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  • Nia Clark

Ep. 3: Black Wall Street is Born

Updated: Jun 11


Photo Courtesy: Tulsa Historical Society and Museum


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A special thanks to the National African American Jazz Legacy Museum for allowing the use of their archived historical jazz music in this podcast.


Oil and the prospect of opportunity attracted people of various ethnicities, backgrounds, cultures and traditions to Oklahoma from across the country and beyond, One of the most culturally influential elements taking shape in the early 20th century in places across Oklahoma, particularly in dozens of all-black communities and towns, was Jazz. According to the Oklahoma Historical Society’s Encyclopedia on Jazz, “To understand the history of jazz in Oklahoma, one must first consider the settlement patterns of the state, because they reflect its cultural diversity."


Courtesy of the National African American Jazz Legacy Museum


Courtesy of the National African American Jazz Legacy Museum



At the same time, the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma was a thriving, prosperous, predominantly African American business district. The amount of wealth contained within the community earned it the nickname Black Wall Street.The racial politics of the day meant that African Americans could neither live among whites, and if they did attempt to shop alongside of them, they were often discriminated against.


While many African Americans at the time worked as servants or in service positions in Tulsa, they developed their own insular society and economy out of necessity. They desired to live in a place where they could enjoy their constitutional rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness while living in a community that allowed them to enjoy the fruits of their labor without facing the constant ugliness of racism or having to fear for their safety and lives.



Black Tulsans in Greenwood decided to spend their wages in their own community, spawning an insular economy that included mostly black-owned businesses such as grocery stores, barbershops, hair salons, doctors offices, attorneys offices, hotels, transportation companies, newspapers and schools.

“Being able to build, create and build a life for themselves free of discrimination. Well that was the thought at the time. And being able to participate in the economic prosperity as most citizens should be able to do." ~Reuben Gant, Executive Director of the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation

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Guests of Episode 3 include,  John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation Executive Director, Reuben Gant.

Musical Attributions

1. Glueworm Evening Blues (ID 994) by Lobo Loco License, disclaimer and copyrite information. Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/legalcode Linked to music: https://freemusicarchive.org/music/Lobo_Loco/Welcome/Glueworm_Blues_ID_994

2. Title: Driving to the Delta (ID 923) by Lobo Loco License, disclaimer and copywite information: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) https://freemusicarchive.org/music/Lobo_Loco/Welcome/Driving_to_the_Delta_ID_923_1563 Link to music: https://freemusicarchive.org/music/Lobo_Loco/Welcome/Driving_to_the_Delta_ID_923_1563

3. Spirit Inside (ID 819) by Lobo Loco License, disclaimer and copyright information: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4. https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/0) Link to music: https://freemusicarchive.org/music/Lobo_Loco/Tree_of_Meditation/Spirit_Inside_ID_819

4. African Moon by John Bartmann Link to license, disclaimer and copyright information: CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0) Public Domain Dedication https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/ Link to Music: https://freemusicarchive.org/music/John_Bartmann/Public_Domain_Soundtrack_Music_Album_One/african-moon










Rough Episode Transcription

Don't you miss y'all from rolling in. Y'all.


Yes. Don't you miss? Y'all.


Rolling.


every day you go home. Y'all no,


Kenya.


Yes. Tell me.


Ain't got nobody.


That was Jimmy rushing, performing with dizzy Gillespie's Quintec playing blues after dark and France in 1959. That music is courtesy of the national African-American jazz legacy museum in Oklahoma city.


In partnership with the Tulsa race massacre, Centennial commission. I'm Nia Clark. And this is black wall street, 1921.


Oil and the prospect of opportunity attracted people of various ethnicities, backgrounds, cultures, and traditions to Oklahoma from across the country and beyond one of the most culturally influential elements taking shape in places across Oklahoma, particularly in the dozens of all black communities and towns was jazz.


According to the Oklahoma historical society encyclopedia on jazz. To understand the history of jazz in Oklahoma. One must first consider the settlement patterns of the state because they reflect its cultural diversity, Charles and gold and early 20th century author noted that Oklahoma is a meeting place of many different peoples from every state in the nation and every country on the globe, a myriad of cultural groups brought music to the state resulting in the development of a set of vibrant musical subcultures.


