Black Wall Street: 90th Anniversary of the Attack

Today marks the dubious anniversary of the race riot and aerial attack by thugs, KKK and various hatemongers that destroyed the Black Wall Street of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

 

Never heard about the Greenwood Street district of Tulsa - well you are not alone because it has been all but erased from American history...

 

Greenwood was a district 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 business district, beginning at the intersection of Greenwood Avenue and Archer Street, became so successful and vibrant that Booker T. Washington during his visit bestowed the moniker: "Negro Wall Street." By 1921, Tulsa’s African-American population of 11,000 had its own bus line, two high schools, one hospital, two newspapers, two theaters, three drug stores, four hotels, a public library, and thirteen churches.

 In addition, there were over 150 two and three story brick commercial buildings that housed clothing and grocery stores, cafes, rooming houses, nightclubs, and a large number of professional offices including doctors, lawyers, and dentists.

 

While this day marks a tragic chapter in American history, it also should serve as a template on how much can be accomplished by Economic Community Building.

If with meager resources and in an overtly dangerous environment they can create a Black Wall Street, what can we build in our community today?

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Comment by benjamin on June 3, 2011 at 10:24am

@Ronald. Maybe my title - which I used for dramatic effect - should not have mentioned anniversary with the conotation of celebration.  My intent was to bring attention to the Black Wall Street (one of many) that existed to shine the light on how our urban communities used to be.  My experience with urban America is post 60's and the landscape was drugs, gangs, blight and crime.  Many people my age and younger did not see the black wall streets...we saw and see the black Beiruts.

 

So, in a sense, what you consider common knowledge is not to a different demographic.  When I first read about Tulsa, I was more inspired than angered - many of my peers had similar reactions as well. I am happy for your success and the way you raised your children...BTW I read your last blog post on denying tax benifits to parents of truant and delinquent children.

 

The teacher in me somewhat agrees.  I was exasperated with parents that never attended parent-teacher conferences (20-35%) but, if Johnny's game boy was stolen or damaged (which they were not supposed to bring to school in the 1st place) the same parents I had trouble scheduling appts, would come to school in a heartbeat and raise hell.  Talk about mis-placed priorities!

 

But more than that, reading your blog and post leads me to believe you enjoy being provocative, challenging and playing the devil's advocate.  You seem to have a healthy (I said healthy) contempt for the accepted conventional thought process of some black Americans (nothig wrong with that).  Hopefully, you will blog more often thus, I can get a better read on the politics and philosophy you advocate. Peace.

 

Comment by benjamin on June 2, 2011 at 7:52pm

@Ronald I agree with the premise of your point ... we have to move forward; yet I will emphatically state, we can not forget our heroic past. Did we not just celebrate Memorial Day - a somber day in which we honor fallen soldiers for their service to our country.

Second, our history did not start with slavery...Ethopia (Abyssinia) Egypt (Kemet) and Nubia existed 5000 yrs before Greece even came on the scene.  The so called father of history, Herodotus was awed by how advanced these black (his words)civilizations were.  Slavery and Jim Crow are just, historically speaking a small part of our journey.  Half my family is orthodox jewish (which makes for great conversations) and they remember their terrible days from slavery, insurrection, centuries of European discrimination and of course the Nazis.  These memories make them - as when taught in proper context - stronger and more determine.

I grew up (my late teens) with the hip hop generation, and I can tell you the kids that knew their history were more intelligent and with less self-hate.  The kids that knew their history more likely went to college.  The kids that do not (the majority) did most of the crime and violence.  They were angry but disconnected from our historical chain.

 

As my jewish brother-in-law shared with me after I showed him your post, why are black people the only ethnic group told to ignore their history.  Once again, those hood shootings you refer to, are not done by people that know their history.. they just hate the white man because he seems (appears to be) in control ie the police, judges the rich etc. People my age that know their history (not just the slavery part) are building a new future!!!

Comment by JEFF TURNER on June 2, 2011 at 3:06pm
Ronald....makes some very good points.  We will live in the future.  We have to "forgive" but we should not "forget".  The society was very sick back then.  It is not totally well yet (maybe never will be!), but we will live in the future, and always looking backward will hurt our ability to look forward.
Comment by JEFF TURNER on June 2, 2011 at 2:50pm
A terrible event in the history of our society.
Comment by benjamin on June 1, 2011 at 1:04pm

@Ronald  where and when did anyone say this was the only black wall street? 

we all know there was Durham, Richmond's Jackson Ward etc.  The point is this is the only one that was bombed, looted and destroyed.  Furthermore one can both honor our history and move forward...these are not mutually exclusive terms.  Other ethnic groups pledged never to forget even as they move forward.  Are you suggesting we should no highlight our history? 

 

Your post has me scratching my head...

