The Founding of Greenwood
Source: The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, MO), September 6, 1913.
The Rise of Black Wall Street
Source: The American Magazine (New York, NY), Vol. 79, January -June 1915, 59.
Source: The Tulsa Star (Tulsa, OK), Vol. 9, January 4, 1919, 1.
Source: The Tulsa Star (Tulsa, OK), Vol. 9, January 4, 1919, 2.
Source: The Tulsa Star (Tulsa, OK), Vol. 9, April 24, 1920, 6.
Source: The Tulsa Star (Tulsa, OK), Vol. 3, June 26, 1915, 2.
Source: The Tulsa Star (Tulsa, OK), Vol. 6, September 14, 1918, 4.
Greenwood had the finest Black-owned theatre in the entire state. This theatre was owned by a woman who could very well be considered the Godmother of Greenwood, Mrs. Loula Williams, whose descendants appear in Descended from The Promised Land: The Legacy of Black Wallstreet.
Source: The Tulsa Star (Tulsa, OK), Vol. 3, June 26, 1915, 5.
The Red Summer of 1919
Those who returned from the war came back with a different worldview – a new sense of courage, pride, and dignity. The war gave them plenty to think about as the Axis Powers bombarded African American soldiers with political leaflets reminding them that they were fighting on behalf of a country that treated them as second-class citizens and encouraging them to desert.
Original Source: National Archives.
When Black soldiers returned, they were met with resentment, disrespect, and outright discrimination. Beginning in the summer of 1919, there were 25 significant race-based clashes across the nation. Most of these incidents were instigated by White Americans. Du Bois proclaimed in his May 1919 editorial in The Crisis, “We return. We return from fighting. We return fighting.”2
Source: The New York Times (New York, NY), June 20, 1921, 8.
Source: The Tulsa Tribune (Tulsa, OK), Vol. 9, June 4, 1921, 8.
Source: The Tulsa Star (Tulsa, OK), Vol. 9, April 10, 1920, 1.
Source: The Tulsa Tribune (Tulsa, OK), Vol. 9, May 31, 1921, 1.
Source: Oklahoma Publishing Company Photography Collection, OHS
The Black defenders retreated to Greenwood where they were greeted by Black soldiers who had set up a line of defense on first street and the Frisco tracks. These defenders successfully protected Greenwood from the attempted invasion on May 31, 1921.
Top Right: More than 1,000 houses and businesses were destroyed. Source: Oklahoma Historical Society/Getty Images https://www.history.com/news/black-wall-street-tulsa-race-massacre#&gid=ci024dc7d0400027cb&pid=tulsa-riot-gettyimages-956085192
Bottom Right: The burning Greenwood District. Source: American National Red Cross Photograph Collection (Library of Congress) https://www.history.com/news/black-wall-street-tulsa-race-massacre#&gid=ci024dc7d0400027cb&pid=tulsa-riot-gettyimages-956085192
Bottom Left: Racial tensions erupt. Source: Oklahoma Historical Society/Getty Images https://www.history.com/news/black-wall-street-tulsa-race-massacre#&gid=ci024dc7d0400027cb&pid=tulsa-riot-gettyimages-956085192
Source: Photographer unknown. June 1, 1921. Tulsa Historical Society and Museum. Catalog Number 1981.032.009
Source: Jacob H. Hooker, 1921. Tulsa Historical Society and Museum. Catalog Number 2002.209.001.
Source: Photographer unknown. June 1, 1921. Tulsa Historical Society and Museum. Catalog Number 1977.025.004
Source: Photographer unknown. 1921. Tulsa Historical Society and Museum. Catalog Number 1984.002.024
Source: Photographer unknown. June 1, 1921. Tulsa Historical Society and Museum. Catalog Number 1982.033.003
Source: The Black Dispatch (Oklahoma City, OK), Vol. 6, June 10, 1921, 1.
Source: The Lincoln University Herald (Chester County, PA), Vol. 26, June-August 1921, 1.
Rebuilding and Failure to bring remedy/restoration
Tulsa was now the shame of the nation, so it had to figure out ways to change the optics of Tulsa as a den of race hatred. Three days after the massacre The Lincoln University Herald newspaper did a story on President Harding’s visit and commencement speech. “President Harding commended the work of the institution and contrasting the commencement scene before him with the recent riots in Tulsa, said: ‘God grant that in the soberness, the fairness and the justice of the country, we shall never again have a spectacle like it.’”6
By June 6-7, 1921, the plan to steal the land in Greenwood was publicly revealed. Also, the plan to move the Black district further north was being enforced with the issuance of a fire ordinance. On the 7th of June, the Executive Welfare Committee created a body called the Tulsa Real Estate Exchange which was essentially designed to gentrify the Greenwood District and turn the area into an industrial and wholesale district. The Real Estate Exchange’s leadership included city booster W. Tate Brady. Tate Brady exalted himself as a proud Klansman and leader of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.7
Simultaneously the City Commission passed a fire ordinance that required any new structures in Greenwood to be at least two stories high and be made of concrete, brick, or steel. This effort was designed to block Greenwood’s Black residents from rebuilding. The real estate exchange, along with Mayor Evans, wanted the burned-out district to be used as a train depot among other uses.
