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What happened to Black Wall Street on June 1, 1921?

February 9, 2011
A child rescuer on June 1, 1921 – with Whites out to kill them, Blacks could rely on no one but each other.
Black Wall Street, the name fittingly given to one of the most affluent all-Black communities in America, was bombed from the air and burned to the ground by mobs of envious Whites. In a period spanning fewer than 12 hours, a once thriving Black business district in northern Tulsa lay smoldering – a model community destroyed and a major African-American economic movement resoundingly defused.

The night’s carnage left some 3,000 African Americans dead and over 600 successful businesses lost. Among these were 21 churches, 21 restaurants, 30 grocery stores and two movie theaters, plus a hospital, a bank, a post office, libraries, schools, law offices, a half dozen private airplanes and even a bus system. As could have been expected, the impetus behind it all was the infamous Ku Klux Klan, working in consort with ranking city officials and many other sympathizers.

Black America’s most prosperous community, Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, went up in flames June 1, 1921, in the KKK-led Tulsa Race Riot. According to Wikipedia, “During the 16 hours of the assault, over 800 people were admitted to local hospitals with injuries, an estimated 10,000 were left homeless, and 35 city blocks composed of 1,256 residences were destroyed by fire caused by bombing.”
The best description of Black Wall Street, or Little Africa as it was also known, would be to compare it to a mini Beverly Hills. It was the golden door of the Black community during the early 1900s, and it proved that African Americans could create a successful infrastructure. That’s what Black Wall Street was all about.

The dollar circulated 36 to 100 times, sometimes taking a year for currency to leave the community. Now a dollar leaves the Black community in 15 minutes. As for resources, there were Ph.D.s residing in Little Africa, Black attorneys and doctors. One doctor was Dr. Berry, who owned the bus system. His average income was $500 a day, hefty pocket change in 1910.

These are Black-built, Black-owned buildings that were occupied by bustling Black businesses before envious whites rioted and destroyed them.
It was a time when the entire state of Oklahoma had only two airports, yet six Blacks owned their own planes. It was a very fascinating community.

The mainstay of the community was to educate every child. Nepotism was the one word they believed in. And that’s what we need to get back to. The main thoroughfare was Greenwood Avenue, and it was intersected by Archer and Pine Streets. From the first letters in each of those three names you get G.A.P. And that’s where the renowned R&B music group the GAP Band got its name. They’re from Tulsa.

At the end of the day, June 1, 1921, this is what remained of Black Wall Street. Lost forever were over 600 successful businesses, including 21 churches, 21 restaurants, 30 grocery stores, two movie theaters, a hospital, a bank, a post office, libraries, schools, law offices, a half dozen private airplanes and a bus system.
Black Wall Street was a prime example of the typical Black community in America that did business, but it was in an unusual location. You see, at the time, Oklahoma was set aside to be a Black and Indian state. There were over 28 Black townships there. One third of the people who traveled in the terrifying “Trail of Tears” alongside the Indians between 1830 and 1842 were Black people. The citizens of this proposed Indian and Black state chose a Black governor, a treasurer from Kansas named McDade. But the Ku Klux Klan said that if he assumed office that they would kill him within 48 hours.

Here, the businesses that had been the economic engine of this most prosperous Black community in the U.S. are identified.
A lot of Blacks owned farmland, and many of them had gone into the oil business.

The community was so tight and wealthy because they traded dollars hand to hand and because they were dependent upon one another as a result of the Jim Crow laws. It was not unusual that if a resident’s home accidentally burned down, it could be rebuilt within a few weeks by neighbors. This was the type of scenario that was going on day to day on Black Wall Street.

When Blacks intermarried into the Indian culture, some of them received their promised “40 acres and a mule” and with that came whatever oil was later found on the properties. On Black Wall Street, a lot of global business was conducted.

The community flourished from the early 1900s until June 1, 1921. That’s when the largest massacre of nonmilitary Americans in the history of this country took place, and it was led by the Ku Klux Klan. Imagine walking out of your front door and seeing 1,500 homes being burned. It must have been amazing.

Survivors we interviewed think that the whole thing was planned, because during the time that all of this was going on, White families with their children stood around the borders of their community and watched the massacre – the looting and everything – much in the same manner they would watch a lynching. The riots weren’t caused by anything Black or White. They were caused by jealousy.

