Greenwood District, Tulsa

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Greenwood is a historic freedom colony in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As one of the most prominent concentrations of African-American businesses in the United States during the early 20th century, it was popularly known as America's "Black Wall Street". It was burned to the ground in the Tulsa race massacre of 1921, in which white residents massacred as many as 300 black residents, injuring hundreds more, and leaving 5,000 people homeless. The riot was one of the most devastating massacres in the history of U.S. race relations, destroying the once-thriving Greenwood community.[1][2][3]

Greenwood, Tulsa
Black Wall Street
Greenwood, Tulsa is located in Oklahoma
Greenwood, Tulsa
Greenwood, Tulsa
Location in Oklahoma
Coordinates: 36°09′42″N 95°59′12″W / 36.16166°N 95.98660°W / 36.16166; -95.98660Coordinates: 36°09′42″N 95°59′12″W / 36.16166°N 95.98660°W / 36.16166; -95.98660
CountryUnited States
CountyTulsa County

Within ten years after the massacre, surviving residents who chose to remain in Tulsa rebuilt much of the district. They accomplished this despite the opposition of many white Tulsa political and business leaders and punitive rezoning laws enacted to prevent reconstruction. It continued as a vital black community until segregation was overturned by the federal government during the 1950s and 1960s. Desegregation encouraged black citizens to live and shop elsewhere in the city, causing Greenwood to lose much of its original vitality. Since then, city leaders have attempted to encourage other economic development activity nearby.[4]



Many African Americans came to Oklahoma during the Native American removal. When these tribes came to Oklahoma, their slaves or people of color living among them as tribal members (notably in the case of the Seminoles) were forced to move with them. This proved problematic as rules concerning the freedom of African Americans differed between tribes. Others later traveled to Oklahoma for the land rushes in 1889 through 1891 and continued in the years leading to 1907, the year Oklahoma became a state, hoping that a majority-black population could build a firewall against further extension of the system of racial degradation and segregation known as Jim Crow. Oklahoma represented the hope of change and provided a chance for African Americans to not only leave the lands of slavery but oppose the harsh racism of their previous homes.[5] They travelled to Oklahoma by wagons, horses, trains, and even on foot.

Many of the settlers were relatives of Native Americans who had traveled on foot with the Five Civilized Tribes along the Trail of Tears. Others were the descendants of people who had fled to Indian Territory. Many Black residents were also from the various Muskogee-speaking peoples, such as Creeks and Seminoles, while some had been adopted by the tribes after the Emancipation Proclamation. [6]

White residents of Tulsa referred to the area north of the Frisco railroad tracks as "Little Africa." The success of Black-owned businesses there led Booker T. Washington to visit in 1905 and encourage residents to continue to build and cooperate among themselves, reinforcing what he called "industrial capacity" and thus securing their ownership and independence.[7] Washington highlighted that he had directed the creation of a 4,000 acre totally black-owned district in Tuskegee, under the direction of C. W. Greene, to demonstrate his vision; it became known as Greenwood a few years after it was formally organized.[8] The Tulsa community was formally organized in 1906 and took the name Greenwood. By 1921, it was home to about 10,000 black residents.[5]

Greenwood Avenue in Tulsa 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 Black commercial district, whose many red brick buildings belonged to Black Americans and housed thriving businesses, including grocery stores, banks, libraries, and much more. Greenwood was one of the most affluent African-American communities in the country, and became known as "Black Wall Street."[9]

O. W. GurleyEdit

Around the start of the 20th century, O. W. Gurley, a wealthy black landowner from Arkansas, came to what was then known as Indian Territory to participate in the Oklahoma Land run of 1889. The young entrepreneur had just resigned from a presidential appointment under president Grover Cleveland in order to strike out on his own."[10]

In 1906, Gurley moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma where he purchased 40 acres of land which was "only to be sold to colored."[10]

Among Gurley's first businesses was a rooming house which was located on a dusty trail near the railroad tracks. This road was given the name Greenwood Avenue, named for a city in Mississippi. The area became very popular among black migrants fleeing the oppression in Mississippi. They would find refuge in Gurley's building, as the racial persecution from the south was non-existent on Greenwood Avenue.

