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(Feat:  Vincent Bates
Written by:  Barry P. Foley
Copyright © 21 Dec 2021

Booker T. Washington coined its nickname “Negro Wall Street” during a visit in 1905 because he was so impressed by the number of Negro owned businesses prospering in the Greenwood district of Tulsa.  In fact, Greenwood was one of the most commercially successful and affluent majority African-American communities in the United States.

The financial success of the businesses in the Greenwood districts was quite simple.  Although much of the Negro community made their living south of the Frisco tracks, they weren’t allowed patronize the white owned stores in Tulsa.  So Greenwood business filled that void.  The money that came into the community was turned over 5 or 6 times.

Greenwood was a vision of great men like O.W. Gurley and J. B. Stratford.  By 1921 there were 191 businesses, which included 15 doctors, 2 dentists, and 3 lawyers. The residents also had access to a library, 2 schools and a hospital.  The Stratford Hotel was the largest black-owned hotel in the United States.  And there was the Dreamland Theater that seated 750 and had just installed Air Conditioning.

Representing over 12% of the Tulsa Population, Greenwood had over 10,000 residents in a 35-city block.  With over 1700 homes, many of them owned by their inhabitants.  White residents of Tulsa grew increasingly resentful about the wealth of the Greenwood community.

Hard to believe that all this could be wiped out, burned to the ground in an 18-hour period starting on 31 May 1921.  White mobs looted and burned houses and shot Negro’s on sight.  It is estimated that over 300 Negro’s were killed.  Many folks left via the Osage Prairie Trail along the railroad tracks and never returned.  Remaining residents were rounded up and put into internment camps controlled by the National Guard.

Greenwood residents estimated personal property loss at $750,000. . That 11 Million in today’s money.  Not a penny in insurance claims were ever paid.  Unparalleled prosperity was turned into smothering ashes.  Hatred and jealousy wiped away numerous family’s chances of generational wealth.

But thanks to great men like Buck Colbert Franklin, the lawyer who successfully sued the City of Tulsa at the Oklahoma Supreme Court, Greenwood would slowly start to rebuild.  In 1925 Greenwood  hosted a black conference. By the 1940, Greenwood was bigger and better than ever, as Jim Crow was still alive and well and those hard-earned dollars came and stayed in Greenwood.

It wasn’t until the 1960’s that the White Folks figured out that the Negro Dollar and the White Dollar were both green. By the time of integration in 1964, Greenwood businesses were starting to go downhill.

The rest is history.  The hidden secret of the Tulsa Massacre and Black Wall Street.


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