Wall Street, the Financial District of Lower Manhattan in New York City, is a replica of Telsa Wall Street, which existed around the 20th century. The Telsa Wall Street was a wealthy district in Oklahoma built and controlled by Black entrepreneurs.
At the turn of the 20th century, African Americans founded and developed the Greenwood district in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Built on what had formerly been Indian Territory, the community grew and flourished as a Black economic and cultural mecca—until May 31, 1921.
The wealth and growth of Black people in America were not welcomed by the Whites who did everything possible by law shut down the thriving businesses but failed.
Black entrepreneurs like O.W. Gurley, commonly referred to as the founder of Greenwood, exhibited such business mastery that greatly annoyed the white supremacist.
Born to freed slaves in Alabama, Gurley was raised in Arkansas and moved to Oklahoma during the Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889. After running a general store in Perry, Oklahoma, Gurley, a serial entrepreneur, moved to oil-rich Tulsa and reportedly purchased 40 acres of land on the north side of the city with the vision of selling residential and commercial plots to African Americans. Gurley wasted no time opening a rooming house, purchasing buildings, and providing loans to help other Black people start their businesses.
Among other Black entrepreneurs who shared in O.W. Gurley's dream was J.B. Stradford, son of a former slave. He was a lawyer from Kentucky who owned pool halls, shoeshine parlors, and boarding houses before moving to Tulsa around 1899 to expand his business empire.
Stradford invested in Real Estate and built the Stradford Hotel on Greenwood Avenue, a luxury establishment considered the largest Black-owned hotel in the country, with 54 guest suites, a pool hall, a saloon, and a dining room.
When the Whites could no longer live with the growth of Wall Street anymore, they decided to take the laws into their hands – and that they did!
The Tulsa race massacre lasted for two days – May 31 and June 1, 1921, when mobs of white residents, many of them deputized and given weapons by city officials, attacked Black residents and destroyed homes and businesses Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma, United States.
The White mob began a rampage through some 35 square blocks, decimating the community known proudly as "Black Wall Street." The 'legally' armed rioters and deputies looted and burned down businesses, homes, schools, churches, hospitals, hotels, public libraries, newspaper offices, and more.
While the official death toll of the Tulsa race massacre was 36, historians estimate it may have been as high as 300. As many as 10,000 people were left homeless.
White supremacists were on the watch out for an opportunity to attack Telsa Wall Street. The opportunity came on the morning of May 30, 1921, after a young Black man named Dick Rowland, who worked shining shoes, rode the elevator of Tulsa's Drexel building to use one of the few available segregated public restrooms downtown. After the female elevator operator screamed, Rowland fled the elevator, and rumors quickly spread of an alleged sexual assault.
The next day, he was arrested, leading to an armed confrontation outside the courthouse between a growing white crowd and Black men hoping to defend Rowland from being lynched. As things became heated and shots were fired, the vastly outnumbered African Americans retreated to the Greenwood district. The white group followed, and as the night unfolded, violence exploded.
Throughout that night and into June 1, much of Greenwood became enveloped in billowing dark smoke, as members of the mob went from house to house and store to store, looting and then torching buildings. Fleeing residents were sometimes shot down in the streets. Many survivors report low-flying planes, some raining down bullets or inflammables.
In May 2021, 100 years after the massacre, 107-year-old Viola Fletcher testified before Congress:
"On May 31, of '21, I went to bed in my family's home in Greenwood," she recounted. "The neighborhood I fell asleep in that night was wealthy, not just in terms of wealth, but in culture…and heritage. My family had a beautiful home. We had great neighbors. I had friends to play with. I felt safe. I had everything a child could need. I had a bright future.
"I still see Black men being shot, Black bodies lying in the street. I still smell smoke and see fire. I still see Black businesses being burned. I still hear airplanes flying overhead. I hear the screams."
According to the 2001 Tulsa Race Riot Commission Report, the most comprehensive review of the massacre, Tulsa residents filed riot-related claims against the city valued at over $1.8 million in the year after the attacks.
But the city commission, like insurance companies, denied most of the claims—one exception being when a white business owner received compensation for guns taken from his shop.
Many Black Tulsa residents fled the city and never returned. But many stayed and started from scratch—some housed in Red Cross tents until they could rebuild their homes and, later, community landmarks like the Dreamland Theater. In 2001, the Tulsa Race Riot Commission report recommended that survivors be paid reparations, calling it "a moral obligation." However, the pursuit of restitution still hangs on to this day.
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