In addition to his rooming house, Gurley built three two-story buildings and five residences and bought an 80-acre (32 ha) farm in Rogers County. Gurley also founded what is today Vernon AME Church.[6] He also helped build a black Masonic lodge and an employment agency.[11]

This implementation of "colored" segregation set the Greenwood boundaries of separation that still exist: Pine Street to the north, Archer Street and the Frisco tracks to the south, Cincinnati Street on the west, and Lansing Street on the east.[6]

Another black American entrepreneur, J.B. Stradford, arrived in Tulsa in 1899. He believed that black people had a better chance of economic progress if they pooled their resources, worked together and supported each other's businesses. He bought large tracts of real estate in the northeastern part of Tulsa, which he had subdivided and sold exclusively to other blacks. Gurley and a number of other blacks soon followed suit. Stradford later built the Stradford Hotel on Greenwood, where blacks could enjoy the amenities of the downtown hotels who served only whites. It was said to be the largest black-owned hotel in the United States.[6]

In 1914, Gurley's net worth was reported to be $150,000 (about $3 million in 2018 dollars).[11] And he was made a sheriff's deputy by the city of Tulsa to police Greenwood's residents, which resulted in some viewing him with suspicion.[11] By 1921, Gurley owned more than one hundred properties in Greenwood and had an estimated net worth between $500,000 and $1 million (between $6.8 million and $13.6 million in 2018 dollars).[11]

Gurley's prominence and wealth were short lived, and his position as a sheriff's deputy did not protect during the race massacre. In a matter of moments, he lost everything. During the race massacre, The Gurley Hotel at 112 N. Greenwood, the street's first commercial enterprise, valued at $55,000, was lost, and with it Brunswick Billiard Parlor and Dock Eastmand & Hughes Cafe. Gurley also owned a two-story building at 119 N. Greenwood. It housed Carter's Barbershop, Hardy Rooms, a pool hall, and cigar store. All were reduced to ruins. By his account and court records, he lost nearly $200,000 in the 1921 race massacre.[6]

Because of his leadership role in creating this self-sustaining exclusive black "enclave,"it has been rumored that Gurley was lynched by a white mob and buried in an unmarked grave. However, according to the memoirs of Greenwood pioneer, B.C. Franklin,[12] Gurley left Greenwood for Los Angeles, California.[11] Gurley and his wife, Emma, moved to a 4-bedroom home in South Los Angeles and ran a small hotel.[11] He was honored in a 2009 documentary film called, Before They Die! The Road to Reparations for the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Survivors.[13]

Black Wall Street in flames, June 1, 1921

Black Wall StreetEdit

Greenwood, Tulsa, also known as "Black Wall Street", was one of the most commercially successful and affluent majority African-American communities in the United States. Booker T. Washington referred to the Greenwood neighborhood as “Negro Wall Street.”[14] Many Americans, including African-Americans, had moved to Oklahoma in hopes of gaining a shot at quick economic gains through the mining and oil industries. Even though African-Americans constituted a small percentage of the overall population in Oklahoma, the percentage of African-Americans in Tulsa had significantly increased to around 12.3 percent during the oil boom. Many African-Americans had come from the Deep South and Kansas because of the opportunity to strike gold because of the rich oil fields. During the Jim Crow era, African-Americans were not allowed to make purchases or services in predominantly white areas. In particular, Oklahoma was known to have some of the harshest and most unjust Jim Crow laws in the country.[citation needed] Some economists theorize this forced many African-Americans to spend their money where they would feel welcomed, effectively insulating cash flow to within the black community and allowing Greenwood to flourish and prosper.[15]

On "Black Wall Street", there were African-American attorneys, real estate agents, entrepreneurs, and doctors who offered their services in the neighborhood.[16] One primary example of the black entrepreneurial spirit is illustrated by J.B. Stradford. He had graduated from Indiana University with a law degree and had moved to Greenwood to purchase various land vacancies in the area. After buying these vacant spaces, he would then sell them to African-American residents for redevelopment so that these empty spaces could be transformed into residential houses and profitable businesses. By 1921, Stradford had been considered one of the wealthiest African-Americans in the country as he owned numerous properties in Greenwood and even had his hotel named after him: Stratford Hotel.[4] In addition to Mr. Stradford, there were also investments and reinvestments into the community. One executive of the local YMCA recalled that there were several barbershops, several grocery stores, and even a funeral home service. Greenwood was known to be an active religious community as there were numerous black-owned churches, Christian youth services, and other religious organizations.

1921 massacreEdit

Foundation of resentmentEdit

Many white residents felt intimidated by the prosperity, growth, and size of "Black Wall Street."[17] Not only was Greenwood, Tulsa expanding in population, but it was also expanding its physical boundaries, which eventually collided with the boundaries of white neighborhoods. According to several newspapers and articles at the time, there were reports of hateful letters sent to prominent business leaders within "Black Wall Street," which demanded that they stop overstepping their boundaries into the white segregated portion of Tulsa.[18] White residents grew increasingly resentful about the wealth of the Greenwood community. The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 started when police accused a Black shoe shiner of “assaulting” a white woman.[19]


Revitalization and preservation efforts in the 1990s and 2000s resulted in tourism initiatives and memorials. John Hope Franklin Greenwood Reconciliation Park and the Greenwood Cultural Center honor the victims of the Tulsa Race Massacre, although the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce plans a larger museum to be built with participation from the National Park Service.[20]

In 2008, Tulsa announced that it sought to move the city's minor league baseball team, the Tulsa Drillers, to a new stadium, now known as ONEOK Field to be constructed in the Greenwood District. The proposed development includes a hotel, baseball stadium, and an expanded mixed-use district.[21] Along with the new stadium, there will be extra development for the city blocks that surround the stadium.

