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The neighborhood of Greenwood, located in Tulsa, Oklahoma became known as Black Wall Street in the early 1900’s. Many black people moved to Oklahoma during that time to escape slavery and the harsh racism prevalent in other areas.
In 1906, O.W. Gurley purchased 40 acres of land which he wanted to only be sold to blacks. Gurley established multiple buildings and residences, and many blacks began to settle in the area. The oil boom of the 1910s helped the Greenwood neighborhood thrive, and it became known as Black Wall Street. The neighborhood became home to many prominent black businessmen, many of whom were multimillionaires. There were also doctors, lawyers, realtors, and other professionals who lived along Greenwood Avenue, one of the few streets that did not run through the white part of town.
Greenwood was a model of African American self sufficiency and progress. Every dollar within the community circulated 36 to 100 times before leaving the community. To put this in perspective, a dollar currently leaves the black community every 15 minutes.
By 1921, Greenwood was home to 11,000 residents. The neighborhood had two high schools, a hospital, two newspapers, two theaters, three drug stores, four hotels, and a public library.
On May 31, 1921 the Tulsa Tribune ran a story about the alleged assault of 17 year old white elevator operator Sarah Page by 19 year old black shoe shiner Dick Rowland. Although Rowland was eventually acquitted, an armed white mob gathered to avenge their own justice for the alleged crime. A group of black men assembled in an effort to protect Rowland. After a warning shot was fired during an argument, chaos ensued.
On June 1, 1921 the largest massacre of nonmilitary means took place, led by the Ku Klux Klan. In less than 12 hours, 3,000 black people were killed, 1,500 homes were burned, and 600 businesses were destroyed. When it was all said and done, every black person within Tulsa city limits had been killed, wounded, imprisoned, arrested, or placed in confinement.
The following video is a documentary about Black Wall Street and the bloody race riots that destroyed it. Check it out to learn more about the tragic loss of one of black America’s most successful communities.