And according to the Oklahoma jazz hall of fame's website, quote, the evolution of jazz music, according to historian and university of Oklahoma, professor William Savage jr. Can be traced through the migration of blacks, westward from new Orleans. Through Texas and Oklahoma to Kansas city from 1890 to 1910, blacks migrated to Oklahoma turning El Reno into a center of ragtime musicians and creating the quote black towns of Langston Clearview and BOLI, which developed their own marching and concert bands.


Justice prior Indian territory communities, hat, the black migration westward after world war one, which continued until the great depression spread Oklahoma's jazz music across the country. Some experts believe the origins of jazz can be traced back to slavery. The encyclopedia Britannica asserts that the elements that distinguish jazz from other musical styles can be traced back to West African musical sources, which were transported to the North American continent by slaves who then preserved them, quote against all odds in the plantation culture of the South.


The national African American jazz legacy museum located in Oklahoma city is run by Rosetta Funches. She tells me quote, the late dr. Ronald V. Myers, our creative director of N a J L M constantly reminded us that he'd be Blake and American composer. And pianist said that wherever slaves were dropped off all over the world, they left hot music and it all sounded different.


Here in America, we have gospel, blues and jazz. All of these art forms come from the experience of being a slave. They were lynched, freed, mistreated, et cetera. Out of these experiences came gospel. When they started living among each other, then came blues. They picked up throwaway instruments from their slave masters and started playing improvisational jazz.


They could not read music. She goes on to say, quote, as educator, Dave Baker puts it. Quote, jazz is black music. Jazz is now considered. African classical music. The black experience in America, including in Tulsa, could very much be heard. And the jazz music that permeated the so called red light districts clubs, and nightspots in Greenwood.


And that jazz music reflected the lived experience. Blacks in Oklahoma, including in Tulsa, based on a daily basis, the racism, the discrimination, the perseverance, the pride, the faith, the love, the struggle, the sadness. And the hope that they too could live freely and prosper Greenwood in particular would become one of the cradles of so-called Kansas city.


Jazz says attorney and author, Hannibal B Johnson in his book, black wall street, jazz greats, often graced, Tulsa, and other parts of Oklahoma early in their careers. Jimmy rushing one of the greatest jazz and blues singers who ever lived was born. James Andrew rushing in Oklahoma city. In 1901 here again is Jimmy rushing this time performing with count basis orchestra in 1941.


Singing, take me back, baby. Courtesy of the national African American jazz legacy museum in Oklahoma city.


take me back, baby. Please. Let me have one.


Wilamena guests. How is one of a number of survivors who have gone on the record about their experience in the Tulsa race massacre of 1921 before passing away? However, like most survivors mrs. Howell did not begin to talk about the attack until much later in life. In fact, she was retired after teaching in Tulsa for more than 40 years when she finally went public with her story.


You'll hear that experience later in this podcast. In the meantime, mrs. Howell was 87 at the time of the recording. You're about to hear, which was made during a documentary interview several decades ago with author and historian, Eddie Faye Gates. How herself was well known in her community. Having taught generations of students, how his relatives were pioneers in Oklahoma.


She moved to Tulsa with her family when she was four years old and lived in the green with district, also known as black wall street after they lost her three year old brother and a house. Fire at their previous home in McAlester, Oklahoma, mrs. Howell came from a prominent family that at least on paper is what might come to mind.


When you try to imagine people who lived in black wall street at the time, her father was a lawyer and several uncles were doctors, which was certainly not as common for African-Americans then as it is. Today. She graduated from Howard university, just like her father. Some of her family members lived in Oklahoma and eventually Tulsa long enough to experience the economic growth spurred by the oil boom of the era and like many African Americans living in Tulsa during the first couple of decades of the 20th.


Century how's family took advantage of all of the opportunities afforded to them that were not as readily available to blacks in other parts of the country, but it was not easy. They worked hard to get there some risking life and limb. Now you're going to hear Wilamena guest's how, describe how some of her relatives fled from the racial history.


That was often deadly in the South and arrived in Oklahoma in search of a fresh start, new opportunity and the chance to try to make something of themselves without being punished for doing so, just because they were black. This was the dream that black wall street offered thousands of African Americans who lived and worked there at the time.


