Killing Off ‘Black Wall Street’

What is Black Wall Street? How come I never heard about this in any of my history classes or during any black history month specials? Why is does it seem like American history is trying to hide this very important piece of black history from us?

Greenwood, Oklahoma, a suburb of Tulsa, was the type of community that African Americans are still, today, attempting to reclaim and rebuild.  Black Wall Street was modern, majestic, sophisticated and unapologetically Black. Tragically, it was also the site of one of the bloodiest and most horrendous acts of terrorism that the United States has ever experienced. Even though the media would say that Las Vegas country concert shooting was, or maybe they will say the Orlando gay night club shooting was the most deadly. I know that is not the case.

I read an article on that said this about the night that changed “Black Wall Street’:

Why Tulsa?

Oklahoma, rich in oil deposits, became a state in 1907. It offered a promise of a better life for many formerly enslaved African Americans looking for a chance to start over and get away from the still-repressive Southern states.

In Tulsa, the Frisco railroad tracks divided the “white” part of town from the Greenwood District, called “Little Africa.” Laws prevented both whites and blacks from living in neighborhoods that were 75 percent the other race, so segregation “naturally” fell into place.

Red brick buildings sprang up along Greenwood Avenue, occupied by businesses owned by a thriving black middle class that only grew during an oil boom in the 1910s. Theaters, night clubs, churches, grocery stores thrived in the Greenwood District. The schools were superior to those of the white areas, and many of the houses had indoor plumbing before those in the white areas did.  

Because African Americans couldn’t shop in areas that were predominately white, a lot of money spent in Greenwood went right back into the community. By the time of the attacks on the citizens of Black Wall Street, there were more than 10,000 African Americans living in the area. The community supported two of its own newspapers, the Tulsa Star and the Oklahoma Sun—the second covering state and national news and politics as well.

But as the community flourished, disgruntlement and hatred did as well. The country was still reeling from the failed Reconstruction and furiously enacting Jim Crow laws. A number of African American men in other parts of the United States had been accused of sexual attacks on white women, and were subsequently put to death—usually at the hands of a lynch mob. The Ku Klux Klan had approximately 2,000 members in the Tulsa area by the end of 1921. With veterans returning from World War I and jobs becoming more scarce, envy and racial tension grew among some white citizens of Tulsa.

This all came to a terrifying head on May 31 and June 1, 1921.   

Over the course of sixteen hours, almost every business—each hotel, both hospitals, libraries, the newspapers, and doctor’s offices— were burned to the ground. Police detained and arrested 6,000 of the 10,000 African Americans who lived in the Greenwood District. 9,000 of them were left homeless Thirty-five city blocks comprised of 1,256 residences were razed. In today’s terms, it was the equivalent of $30 million in damage.

Linda Christenson from an Ebony Magazine article writes the following:

“The term “race riot” does not adequately describe the events of May 31—June 1, 1921 in Greenwood… In fact, the term itself implies that both blacks and whites might be equally to blame for the lawlessness and violence. The historical record documents a sustained and murderous assault on black lives and property. This assault was met by a brave but unsuccessful armed defense of their community by some black World War I veterans and during the night and day of the riot, deputized whites killed more than 300 African Americans. They looted and burned to the ground 40 square blocks of 1,265 African American homes, including hospitals, schools, and churches, and destroyed 150 businesses. White deputies and members of the National Guard arrested and detained 6,000 black Tulsans who were released only upon being vouched for by a white employer or other white citizen. Nine thousand African Americans were left homeless and lived in tents well into the winter of 1921.”

After my research was complete. I was proud, shocked, and sad. I could understand why this would information was withheld. Bottom line, it’s another low for white people. It shows that without a constant plan to pull African Americans down, blacks will thrive even in the worst climates.





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