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Black History Month: Black Wall Street

Updated: Mar 10, 2022

In honor of black history month, DTI would like to highlight the stories, images, and achievements of prominent figures in the black community that have all contributed to the culture today. Today we will be retelling the story of the rise and fall of one of the most successful Black Wall Street's located in the Greenwood district of Tulsa, OK.

During the early 20th century, Greenwood was popularly known as America's "Black Wall Street," home to some of the greatest black thinkers, entrepreneurs, and creatives. It was one of the first historic concentrations of African-American owned businesses. The Tulsa Black Wall Street thrived off a self contained system entirely populated by a black community. It began with a single boarding house for African Americans, and with that more and more people began to spread opportunities throughout Greenwood. As the business grew more Black people moved in to the area.

One of the biggest keys to their successful is that they were truly a community dedicated to to success and happiness of each other. There was no hatred or competition. In fact, within their system, if someone wanted to start their own business, other owners would loan money out help with the construction and start up. One prominent figure in the community was J.B Stradford, who was born a slave in Kentucky, and later became a lawyer, activist, and owner of the largest black hotel in the 1890’s. On Greenwood Ave there were a number of black owned grocery stores, libraries, movie theaters, hotels, pool halls, barbershops, salons, clothing stores, doctors, lawyers, schools, a post office, bank, hospital, and so much more.

This thriving African American community was a marvel of the century and with it's success it gained a lot of attention both good and bad. On May 31,1921 the local newspaper reported that a black teen, Dick Rowland, attempted to sexually assault a white teen, Sarah Page. White people in the community grew impatient with the investigation and decided to take matters into their own hands, sparking two days of unprecedented racial violence in Tulsa. White mobs rampaged through the Black Wall Street burning down buildings, terrorizing and killing everyone in sight, and they left nothing but dust. On that night an entire community of over 30 city blocks went up in flames, 300 people died, and 800 were injured. The lives of the surviving changed forever and their story will live on forever.

This community offered a sense of protection and motivation for its town’s people, it steered them in the right direction as the towns mindset served as the guidelines to being a successful African American. Today, it still stands as a reminder of the impact of the resilience, community, and hard work.

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