Greenwood District/Black Wall Street - Tulsa, OK
June 21, 2021 marked 100 years since the Greenwood District, also known as Black Wall Street, was burned to the ground. I have two conflicting feelings. I am certainly proud that Greenwood happened. I am also saddened that it has never been rebuilt.
We landed and went straight for the food. I found a very limited number of black owned restaurants in Tulsa. But, from the ones I found, I was going to patronize no matter what was on the menu. First stop was Evelyn's, which is the sister restaurant to Wanda J's. Evelyn's is in Tulsa and Wanda J's is right in the Greenwood District. The staple food in Tulsa is the Chicken Fried Steak. I went for it. I must say, it was delicious. I liked the brown gravy over the white gravy. I tried the fried catfish. Delicious again. And the sides were good, except the mac and cheese and greens. On the east coast, we bake our macaroni with multiple types of cheeses. Once she said they make it on the stove top with velveeta cheese, I wasn't interested anymore. It was giving boxed Kraft mac n cheese. No thanks. I did have the okra and tomatoes, black eyed peas (another Tulsa must-eat), the cabbage and collard greens. Grandma must have taken off that day because the collards didn't hit either. Wanda J's was good. The chicken wasn't seasoned as well as Evelyn's. But, Wanda's sides were better. And the roll came in a sandwich bag. I was a bit thrown off but, it was decent.
The John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park is beautiful. It is a place of reflection. I walked the healing walkway. I read all the plaques that denoted the history of Greenwood. The money it must have taken to transform this green space into a marvelous sight. Sigh.
The Greenwood Cultural Center is a bit dated and not necessarily upkept. I watched the looped video of the history and survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. I walked through the room that had pictures of survivors and descendants with short stories of their experiences and memories. It's maddening how this even started.
Imagine. You, as a people, journey to a space in the country that has only been familiar to the Native Americans. You build your own everything from the ground up. Your own schools, banks, grocery stores, houses, medical facilities, transportation, and everything that you need to prosper in life. You don't have to step out of your community for anything. NOTHING! Then, white folks that had no hand in building your community, want to take it. They are jealous. Because frankly, they can't get their own community off the ground in the same way. They are even borrowing from your banks. Similar to the Emmett Till story, a 17 year old white girl accused a 19 year old black boy of trying to assault her in an elevator. The truth of the matter is that the elevator jolted causing him to inadvertently touch her. He was arrested and only released to be lynched. Well, the black men weren't having it. So, the white men (lynchers) and the black men (vigilantes) all met at the Courthouse steps. A scuffle happened. A shot went off. And for twelve hours, all of Greenwood was looted, burned and 300 black people killed. All while, the police (KKK) turned a blind eye to the matter. And I'm going to assume, they even supplied weapons and participated, as well. Well, that's probably not an assumption.
35 square blocks destroyed. Homes, businesses and infrastructure. GONE. All insurance claims to rebuild were DENIED. No reparations were given by the state or federal government because the event was labeled a "RIOT". To this day, no money has been given to rebuild Greenwood.
So, my excitement to shop until I dropped on Greenwood Ave/Black Wall Street was quickly thwarted once I arrived. I usually do a lot of research before travelling anywhere. And this trip was no different. I just figured the black owned businesses may not be listed or don't have a website. The disappointment I felt when I parked and saw that Black Wall Street had been reduced to one block. ONE BLOCK! And the block doesn't host all black owned businesses anymore. There was a black owned holistic store that was not open the two times we went. A black owned popsicle shop that wasn't open either. We shopped at Black Wall Street T-Shirts and Souvenirs. We ate at Wanda J's. We stopped in another store that seems to have summa this and summa that. 100 years later and just one block. I must have walked the block five times. It was hard to wrap my mind around just one block.
I visited The Greenwood Rising Black Wall St History Center. It has some good points. It describes the rise and fall of Greenwood. You have an opportunity to decompress at the end with your tour group. They ask you to document what your commitment is to the black community. There are some not so good points too. The tour is guided so there is no way to read everything in 45 minutes. The center is small and very abbreviated with information that is not super impactful. And it cost more than $7.5 million to build. Truth be told, The Greenwood Rising Black Wall St History Center wasn't memorable.
The cost of the center and park total more than $12.5 million. Here's where I get mad. $12.5 million could have gone to reparations for the descendants of the victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. The millions could have gone to extending the physical business structures on Greenwood Ave past one block, such as store fronts and office space. It could have gone to business grants for aspiring entrepreneurs in Tulsa. The center and the park remind me of painting BLM in big yellow letters in front of the White House. Yes. That's nice. Thank you. But, we didn't ask for that. We asked for change. We asked for equal treatment and resources. We asked to be seen as human.
This trip was heavy. Super heavy. It took me a few days to gather my thoughts and express them through writing.
On a lighter note, everyone was really nice, including the white people. The Tulsa Club Hotel met all my hotel snob expectations. The weather was perfect. And here is a fun fact, The GAP Band is from Tulsa, OK. Their name is an acronym for Greenwood, Archer and Pine Streets in the Greenwood District.
Tulsa was not what I expected. And I don't expect every trip to be over the top fun with great food and rich history. Would I go back? Probably not. But, as I said before, I'm proud that Black Wall Street happened.