Mrs. Wilamena how is a retired school teacher and pioneer with lots of information about, uh, Oklahoma district mrs. Howell. I see, I can tell. So when I was four years old, I believe it was. And you mentioned that bought the house from the candles three, moved away from there. My grandmother and grandfather had just moved from Guthrie and they persuaded us to come up here and live.


I lived down at three 17 North Elgin street. That's just below where the Katy, uh, fourth of Katy trucks at that time. Um, My father was a lawyer. He had an office at first. I think that first drink when he first came to Tulsa, but maybe he moved on down to art history, but later on and a grandfather, um, TD Jackson who had come from Memphis, Tennessee, uh, and he was the one that persuaded us to come up here to the McAlester, had this asked to, um, and by the way, he wasn't, it was one of these people who, uh, I've read in history about the Negroes, who, uh, back in.


Pro-slavery days. We tried to be somebody and he was sort of a policeman down in Memphis. His name was TD Jackson, towns and Jackson, and, uh, what made the mob cave that he got, he got, uh, a figure that he better get out of. Memphis goes to white people. They were getting pretty ruffles and, uh, The, uh, so they decided to move to the territory territory, Oklahoma, which is Oklahoma.


Uh, it moved to Guthrie, Oklahoma, and the night that they left Memphis, the mom came for him and the next morning, one of them Davis came and went and told my, um, My mother, who would, who had lived next door, who booked next door to a neighbor's house until he could come to the territory, Oklahoma territory and find a housing FOSS for them.


And she said they managed seven, eight girls that night. So he just escaped. And I think the reason is I think he, um, minus. Folded that war. I don't know whether it was French Burke war, which one it was. And he knows the military tactics. And he tried to train the Negroes at that time, how to take care of themselves, the Negro men.


So a little warm and it was at this event and I guess they resented that and the mom wanted him. So he just escaped. And so, uh, she was afraid of for her brother, she had two younger brothers and my mother did they, they mothers, dr. Jackson, my way I was picturing them on the table. Um, the man wasn't, I thought he was great.


There's a physician. In fact, he saved me. I had taught for a relabel fever when I was about seven years old. I lived down on Elgin street, three 70 North LGD, and he lived next door and that man was over. He saved me later on when I went to my father. Went to law school and graduated a Gregory behind with most schools when you want me to go there too.


But I talked to, lot of, I said his too, he had three children. I was the youngest at the time after my brother was the youngest. We lost him when I was three. And when I graduated from high school, he wanted me to go to Howard because he had gone to Howard himself to go school. And I talked to my mom and I was, I said, you can't afford it.


And she got this other teacher. He can't afford it. I call it pop. I say he catered for forward. And I talked about it. But later on when I was about a sophomore, I believe it was sophomore, junior one. Well, I did go to Harvard and he made arrangements for it. And I went to Howard and finished in Howard university.


And I was very proud of that. Cause I like . I know he was satisfied to them. Um, I got a job in Tulsa because I had grown up into also Misty. Debbie was a principal called me up first. He got me a job down in where they go home. I talked to him. They bought a hammer, the old three or four months, maybe a half a year.


And, uh, he called me, yes, that was my father's name. The last name was gas. He called up and said, yes, I got a job for you. You Tulsa, you what I said, you know, I do. So he said, we get permission from your principal. And, and every lady since select came up in that, tell us about 41 years. And I'm retired now, maybe seven years old at the prison.


So what was life like for African Americans living in Oklahoma, including Tulsa black wall street during the first couple of decades of the 20th century? Well, that all depends. Indeed Oklahoma was seen as a land of opportunity for many blacks looking to escape the Jim Crow South, or for those seeking new opportunity.


According to the Tulsa historical society and museums website, quote from the mid 19th century to 1920, African-Americans established more than 50 identifiable towns and communities. It goes on to say, quote, Many started as cohesive farming communities that supported businesses, schools, and churches, eventually gaining town status entrepreneurs in these communities started every imaginable kind of business, including newspapers and advertised throughout the South for settlers and quote.


However, while there certainly were more success stories that mirrored those up. Wilamena guess how's family, not everyone was well off Greenwood and Oklahoma in general was not a golden ticket to prosperity for many people and pockets of poverty or well-documented as with most places, a large wealth gap existed, not only between blacks and whites, but also between African Americans who were more well off.


Than others at the same time, while many of these all black towns or communities were made up of black doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs, a large portion of African-American's in Oklahoma, including in Greenwood, worked as servants or in service positions, such as waiters or in various hospitality positions.