In 1925, the National Negro Business League held its annual conference in Tulsa. This was important because many feared coming back to Tulsa after the massacre. Black Tulsa wanted to reassure Black investors that Greenwood had regained its economic and social stability.
Urban Renewal and Highways
In 1979, the Greenwood Chamber was witnessing the final demise of its legacy and began working with city redevelopment specialists to get government funding to restore 13 buildings at Greenwood and Archer. After a series of failed attempts to gain investors, the Tulsa Urban Renewal Authority stepped in as general partner. The Greenwood Chamber continued to participate as a limited partner. Moton Health Systems also came on as a partner. So did two non-profit groups, Preservation Inc. and the Tulsa Urban League. The new partnership would become known as Greenwood Centre Inc. according to an article published by the Daily Oklahoman on Monday, February 4, 1985.
Failure to Bring Justice
In March of 2004 U.S. Senior District Judge James Ellison stated that the “plaintiffs’ claims are barred by the statute of limitations is strictly a legal conclusion and does not speak to the tragedy of the riot or the terrible devastation it caused.”9 By September 2004, there were only 106 survivors remaining. The city and state asked the judge to dismiss the case because of a two-year statute of limitations in civil cases.
In September 2020, Tulsa attorney Damario Solomon-Simmons, representing a group of survivors and their descendants, filed a lawsuit against the city in the Tulsa County District Court demanding reparations for the long-lasting harm experienced by Black residents both during and after the events of 1921. The lead plaintiff in the lawsuit is Lessie Benningfield Randle, 106 years old, one of the three known survivors of the massacre still living. The lawsuit lists seven defendants, including the Tulsa County sheriff, the Oklahoma National Guard, and the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce.
This Historical Overview was written by
Little Afrika Market
Consultant and History Recovery Specialist Chief Egunwale Amusan is a highly sought-after expert who is committed to the positive transformation of Global African Identity. As a key influencer in the Black Wall Street movement, Amusan has served as Adviser to the Black Wall Street Chamber of Commerce and is the founder of the Black Wall Street Memorial March Weekend, which has been active for the past 25 years and its mission is to preserve the history of Greenwood. He is the co-founder and Owner of The Real Black Wall Street Tour. Chief Amusan is a Board member at the Center of Public Secrets, and Advisor for the New Tulsa Star Online Publication. Chief Amusan is an entrepreneur and the CEO of Little Afrikan Market. Chief Amusan is a member of the Tulsa Remembrance Coalition, working inPartnership with Bryan Stevenson and the Equal Justice Initiative Soil Collection Project.For the past four years he has worked as a consultant for writer producer Tricia Woodgett and writer/director Darnell Martin. Chief Amusan is a certified Traditional Ancestral Chief. Title bestowed in 2012 in Abeokuta, Nigeria. He is the President of the African AncestralSociety with members in Oklahoma, Dallas,Houston, Louisiana, and Kentucky. The Society has a social justice arm that work closely with the Terence Crutcher Foundation, HRW(Human Rights Watch), ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), and LDF (Legal Defense and Educational Fund) currently serves on several boards including American Baptist College, Nashville; Bread for the World, Washington, DC; and, is a member of the National African American Reparations Commission.
2. W.E.B. Du Bois, “Returning Soldiers,” The Crisis 18 (May 1919), 13, https://glc.yale.edu/returning-soldiers
3. W.E.B. Du Bois, “Returning Soldiers,” The Crisis 18 (May 1919), 13, https://glc.yale.edu/returning-soldiers
4. Perry, Andre M., et al. “The True Costs of the Tulsa Race MASSACRE, 100 Years Later.” Brookings, Brookings, 28 May 2021, www.brookings.edu/research/the-true-costs-of-the-tulsa-race-massacre-100-years-later/.
5. The Editors, Walter F. White. “Tulsa, 1921.” The Nation, The Nation, 10 June 2021, www.thenation.com/article/society/tulsa-1921/.
6. “President Harding at Lincoln University.” Lincoln University Herald, June-August 1921, 1.
7. Chapman, Lee Roy. “The Nightmare of Dreamland: Tate Brady and The Tulsa Outrage.” Center for Public Secrets, Center for Public Secrets, 28 Oct. 2020, www.centerforpublicsecrets.org/post/the-nightmare-of-dreamland-by-lee-roy-chapman
8. James S. Hirsch, Riot and Remembrance: The Tulsa Race Massacre and its Legacy (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), 136.