Comment by Ni`ke Fagbenro on June 1, 2011 at 10:29am

I marched n black wall street this weekend in honor of my ancestors and im telling you it was such a great feeling to honor them.  I posted a story from Patch.com by Zawadi Morris and maybe this willl give you a diffrent insight of why its just not about every thriving black community.  Its about a "massacare" that they want to say was a "race riot"  It rings of the mentality that still goes on today in our community and all others around the country today.  I mean think in 1960 we as african americans controlled 1% of the nation wealth.  today in 2011 we as an african american still only control 1% of the nations wealth.  Its time for us to go back to the mentality of this community.  They said if they dont let us we will make a way.  And they did.  Even after the disaster they bulit again to thrive.  We as an a collective need to have that same mind state. Never let anyone tell you cant.  Find a way.  Let your higher guide you the your greatness. Ase thats mypeace of mind for the day. :D

 

Wall Street is synonymous worldwide with commerce, wealth and power. However, very few can say they've ever heard of “Black [Negro] Wall Street,” the name given to the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In fact, the story of Black Wall Street has been all but erased—not only from U.S. history books—but also from much of America’s memory. Tuesday, May 31, marks the 90th Anniversary of The Black Wall Street Massacre.
There's no more fitting time than the present to remind all who will listen about this important occurrence in America’s history, as the story of Black Wall Street not only serves as a testament of how far we have come as a country in achieving equal rights, but also, how far we have left to go.
In 1830, President Andrew Jackson renewed the Indian Removal Act, a great military effort to remove massive tribes of Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee-Creek, and Seminole (sometimes collectively referred to as the Five Civilized Tribes).
With the renewal of this act, huge numbers of Native Americans were forced to abandon their homes in the Deep South and move to the West and Midwest areas of the United States. Many African-Americans accompanied these native tribes on their journey in what would later be known as the “Trail of Tears.”
A large group of blacks and natives began settling in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the Greenwood District. And by 1870, more than 6000 African-Americans and natives lived in the Oklahoma territory.
Oil was discovered in Tulsa around the late 1800s, early 1900s. By 1920, Tulsa, Oklahoma, had grown into a thriving, bustling, enormously wealthy town of 73,000 inhabitants, with bank deposits totaling over $65 million.
However, Tulsa was a "tale of two cities isolated and insular,” one black and one white. The city was so segregated that it was the only one in America that boasted of separate telephone booths.
Since blacks in Tulsa could neither live among whites as equals nor patronize white businesses, they began to develop a completely separate business district where only they shopped and spent money.
The business district, beginning at the intersection of Greenwood Avenue and Archer Street, became so successful and vibrant that Booker T. Washington during his visit bestowed on it the moniker "Negro Wall Street." By 1921, Tulsa’s African-American population totaled 11,000.
Well-known African-American personalities often visited the Greenwood District, including educators Mary McCloud Bethune and W.E.B. DuBois, scientist George Washington Carver, opera singer Marian Anderson, blues singer Dinah Washington and noted Chicago chemist Percy Julian.
On May 31, 1921, the successful Black Greenwood District would be completely destroyed by one of the worst race riots in U.S. history. And it all started with one 19-year-old black man who bumped into a 17-year-old white girl in an elevator.
The young girl screamed. The frightened boy was seen running from the elevator by a group of whites, and by late afternoon the "Tulsa Tribune" reported that the girl had been raped, despite the girl’s denial of any wrongdoing. The boy was found and arrested anyway. A mob of reportedly 2000 white men gathered at the jail demanding his release. They wanted to lynch the prisoner.
In response, about 75 armed African Americans from the Greenwood District came to the jail to offer protection for the prisoner. Eventually, a fight broke out between the two groups, and the much larger mob decided to advance on the Greenwood District where they looted and then burned all the community's businesses, homes and churches.
It is reported that any black resisters were shot and thrown into the fires. The fighting got so bad as the hours wore on that the National Guard was called in. However, when they arrived, they assisted the white townsmen by arresting all black men, women and children, and herding them into detention centers at the baseball park and convention hall.
As many as 4,000 Blacks were held under armed guards in detention. By the time the fighting ended, more than 300 African-American men, women and children were killed; more than 600 Black-owned businesses were destroyed; and 10,000 people were left homeless.
Dr. Arthur C. Jackson, a nationally renowned surgeon called by the Mayo brothers (of Mayo Clinic fame) "the most able Negro surgeon in America" was shot and killed at the convention hall.
By the next day, the entire Greenwood District was reduced to ashes. Not one white townsman was ever arrested or accused of any wrongdoing. After the Tulsa riot, the white townsmen tried to buy out the Greenwood District and force Black people out of town.
However, the Greenwood owners refused to sell any of their land. Instead, they spent the entire winter in tents donated by the American Red Cross. Within a year, many of the buildings along the first block of Greenwood Avenue were rebuilt. Within ten years, the tough little community had built back most of its homes, and business and commerce had begun to pick up again.
In 1926, W. E. B. DuBois visited Tulsa and wrote: "Black Tulsa is a happy city. It has new clothes. It is young and gay and strong. Five little years ago, fire and blood and robbery leveled it to the ground. Scars are there, but the city is impudent and noisy. It believes in itself. Thank God for the grit of Black Tulsa."

Comment by ebonytruthteller on June 1, 2011 at 6:39am
This is the history that is being STOLEN from this generation which has been seduced totally with OPPORTUNITY absent WISDOM, that is why here in South Florida we have a generation of BLACKS who have parents and grand-parents from the islands and they have NO RESPECT or REVERENCE for the HISTORY that has made the AMERICAN DREAM possible for them ...it is by design that this history is  being stolen from us !


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