Hostility Sculpture in Tulsa, Oklahoma
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.
(Dr. Martin Luther King)
My first introduction to Black Wall Street came when I served as a panelist for a Florida State University (FSU) Black Student Union (BSU) program. The students invited me to enhance their professional development program, but I got a history lesson I did not expect or know I needed.
I love working with college students because they bring a passion for subjects they are interested in and that passion keeps them curious and intent on growing daily. My role on the panel was to help BSU students understand how to present themselves when networking for future career opportunities. We got that process going and had a good question and answer session with lots of input from the students in attendance.
One of the students present asked the moderator why the activities for the week was labeled Black Wall Street? The response is where my education on the subject began.
The BSU leaders saw Black History Month as the perfect time to educate its members and guests on important periods, i.e., The Harlem Renaissance, Black Wall Street, Black Excellence and Black Power. I was familiar with each of the periods identified for the month except Black Wall Street. I assumed this was BSU’s way to show members how to build financial freedom and eventually make their way to Wall Street (NYC). I was wrong and totally missed the boat on the meaning of Black Wall Street.
The BSU leadership wanted to show members how financial freedom could be gained by following the blueprint laid out by the founders of the true Black Wall Street in Greenwood, Oklahoma (Tulsa). I had never heard of Black Wall Street, Greenwood, Oklahoma or the massacre that happened there in the early 1920’s. My students were more than happy to fill me in on another history lesson I never received during my formal education programs—this seems to be a common theme with American history.
The concept a black town in Oklahoma was self-sufficient in the 1920’s seemed unreal at first but decided to learn more after talking with students. I consider myself a lifelong learner and this was another educational journey I needed to fully see the great things that happened on Black Wall Street prior to the massacre.
O.W. Gurley was a prominent figure who relocated to the Greenwood district and purchased land which then could only be sold to people of color. This was Gurley’s vision to establish a place for the black population. Most of his businesses were frequented by black migrants fleeing the oppression of the Mississippi delta. Gurley worked with others to pool their financial resources and support the thriving businesses being developed in Greenwood. The residents of Black Wall Street were doctors, lawyers, and entrepreneurs. The success of the black residents of Greenwood played a role in the 1921 massacre because of the jealousy of their white neighbors in nearby Tulsa.
My Black Wall Street education increased my knowledge of this important period of Black History and led me to dig deeper on the actual massacre. The news program, 60 Minutes did a report on Black Wall Street and the massacre a few years ago. This led to additional investigations and a team has been formed to find and excavate hidden graves to bring closure for descendants of the massacre victims. This painful piece of American history continues to garner interest and my hope is we never experience something like this again.
Learn more about what happened in Greenwood here:
60 Minutes program on Greenwood, Oklahoma: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yA8t8PW-OkA
“History has shown us that courage can be contagious, and hope can take on a life of its own”.