Black Wall Street
On the 90th Anniversary of the Tulsa Race Riots
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.