Something terrible happened in 1921 and for decades nobody talked about it.
This isn’t something you’ll learn in history class. 99 years later and the facts of what actually happened on Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street” is still unraveling.
“Black Wall Street” in the Greenwood neighborhood of Oklahoma, was a bustling community full of Black-owned homes and establishments, including restaurants, banks, and hotels, in a community that included well-accomplished scholars. It was a predominantly Black area that thrived economically after the end of the Civil War and into the 20th century, when racism was at its peak, when the white supremacist group the KKK was incredibly active in the state of Oklahoma. The residents of Greenwood faced racism from those in neighboring white communities, and the tension hit a fever pitch on May 31, when 19-year-old Black man by the name of Dick Rowland was apprehended by police for allegedly assaulting a 17-year-old White elevator operator, Sarah Page, inside an office building. Stories differ as to what occurred between the two, some say he accidentally stepped on her foot when entering the elevator, causing her to scream out loud — but the encounter sparked widespread outrage among white people.
From that point of hundreds of white people descended upon “Black Wall Street”, armed. The Black residents that tried to defend themselves were outnumbered by the White mob, which shot their way through. The White mob murdered as they set fire to “Black Wall Street”.
For two whole days, the Greenwood district burned.
More than 1200 homes were destroyed. A total of 35 blocks ruined.
About 10,000 black people were left homeless, and property damage amounted to more than $1 million in real estate and $750,000 in personal property (equivalent to over $30 million in 2020).
Estimates put the number of deaths around 300.
After the incident postcards with pictures of the district burning were commonly distributed. It was a part of the white supremacist culture that kept these postcards as souvenirs.
Now they’re kept to make sure this part of history is not forgotten!