The razing of “Black Wall Street”


This is Greenwood, a neighborhood in Tulsa known a century ago as the “Negro Wall Street” because of its prosperity, created after the land rush around the time Oklahoma became a state. On May 31/June 1, 1921, whites burned it to the ground, murdered 300 of its citizens, and left 10,000 homeless. Complicit city officials arrested 6,000 blacks.

The white culture buried the story, which a state commission excavated in 2001. Today there’s a modest memorial, a painting on a building listing black-owned businesses that used to be there, and an A.M.E. church. A highway overpass bisects the area, which has been redeveloped into a commercial zone around Tulsa’s minor league baseball park.

Described as one of the 20th century’s worst “race riots” (I’d say an act of state repression based on race), one could study its relationship to the virulent racism of the Woodrow Wilson administration (which had ended months before) and a political climate after the Great War that saw the rise of the Klan all over the country. The Immigration Act of 1924 soon followed.

“History doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes.”

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