Even though it was burned to the ground, Greenwood did exist and was a testament to Black economic power.
Despite the hate and racism that destroyed it, Greenwood remains a shining example of what Black people can do when they come together.
We’ve all heard of Wall Street but have you ever heard of Black Wall Street? It’s actually known as Greenwood, a district that was one of the most prestigious, economically-independent Black neighbourhoods of its time or ever. The prosperous Black community would come to a tragic end between May 31 and June 1 in 1921, when the community would be become a victim of hate, envy and prejudice.
Greenwood was a wealthy Black district in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the early ‘20s. Blacks had travelled along The Trail of Tears along with the Five Civilized Tribes around 1907 when the state was established. Many Blacks were descendants of runaway slaves and the state of Oklahoma represented an oasis away from the harsh racism of the South. Greenwood represented a chance for a new beginning.
It was the first and maybe the last of its kind as it was a place where Blacks prospered in freedom, independence and wealth. This legendary community prospered due to the circulating Black dollar keeping Black-owned businesses, property and households flourishing in Greenwood.
The 1910 oil boom in the Northeast area of Oklahoma contributed to the progress of Blacks who lived in the area. Greenwood was home to Black multimillionaires with thriving businesses and neighbourhoods that were home to lawyers, realtors and doctors. Even though racial segregation kept many Blacks out of certain areas, people in the community wanted to patronize their own businesses.
Unfortunately, hate and racism would destroy Greenwood and all that is represented. The Tulsa Race Riot is one of the most devastating events in U.S. History and it ripped the town apart in 1921. An alleged attack on a White female by a Black young man set off the events that would lead to a 16-hour riot. The atrocity culminated in the $1.5 million in property damage; a loss of over 1,000 homes and business; 8,624 injured and the deaths of over 300 people.
There have been many that have worked to keep the memory of what happened in Greenwood alive. Reggie Turner, an entertainment attorney, wanted people to know about Greenwood and the atrocities that took place in America in 1921. He put together a documentary entitled “Before They Die!” which tells the story of Greenwood to garner attention and restitution for this holocaust that occurred on American soil.
Robert D. Holloway II was one of the last survivors of the infamous Tulsa Race Riots of 1921, who passed away April 13 2010 in Los Angeles. His father and grandmother owned businesses and properties on the “Black Wall Street,” all of which were burned or destroyed when armed white mobs attacked the community. Pastor Cedric V. Alexander of Walker Temple A.M.E. Church, Holloway’s nephew, recounted how he had heard his grandfather saved his children by hiding them in bushes and transporting them. “They all survived, but everything they owned was lost. This was a tragic event, psychologically and economically, on those who lived through it and those who followed,” stated Alexander.
Even though Greenwood’s “Black Wall Street” met a terribly unfair and unjust end, it still shines behind the charred remains. It is a testament to what Black people can accomplish when they come together for a common goal.
Brian W. Carter contributed to this article.