Tulsa is about a 90 minute drive from Oklahoma City. I had originally planned to do all of my exploring in the city and to use public transportation as much as possible. It’s how I get to know and understand a new city. But I was close to Tulsa and decided to rent a car and visit the Greenwood District there.
Tulsa began in 1882 when the St. Louis and San Francisco railroads arrived in the city. The population grew and neighborhoods were created throughout the city. Most African Americans moved to one area, creating the Greenwood District. There they were able to live peacefully, create and support local businesses and had the freedom to be successful. There was so much wealth created that the area became informally known as “Black Wall Street.”
Greenwood Rising is a history center and museum focused on providing accurate accounts of the Greenwood District, the race massacre that occurred, and the worldwide impact. Opened in 2021, Greenwood Rising was my first stop in learning the truth about what happened at Black Wall Street. The destruction of the Greenwood District is one of the most brutal acts of domestic terrorism in America.
The museum is a modern building dedicated to a historical event. The first visitor option is to watch a film and then choose whether to continue the tour with or without a docent. I asked for a docent and Christian led me to the next station. There I learned about the All-Black Towns movement and the needs to create safe spaces free of political and racial pressure. The West seemed the best option thanks to Southern Jim Crow laws and Northern sundown towns. And just a note: sundown towns also existed in the South.
I learned about the prosperity of the Greenwood District. Banking, theaters, medical professionals, stylists and barbers thrived in the area and the Oklahoma oil boom enhanced the wealth of the area. Black people were happy, could plan for their future, and enjoy their present. But the specter of America’s unique form of racism is never far away.
The “story” of what led to the race massacre is a white girl was assaulted by a black boy and her virtue had to be defended. This young man was arrested by the police, a white mob showed up to lynch him, Black men came to his defense, and the mob opted for total destruction.
You can’t imagine what 40 square blocks of destruction looks like. You think you can but until you stand on the streets and look, then keep looking for the very end of the area are you aware of the ruination. And even then it was difficult for me to comprehend.
Over three hundred deaths. Hundreds of businesses gone. Schools and churches destroyed. And to add to the annihilation, the survivors were treated as criminals and placed in detention centers. Although, where could they go since their very existence had been destroyed? There was a concerted effort by local and state officials to prevent the survivors from receiving insurance payouts or rebuilding. And how could they rebuild when their local banks had been demolished and their money had disappeared?
But the Greenwood District did rebuild and enjoyed prosperity until the 1980’s when the effects of Tulsa’s land grabbing through imminent domain, redlining the district, and bisecting it with Interstate 244 ended its affluence. I immediately knew I was in the Greenwood District when I arrived that morning and saw the expressway cutting through the area.
I never received a public education about the Greenwood District and discovered I need to l learn more. It’s a heavy education and I struggled with the weight of the racist violence perpetrated against my people. Greenwood Rising addresses that with their Coping With Racial Trauma document. I needed to spend some time with it before I could continue my exploration of the Greenwood District. Look for more posts on my time here.
Greenwood Rising is located at 23 North Greenwood Ave, Tulsa, Oklahoma 74120. They are open Wednesday through Monday with varied opening and closing hours. Tickets may be purchased here.
Do you know the history of the Greenwood District? What did you learn about it?
Mia this is so heart crushing and angering. It must be so much more weighty for you. As a whyte woman I commit to looking this brutalization in the face and working with the racism that lives inside me and owning my ancestral responsibility. Just words are inadequate. You have written so thoughtfully about your experience and I wanted to comment. I felt like I must acknowledge what happened first.
Thank you for your acknowledgment Jan. The absolute history of America is so often silenced and hidden because the winners of wars are the ones who write the history. Imagine how all of our lives would be better if justice and reparations were the true American way. Thank you for recognizing your privilege and working towards personal responsibility.