The legacy of Tulsa Race MassacreEdit

After the Tulsa Race Massacre, many white residents had promised to rebuild after the massive destruction, but that did not come to fruition. Instead, many white residents attempted to profit off the destruction and exploit African-Americans by approaching them with offers to purchase their lands for extremely low prices. Some residents attempted to sue the city and filed insurance claims against it, but all of those claims were denied by the city government. People within the African-American community after the Tulsa Race Massacre rarely discussed the historical significance of Greenwood after the Tulsa Race Massacre because of fear that it might occur again.[3][22][23][citation needed]

In 1997, a commission was established to examine recommendations to compensate and support the descendants of the victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. In 2001, a final report was released that highly recommended that victims’ descendants receive full reparations. Alfred Brophy, an American legal scholar, outlined four specific reasons why survivors and their descendants should receive full compensation: the damage affected African-American families, the city was culpable, and city leaders acknowledged that they had a moral responsibility to help rebuild the infrastructure after the race massacre.[24]

Historic statusEdit

The Greenwood Historical District comprises an area bounded by the Crosstown Expressway (I-244) on the north, Elgin Avenue on the west, Greenwood Avenue on the east and the Frisco tracks on the south.[25]

The City of Tulsa submitted an application to the U.S. Department of the Interior, for the "Greenwood Historic District" on September 29, 2011. On August 8, 2012, the Coordinator of the National Register Program wrote the Tulsa Preservation Commission that the proposed District would be renamed as the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921.[26] As of November 2014, the proposed Historic District had not been implemented.[citation needed]


Greenwood Rising History CenterEdit

The Tulsa World reported that the Greenwood Rising History Center will be built at 21 North Greenwood Avenue on the southeast corner of Greenwood Avenue and Archer Street. Construction of the History Center and 21 North Greenwood are expected to be completed in late May or June of 2021.[27]

Greenwood Cultural CenterEdit

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.[28] The center has a museum, an African American art gallery, a large banquet hall, and housed the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame until 2007. The total cost of the center was almost $3 million.[29] 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.[30]

In 2011, the Greenwood Cultural Center lost all funding from the State of Oklahoma, threatening its existence.[31] The community responded with donations and GoFundMe campaigns, and the Cherokee Nation contributed to its summer programs.[32]

Michael Bloomberg donated one million dollars to the Greenwood Art Project in 2019 and made it his first stop on his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination on January 19, 2020.[33]

John Hope Franklin Reconciliation ParkEdit

Ground was broken in 2008 at 415 North Detroit Avenue for a proposed Reconciliation Park to commemorate the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. John Hope Franklin, son of B. C. Franklin and a notable historian, attended the groundbreaking ceremony.[34][35] After his death in 2009, the park was renamed John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park. Attractions include two sculptures and a dozen bronze informational plaques. It is a park primarily designed for education and reflection, and does not contain facilities for sports or other recreation.[36]