Almost 1,500 homes were also destroyed in the 35 blocks that went up in flames and over 3,000 Black residents murdered by the Ku Klux Klan-led Tulsa Race Riot.
A lot of White folks had come back from World War I and they were poor. When they looked over into the Black communities and realized that Black men who fought in the war had come home heroes, that helped trigger the destruction. It cost the Black community everything, and not a single dime of restitution – no insurance claims – has been awarded the victims to this day. Nonetheless, they rebuilt.

We estimate 1,500 to 3,000 people were killed, and we know that a lot of them were buried in mass graves all around the city. Some were thrown into the river. As a matter of fact, at 21st Street and Yale Avenue, where there now stands a Sears parking lot, that corner used to be a coal mine. They threw a lot of the bodies into the shafts.

‘The gun went off, the riot was on’

[excerpts from a CNN report]

On the night of May 31,1921, mobs called for the lynching of Dick Rowland, a Black man who shined shoes, after hearing reports that on the previous day he had assaulted Sarah Page, a White woman, in the elevator she operated in a downtown building.

So determined were whites in Tulsa to wipe out all evidence of Blacks’ prosperity and achievement despite impossible odds, they used airplanes to firebomb Black Wall Street from the air.
A local newspaper had printed a fabricated story that Rowland tried to rape Page. In an editorial, the same newspaper said a hanging was planned for that night. As groups of both Blacks and Whites converged on the Tulsa Courthouse, a White man in the crowd confronted an armed Black man, a war veteran, who had joined with other Blacks to protect Rowland.

Eddie Faye Gates, a member of the Tulsa Race Riot Commission, formed several years ago to determine exactly what happened, told CNN what happened next.

“This White man,” she said, asked the Black man, “What are you doing with this gun?” “I’m going to use it if I have to,” the Black man said, according to Gates, “and (the White man) said, ‘No, you’re not. Give it to me,’ and he tried to take it. The gun went off, the White man was dead, the riot was on.”

Truckloads of Whites set fires and shot Blacks on sight. When the smoke lifted the next day, more than 1,400 homes and businesses in Tulsa’s Greenwood District, a prosperous area known as the “Black Wall Street,” lay in ruins. Today, only a single block of the original buildings remains standing in the area. Experts now estimate that at least 3,000 died.

‘We’re in a heck of a lot of trouble’

Beulah Smith was 14 years old the night of the riot. A neighbor named Frenchie came pounding on her family’s door in a Tulsa neighborhood known as “Little Africa” that also went up in flames.

As fires set by white rioters raged, claiming all they held dear, Black men who fought back to protect their families, homes and businesses were arrested and killed. There were outnumbered 10 to one. Here, a white man with a shotgun guards the body of a Black man and several prisoners outside Tulsa’s Convention Hall.
“Get your families out of here because they’re killing Niggers uptown,” she remembers Frenchie saying. “We hid in the weeds in the hog pen,” Smith told CNN.

People in a mob that came to Kenny Booker’s house asked, “Nigger, do you have a gun?” he told CNN. Booker, then a teenager, hid with his family in their attic until the home was torched. “When we got downstairs, things were burning. My sister asked me, ‘Kenny, is the world on fire?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, but we’re in a heck of a lot of trouble, baby.’”

Another riot survivor, Ruth Avery, who was 7 at the time, gives an account matched by others who told of bombs dropped from small airplanes passing overhead.

The explosive devices may have been dynamite or Molotov cocktails – gasoline-filled bottles set afire and thrown as grenades. “They’d throw it down and when it’d hit, it would burst into flames,” Avery said.

Only a single block remains of the 1,400 homes and businesses that made up the area known as Black Wall Street.

Unmarked graves

Many of the survivors mentioned bodies were stacked like cord wood, says Richard Warner of the Tulsa Historical Society.

Survivors search the ruins of their homes for anything they can salvage. To this day, no insurance claims nor any restitution has been paid.
In its search for the facts, the commission has literally been trying to dig up the truth.

Two headstones at Tulsa’s Oaklawn Cemetery indicate that riot victims are buried there. In an effort to determine how many, archeological experts used ground-piercing radar and other equipment to test the soil in a search for unmarked graves.

The test picked up indications that hundreds of people have been buried in an area just outside the cemetery.