Here's an excerpt from the book black wall street written by attorney. Author consultant and diversity expert, Hannibal beef Johnson, quote, native American tribal conflicts, the influx of thousands of settlers in search of quote free land in Oklahoma. The absence of discernible economic markets and unresolved cultural tensions combined to make Oklahoma, at least for some, anything but paradise.


It goes on to say, quote, despite the poverty and substandard living conditions. In some parts of Oklahoma, they kept right on coming in search of something better. And finally it says, quote, Oklahoma spelled opportunity, the guests, family, and scores of families before and after them pulled up stakes and headed for the plane.


Many of these African Americans brought small parcels of land in the Oklahoma territory from native Americans. Others received land under then prevailing federal government, Indian allotment policy. Indeed, Oklahoma boasted more all black towns and communities than any other state in a land remarkably.


At one time, there were some 30 African American newspapers in Oklahoma. Langston university historian, Currie Ballard attributes, the remarkable proliferation of all black towns to trees between the United States and the native American tribes that required the native Americans to free their slaves and a lot them land.


African-Americans pooled their resources. And a lot of lands became communities. These communities opened their arms to freed slaves from all across the country. Many African Americans came to the Oklahoma territory and answered to the call of African American, Oklahoma Pote boosters. These boosters viewed the Oklahoma territory as an escape from the racism and sometimes barbarism, they faced in their home States, promotional literature, touting free land, full citizenship rights, and an escape from race based discrimination proved irresistible.


For many


African Americans in Oklahoma also faced another challenge for all of the boosters who advertised Oklahoma as a promised land for blacks, as it turned out, blacks faced discrimination in this. Land just as they did virtually anywhere else in the country. At the time, the racial realities of the day meant that African Americans could neither live among whites.


And if they did attempt to shop alongside them, they were often discriminated against. As a result, the people of Greenwood developed their own insular economy out of necessity. Most made their dollars outside of Greenwood, but the majority spent their money almost exclusively. Within the community of Greenwood, largely because they had no other choice.


They desired to live in a place where they could pursue the American ideals of life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They wanted to live in a community that allowed them to enjoy the fruits of their labor without facing the constant ugliness of racism or having to fear for their own safety and lives.


The result was a thriving district of mostly black owned businesses, including grocery stores, barbershops. Hair salons, doctor's offices, attorneys, offices, hotels, transportation companies, newspapers and schools.


Rubin Gantt executive director of the John hope center for reconciliation. Mr. Gant, could you just introduce yourself and tell us what the center does? What we do is we make a, a concerted effort and attempt to create a cross cultural interactions, which we feel is important to dispel myths and rumors.


Overcome, hopefully barriers of discrimination. And we think that is best accomplished through personal interaction, but we, we spent a lot of our time creating venues and opportunities for cross cultural dialogue and discussions of issues of social impact. And this is sort of personal for you because you are from Tulsa.


Your family has lived in Tulsa for several generations. Can you just explain, because we have been talking about the black experience in Oklahoma and Tulsa and the events. And conditions that sort of led up to the Tulsa race massacre of 1921. Can you just talk about your own personal family history briefly and explain how they arrived in Tulsa, what it was like for them and tells that and your relatives who survived the massacre?


Sure. My, my ancestors migrated here from Starkville, Mississippi. And are in the late 18 hundreds and their journey here was to escape these issues of discrimination and abuse in the South. And it was a protection mechanism for their families, particularly females of the family. So at the time Oklahoma was being built as a promised land for blacks and they moved their families here.


To escape, the oppression of racism and discrimination in the deep South. And now coming here, of course, what was prevalent for blacks was a subsistence farming. And so they were farmers. And here in Oklahoma, my grandmother was part Cherokee. So there was a relationship with Cherokee nation or the Cherokee tribe.


Was she one of the African Americans with native American lineage who was allotted land in Oklahoma. But yes, he was allotted 160 acres here in Oklahoma, in Sequoyah County, which is a West near the Arkansas border from Tulsa. So yes, he was a lot T. And you mentioned that your family came here to escape the discrimination they were experiencing in the South.


