Black Wall Street

One of the tough parts of Black History month is reviewing the damage that was done during the Tulsa Race Massacre. Starting on May 31, 1921, a White mob attacked and killed hundreds of African Americans in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The city’s Black district, Greenwood, was the street at the center of this thriving community of Black businessmen, doctors, theater owners and wealthy Black families. Dr. Andrew Jackson for example, was recognized by the Mayo Clinic as one of the finest doctors in the country. O.W.Gurley, owner of the Gurley Hotel, grocery stores and several residences and J.B. Stradford who was the owner and proprietor of the Stradford Hotel are two examples of fine men commonly called the founders of Black Wall Street.

Dawes Act

“Founded in 1906, Greenwood was developed on Indian Territory, the vast area where Native American tribes had been forced to relocate, which encompasses much of modern-day Eastern Oklahoma. Some African Americans who had been former slaves of the tribes, and subsequently integrated into tribal communities, acquired allotted land in Greenwood through the Dawes Act, a U.S. law that gave land to individual Native Americans. And many Black sharecroppers fleeing racial oppression relocated to the region as well, in search of a better life post-Civil War. Oklahoma begins to be promoted as a safe haven for African Americans who start to come particularly post emancipation to Indian Territory,” says Michelle Place, executive director of the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum. The largest number of Black townships after the Civil War were located in Oklahoma. Between 1865 and 1920, African Americans founded more than 50 Black townships in the state.”

History Channel

Black Wall Street, the Play

Last weekend at the Center for Creative Education, Black Wall Street, The Play, entertained two sold-out shows. Featured in the show was the history of a thriving community—stories about one of the best doctors in the country, resourceful businessmen, couples with several businesses and houses and ordinary families were given prominence in the play. Maybe as many as 10,000 people lost their homes and their way of life during the wall street massacre. Many injustices were committed, many lives were lost, and a whole culture was decimated.

The Healing that is Needed

We need to start, and re-start, and begin again the healing we need. Think about John and Loula Williams and their son, owners of the 800-seat Dreamland Motion Picture Theater on Greenwood street in Tulsa. They were prominent business leaders who lost everything. So many wrongs that need righting, and wrongs that have been righted to write about. Think about Buck Colbert Franklin, who won the court victory for Black residents after the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. “He filed suit against the city of Tulsa’s ordinance against Blacks rebuilding. Due to his victory in front of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, Black residents were able to begin to rebuild their shattered community” (from the play’s program book). Let us take these lessons and give them some more thought. What can our students learn from this event? How can we move forward in this country without bringing us all together, in equity, to the table of learning, called school? If we can, let us learn from the past, invent the future of a more comprehensive learning, and make it better than anything we have ever seen.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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