In celebration of Black History Month, we would like to take a moment to remember and honor Tulsa’s Greenwood Community & Black Wall Street. – Jackson Mortuary, www.TheJacksonMortuary.com
During the oil boom of the 1910s, the area of northeast Oklahoma around Tulsa flourished, including the Greenwood neighborhood, which came to be known as “Little Africa” and “Negro Wall Street,” now commonly referred to as “Black Wall Street”.
At the time, the Greenwood District was home to dozens of prominent African-American businessmen and boasted a variety of thriving businesses.
In fact, the district was so successful that a dollar would stay within the district an estimated 19 months before being spent elsewhere. Not only did Black Americans want to contribute to the success of their own shops, but there were also racial segregation laws that prevented them from shopping anywhere other than Greenwood.
During the week of Memorial Day 1921 the area was destroyed by White mob violence and aircraft bombing. Now known as the Tulsa Race Massacre, the event is considered the worst incident of racial violence in U.S. history, with more than 35 city blocks leveled, 10,000 left homeless, and 300 or so African Americans estimated murdered. (The official death count reached in 2001 is 26, based on surviving official records. Scientists believe mass graves have recently been located.)
The governor declared martial law, and the National Guard arrived with aircraft and truck-mounted machine guns. It was the first time an American city was bombed from the air by the U.S. government.
Following these tragic events, the area was rebuilt and thrived again with 100 more African-American businesses than there had been before. This boon lasted until the 1960s when desegregation allowed Blacks to shop in areas from which they were previously restricted.
Detroit Avenue, along the edge of Standpipe Hill, contained a number of expensive houses belonging to doctors, lawyers and business owners. The buildings on Greenwood Avenue housed the offices of almost all of Tulsa’s Black lawyers, realtors, doctors, and other professionals. Deep Greenwood, as the area at the intersection of Greenwood and Archer Avenues was known, served as a model African-American community to towns worldwide.
At the time of the riot, there were 15 well-known Black American physicians, one of whom, Dr. A. C. Jackson, was considered the “most able Negro surgeon in America” by the Mayo brothers. Dr. Jackson was shot to death as he surrendered on his porch during the unrest.
Greenwood had two newspapers, the Tulsa Star and the Oklahoma Sun, which covered not only Tulsa, but also state and national news and elections.
Greenwood was a religiously active community. By 1921 there were more than two dozen Black churches and many Christian youth organizations and religious societies.
In the last year, interest has been sparked in Greenwood’s history thanks to the HBO TV series “Watchmen,” which featured a character connected to the community and recreated the riot with horrific accuracy.
Now, fund raising efforts are underway to restore Greenwood; new movies, plays and books are being produced about it; and billionaire Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg has named his economic plan to empower African Americans the Greenwood Initiative.
– Sources include The Greenwood Cultural Center