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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

This story comes from the Ujamaa Network, which can be reached at 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.”

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

  1. Fred Mitchell

    Excellent commentary! It dispels some of myths about black people which has become so prevalent and embedded in American culture. Today "white America" has fought to "dumb down" black culture and deny contributions made by African Americans.

    1. Michael Sanders

      I read many replies on here and the sad thing is that the overall tone is still one of opposition, denial, anger and apathy. Ppl, when will we learn that the only way to change anything is to change yourself. Determine to love all, show empAthy and understanding for all, and refuse to repeat the mistakes of the past. Murder, hatred, discrimination, intolerance are wrong no matter who perpetrated it. Sadly THOSE things are alive and well in this forum today. It always amazes me that birds can gather in my yard, feed and enjoy life without one calling another a name or degraded another. Yet supposed intelligent humans cannot carry on as civil of a discussion. Think I’d rather be a bird today.

  2. mingthemerciless

    Yes, racism is ugly…so why Looie "Adolf Hitler" Farrakhan can gather a million racist blacks but David "moron" Duke never get more than fifteen white nazis for his KKK rallies?

    3,000 dead, eh? What about the 3,000 whites raped, robbed and murdered every months by the black goons that fill the country jail by 90%?

    Why you blacks keep voting for the democrats KKK that have enslaved you with whips then and now with welfare and why you keep supporting the white mongrel muslim Barry Hussein Obama that opened the border for mexican immigration that took all your jobs and support conquering islam that enslaved hundreds of millions of Africans…YOU ARE ALL SCREWED UP BY YOUR OWN SELVES!!!

    1. mark

      Jealous people will be jealous people… We have and will continue to rise from the ashes of our oppressors mayhem murder and over all disrespect because we African Americans<3 are tough ass nails and we only getting smarter shots out to the President of the USA a African I'm very pleased to add that was for you Black wall street.

    2. The Last Of Us

      Ah, im so glad you have asked that! The reason blacks can gather in the millions and whites cannot is because its hard for whites to argue an invalid point without sounding stupid. Its that simple. You stated that “3,000 whites are raped, robbed, and murdered by blacks every month.” Hmm sounds like a fallacy to me. I think not only Google agrees with me, but anyone with the slightest amount of brain activity can find those numbers to be exaggerated. And even if it was in some ways true 3,000 blacks killed in a matter of 12 hours compared to 3,000 or even 100,000 whites a month (Correct the math if you want) still wouldnt amount to the number of black lives lost. Stupid is as stupid does. And you ,sir, are doing stupid quite well. I came to this realization after you stated, “Black goons fill up the country’s by 90 percent”. 90 percent…really? Realistically, the statistics are almost a third of that, but due to your lack of intelligence and surplus of a staggering combination of ignorance and arrogance you believe the number is much higher than that. Now you are almost the prime example of why “David Duke never gets more than fifteen white nazis for his KKK rallies” because of the hate and envy fueled propaganda-type speeches your people tend to have. And calling Farrakhan “Adolf Hitler” doesnt take a toll on blacks when it seems like the man name-calling(Oh, how mature, right?) is reading a chapter of Mein Kampf and simply reciting what hes read and posting it on forums. So at the end of the day, whos really enslaved? The struggling black man? Or the white guy whos fighting for something not even worth fighting for?

    3. Sosa

      You are the typical dumb azz white women who can’t accept what your racist azz ancestor have done. Oh and bi** it’s Louis not Looie.

  3. MSA

    The indolent will forever live in fear and remain a people in thrall. This was a time of segregation by state and federal law. They built without your assistance. On this un-level playing field, they exceeded your expectations and made the necessary sacrifices to achieve their goals. Today you hate me for the greatness to succeed against your opposition. You hate the fact that deep in your sub conscience, you rail me because YOU NEED my BLACK ASS. I'll stop playing the race-card when you decide to remove it from the deck, cease from concealing the true history of all Americans of color whom you've persecuted due to you own miscreant behavior. Your manumission papers are in the BIBLE, Romans 10:9.

