Black Wall Street (Tulsa).

This week there were two men arrested in Tulsa for the killing of three African Americans as well as injuring a couple more people. The men were not black (one white, one is said to at least somewhat Native American) which of course leads to speculation about Hate Crimes.

Somebodyisfromhere.com has family in Tulsa and has enjoyed his trips there. One news report Somebodyisfromhere.com heard indicated that race relations have been fairly good over the last several years in Tulsa, but did reference a riot in the 1920s in “Black Wall Street.”

Somebodyisfromhere.com was curious about this and about the Wall Street reference so far away from New York.

First of all, the name: 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 “the Negro Wall Street” (now commonly referred to as “the Black Wall Street”)

The beginning:

Many African Americans moved to Oklahoma in the years before and after 1907, which is the year Oklahoma became a state. Oklahoma represented change and provided a chance for African Americans to get away from slavery and the harsh racism of their previous homes. Most of them traveled from other states in the south where racism was very prevalent, and Oklahoma offered hope and provided all people with a chance to start over…

Many of the African Americans who traveled to Oklahoma had ancestors who could be traced back to Oklahoma. A lot of the settlers were relatives of African American slaves who had traveled on foot with the Five Civilized Tribes along the Trail of Tears. Others were the descendants of runaway slaves who had fled to Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma) in an effort to escape lives of oppression. The Emancipation Proclamation freed all of these former slaves in 1863. Many who had been owned by the Creeks and Seminoles were adopted into those tribes. They were thus able to live freely in the Oklahoma Territory.

The name Greenwood was derived from Greenwood Avenue.

The successes:

The buildings on Greenwood Avenue housed the offices of almost all of Tulsa’s black lawyers, realtors, doctors, and other professionals. In Tulsa at the time of the riot, there were fifteen well-known African American physicians, one of whom, Dr. A. C. Jackson, was considered the “most able Negro surgeon in America” by one of the Mayo brothers.

Dr,. Johnson was shot as he left his house during the Riot. The causes:

One of the nation’s worst acts of racial violence, the Tulsa Race Riot, occurred there (in) 1921, when 35 square blocks of homes and businesses were torched by mobs of angry whites.

The riot began because of the alleged assault of a white elevator operator, 17-year old Sarah Page, by an African American shoeshiner, 19-year old Dick Rowland (Mr. Rowland was eventually exonerated). The Tulsa Tribune got word of the incident and chose to publish the story in the paper… Shortly after the newspaper article surfaced, there was news that a white lynch mob was going to take matters into its own hands and kill Dick Rowland.

A group of armed white men congregated outside the jail and, subsequently, a group of African American men joined the assembled crowd in order to protect Dick Rowland. There was an argument in which a white man tried to take a gun from a black man, and the gun fired a bullet up into the sky. This incident promoted many others to fire their guns, and the violence erupted…Whites flooded into the Greenwood district and destroyed the businesses and homes of African American residents. No one was exempt to the violence of the white mobs; men, women, and even children were killed by the mobs. Troops were eventually deployed…but by that time there was not much left of the once thriving Greenwood district. Over 600 successful businesses were lost. Among these were 21 churches, 21 restaurants, 30 grocery stores and two movie theaters, plus a hospital, a bank, a post office, libraries, schools, law offices, a half-dozen private airplanes and even a bus system.

Aftermath:

The community mobilized its resources and rebuilt the Greenwood area within five years of the Tulsa Race Riot and the neighborhood was a hotbed of jazz and blues in the 1920s…

It resumed being a vital black community until segregation was overturned by the Federal Government during the 1950s and 60s. Desegregation encouraged blacks to live and shop elsewhere in the city, causing Greenwood to lose much of its original vitality.

 

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2 Responses to Black Wall Street (Tulsa).

  1. Mohamed says:

    A guys or some guys who grew up in Tulsa wrote a book about this years ago. If I run across it again I’d be happy to comenmt with the title at a later date to make your readers aware of it.What’s interesting is that this type of thing wasn’t uncommon. Remember the movie Rosewood from a few years ago starring Ving Rhames? That was a true story that happened in Florida during or just after WWI.I found out last summer at my family reunion that something similar happened at least once in a small town in Missouri where a large number of whites created a firing line and started shooting into the black side of town. They ran out all the blacks who weren’t dead and stole their property. Today you wouldn’t know that blacks had ever lived their. The brother who gave the presentation is leading a modern day effort to reclaim his family’s property.

  2. Somebody says:

    Mohamed, thanks for the message. I would be interested in learning about that book. I do remember the Singleton movie but unfortunately I never did see it. I’m certainly not surprised. I’ve recently – perhaps as a White Northerner – realized how little I know about the earlier successes of the African Americans. So much of our literature is focused, rightfully, on slavery in school, but I do wish there was perhaps more about the doctors and the lawyers and, especially, the politicians.

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