Did it work? Did they find that Oklahoma was more tolerant than other places? It, it worked for a while until statehood and, and statehood the dynamics. So the territory changed because the first law. Passed by the legislature was Jim Crow. And that changed the relationship and the dynamics of what was Indian territory becoming state of Oklahoma.


Part of my family, uh, you know, part of the history of Oklahoma is the establishment of all black towns here. And so I do know not. From them, but just from doing independent research on my own that my family owned banks and a town called Boley Oklahoma, which was the largest and most prosperous black town in Oklahoma at the time.


So my. There were two aunts that owned two banks, a bank each in Boley, Oklahoma. And in Tulsa, you know, my mom migrated to Tulsa when she became an adult and she was a domestic worker here. So, but your family's experience of migrating to Oklahoma from the South is not unlike that of many, many, many African Americans who did the same.


And you mentioned the Jim Crow sort of atmosphere, they were trying to escape in your research. Do you have an idea of exactly what kind of conditions they were leaving behind in the South when they came to Oklahoma? I mean, I don't think it's too much different than what's occurred is in America.


During and after the civil rights movement and priests or rights movement being discriminated against of being denied opportunities and privileges, I mean, those things that were prevalent back then appear to be prevalent today, which is a sad commentary, but the intent was to. No escape and environment to leave an environment where they could not appropriately and respectfully and properly protect their families because of the second class citizenry that they was addicted to.


And, you know, there was an overwhelming amount of racism that. African-Americans ended up encountering in Oklahoma, including those that fled that sort of atmosphere from the South in the 19th and 20th centuries. And you mentioned that your family came to Oklahoma because it was billed as sort of promised land.


Right. And even we know through history and research, Oklahoma booster, EAP McCabe, he's a African American man at the time for. Tell us a really, I guess, blossomed into the Negro wall street or the black wall street. It was known to be, he was sending blacks to Oklahoma promising equal opportunity and prosperity, but that wasn't the case for a lot of black people in Oklahoma.


Correct. No, no, actually not. I mean, it was, it wasn't a new settlement and really for them, I mean, it's like, you know, discovering the wild, wild West it's being able to build, create and build a life for themselves free of discrimination. Uh, well that was the thought at the time. And being able to participate in the economic prosperity.


As most citizens should be able to do. And so that's what they came in for looking for opportunities and a better lifestyle for their family, but they did encounter some of the racism. They were trying to escape in the South that those who did migrate to Oklahoma, correct. Oh, they did. It was not unlike anywhere else.


They were limited to shopping amongst themselves, spending their monies amongst themselves, trading amongst themselves. That is really what created the prosperity of Greenland. A dependence on each other, the monetary recycling because of the inability to spend money across the railroad track, so to speak.


So that created an enormous amount of. Opportunity and wealth within the Greenwood district itself. Now, not everyone, not every resident in Greenwood was able to capitalize on those opportunities, but just like any other community you're going to have, you know, classes of economic status. Whether it be high, low, mid range, and relatively speaking, that was the situation back then.


So you mentioned Oklahoma before statehood, before statehood. What was the dynamic like between native Americans, African Americans, Caucasians. Do they all live in, you know, the same areas and towns and settlements, or did they have their own. Pockets where black people would stick to their black community and so forth.


They had pockets. I'm sure. But there was, I mean, you have to look at this in terms of it's a new territory. It's a new beginning. So for instance, the establishment of Greenwood occurred because a black man chose to come to Oklahoma territory, Indian territory, I should say. And they could claim of 40 acres of land.


With the idea that in order to create this black settlement, that he would only sell the land to black ownership. And that is what created Greenwood. And that was. And opportunity for black to become homeowners and property owners and being able to establish a foundation for building a future for their families.


And so this black man that you speak of, do you know his name? Oh, w Gurley it's written in probably every historical account of Greenwood. You're going to see O w Gurley's name it's well written in a lot of documents and periodicals and publications that O w Gurley. Was the one that established the founding or the boundaries of Greenwood by purchasing 40 acres of land and making a commitment to only sell it to black families.


Gotcha. And when Greenwood was being developed in the early 20th century, it was like you mentioned it. Difficult for some people, a little more advantageous for others, some people who visited Tulsa at the time, they have reported seeing rampant, poverty and rampant sort of destitution. In addition to other people reporting, obviously the blossoming well-to-do community.


