials. Because of concerns of African-Americans in surrounding communities plotting revenge and launching a counterattack, Tulsa officials had required that black residents, who were still in custody, acquire a green card, which only is acquired if a white employer had promised to keep their employee inside. This policy continued into July as the remaining survivors of the Tulsa Race Riots were required to keep their green cards to ensure that there were no more counterattacks.
When evaluating the prosperity of Black Wall Street, one angle to take into consideration is this perceived threat to the status quo and how this perceived threat may have eventually led Black Wall Street to its ultimate demise.In the specific example of Greenwood, Oklahoma, this perceived economic threat led to the eventual downfall of Black Wall Street. For instance, many white residents felt intimidated by the growth and expansion of Black Wall Street. Not only was Greenwood, Tulsa expanding in population growth but it was also expanding its physical boundaries, which eventually collided with the boundaries of white residents. According to several newspapers and articles at the time, there were reports of hateful letters sent to prominent business leaders within Black Wall Street, which demanded that they stop overstepping their boundaries into the white segregated portion of Tulsa. Paradoxically, the economic success and prosperity of Black Wall Street also contributed to its eventual downfall as white residents grew increasingly frustrated and anxious of the wealth of the Greenwood community. Although White Americans enacted acts of violence against blacks frequently in the early 20th century, there was no justification until an allegation surfaced about an African-American male allegedly “assaulting” a white woman.
Revitalization and preservation efforts in the 1990s and 2000s resulted in tourism initiatives and memorials. John Hope Franklin Greenwood Reconciliation Park and the Greenwood Cultural Center honor the victims of the Tulsa Race Riot, although the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce plans a larger museum to be built with participation from the National Park Service.
In 2008, Tulsa announced that it sought to move the city's minor league baseball team, the Tulsa Drillers, to a new stadium, now known as ONEOK Field to be constructed in the Greenwood District. The proposed development includes a hotel, baseball stadium, and an expanded mixed-use district.Along with the new stadium, there will be extra development for the city blocks that surround the stadium. This project will bring Greenwood Historical District out front and center and attract not only tourists but also Tulsa residents to North Tulsa.
After the Tulsa Race Riots, many white residents had promised to rebuild after the massive destruction, but that did not come to fruition. Instead, many white residents attempted to profit off the destruction and exploit African-Americans by approaching them with offers to purchase their lands for extremely low prices. Some residents attempted to sue the city legally and filed insurance claims against the city government for , but all of those claims were denied by the city government. People within the African-American community after the Tulsa Race Riot rarely discussed the historical significance of Greenwood after the Tulsa Race Riots because of fear that it may occur again.
In 1997, a commission was established to examine recommendations to compensate and support the descendants of the victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. In 2001, a final report was released that highly recommended that victims’ descendants receive full reparations. Alfred Brophy, an American legal scholar, outlined four specific reasons why survivors and their descendants should receive full compensation: the damage affected African-American families, the city was culpable, and city leaders acknowledged that they had a moral responsibility to help rebuild the infrastructure after the race riot.
The Greenwood Historical District comprises an area bounded by the Crosstown Expressway (I-244) on the north, Elgin Avenue on the west, Greenwood Avenue on the east and the Frisco tracks on the south.
The City of Tulsa submitted an application to the U.S. Department of the Interior, for the "Greenwood Historic District" on September 29, 2011. On August 8, 2012, the Coordinator of the National Register Program wrote the Tulsa Preservation Commission that the proposed District would be renamed as the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. As of November 2014 [update] , the proposed Historic District had not been implemented.
The Greenwood Cultural Center, dedicated on October 22, 1995, was created as a tribute to Greenwood's history and as a symbol of hope for the community's future.The center has a museum, an African American art gallery, a large banquet hall, and housed the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame until 2007. The total cost of the center was almost $3 million. The cultural center is a very important part of the reconstruction and unity of the Greenwood Historical District.
The Greenwood Cultural Center sponsors and promotes education and cultural events preserving African American heritage. It also provides positive images of North Tulsa to the community, attracting a wide variety of visitors, not only to the center itself, but also to the city of Tulsa as a whole.
In 2011, the Greenwood Cultural Center lost 100% of its funding from the State of Oklahoma. As a result, the center may be forced to close its doors. [ citation needed ]A fundraising campaign is now underway to try to raise private funds to keep the educational and cultural facility open.
Ground was broken in 2008 at 415 North Detroit Avenue for a proposed Reconciliation Park to commemorate the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. John Hope Franklin, son of B. C. Franklin and a notable historian, attended the groundbreaking ceremony. After his death in 2009, the park was renamed John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park. Attractions include two sculptures and a dozen bronze informational plaques. It is a park primarily designed for education and reflection, and does not contain facilities for sports or other recreation.
Originally funded by the State of Oklahoma, City of Tulsa and private donors, it is now owned by the city and managed by the non-profit corporation, John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation.