Editor’s note: The Tulsa Race Riot Commission, formed in 1997 to determine exactly what happened and what should be done now, delivered its final report in 2001, calling for substantial restitution. “In June 2001,” according to Wikipedia, “the Oklahoma state legislature passed the ‘1921 Tulsa Race Riot Reconciliation Act.’ While falling short of the commission’s recommendations, it provided for more than 300 college scholarships for descendants of Greenwood residents, mandated the creation of a memorial to those who died in the riot, and called for new efforts to promote economic development in Greenwood. A documentary, “Before They Die!” has been made about the survivors and their quest for justice. It chronicles efforts in Oklahoma to gain reparations for the survivors. And watch the video “One Day in May!” at www.BeforeTheyDieMovie.com.

This story comes from the Ujamaa Network, which can be reached at mikehouse@ujamaanetwork.biz. They add these words of wisdom: “We must buy from ourselves in order to re-circulate Black dollars. If we want our dollars to return, we must spend them within our own community. 2011 will be our year if we decide it will be. Make a commitment to yourself to do as much of your spending within our community as possible.”

455 thoughts on “What happened to Black Wall Street on June 1, 1921?

  1. Sean

    Guess who was responsible for fire bombing ?

    Remnants of the DEMOCRATS of the KKK are suspected to this day !

    Reply
  2. BEN TEN TEN

    I'M TAKING THIS ARTICLE AND START PROMOTING THE HELL OUT OF IT, AS TO WHY A GREAT REPARATION IS OWED TO ALL BLACK AMERICA.

    Reply
  3. Sharif

    This is unbelievable I’m 37 yrs of age and history is my favorite subject,and hear about this for the first time today is mine blowing.They say that the terror attack that just took place in Florida was the worst attack on Us soil is a lie cuz from what I just learned about the Black Wall St was and is the worst terror attack that has happened on US soil.What makes me so anger for me to b 37 and just hearing about this Amercia doesn’t even acknowledge it.This country is hypocrites SMFH

    Reply
  4. ShellShell K

    I never knew about this and I’m 46 years old from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. They taught us about the Battle here and we had to do a book report each year about a black person for Black History month and that’s it. It sickens me to know how white washed or education system truly is.

    Reply
  5. Lali

    But let te media tell it..Orlando was the worst massacre in us history…I bs CNN and any other media that continues to discount the greatest of black people

    Reply
  6. Ricardo

    the crazy part about this whole thing is how long have we been done wrong too and look at what lack of knowing our own history have destroyed us as far as how we act and post on face book. shit is just sad… givethanks…

    Reply
  7. Gene

    It’s always a pissing contest isn’t it. “People long ago i didnt even know suffered, so that means I did to cause we have the same skin tone!” I’m a black conservative and I get so frustrated with blacks who have the gimme gimme attitude for events that didn’t even involve them. Hell you all admit you were too lazy to research Black Wall Street in the past and somehow it’s someone else’s fault! Take responsibility for your own short comings! You wonder why people are losing respect for blacks that think like that? It’s not sensible to think that way, it’s ignorant and disgraceful! Stop asking for hands out from people because you think they owe you simply because of their skin color. No one owes anyone. THIS IS A TRAGIC EVENT IN history. The cause of the bombing goes beyond race and jealousy if you only take the time to really think about it. And by the way, the Democrats than and the Democratis today, have members of the KKK and other racial supremacy groups in politics! This is the moment in history they decided to put you back on the plantation without you knowing it. And they bought hook, line and sinker and still do today. STOP LOOKING IN THE PAST TO JUSTIFY THE SAD REGRESSIVE STATE BLACKS KEPT THEMSELVES IN. Youre only going to cause more harm than good, the past isn’t the cause of the problems today. The problem lies in blacks blaming whites for everything, glorifying criminals, being openly racist, no strong family units, no sense of reason! I’m tired of seeing blacks spouting ignorance and thinking it sounds reasonable. I do not stand with you if you do this. If you want real change stop blaming whites, stop being racist, because it’s not coming from the whites it coming from the blacks. Stop defending criminals and pedophiles. Support the local officers you take for granted. Get your shit together, smarten up.

    Reply
    1. Renaissance

      Gene:

      I seriously think that you have very little understanding of who you are as a black man today, in comparison to what you represent as a black man period. What you represent as a black man period is the original man, a threat to the other (White). Your ancestors built, created invented and thought everything you can possible see in your modern world. Open your every, research the history of your people before slavery, only then can you understand what is really happening now.

      Reply
    2. gist16

      this comment is for gene since u say its wrong for black americans to ask for reprations for the atrocites tht were and still are being commited to are people today, then u must believe tht the jews didnot deserve those reprations from germany tht they recieved for the holocast. they received land and money so whats the differance??

