100 years later, we remember the worst racially charged violence in America’s history, the Tulsa Race Massacre.
Tulsa, Oklahoma was home to one of the U.S richest Black communities. Gone were hundreds of businesses owned by Black Americans who thrived and maintained lucrative businesses. Within 48 hours, Greenwood, the neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma also coined by Booker T. Washington as Black Wall Street for its wealth was burned down.
Charred down to the ground with nothing left to claim, Black Wall Street was destroyed. In today’s dollars, $200 million worth of property was gone leaving 10,000 people homeless and 300 Black people killed. Business, property, wealth, and freedom turned into mere ash due to a white mob with racial and malicious intentions.
What Triggered The Massacre?
A rumor. As Dick Rowland, a young Black man, was entering an elevator in the Drexel office building, the elevator operator, Sarah Page greeted him with a freighting scream. Rowland immediately ran to avoid any trouble. Unfortunately, police found and arrested Rowland the next day. He was accused of sexually assaulting Sarah Page, the white community became furious, gathered a mob and demanded law enforcement to hand over Rowland so they could deal with him. Refusing to allow that to happen was a group of armed Black men who offered Rowland protection. However, they quickly became outnumbered as more whites continued to show up. Officials gave weapons to the white Tulsans and chaos broke out. Black businesses turned into grand smoke clouds from being set on fire. Nobody was held accountable for the murders and the media barely covered the massacre.
Black Women Businesses In Tulsa Massacre
Some of the businesses that made Black Wall Street what it was are businesses owned by Black women. They supported and uplifted the community of Greenwood. Mary E. Jones Parrish owned a typing school on North Greenwood. After the massacre, she published a book titled Events of the Tulsa Disaster in which she spoke about the massacre from her own perspective.
Another notable Black business owner was Mme. Geo W. Hunt who owned the Creole Beauty Parlor. She served Black and white customers. Mabel Little also owned a beauty parlor which is one of the few parlor’s still standing after the rebuilding of the Greenwood neighborhood. Loula Williams, Emma Gurley, and Dora Wells are just a few of the women to name who owned successful businesses in Greenwood. Through community and culture, their businesses became staples in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Impact On Today’s Wealth In Black Neighborhoods
After the massacre, the rebuilding of Tulsa began. Journalist Trymaine Lee dives into the community of Tulsa today and discusses the wealth gap imprinted through his podcast Into America: Blood on Black Wall Street.
Today, the neighborhood is experiencing gentrification. A place where 300 Black businesses previously strived, only 20 are currently present. Black wealth and ownership was a theme throughout the Greenwood district, but now residents have little to nothing to own. This results in a lack of inheritance for future generations. Gentrification has made it harder for Black Tulsans to hold onto their community. Nevertheless, prosperity lives on in the spirits of Tulsans and reparations are what’s desired next.