Many people — too many people — have never heard of Black Wall Street, a 35-block neighborhood and business district in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that thrived in the early 20th century.
And if they have, it’s only in the context of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, wherein a white mob terrorized the city’s black Greenwood neighborhood (known as Black Wall Street), setting fires, looting businesses, razing more than 1,000 homes and destroying churches. In less than 24 hours, between 100 and 300 people were killed.
The history of Black Wall Street — if recounted at all in historical narratives — often revolves around the massacre, eclipsing the fact that the neighborhood was one of the most prominent and affluent African-American communities in the country. Black-owned shops, restaurants, movie theaters and nightclubs filled the district. The neighborhood became synonymous with jazz and “guitar licks and saxophones wails filled the streets,” as author Hannibal Johnson wrote in his book, “Black Wall Street: From Riot to Renaissance in Tulsa’s Historic Greenwood District.”
Despite a profoundly racist backdrop with the uprise of the Ku Klux Klan and public lynchings in the early 20th century, Black Wall Street flourished. It was a tight-knit community and an epicenter of entrepreneurship. Black Wall Street is a story that’s crucial to American history, in both its triumph and its tragedy. It’s a story that isn’t over yet.