  4. Clinique

    If you all want a serious eye opener check out this documentary called "Hidden Colors" by Tariq Nasheed. You can find it on amazon. If you thought this was bad once you see this documentary it will open your eyes to much much more!!!

  5. One New Man in YHWH

    As a white person, I have never heard of this. I knew atrocities have been done to the Black community over the years, but not to the extend of a private bombing on a whole community. This was outright genocide! And I hope none of the Black community considers the KKK to be Christians, they were masons (worship satan). As a white person, I do acknowledge that justice must be done for this, and there was great loss that cannot be recovered. The debt incurred by white people is too great for monetary repayment. However, God will perform the justice due to the Black community. Trust Him to avenge you, He says "I am YHWH, I will repay." As it goes, though, you must not repay evil for evil, or God will require justice from you in accordance with your return injustice. Rest in YHWH, He is a faithful God Who repays and will repay. It may not be on the desired timeline, but it will happen.

  6. Mitzi Bass

    As we reach the end of 2013, it is sad to see that the same mindset that prevailed in 1921 still exists today. Having lived in Tulsa, OK for several years, I learned of this "Black Wall Street" and could not have been more proud of what African Americans were able to accomplish in the early 20th century. Sadly when I look at the African American culture today, I do not see the prosperity, unity and collaboration that was exhibited by this "Black Wall Street" community. We have become a fragmented and disconnected people, eager to "get ours", without regard for those who may be left behind.
    The mindset in Tulsa, has sadly not changed very much. When I moved there in 1995, it was a warm friendly city. While racism still remained, the people had better manners about how it was displayed. Since the election and re-election of the nation's first African American president, the climate has changed dramatically. People there are less friendly, more discourteous, and seemingly angry to a point. They are less accepting of African Americans in any position of authority, and work diligently to ensure that we do not attain such positions, regardless of education and qualifications.
    African Americans in Tulsa, and in other cities throughout the country have become complacent and accepting of their treatment by Whites, as well as other cultures. We have become too accepting of being "low man on the totem pole". We can no longer afford to accept our lot in life, but must strive to become more than and better than we have been to this point. We cannot disgrace the memories of the thousands of people of color who sacrificed on that day in May of 1921, by not striving to accomplish greater things.
    Education, articulation and self-respect are the key elements. Do not disgrace the memory of your ancestors by being and choosing to remain uneducated. Do not disgrace yourself by not being articulate. Speak clear and correct English. Respect yourself, and others will have no choice except to respect you in return. As African Americans, we must become well versed in the correct workings of legitimate business and be willing to ascribe to those precepts. Stop looking for a "hook-up" or "making a hustle". It is not the way to gain access to wealth and respect. Just because Jay-Z did it does not mean that you can. The members and patrons of "Black Wall Street" were legitimate businessmen. As a people, we must strive to learn from these giants and work toward the development of such economic and financial centers within our communities throughout the country. In this way, we honor their sacrifice, their memory and create a legacy for our own children and future generations.

  7. americans4justice

    90% of this article here is "black version' NONSENSE. Pure fantasy and fabrication. I've been around enough black websites to know that truth in journalism means very little or nothing to blacks (ones writing it and the ones reading it)

    Blacks want their FREE money. Restitution…Restitution…Restitution…On and on it goes.

    A black "wall street" in Tulsa? And no where else on planet earth but there in Tulsa – a black created Shangra la? NONSENSE. White people owned most of the small businesses in black section of Tulsa. There was only about 2500 adult black males in Tulsa according to the US census for 1920. Half couldn't read or write. Virtually ALL black men worked in the white-owned oil fields of Tulsa.

