Black Wall Street was located in Greenwood, Oklahoma, which is a suburb of Tulsa. During the 1900s, the location was known as one of the most concentrated black businesses in the United States.
African Americans started to move towards the area in the late 1800s due to the amount of land available. However, they didn’t just decide to relocate there because of the land, they went because they wanted to build their own community without racism. They wanted to live in an area where they did not have to worry about Jim Crow. They believed Oklahoma gave them this opportunity. They saw Oklahoma as a place where they could go and not be reminded of the days of slavery, it was a chance for a change and to build a new life.
By 1910, the town of Greenwood flourished, especially the African American neighborhood, which by this time was known as the Black Wall Street. Most of the men in this neighborhood established successful businesses, which helped the community grow beyond their wildest dreams. One of these businessmen was O.W. Gurley, who moved to Greenwood in 1906 after resigning from his presidential appointment under Grover Cleveland so he could go out on his own. He bought 40 acres of land that could only be sold to blacks and begin to establish a few businesses, such as a rooming house. He also built a few residential houses and founded the Vernon AME Church.
Gurley would be one of the many entrepreneurs to lose everything on from May 31 to June 1 of 1921. Today, this event is known as the Tulsa Race Massacre. While there were several whites envious of the wealth many blacks had, the event occurred over an alleged assault between a 17-year-old girl named Sarah Page and a 19-year-old shoeshiner named Dick Rolland. After hearing of the alleged assault, an angry white mob set out to destroy the area known as Black Wall Street. By the end of the massacre, Black Wall Street was pretty much over. Over 35 square blocks of businesses and homes burned in the fire. An estimated 300 African Americans lost their lives and around 10,000 became homeless.
The city of Tulsa did nothing to help the residents of Black Wall Street the city leaders conspired with the mob to burn the town to the ground. It is estimated that the Tulsa Police Department arrested about 6,000 African Americans, who they refused to offer any protection or assistance to. On top of this, during the massacre, police dropped firebombs along Black Wall Street through the use of airplanes. They purposely aimed at the businesses and homes which belonged to thousands of African American families.
Despite efforts by city officials to stop the reconstruction of Greenwood, the community rebuilt their city within five years. During the 1920s, the area became a musical interest for jazz and blues musicians. Unfortunately, hard times fell on Greenwood during the Great Depression and by the 1970s, most of the area was demolished to make room for a highway loop. However, during the 1990s and early 2000s, preservation efforts started and succeeded, creating the Greenwood Culture Center, which honors the African Americans who lost their lives in the massacre and the John Hope Franklin Greenwood Reconciliation Park.
Sources: https://www.theringer.com/2018/6/28/17511818/black-wall-street-oklahoma-greenwood-destruction-tulsa https://www.ebony.com/black-history/destruction-of-black-wall-street/ http://www.fsuthevoice.com/remembering-the-excellence-in-black-wall-street/ https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2018/09/28/feature/they-was-killing-black-people/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.c7d441ea711d http://blackwallstreet.org/owgurley
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