Greenwood, Tulsa, Oklahoma: Wikis


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Greenwood is a neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As one of the most successful and wealthiest African American communities in the United States during the early 20th Century, it was popularly known as America's "Black Wall Street" until the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. The riot was one of the most devastating race riots in history and it destroyed the once thriving Greenwood community.


The Roots

Many African Americans moved to Oklahoma in the years before and after 1907, which is the year when 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.[1] Most of them traveled from the states in the south where racism was very prevalent, and Oklahoma offered hope and provided all people with a chance to start over. They traveled to Oklahoma by wagons, horses, trains, and even on foot.

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 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.

When Tulsa became a booming and rather well noted town in the United States, the residents and government attempted to leave out important aspects of the city. Many people considered Tulsa to be two separate cities rather than one city of united communities. The white residents of Tulsa referred to the area north of the Frisco railroad tracks as “Little Africa” and other derogatory names. They were threatened by the success of the African American community and worried that the community might continue to grow. This community later acquired the name Greenwood and in 1921 it was home to about 10,000 African American men, women, and children.[1]

Greenwood was centered on a street known as Greenwood Avenue. This street was important because it ran north for over a mile from the Frisco Railroad yards, and it was one of the few streets that did not cross through both black and white neighborhoods. The citizens of Greenwood took pride in this fact because it was something they had all to themselves and did not have to share with the white community of Tulsa. Greenwood Avenue was home to the African American commercial district with many red brick buildings. These buildings belonged to African Americans and they were thriving businesses, including grocery stores, clothing stores, barber shops, and much more. Greenwood was one of the most affluent communities and became known as “Black Wall Street.”

"The Black Wall Street"

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")[2] The area was home to several prominent black businessmen, many of them multimillionaires. Greenwood boasted a variety of thriving businesses that were very successful up until the Tulsa Race Riot. Not only did African Americans want to contribute to the success of their own shops, but also the racial segregation laws prevented them from shopping anywhere else other than Greenwood.[3] Following the riots, the area was rebuilt and thrived until the 1960's when desegregation allowed blacks to shop in areas that were restricted before.

The buildings on Greenwood Avenue housed the offices of almost all of Tulsa’s black lawyers, realtors, doctors, and other professionals.[4] In Tulsa at the time of the riot, there were fifteen well-known African American physicians, one of whom was considered the “most able Negro surgeon in America” by one of the Mayo brothers.[5] Greenwood published two newspapers, the Tulsa Star and the Oklahoma Sun, which covered not only Tulsa, but also state and national news and elections.

Greenwood housed more churches than all of Tulsa’s white community and Greenwood was a very religiously active community. At the time of the riot there were more than a dozen African American churches and many Christian youth organizations and religious societies.

In northeastern Oklahoma, as elsewhere in America, the prosperity of minorities emerged amidst racial and political tension. The Ku Klux Klan made its first major appearance in Oklahoma shortly before the worst race riot in history.[6] It is estimated that there were about 3,200 members of the Klan in Tulsa in 1921.

The Tulsa Race Riot

Black Wall Street in flames, June 1921

One of the nation's worst acts of racial violence—the Tulsa Race Riot—occurred there on June 1, 1921, when 35 square blocks of homes and businesses were torched by mobs of angry whites.

The riot began because of an alleged assault of a white woman, Sarah Page, by an African American man, Dick Rowland. The Tulsa Tribune got word of the incident and published the story in the paper on May 31, 1921. 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. [5]

African American men began to arm themselves and join forces in order to protect Dick Rowland; however, this action prompted white men to arm themselves and confront the group of African American men. 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 on the evening of May 31, 1921. 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 deployed on the afternoon of June 1, 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.[7] Property damage totaled $1.5 million (1921).[7] Although the official death toll claimed that 26 blacks and 13 whites died during the fighting, most estimates are considerably higher. At the time of the riot, the American Red Cross listed 8,624 persons in need of assistance, in excess of 1,000 homes and businesses destroyed, and the delivery of several stillborn infants.[5]

Post riot

After the riot had ended the Tulsa Tribune published another controversial article, which discussed not allowing the Greenwood district to be rebuilt. [5]It brutally spoke about the once thriving African American community and the article made it clear that the city of Tulsa did not want to recreate the prosperity that Greenwood once possessed. But the citizens of Greenwood refused to allow a newspaper article to prevent them from rebuilding their lives. It was not an easy effort to rebuild the community out of the ashes but the residents of Greenwood were not going to allow anyone to kick them while they were down, and instead they chose to stand up among the wreckage and restore their homes and businesses. The strong religious faith of the African Americans provided support for each person and allowed them to join together in the faith that they could get their lives back.

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.[8] However, the neighborhood fell prey to an economic and population drain in the 1960s, and much of the area was leveled during urban renewal in the early 1970s to make way for a highway loop around the downtown district. Several blocks of the old neighborhood around the intersection of Greenwood Ave. and Archer St. were saved from demolition and have been restored, forming part of the Greenwood Historical District.


Revitalization and preservation efforts in the 1990s and 2000s resulted in tourism initiatives and memorials. Hope Franklin Greenwood Reconciliation Park and the Greenwood Cultural Center honor the Tulsa Race Riot, although the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce plans a larger museum to be built with involvement from the national parks service.[9]

In 2008, Tulsa announced that it sought to move the city's minor league baseball team, the Tulsa Drillers, to a new stadium to be constructed in the Greenwood District. The proposed development includes a hotel, baseball stadium, and an expanded mixed-use district.[10] Along with the new stadium, there will be extra development for the city blocks that surround the stadium. This project will bring Greenwood Historical District out front and center and attract not only tourists but also Tulsa residents to North Tulsa.

Greenwood Cultural Center

The Greenwood Cultural Center dedicated on October 22, 1995 was created as a tribute to Greenwood’s history and as a symbol of hope for the community’s future.[11] The center has a museum, an African American art gallery, a large banquet hall, and also the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. The total cost of the center was almost $3 million.[12] The cultural center is a very important part of the reconstruction and unity of the Greenwood Historical District.

The Greenwood Cultural Center sponsors and promotes education and cultural events preserving African American heritage. It also provides positive images of North Tulsa to the community attracting a wide variety of visitors not only to the center itself but also to the city of Tulsa as a whole.


  1. ^ a b
  2. ^ A Find of a Lifetime. Silent film of African-American towns in Oklahoma. 1920's. Rev. S. S. Jones for the National Baptist Convention. American Heritage magazine. Retrieved September 16, 2006.
  3. ^ "Tulsa's Greenwood Centre Was Once "Black Wall Street of the - Southwest"" The Daily Oklahoman. February 4, 1985.
  4. ^ "Up From the Ashes" Tulsa World. March 8, 1993.
  5. ^ a b c d Hannibal B. Johnson, Black Wall Street: From Riot to Renaissance in Tulsa's Historic Greenwood District. Austin, TX. 1998.
  6. ^ Charles C. Alexander, Ku Klux Klan in the Southwest (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1965)
  7. ^ a b White, Walter F. "The Eruption of Tulsa", The Nation, June 29, 1921.
  8. ^ Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame
  9. ^ Lassek, P.J. (2007-10-24). "Race riot memorial: Councilors might back efforts for designation". Tulsa World. Retrieved 2008-10-29.  
  10. ^ Lassek, P.J. (2008-06-25). "Tulsa Drillers stadium coming downtown to Greenwood District". Tulsa World. Retrieved 2008-10-29.  
  11. ^
  12. ^ "Ruins to Renaissance" Tulsa World. October 15, 1995.

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