Originally funded by the State of Oklahoma, the City of Tulsa and private donors, it is now owned by the city and managed by a non-profit corporation, the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation.[34][35][36]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Oklahoma Commission (February 28, 2001), "Final Report", Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, Tulsa, Oklahoma, archived from the original (PDF) on 16 January 2008, retrieved June 20, 2018
  2. ^ "About Us". Greenwood Cultural Center. 2019. Retrieved 26 March 2020.
  3. ^ a b Astor, Maggie (June 20, 2020). "What to Know About the Tulsa Greenwood Massacre". The New York Times. Archived from the original on June 20, 2020. Retrieved June 21, 2020.
  4. ^ a b Messer, Chris M.; Shriver, Thomas E.; Adams, Alison E. (2018). "The Destruction of Black Wall Street: Tulsa's 1921 Riot and the Eradication of Accumulated Wealth". American Journal of Economics and Sociology. 77 (3–4): 789–819. doi:10.1111/ajes.12225. ISSN 1536-7150.
  5. ^ a b "Black Wall Street Tulsa's Successful History". Archived from the original on October 26, 2008. Retrieved November 13, 2008.
  6. ^ a b c d e James S. Hirsch, Riot and Remembrance: The Tulsa Race War and Its Legacy, Houghton Mifflin (2002) ISBN 0-618-10813-0
  7. ^ Booker T. Washington Builder of a Civilization Emmet J. Scott and Lyman B. Stowe Doubleday, Page & Company (1916) cf. Chapter Eight Booker Washington and the Negro Businessman
  8. ^ "Greenwood Community". The Tuskegee News. 28 September 2000. Retrieved 2019-10-21.
  9. ^ "The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow . Jim Crow Stories . Tulsa Riot | PBS". Retrieved 2020-06-24.
  10. ^ a b Lori Latrice Sykes, Making the System Work for You: The Alexander Norton Story, M&B Visionaries (2008) ISBN 0-615-19355-2
  11. ^ a b c d e f Wills, Shomari (2018). Black Fortunes. New York, NY: HarperCollins. pp. 195, 196, 243, 252, 264. ISBN 978-0-06-243760-0.
  12. ^ John Hope Franklin and John Whittington Franklin, eds., My Life and an Era, the Autobiography of Buck Colbert Franklin, Louisiana State University Press (1998) ISBN 0-8071-2213-0
  13. ^ Before They Die! The Road to Reparations for the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Survivors.
  14. ^ Messer, Chris M.; Shriver, Thomas E.; Adams, Alison E. (2018). "The Destruction of Black Wall Street: Tulsa's 1921 Riot and the Eradication of Accumulated Wealth". American Journal of Economics and Sociology. 77 (3–4): 789–819. doi:10.1111/ajes.12225. ISSN 1536-7150.
  15. ^ Clark, Alexis. "Tulsa's 'Black Wall Street' Flourished as a Self-Contained Hub in Early 1900s". HISTORY. Retrieved 2020-06-24.
  16. ^ The Bezos of Black Wall Street
  17. ^ Messer, Chris M.; Shriver, Thomas E.; Adams, Alison E. (2018). "The Destruction of Black Wall Street: Tulsa's 1921 Riot and the Eradication of Accumulated Wealth". American Journal of Economics and Sociology. 77 (3–4): 789–819. doi:10.1111/ajes.12225. ISSN 1536-7150.
  18. ^ Messer, Chris M.; Shriver, Thomas E.; Adams, Alison E. (2018). "The Destruction of Black Wall Street: Tulsa's 1921 Riot and the Eradication of Accumulated Wealth". American Journal of Economics and Sociology. 77 (3–4): 789–819. doi:10.1111/ajes.12225. ISSN 1536-7150.
  19. ^ "Tulsa Race Massacre | The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture". Retrieved 2020-06-05.
  20. ^ Lassek, P.J. (October 24, 2007). "Race riot memorial: Councilors might back efforts for designation". Tulsa World. Archived from the original on 12 October 2012. Retrieved 15 February 2018.
  21. ^ Lassek, P.J. (June 25, 2008). "Tulsa Drillers stadium coming downtown to Greenwood District". Tulsa World. Archived from the original on 7 October 2012. Retrieved 15 February 2018.
  22. ^ Lazo, Elizabeth Findell and Alejandro (2020-06-19). "Former 'Black Wall Street' Aims to Rebuild as Tulsa Comes Into National Spotlight". Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Retrieved 2020-06-24.
  23. ^ Oklahoma, Michelle Charles CNHI News. "Greenwood History Center to showcase traumatized but resilient black community". Stillwater News Press. Retrieved 2020-06-24.
  24. ^ Messer, Chris M.; Shriver, Thomas E.; Adams, Alison E. (2018). "The Destruction of Black Wall Street: Tulsa's 1921 Riot and the Eradication of Accumulated Wealth". American Journal of Economics and Sociology. 77 (3–4): 789–819. doi:10.1111/ajes.12225. ISSN 1536-7150.
  25. ^ "Greenwood Historical District neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma (OK), 74120 detailed profile."
  26. ^ "Naming of Historic District." U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service. 2012. Retrieved November 15, 2014.
  27. ^ "Greenwood investors happy to help city find new home for Greenwood Rising History Center", Tulsa World (May 2,2020)
  28. ^ Greenwood Cultural Center
  29. ^ "Ruins to Renaissance", Tulsa World (October 15, 1995)
  30. ^ Hannibal B. Johnson, " Greenwood District." Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Retrieved April 19, 2015.
  31. ^ America's Black Holocaust Museum. On this date in history, May 31, 1921: The Tulsa Race Riot." Archived November 25, 2015, at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved April 19, 2015.
  32. ^ Times, The Black Wall St (2018-07-05). "Cherokee Nation Supports Community with Donations to Greenwood Cultural Center Summer Program". The Black Wall Street Times. Retrieved 2020-06-05.
  33. ^ "Bloomberg: $1M gift to shine light on Tulsa Race Massacre". AP NEWS. 2019-01-17. Retrieved 2020-01-22.
  34. ^ a b World, Harrison Grimwood Tulsa. "John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park dedicated as national Literary Landmark". Tulsa World. Retrieved 2020-06-24.
  35. ^ a b TMCFADDEN (2018-08-09). "Literary Landmark: John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park". United for Libraries. Retrieved 2020-06-24.
  36. ^ a b "About Us". johnhopefranklin. Retrieved 2020-06-24.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit