BLACK WALL STREET
GREENWOOD TULSA OKLAHOMA

Down in the history books, it went, but imagine if your story was told wrong…

That’s exactly how the story of Tulsa’s Black Wall Street goes.  

History paints a picture of a mild disruption in the lives of  Tulsa citizens during what they describe as a riot between the races.

But what do you think of when you think of a riot?

“A riot can be defined as a violent public disorder.”

Now, what do you think of when you hear the word massacre?

“A massacre can be defined as the act or an instance of killing a number of usually helpless or unresisting human beings under circumstances of atrocity or cruelty.”Black Wall Street tulsa

There is a clear difference between the two. A riot is not the same as a massacre.

Calling it a riot is a way of watering down the rich history and bloodshed that occurred in a community of thriving black entrepreneurs almost 100 years ago and the innocent lives that were lost.

It happened in an established town called Greenwood.

A black business district that was thriving.

This was a community where the people were self-made. They started from the bottom and built themselves up to be a flourishing community of black-owned businesses. They were empowered through their entrepreneurial efforts and established a sense of comfort and protection amongst each other by operating in a community of their people.  

And thus, the town of Greenwood became otherwise known as Black Wall Street; a term synonymous with the infamous New York City financial district known as Wall Street. The connection? Both were booming districts that promoted financial growth and stability through the establishment of profitable businesses and creating sustainable jobs. It was said that the dollar circulated in the Greenwood community for 3-5 years before ever leaving the community.

Black Wall Street tulsa

The beginning of the end began on May 30, 1921. A young, black man named Dick Rowland was alone in an elevator with a young white woman. What exactly occurred in this elevator? No one knows for sure. What we do know is that upon exiting the elevator, the girl accused the young man of attempting to assault her. Rowland was soon captured and arrested. When questioned, he adamantly denied the claims against him. Despite the lack of evidence and the denials by Rowland, within hours news began to spread like wildfire amongst the white community of the “incident”.

To ignite the issue, even more, just a day later on May 31st, the Tulsa Tribune published an article with the title, “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in an Elevator”. This enraged the Tulsa community of white people. This concerned the Tulsa community of black people. Blacks knew that young blacks were often lynched without hesitation for merely looking or whistling at a white woman.

Tulsa race riot massacre remains

With news that Rowland was being detained at the courthouse, a large group of black people rallied together, unified to protest what they thought would be a lynching soon to occur. Blacks in Greenwood were economically powerful and displayed their wealth by exercising their second amendment rights. At the same time, a larger group of white people rallied together unified to stop the protest.

Imagine the commanding image of a large group of successful black people banding together to show their solidarity. In many ways, whites envied the success of these flourishing black people. As unified as they were, blacks were still heavily outnumbered. In the middle of the mobs, a shot was fired, and the violence ensued.

The violence was unimaginable. There were bloody scenes that left permanent scars on the brains of the survivors. There were no groups left untouched. Men, women, small children, babies, and the elderly all fell victim to these heinous acts of violence. Innocent people being shot, burned to death, captured with ropes around their necks and dragged from cars. The list goes on. Firebombs were even reportedly dropped in the small town. Angry mobs set fire to approximately 1,200 homes and businesses which were destroyed and spanned over 35 city blocks. What took years of blood, sweat, tears, and sacrifice to build, was destroyed in a matter of two days. Schools, churches, hospitals, over 25 restaurants, over 40 markets, all wiped away.

Tulsa-black-wall-street-home-burning

When the National Guard came, all of the black citizens were arrested and detained while the white citizens of Tulsa were allowed to continue to wreak havoc on the town. There are pictures captured from this time with titles saying, “Running the Negro Out of Tulsa. Over 300 black people were killed and over 10,000 black people were left homeless. Bodies were discarded like trash and to this day are still being uncovered in mass graves. There was no humane regard for the lives of innocent people. Survivors recount seeing black bodies loaded on the backs of trucks and trains being dumped off into fields in other towns and off bridges into the Arkansas River.

To this day, no one has been charged with any of the murders or assaults that took place during the Greenwood Massacre.

Despite having the odds set against us, like a phoenix, our people rose from the ashes and picked up and rebuilt eventually. Although Greenwood was never able to become what it once was, we can indeed learn from the stories of the past and know that we are more than capable of uniting, thriving, and owning our own.  

 

Citations:

(n.d.). Tulsa Historical Society & Museum. 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre – Tulsa Historical Society & Museum. Retrieved January 12, 2020, from
http://www.tulsahistory.org/exhibit/1921-tulsa-race-massacre/

Brown, D. (2018, September 28). In Tulsa, a century-old race massacre still haunts Black Wall Street – The Washington Post. In Tulsa, a century-old race massacre still haunts Black Wall Street – The Washington Post.  Retrieved January 12, 2020, from
http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2018/09/28/feature/they-was-killing-black-people/
Riot. In The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary. Retrieved January 12, 2020, from
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/riot

“Massacre.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc.,
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/massacre. Accessed 12 January 2020.


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