What kind of dynamic did the. Wealth gap or the income gap create when it came to race relations in Tulsa at that time? Well, from the white perspective, um, and there was an element of jealousy in Indy that blacks could live on a level equal to or better than they did. So that created some animosity itself and seeing that this black enclave was self dependent that created some animosity as well.


And then having this black enclave or community of located in it and such a close proximity to downtown tofa. Which at the time was being established itself in terms of where commerce and trade the center point of commerce and trade took place. It was prime real estate. And so, I mean, there was an effort to acquire this real estate.


That's right because of its close proximity to the commerce and trade. And, and this animosity that was sort of simmering among some of the white Tolsons. This was despite the fact that not all black people in Greenwood were well off. There were still poor black people in Greenwood and elsewhere, but they you're saying didn't even want to see even this certain segment of the population outperforming them so to speak.


Uh, that's right. Uh, but you know, I mean, if you think about the dynamics, I mean, you have a community of 10,000, 11,000 people, not in the, but not everybody is going to be wealthy. Not everybody is going to have a, would have the means resources and access to same to create that kind of wealth. But those that did took advantage of it now, the rampant poverty, uh, I think that's relative too, because you think about the time and back then, when you look at living structures, albeit absent of those that had.


Financial means, um, you could probably could consider every resident poverty. That's a good point. And I'm assuming black people were aware of the animosity that was building towards them, especially those in Greenwood, which was also called little Africa. Correct? I mean, I've heard it once or twice. Uh, I don't know if I could, I can't speak definitively whether it was called little Africa or not.


Oh, okay. That's interesting. But, but black people were aware of the animosity that some white people had towards them, those African Americans that were doing well and financially thriving. Oh, absolutely. They were aware of and cognizant of their surroundings and their environment. But, you know, I think the most important thing is that opportunities.


To improve. Their quality of life was not denied because of the activities and interactions and opportunities that existed within the black community itself. So it was more of a self-driven. Aspirational. I mean, how successful do you want to be? And here are the opportunities for you to be successful.


It's up to you to take advantage of that. Some people did. Some people didn't, some people, some people don't want to be wealthy and rich, and some people are content and, but, you know, whatever choice. The opportunity existed. And so it was an individual choice to take advantage of it. More than anything, you mentioned this sort of Greenwood becoming a sort of self contained community or economy that's largely due to segregation because the other parts of Tulsa that were perhaps predominantly white were not as welcoming to black people.


Maybe spending their money or visiting, is that correct? They could spend their money. And, uh, you know, I don't think that, you know, any discrimination in the color green, so they'll take your money if you want to spend your money there, but you couldn't, for instance, go into a clothing store and try on a hat.


Before you bought it like a white person could do. So if you wanted to take that risk of buying a hat that may or may not fit, then they'll take your money. But you know, they're not going to give you a refund when you go home and figure it out. The hat is too small or too large. So that is the trade and commerce that occurred here.


You could go in a store, but you can't try on any clothes. You have to buy the clothes and then just hope they fit. And all this was happening at a time where a lot of people who were segregationists, they did not believe that black people should assimilate into society on the same level. As they were in terms of class, right.


That's right. That's right. But, but I think it's important for us to keep in our minds that, you know, the black population is the only figment of immigration. If you want to call it that, that did not come to America of its own volition, black people didn't come here by choice. Black people were voted here and forced into servitude here, and therefore we are, or were considered less than human.


I mean, I think the constitution kind of reflects that because we're in the constitution, you know, blacks only three fifth of a vote. And so we're not wholly human in that sense. And so even though black Tolsons were perhaps allowed to spend their money at white established businesses, but maybe weren't welcome in the predominantly white part of Tulsa.


They were still a large part of the working force of Tulsa. So for example, black people in Tulsa who lived in Greenwood would often work outside of Greenwood. Like you mentioned your relatives did, is that correct? That's correct. That's correct. They, they worked where they could make an income and provide for their families.


And so, because, uh, we were talking. Yeah, this is after the discovery of oil in Oklahoma, early 19 hundreds, 1907 or eight, I think. Well, that created employment. My mom was a domestic worker who worked for a wealthy family on the other side of the tracks. And so a lot of. That occurred in the green with area, there were butlers and may, uh, you know, found employment where they could get it just like today.