    Dopey black males provoked the Tulsa riot by murdering white males. The sexual assault on the innocent white girl REALLY DID HAPPEN. White people were forced to put up with the black male sexual predator all over America – a menace to white people that continues to this day. NOT ONE OF THE SEXUAL ASSAULTS ON WHITE FEMALES BY A BLACK MAN HAS EVER RESULTED IN GOV'T RESTITUTION!!! WHERE IS THEIR RESTITUTION?!

    1. Jashuwa Baker

      And you my friend are a complete Idiot….but then ignorance is contagious….and you have sufficiently confirmed this

  8. JLF

    Horrible by any measure. The number of deaths cited, however, seems improbably high in relation to both the likely population density of the affected area and also the lack of historical attention this has received even in consideration of likely prevalence of under-reporting for such tragedies. I checked, briefly, around the web and other sources, while stating a wide range between official and unofficial death toll, cite an "as-many-as" number of 300 rather than 3,000 (and a [very likely underreported] official number around 30). A national tragedy of great significance by any of these measures, and also by measures aside from injury and death, and very deserving of much greater acknowledgement and awareness. I wonder, though, if the author might verify the death toll statistic of 3,000.

  9. abdullah mujahid

    This is sad,I have to go and see this town,I worked for a airline and was forced to retire due to 911,Detroit built a freeway on the black wall street their,these were bustling business just like greenwood,Seems like manny States blacks suffer back then and even in 2014,im livingin florida and being black from up North,ive encounterd manny unwelcoming acts,ITS like a black is bad for business or the sheriffs or police immediatley sit outside a business you go into assuming your going to Rob it,ive been over looked to white customers just last week Jan 2014,in ost cases I was buying something more expensive than the hispanic or white but was waited on last assuming I could not afford the things on the menú,sad to say but manny hispánica have taken the lead role in disrespecting Blacks,orlando puerto ricans will not gire a black american a job, manny have notice this, black military have seen this pratice.I challenge all blacks to come to orlando and apply for a job in. A hispanic business or manager run business,and see for your self.



  10. Darrell

    This website by its very nature is racist. Only buy from black business, support black causes, etc., Racism is alive and well here……

  11. Nytoysha

    I'v been reading the comments from all these people and FYI the Tulsa race riots were real I'm from Tulsa Oklahoma I own a home off of pine street. all news papers and facts about this day were destroyed shortly after the riots. Oklahoma didn't want anything like this associated with the state. so called bible belt state go to YOUTUBE and look up TULSA RACE RIOT OR BLACK WALL STREET. These were the richest blacks in America the money circulated 21 times before it left the community many children didn't know anything about racism because you didn't have to leave the community for anything. See for your self this was all very real !!!! DO YOUR RESEARCH THIS WAS REAL!!!!

  12. HAKEEM

    Very insightful and touching piece of history. This is my take: As callous and evil as what "they" did was and still do, we cannot remain broken or complacent. We are a strong people! Let's bring back Black Wall Street. Maybe not at a particular location and why not? We need to embrace more of entrepreneurial opportunities and make a conscious effort to patronize black owned businesses. The black race is not confined to the back seat for eternity: We need to change our conversation, read more books outside of the classrooms, be more open minded and strive for success in our chosen professions.

  13. Jeri

    How tragic! First of all – because it happened and so many innocent people were killed, injured or permanently scarred and second – because we never were told about this very real event in our history. I am 59 years old, live two hours from Tulsa and I am white. i am absolutely appalled that I never knew this sad history. America should be ashamed. We (Americans) are outraged when we hear about the genocide occurring in 3rd World Countries and yet, we have never admitted that this happened. Thank you for enlightening me.