Mass racial violence in the United States, also called race riots, can include such disparate events as:
The Tulsa race riot of 1921 took place on May 31 and June 1, 1921, when mobs of whites attacked black residents and businesses of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma. This is considered one of the worst incidents of racial violence in the history of the United States. The attack, carried out on the ground and by air, destroyed more than 35 blocks of the district, at the time the wealthiest black community in the United States.
The Black Wall Street may refer to:
Charles William Kerr was an American Presbyterian clergyman who served as pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma from 1900 to 1941. Kerr was the first permanent Protestant Christian pastor in Tulsa, arriving in 1900.
This article traces the history of Tulsa, part of present-day Oklahoma.
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Brady Theater is a theater and convention hall located in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was originally completed in 1914 and remodeled in 1930 and 1952. The building was used as a detention center during the 1921 Tulsa race riot. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and remains in use as a theater today. As of 2019, it will be renamed to the "Tulsa Theater", due to the controversy surrounding the Brady name.
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Roy Belton was an 18-year-old white man arrested in Tulsa, Oklahoma with a female accomplice for the August 21, 1920 hijacking and shooting of Homer Nida, a local taxi driver. He was taken from the county jail by a group of armed men, after a confrontation with the sheriff, and taken to an isolated area where he was lynched. This incident contributed to fears in the black community about treatment by police and whites if any of their members were arrested.
The Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, also called the 1921 Race Riot Commission, was authorized in 1997 by the Oklahoma State Legislature. Its purpose was to research the events of the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. Its report was submitted on February 28, 2001. The Tulsa Reparations Coalition, sponsored by the Center for Racial Justice, Inc. was formed April 7, 2001 to obtain restitution for the damages suffered by Tulsa's Black community, as recommended by the Oklahoma Commission on February 21, 2001.
Dick Rowland was an African-American teenage shoeshiner whose arrest in May 1921 was the impetus for the Tulsa Race Massacre. When he was arrested for assault, Rowland was 19 years old. The alleged victim of the assault was a white 17-year-old named Sarah Page. Page, who worked as an elevator operator, had eventually declined to prosecute. According to conflicting reports, the arrest was prompted after Rowland tripped in an elevator on his way to a segregated bathroom, and a white store clerk misconstrued the incident as an "assault" or a rape.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, as of 2015, the state of Oklahoma has an estimated population of 3,911,338, which is an increase of 159,987 or 4.26% since the year 2010. Oklahoma is the 28th most populous state in the United States.
Downtown Tulsa is an area of approximately 1.4 square miles (3.6 km2) surrounded by an inner-dispersal loop created by Interstate 244, Highway 64, and Highway 75. The area serves as Tulsa's financial and business district, and is the focus of a large initiative to draw tourism, which includes plans to capitalize on the area's historic architecture. Much of Tulsa's convention space is located in downtown, such as the Tulsa Performing Arts Center and the Tulsa Convention Center, and the BOK Center. Prominent downtown sub-districts include the Blue Dome District, the Tulsa Arts District, and the Greenwood Historical District, which includes the site of ONEOK Field, a baseball stadium for the Tulsa Drillers opened in 2010.
The Tulsa Tribune was an afternoon daily newspaper published in Tulsa, Oklahoma from 1919 to 1992. Owned and run by three generations of the Jones family, the Tribune closed in 1992 after the termination of its joint operating agreement with the morning Tulsa World.
The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is a non-profit organization that honors jazz, blues and gospel musicians in the state of Oklahoma. Housed in the former Tulsa Union Depot, which it now calls the Jazz Depot, the Hall of Fame is a music venue that hosts regular jazz performances. It is also a museum, displaying photographs, biographical information, artifacts, and memorabilia from musicians such as Chet Baker, Earl Bostic, Barney Kessel, and Jimmy Rushing.
Chris Combs is a composer, arranger, steel guitarist, and producer from Tulsa, Oklahoma. He has been a part of the jazz group Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey since 2008 and has joined contemporary artists like George Porter Jr, Matt Chamberlain, Jeff Coffin, Steven Bernstein, Skerik, Johnny Vidacovich, and Mike Dillon on stage and in the studio. Combs released a self-titled solo album in Oct 2017 debuting a new project called COMBSY.
Wyatt Tate Brady was an American merchant, politician, Ku Klux Klan member, and a "founder" of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Mount Zion Baptist Church is a historically significant church in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on September 5, 2008. The original building was burned during the Tulsa Race Riot on June 1, 1921. According to the Tulsa Preservation Commission, "... Mount Zion Baptist Church remains a testimony to the perseverance and tenacity of its congregants and the black community in Greenwood." The church building was rebuilt in 1952 on its original site.
Otis Clark was one of the last survivors of the May 31, 1921, Tulsa race riot, considered to be the worst ethnic riot in American history. He later worked as a Hollywood butler for movie stars Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, and Joan Crawford. Clark's wife lived at the Crawford residence working as the cook for Joan Crawford.
T. D. Evans was Mayor of Tulsa, Oklahoma from 1920-22, including the period of the Tulsa Race Riot on May 31 and June 1, 1921. He had previously been the judge ruling in the Tulsa Outrage trial of November 7, 1917.