Basically you. Work where you have the skills to work.


in the next episode, we'll explore what was called the red summer of 1919 when approximately 25 different so-called race riots happened all across the country. And we'll look at how it relates to the Tulsa race massacre that came several years later. Be sure to follow us on social media, including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, just search for black wall street 1921.


And don't forget to rate, review and subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or on your favorite podcast platform and make sure you visit our website. Black wall street, hyphen 1920 one.com where you'll find more resources about the Tulsa race massacre and where you can subscribe to sign up for our newsletter and stay up to date on all of our episodes.


Don't you miss y'all from rolling in. Y'all.


Yes. Don't you miss? Y'all.


Rolling.


every day you go home. Y'all no,


Kenya.


Yes. Tell me.


Ain't got nobody.


That was Jimmy rushing, performing with dizzy Gillespie's Quintec playing blues after dark and France in 1959. That music is courtesy of the national African-American jazz legacy museum in Oklahoma city.


In partnership with the Tulsa race massacre, Centennial commission. I'm Nia Clark. And this is black wall street, 1921.


Oil and the prospect of opportunity attracted people of various ethnicities, backgrounds, cultures, and traditions to Oklahoma from across the country and beyond one of the most culturally influential elements taking shape in places across Oklahoma, particularly in the dozens of all black communities and towns was jazz.


According to the Oklahoma historical society encyclopedia on jazz. To understand the history of jazz in Oklahoma. One must first consider the settlement patterns of the state because they reflect its cultural diversity, Charles and gold and early 20th century author noted that Oklahoma is a meeting place of many different peoples from every state in the nation and every country on the globe, a myriad of cultural groups brought music to the state resulting in the development of a set of vibrant musical subcultures.


And according to the Oklahoma jazz hall of fame's website, quote, the evolution of jazz music, according to historian and university of Oklahoma, professor William Savage jr. Can be traced through the migration of blacks, westward from new Orleans. Through Texas and Oklahoma to Kansas city from 1890 to 1910, blacks migrated to Oklahoma turning El Reno into a center of ragtime musicians and creating the quote black towns of Langston Clearview and BOLI, which developed their own marching and concert bands.


Justice prior Indian territory communities, hat, the black migration westward after world war one, which continued until the great depression spread Oklahoma's jazz music across the country. Some experts believe the origins of jazz can be traced back to slavery. The encyclopedia Britannica asserts that the elements that distinguish jazz from other musical styles can be traced back to West African musical sources, which were transported to the North American continent by slaves who then preserved them, quote against all odds in the plantation culture of the South.


The national African American jazz legacy museum located in Oklahoma city is run by Rosetta Funches. She tells me quote, the late dr. Ronald V. Myers, our creative director of N a J L M constantly reminded us that he'd be Blake and American composer. And pianist said that wherever slaves were dropped off all over the world, they left hot music and it all sounded different.


Here in America, we have gospel, blues and jazz. All of these art forms come from the experience of being a slave. They were lynched, freed, mistreated, et cetera. Out of these experiences came gospel. When they started living among each other, then came blues. They picked up throwaway instruments from their slave masters and started playing improvisational jazz.


They could not read music. She goes on to say, quote, as educator, Dave Baker puts it. Quote, jazz is black music. Jazz is now considered. African classical music. The black experience in America, including in Tulsa, could very much be heard. And the jazz music that permeated the so called red light districts clubs, and nightspots in Greenwood.


And that jazz music reflected the lived experience. Blacks in Oklahoma, including in Tulsa, based on a daily basis, the racism, the discrimination, the perseverance, the pride, the faith, the love, the struggle, the sadness. And the hope that they too could live freely and prosper Greenwood in particular would become one of the cradles of so-called Kansas city.


Jazz says attorney and author, Hannibal B Johnson in his book, black wall street, jazz greats, often graced, Tulsa, and other parts of Oklahoma early in their careers. Jimmy rushing one of the greatest jazz and blues singers who ever lived was born. James Andrew rushing in Oklahoma city. In 1901 here again is Jimmy rushing this time performing with count basis orchestra in 1941.


Singing, take me back, baby. Courtesy of the national African American jazz legacy museum in Oklahoma city.


take me back, baby. Please. Let me have one.


Wilamena guests. How is one of a number of survivors who have gone on the record about their experience in the Tulsa race massacre of 1921 before passing away? However, like most survivors mrs. Howell did not begin to talk about the attack until much later in life. In fact, she was retired after teaching in Tulsa for more than 40 years when she finally went public with her story.


