Introduction: Black Wall Street 1921
Updated: Dec 2, 2021
Photo Courtesy: Library of Congress.
Title: Ruins after the race riots, Tulsa, Okla. Created / Published June 1921. Photographer name or source of original from caption card or negative sleeve: Dis. Rel.- Data: Mr. Stuart. Call Number/Physical Location: LC-A6197- RC-10374 [P&P]
Between May 31st and June 1st of 1921, what the Oklahoma Historical Society
calls quote, "the single worst incident of racial violence in American history," claimed the lives of potentially hundreds of people and left an entire community in Tulsa, Oklahoma completely decimated. That community, known as Greenwood - an African American district in North Tulsa, suffered a brutal attack by a white mob, which resulted in a horrific scene of chaos, destruction and bloodshed. The area, with a population of about 10,000 at the time, according to the historical society, had been considered one of the most affluent African American communities in the United States for the early part of the 20th century. For that reason it earned the name Black Wall Street. When the mayhem ceased, and the smoke cleared, Black Wall Street laid almost completely flattened. In less than 24 hours, according to a Red Cross estimate, more than 1,200 houses were burned; 215 others were looted but not torched. Two newspapers, a library, a school, stores, hotels, churches and many other black-owned businesses were among the buildings damaged or destroyed by fire. Historians now believe an estimated 300 people were killed during the attack.
“But see, what happened is they would allow those fellows to come in behind after taking them . You know blacks had surrendered. They were like, "I'm coming in." But looting and burning." ~William Danforth Williams, Tulsa Race Massacre survivor.
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Rough Episode Transcription
But see what happened is they would allow those fellows to come in behind after taking them. You know, blacks had surrendered. They were like, I'm coming in, but looting and burning. Those words you just heard from an audio recording of an interview with William Danforth Williams about the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. He was a survivor of the massacre. William's parents were John and Lola Williams. The Williams were a prominent family that lived in the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma at the time of the massacre, also known as black wall street. They owned a confectionary, the dream man theater. And a garage among other things, their businesses were destroyed in the attack on Greenwood. William's interview was one of a number of interviews conducted by author and historian Eddie Faye Gates with survivors of the Tulsa race massacre several decades ago before they passed away. In partnership with the Tulsa race massacre. Centennial commission. I'm Nia Clark, and this is black wall street, 1921 between May 31st and June 1st of 1921 what the Oklahoma historical society calls quote. The single worst incident of racial violence in American history claim the lives of potentially hundreds of people and left an entire community in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Completely decimated that community, known as Greenwood and African American district in North Tulsa suffered a brutal attack by a white mob, which resulted in a horrific scene of chaos, destruction, and bloodshed. The area. But the population of about 10,000 at the time, according to the historical society, had been considered one of the most affluent African American communities in the United States or the early part of the 20th century. For that reason, it earned the name black wall street when the mayhem ceased. And the smoke cleared black wall street late, almost completely flattened and less than 24 hours according to a red cross estimate, more than 1200 houses were burned. 215 others were alluded, but not torched. Two newspapers, a library, a school stores, hotels, churches, and many other black owned businesses. We're among the buildings damaged or destroyed by fire. Historians now believe and estimated 300 people were killed according to the Tulsa historical society and museum. Although the official number of fatalities is much lower, the vast majority of the city's black residents were left homeless and a 2019 article in the Atlantic. Dr Alicia Odo, Wally. Assistant professor of anthropology at the university of Tulsa said, quote, the total estimated financial loss taking into account the destruction of both private residential property and property in the business district would be about 50 to $100 million in today's currency. The article goes on to say, quote, the neighborhood, in addition to being subjected to the on the ground assault was bombed above by planes carrying right assailants. This bloody attack became known as the Tulsa race riot today, the city of Tulsa, along with various experts and organizations dedicated to accurately and respectfully preserving this piece of history, refer to it as the Tulsa race massacre. The word riot does not reflect the unjust unprovoked, racially motivated attack on the people of Greenwood that took place in 1921. However, the truth is, even before the attack on black wall street, Tulsa was a ticking time bomb waiting for the right match to come along and light the fire. That would spark a scene of unimaginable racial violence. Never before seen in the city. Numbering about a hundred thousand people at the time. According to the Oklahoma historical society's website, quote, the outbreak occurred during an era of acute racial tensions characterized by the birth and rapid growth of the so-called second KU Klux Klan, and by the determined efforts of African Americans to resist attacks upon their community. Particularly in the matter of lynching. Such trends were mirrored both statewide and in Tulsa. Additionally, it is taken nearly a full century for the search of potential mass graves of massacre victims to begin an effort that is ongoing. For many decades, the story of the Tulsa race massacre was suppressed in Tulsa and purposely kept out of newspapers and the previously referenced Atlantic article. Dr. Scott Ellsworth, professor of Afro American and African studies at the university of Michigan and author of death in a promised land, said quote, the people who brought it up were threatened with their jobs. They were threatened with their lives. What were the causes and conditions that led up to and created the perfect environment for the Tulsa race massacre to occur? How did the black people of Greenwood and a remarkable show of perseverance rebuild their black wall street following the assault on their community despite the machinations of corporate interests and the resistance of the local government, why is it that for decades following the massacre, the attack was treated as taboo by both whites. And blacks by residents of Tulsa and government officials, by survivors of the massacre and their descendants. And if it was addressed, why were the facts and circumstances surrounding the massacre misconstrued? And in many cases, fabricated? Why does the quote, single worst incident of racial violence in American history remain largely absent from most history textbooks and school curriculum? And thus, the annals of history. Why is it that a large majority of Americans didn't even know what black wall street or the Tulsa race massacre was until after watching Watchman on HBO? This podcast will explore all these questions and more while we do our best to bring this tragedy out of the shadows of American history and shine a light on the full story of the Tulsa race massacre during episodes of black wall street, 1921 you'll hear from various experts and academics, government officials. And descendants of Tulsa race massacre survivors. It would not have been possible to procure so many interviews with so many well learned people on the subject matter without the help of the Tulsa race massacre. Centennial commission, a partner of this project, which works to quote, leverage the history surrounding the events of nearly 100 years ago by developing programs, projects, events, and activities to commemorate and inform. The commission's website says it goes on to say, quote. We will remember the victims and survivors and create an environment conducive to fostering sustainable entrepreneurship and heritage tourism within the Greenwood district, specifically, and North Tulsa author, historian, educator and advocate Eddie Faye Gates recorded interviews with dozens of survivors of the Tulsa race massacre and the late nineties and early two thousands. Before they passed away. Thanks to her insight and forethought and thanks to the Oklahoma historical society for giving us copies. You will hear some of those interviews. Thanks to copies given to us by the Tulsa historical society and museum. You'll also hear an interview with another survivor and witness of the massacre. Thanks to assistance by attorney, author, consultant, and Tulsa race massacre expert, Hannibal Johnson. The content of this podcast has been greatly enhanced. Be sure to subscribe, rate, and review this podcast on Apple podcasts or on your favorite podcast platform, and don't forget to check out our social media pages, including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Just search black wall street, 1921. And finally make sure you visit our website, black wall street, hyphen 1920 one.com to join our mailing list and stay up to date on all of our episodes. .