“The Death of Black Wallstreet”: The 1921 race attacks in Tulsa Oklahoma

 

A Privately owned bus line

2 movie theaters

2 newspapers 

21 churches

21 restaurants

30 grocery stores

a hospital

6 private planes

                     Looking at that list, its impressive for a modern town to boast these types of amenities, let alone a community in the early 1900s, and what makes it even more impressive it was a black community. You may be wondering where this was and why haven’t you heard of it before. All this splendor was encompassed within a 35 block radius of Tulsa Oklahoma that was nicknamed “Little Africa” or “Black Wall Street.” The main thoroughfare was Greenwood Ave, and Archer and Pine Streets intersected it. From the First letters in each of those names you get G.A.P., and that’s where the renowned R&B music group the GAP Band got its name . There have been other cities that carried the moniker of “black wall street” (parts of Durham North Carolina) but what made this area more impressive was the high level of prosperity and pride that each person of the community carried.

  

The mainstay of the community was to educate every child. Nepotism was the one word they believed in.

Today education has been reduced to being viewed as an afterthought or nuisance  in the journey of  becoming an instant celebrity or professional athlete.  Creating a place setting at the corporate table for those who look like you is almost non-existence due to the “crabs in a barrel” mentality and fear of losing your piece of the pie by helping someone else obtain theirs.

The dollar circulated 36 to 100 times, sometimes taking a year for currency to leave the community

Compare this to the fact that the dollar now leaves the black community in 15 minutes. While the spending power of current Black America is far larger than it was during that era, the monetary influence in the community pales in comparison.

In doing my research, I  began to wonder blacks in this community were able to acquire the wealth to build this type of paradise in the midst of racial bigotry. Its was one thing to own land, but blacks having ownership of six private planes when the state of Oklahoma only had two airports at the time was very impressive. The state of Oklahoma was initially designated as being a black and Native American state and there were 28 black townships in the area and  through  the inter-marrying of the Native Americans, some blacks were able to acquire their “fabled” 40 acres and a mule and many times that included oil. Because of Jim Crow laws, these growing communities were forced to pass the dollar from one hand to another which was the jump-start of creating independent wealth and word spread nationally that this was the place to be for blacks.This area also served as a hub for blacks in neighboring towns who had been forced to travel great distances for shopping and entertainment due to segregation laws in their own area.

However this all began to change on May 31st when a black male by the name of Dick Rowland was accused of sexually attacking a woman after he stumbled into her while entering an elevator. The primary instigator in fueling the rage of the racist whites in the community was the local newspaper, the Tulsa Tribune. The nicknamed the accused “Diamond Dick” and portrayed the victim as an orphan that had visible wounds and clothes were torn, when actuality she had deserted her husband in Kansas City and didn’t have a scratch on her. In addition to this article there is a reported editorial that encouraged the whites of the community to come together and lynch the young 19-year-old black male.

(I guess this was the beginning of lack of media integrity)

While he was taken into custody he was never formally charged with a crime but during that era of thick racial hate, a black person didn’t have to commit a crime for him to be considered next on the lynch mob’s list.

– It was not against the law for a white man to kill a black man.

– Groups of white men could take a black male out of police custody with the intention of killing him. 

– Just months earlier a man had been lynched and the crowd was given a police escort during the act.

– Two black people a week were being lynched in AMERICA during this period.

With the black community realizing that Rowland stood no chance of surviving the plot of the vigilante mob, they developed their own protection group and headed towards the courthouse where he was being held. In the subsequent confrontation between the whites and blacks at the courthouse and a stray gunshot was fired thus triggering one of the most heinous events to take place in America that has never been really discussed.

In order to “protect” themselves the city deputized over 500 white men, many of which were members of the Klu Klux Klan, and gave them the right to shoot any “nigger” on sight. Another part of the strategy involved them deploying airplanes to drop turpentine bombs while the blacks slept and upon fleeing their homes, the on looking white army would meet them with a barrage of bullets from various locations. Communication to the outside was cut off; phone and telegraph lines destroyed and even the railroad was blockaded so that no one could leave the area nor get in to find  out what was really going on in the city at the time. Now if this wasn’t systematic race eradication I don’t know what is.

(clockwise from top left) The white mob carrying the dying body of a black male, the initial burning of the city, the aftermath 

In the aftermath of the bombing and shooting, the whites ransacked these once luxurious homes taking anything they could find of value, with many being becoming enraged at the fact that “niggers” had nicer things than they did. The estimated property loss reached above $2.3 million. The estimated death tolls of African-Americans were in the hundreds. White vigilantes arrested thousands of African-Americans and held them for no apparent reasons and  approximately 4,300 African-Americans were left homeless and robbed of all their valuables. There were a few who escaped capturing by running for the hills or hiding under the beds in homes that had survived the air attack and the firebombs from the mobs who raided the neighborhoods on foot. Ironically some of the blacks, who worked as servants and maids, had their lives spared out of the goodness (sarcasm) of their white employers heart by having them hide in the attics or basements. God forbid that all the blacks would be killed in the community and they would have to do their own housework.

Just like word spread of the financial growth in this area, I can only imagine the reaction across the nation to find out about the destruction and the realization that even this piece of black prosperity was not above being attacked by destructive mindset called Racism. After the riots destroyed Greenwood, businesses were rebuilt, churches and schools reestablished and homes reconstructed; however, Greenwood never regained its prominence as a Black Wall Street.

While it was frustrating doing the research for this blog, I knew it was something that had to be discussed. I first have to thank my dad for even talking about what happened for if it weren’t for my father talking about it while he was in town for the 4th of July, I would have never known about the good nor the bad of the Greenwood community in Tulsa Oklahoma. I know there are plenty others like me who aren’t aware of this part of American history, not just black history, so I figured why not bring more awareness to what we had and hopefully it sparks a debate of what we are capable of having if we just come together.

Please feel free to share this blog with anyone you know and be sure to do your own research because this is only a piece of the story, and this is a story that needs to be known understood and told by all.

If you would like to watch the documentary,  where I got a lot of my information from, please  watch the video below and it is broken down into 12 parts.

Also here is the link to the Greenwood Cultural Center in Tulsa Oklahoma

http://www.greenwoodculturalcenter.com/