What was "Black Tulsa" and what social, economic, and political goals did its residents achieve? What happened in 1921?

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In the black district of Greenwood in Tulsa, the residents were prosperous at the beginning of the 20th century. In fact, the area was referred to as the "Negro Wall Street" because it had a thriving commercial area with black-owned businesses that included newspapers, movie theaters, doctors, and grocers. It was considered one of the wealthiest black districts in the country. Following the principles of Booker T. Washington, the community forged its own power by developing trades and fostering economic wellbeing. Members of the community included doctors, lawyers, dentists, and others who practiced trades. Following the philosophies of W.E.B. Du Bois, the community also pushed for voting rights and elected its own leaders. They were able to achieve a degree of economic independence, social pride, and political representation. 

However, on May 31 and June 1, 1921, in the tense racial environment that followed World War I, the black district of the city erupted in a race riot. A black man was accused of having raped a white woman and was taken into police custody. Fearing he might be lynched, a black crowd formed at the police station, and a confrontation developed between whites and blacks in which people on both sides were killed. The riot spread throughout the city, resulting in at least 39 deaths (the Red Cross estimated 300 people were killed) and property damage that made 10,000 black residents homeless; it also destroyed the commercial district. It was one of the worst race riots in American history. 

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Black Tulsa was the affluent, African-American section of Tulsa, Oklahoma in the beginning of the 20th century. It was considered the African American “Wall Street.” This was the area in which the most well-to-do African Americans lived. It was in the segregated area of Greenwood, Oklahoma. Segregation, of course, still existed at this time.

Oklahoma was a fertile, promising area for African-Americans to inhabit after Oklahoma became a state in 1907. They were able to escape some of the racism and major inequalities that existed in the Southern states. This was an area that was considered to belong solely to the African-Americans, and as such elicited great pride from its inhabitants. O.W. Gurley was the founder of the African-American community in Greenwood, and many found freedom from the racism they had endured before moving to this community.

I love the part of your question about the bridge between Washington and Du Bois. I would say that considering both Washington and Du Bois wanted to end disenfranchisement for black, Black Tulsa could definitely be seen as a bridge to this idea. Because Tulsa was in Oklahoma, a new state, it was generally “free” from the deep-seated hatred of the Confederate South (or so they thought). Further, Dubois was one of the founders for National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) back in 1909 which, of course, still considers to lift African Americans up even today. Equal rights for African Americans was its goal (similar to combating disenfranchisement).

It is the “racial order” known and accepted by white people that was threatened by the idea of black people carrying guns in order to protect themselves (from whites, no less). It is just this kind of racism that led white people towards the desire for punishments of the black community in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Unfortunately, in the great race riot of 1921, the Greenwood area was virtually destroyed. However, the African-American community gathered forces and rebuilt the community which thrived until the 1960's. At that time, due to desegregation, it was no longer necessary for the African-Americans to have shops, groceries, and other establishments that were built solely for their use.

Tulsa, of course, was at one time a thriving community of culture and social interaction. The statistics of the riot are staggering (and sad). This sixteen-hour riot ended up being the worst incident of civic disorder ever: whites were attacking blacks for no reason. After more than 800 people were admitted to the hospital, most historians say that over 300 people died (most of them were African American). The riot didn’t end until the National Guard was called. In the 1970's the Greenwood community was leveled and became part of a highway loop which encircled the downtown area.

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