      Reply
  8. Awakening

    I am a block women and u believe black lives matter, but I want everyone to research this black lives matter and see who created it and who funds it, they want us to act out, march etc.. So they can put martial law in affect my people will perish through lack of knowledge. The only way we can overcome is by sticking together, spending your money with your own kind.Rebuild and regroup

    Reply
  9. Rose

    And yet WHITES blame blacks for not being successful when they are the failures. THEY call blacks lazy, criminals, thieves and everything else in the book, when THEY, themselves, are all those things and more. THEY say THEY want to see blacks get off their lazy "asses"… and do some work and improve, but the real deal is THEY don't want us to succeed, because, THEY really want to talk about blacks and bring us down knowing well what THEY have done. It is sad that the "whites" that have brought blacks into this country so long ago even before so many other "whites" of many generations ago still treat blacks as if we're "aliens" when blacks are really All-Around Americans. Something to think about

    Reply
    1. Ray

      I not sure I understand you comment.Im white but I didn’t say any of that stuff, I do know a lot of white people just like you described so I’m sure people like that exists in all kinds of us even myself at some point in time, so why does it have to be about skin color .We are all God’s children so let’s act like it. So my Question to you is who told you those things I would like talk to them ,see what they think of some of my relatives.so please don’t think I think those things about someone who I don’t know, so if you did here a white person or white people say anything please ,don’t judge all white people by what another person who may happen to be white speaks for all whites.I’m afraid that may be racist. We all people, and all equal ,can’t we just category us that way. If we can’t I’m afraid of where we are heading as a country . So please everyone who reads this take the advise of one of Americas finest people ( who happens to of had black skin color ) Don’t judge a person by the color of their skin but by what’s on the inside of them . So if you don’t know a person you have no right trying to say anything about that person and you certainly have no grounds to compare them to someone who may look like them. I am sorry for the way some people have been treated.But I don’t see me apologizing for something someone else did or said to another person will help anybody but for what it’s worth I am sorry thank you all for reading

      Reply
  10. August

    You’re stupid. Like dumb as hell. It’s hard to imagine how anyone could be as unaware as your clueless bum ass.

    Reply
    1. Ray

      Aren’t you very civilized that’s a very good way to get your point across to someone you disagree with his to belittling them makes you feal big to tear down someone else. I wonder if people really care what you think.l bet not! And go ahead post whatever you want it’s your right, and also that same right I’m going to use by not reading it u can bank on it thanks for sharing

      Reply
  11. Pat

    I have to write a paper about the black wall street of 1921. I would like to know where I can get scholarly Journals or articles about this. I am searching Gale and Ebsco and not seeing anything. Can you help me.

    Reply
  12. Mike

    Anyone reading this article is interested in FACTUAL US history and not the propaganda pap we get from public education (progressive left in leaning as is higher education), the media and of course Hollywood. The Progressives have taken over the primary institutions which influence our thinking and our worldview. The KKK has always been the military arm of the DEMOCRAT Party. …Always. FDR appointed Hugo Black, a KKK official to the US Supreme Court. Woodrow Wilson (Democ. Pres. 1913 to 1921) was an unapologetic Racist and proponent of eugenics. FDR sent thousands of Americans to CONCENTRATION camps in 1942 under the guise of national security. Just in case anyone thinks this is old history. ….guess again. LBJ (Dem. President in the 60s) opposed the Civil Rights legislation, as did ALL Southern Democrats (which was every Southern elected official) when he was the Senator from Texas. He only supported the legislation , which only passed because the Republicans had won the Senate, because he saw an opportunity to lock in the Black Vote for generations to come. As recently as 2002, the leader of the Democrats in the Senate was Bobby Byrd (D. W. Va.). Good ole Bobby was also an officer in the KKK and in an interview before his dead used the "N" word 4 times while answering questions on 60 Minutes. From the days of Andrew Jackson (father of the modern Democrat party) to this day, the Democrat Party has stood for bigotry and has used African Americans like South American Dictators use their people. The goal is to keep this population ignorant and dependent, which is the very definition of enslavement. Don't believe me, ask any Democrat leader if they support school vouchers so kids attending rotten schools can go to the same private schools their kids go to. Even Barak Obama, the first African American President, killed the voucher program in DC, which had been established by Republicans. It's simple keep the black man in his place, don't let him get to uppity.

    Reply

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