The Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma was the most affluent concentration of African-Americans in the early 1900’s. It was filled with black-owned businesses, including doctor and lawyer practices, nightclubs, hotels, cafes, boutiques, movie theaters, grocery stores, beauty salons, and shoeshine shops. At the heart of the Greenwood District lay Greenwood Avenue which many have compared to the legendary Beale Street in Memphis and State Street in Chicago. One source even says it was impossible to see a difference between New York City and Tulsa during this time.
Besides being wealthy, Greenwood was also a very religiously active community, with more than two dozen African-American churches as well as many Christian youth organizations and religious societies represented in the area. To learn more about the Greenwood District’s history, check out this article.
Unfortunately, on May 31st and June 1st, 1921 a great tragedy overcame Black Wall Street. A mob of white extremists instigated the greatest race massacre history has ever seen, leaving the entire Greenwood District burned to the ground. As many as three hundred people lost their lives. Property damage ran into the millions of dollars. The thirty-five-square-block-area that once comprised the city’s entire African American community, lay in ruins.
Following the events known as the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, the Greenwood District was rebuilt and boasted 242 black-owned and black-operated business establishments by 1942. The area thrived until the 1960s when desegregation allowed blacks to shop in areas from which they were previously restricted. Detroit Avenue, along the edge of Standpipe Hill, contained a number of expensive houses. The buildings on Greenwood Avenue housed the offices of almost all of Tulsa’s black lawyers, realtors, doctors, and other professionals. Deep Greenwood, as the area at the intersection of Greenwood and Archer Avenues was known, served as a model African-American community to towns worldwide. national news and elections.
To commemorate the Greenwood District and remember Black Wall Street’s legacy, The Greenwood Cultural Center, a multipurpose educational, arts, and humanities complex promoting history, culture, and positive race relations was constructed in the 1980s. This multimillion-dollar community landmark serves as a direct link to the district’s storied past and as a living memorial to the legacy of Tulsa’s historic Greenwood District and its Black Wall Street.
Another initiative that celebrates Tulsa’s rich black history is the Greenwood Art Project. Located in the heart of the Greenwood District, its purpose is to add a cultural component to the many activities and programs the Centennial Commission will host during the centennial year. The Greenwood Art Projects aspires to be a catalyst for uniting the city of Tulsa by working with artists, residents, leaders, organizations, and businesses to elevate awareness of Greenwood’s history, focusing on the 1921 Tulsa Massacre and the once thriving Black Wall Street. It strives to create art that activates the community towards healing from our history, rebuilding, and re-cultivating Greenwood Avenue in the most beautiful and authentic way while supporting Tulsa’s local art culture.
To learn more about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and how the Greenwood District is developing itself currently I highly encourage you to visit tulsa2021.org, a beautifully laid-out website created specifically to commemorate the Tulsa Race Massacre that happened exactly 100 years ago. Also, check out the Tulsa Historical Society concerning this topic.
Check out these podcasts about Black Wall Street: