Friday, May 29, 2009

Tulsa's Greenwood District

Although Oklahoma came into statehood in 1907 and was never a slave state, it was geographically and culturally a Southern state. When I was a boy growing up in the small Oklahoma town of Wagoner in the 1940's and 50's racial segregation was the norm. I remember white and colored drinking fountains and waiting rooms at the train station, and attended an all white school system. The blacks in our town had their own school in "their" part of town. As a kid I felt no animosity towards black people, i just accepted the separation as normal. I was not to know a black person my own age until I was in college in the early 1960s.

The corner of Greenwood and Archer in Tulsa was the center of what at one time was the most prosperous black business district in the United States. Before 1921 it was known nationally and internationally as the "Black Wall Street". I like Tulsa and usually try to show it in a good light. Today I will share a shameful part of Tulsa's history that many would like to forget, even though there are few living today who were part of that history. I would also like to add that the days of racial discrimination thankfully are over.

In June, 1921 the area was the site of the worst race riot in the history of the United States. Many people prefer not to know this particular part of Tulsa's history. It is probably our darkest chapter.

The financial prosperity of this area has never fully recovered. If you are interested in knowing more please see the excellent Wikepedia article HERE.


I found this old photo and another interesting article. Look HERE.

Looking North on Greenwood Ave from Archer Street just north of the old part of downtown Tulsa. Click to enlarge panorama.

Greenwood is a neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As one of the most successful and wealthiest African American communities in the United Stated during the early 20th Century, it was popularly known as America's "Black Wall Street" until the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. The riot was one of the most devastating race riots in history and it destroyed the once thriving Greenwood community. Greenwood is still being rebuilt today because of the destruction over 80 years ago.


Elleona said... [Reply to comment]

Je viens de lire pour les émeutes raciales de 1921...
En France, on ne connait pas beaucoup mais nous savions qu'existait la discrémination raciale.
Obama change cela.

Unknown said... [Reply to comment]

M. Obama va changer beaucoup de choses, je l'espère pour le mieux.

Mr. Obama will change many things, hopefully for the better.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Thank you for this history lesson!

Call me naive, but it is always weird for me to hear and read that racial discrimination existed until the 50s... sounds like yesterday to me. And I understand your statement:

"I felt no animosity towards black people, i just accepted the separation as normal"

On the positive side, when you look back, a lot of things changed in the last 40 years and people who grew up used to racial segregation were quick to adapt to the positive change.

Marc Carlson said... [Reply to comment]

Just an FYI - I know it is usually described as pre-riot, but the middle image was taken after the riot.

The Woods building on the NE corner of Archer and Greenwood was 2 stories, as can be seen at

The Byers building, on the same spot, is 3 stories.

Anonymous said... [Reply to comment]

Please check out this movement.