  14. HghrReality"WISDOM"

    It is spoken of in all of the holy books of the world ( That have not been purposefully misinterpreted to fit the "WHITE MANS" ways ) that there would be a BEAST man who would infiltrate "HUMANITY", Gods people, and cause great destruction and grief upon the lands. It speaks of the BEAST being cast out into the mountains and caves because of there inhumane, "Neanderthal" ways. It was spoken in the great books of the world that this beast would break free of this strong hold in time, and would break down the great gate built by Gods angels. God describes this beast as being hairy with long, wolf like nails, in which directly coincides with researchers perception of what the ancient Neanderthal was and still is. It is proven that only non "Aficans", all non "Africans", still have Neanderthal DNA. This is proof that Blacks are the original people, and we are not the same as the white man.

  15. HghrReality"WISDOM"

    It was spoken that the blacks would worship false gods and go through a great trial until we come back to our roots, and only then will the greatest of all human existence thrive and prosper once again. We are the most ancient and will be the last standing in the form of a tree stump, where the tree will be cut from the stump and the roots saved in order to begin a new journey for the real man. In tune with the universe once again will be Gods people, free of the Beasts of this horrid nation. I encourage all Blacks to get back to your roots, get back to your God, so that we can be uplifted and freed from our restrictive chains. Be free, read the BIBLE.

  16. Curtis

    As a Original man who knows his History and the history of others forced upon us, I find it sad that we as a people argue back and forth about something that factually happened. Regardless if there is financial compensation or not , Those were our Brothers and Sisters that are now dead because we were successfully beating others at their own game. To try to argue about it only diminishes what happened what took place and why. It isn't a debatable situation its a part of history to show us that we can not only become successful as a people but why we aren't today. The truth may not be out there as much as September 11, was but war stories are told by the winners. The ones who lost have to remember and teach their young without the media. Peace

  17. Joe Rizoli

    This article seems a bit over the top.The original reason for the start of this was, it seems, a real situation that the whites responded too that eventually got out of control. This article reminds me of how the Jews write their history, especially with a sexual predator called Leo Frank. Leo Frank, A Jew in 1913, that could do nothing wrong, but murder and sexually attack a 14 year old white girl called Mary Phagan. The Jews made Leo look like a saint.
    As to this article, it seems a lot else was happening to fuel the violence here and I certainly don’t agree with the whites actions but lots of other things seem to have been happening that the blacks may have brought upon themselves, and now that the story is told it is through their eyes, just like the Leo Frank case, as told by the Jews, Leo Frank was an angel, same goes here for this black community. It’s hard not to believe that this black area was not free from black crime….The writers make this place look like an ocean resort. I would like to see other versions of this incident, through a white persons eyes…..of course after the Rodney King trial this exact thing you claim here by whites was caused by blacks out of control…..what goes a round comes around….

  18. Mr. Muscles

    I have read this travesty of justice. My black people.We came out of slavery to a better way of life . Yes there is opposition but u cant win unless u beat ur apponent. We were tricked into slavery by r greedy chiefs n leaders. Sold for spices n guns n whatever was deemed worthy. We have n still r overcoming daily. Be good to n love each black man n woman undedstanding that it is a blessing n a priviledge to b alive n this era. Amen. God bless u n the Mighty Name of Jesus Christ .Amen Sincerely Mr..Muscles.

  19. Kandy

    “I am now volunteering for a unique nonprofit organization called Cheerful Givers which provides toy-filled birthday gift bags so that less fortunate parents can recognize their child’s birthday with a gift. Hope you will visit their website and consider making a donation –;.

  20. jewelz

    @ Joe.. How sickening that you are trying to justify what happened. In your narrow point of view its difficult for you to comprehend the reality of what actually happened. 1000s of ppl killed an entire community destroyed. Left homeless. Their homes were looted. All their belongings that they worked hard for stolen & in your mind they must have done something to deserve this? Its the sick racist mindset like yours that is the reason racism is still alive today. How about a mob invade your home & steal your belongings & leave you and your family homeless would you be saying the same thing?

    & I dont understand why all you kkk members are on here rallying and pouring out nothing but hate. Must be Satan worshipers because a person that believes in God is not cold hearted. This should be not only devastating to african americans but all people


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