You'll hear that experience later in this podcast. In the meantime, mrs. Howell was 87 at the time of the recording. You're about to hear, which was made during a documentary interview several decades ago with author and historian, Eddie Faye Gates. How herself was well known in her community. Having taught generations of students, how his relatives were pioneers in Oklahoma.


She moved to Tulsa with her family when she was four years old and lived in the green with district, also known as black wall street after they lost her three year old brother and a house. Fire at their previous home in McAlester, Oklahoma, mrs. Howell came from a prominent family that at least on paper is what might come to mind.


When you try to imagine people who lived in black wall street at the time, her father was a lawyer and several uncles were doctors, which was certainly not as common for African-Americans then as it is. Today. She graduated from Howard university, just like her father. Some of her family members lived in Oklahoma and eventually Tulsa long enough to experience the economic growth spurred by the oil boom of the era and like many African Americans living in Tulsa during the first couple of decades of the 20th.


Century how's family took advantage of all of the opportunities afforded to them that were not as readily available to blacks in other parts of the country, but it was not easy. They worked hard to get there some risking life and limb. Now you're going to hear Wilamena guest's how, describe how some of her relatives fled from the racial history.


That was often deadly in the South and arrived in Oklahoma in search of a fresh start, new opportunity and the chance to try to make something of themselves without being punished for doing so, just because they were black. This was the dream that black wall street offered thousands of African Americans who lived and worked there at the time.


Mrs. Wilamena how is a retired school teacher and pioneer with lots of information about, uh, Oklahoma district mrs. Howell. I see, I can tell. So when I was four years old, I believe it was. And you mentioned that bought the house from the candles three, moved away from there. My grandmother and grandfather had just moved from Guthrie and they persuaded us to come up here and live.


I lived down at three 17 North Elgin street. That's just below where the Katy, uh, fourth of Katy trucks at that time. Um, My father was a lawyer. He had an office at first. I think that first drink when he first came to Tulsa, but maybe he moved on down to art history, but later on and a grandfather, um, TD Jackson who had come from Memphis, Tennessee, uh, and he was the one that persuaded us to come up here to the McAlester, had this asked to, um, and by the way, he wasn't, it was one of these people who, uh, I've read in history about the Negroes, who, uh, back in.


Pro-slavery days. We tried to be somebody and he was sort of a policeman down in Memphis. His name was TD Jackson, towns and Jackson, and, uh, what made the mob cave that he got, he got, uh, a figure that he better get out of. Memphis goes to white people. They were getting pretty ruffles and, uh, The, uh, so they decided to move to the territory territory, Oklahoma, which is Oklahoma.


Uh, it moved to Guthrie, Oklahoma, and the night that they left Memphis, the mom came for him and the next morning, one of them Davis came and went and told my, um, My mother, who would, who had lived next door, who booked next door to a neighbor's house until he could come to the territory, Oklahoma territory and find a housing FOSS for them.


And she said they managed seven, eight girls that night. So he just escaped. And I think the reason is I think he, um, minus. Folded that war. I don't know whether it was French Burke war, which one it was. And he knows the military tactics. And he tried to train the Negroes at that time, how to take care of themselves, the Negro men.


So a little warm and it was at this event and I guess they resented that and the mom wanted him. So he just escaped. And so, uh, she was afraid of for her brother, she had two younger brothers and my mother did they, they mothers, dr. Jackson, my way I was picturing them on the table. Um, the man wasn't, I thought he was great.


There's a physician. In fact, he saved me. I had taught for a relabel fever when I was about seven years old. I lived down on Elgin street, three 70 North LGD, and he lived next door and that man was over. He saved me later on when I went to my father. Went to law school and graduated a Gregory behind with most schools when you want me to go there too.


But I talked to, lot of, I said his too, he had three children. I was the youngest at the time after my brother was the youngest. We lost him when I was three. And when I graduated from high school, he wanted me to go to Howard because he had gone to Howard himself to go school. And I talked to my mom and I was, I said, you can't afford it.


And she got this other teacher. He can't afford it. I call it pop. I say he catered for forward. And I talked about it. But later on when I was about a sophomore, I believe it was sophomore, junior one. Well, I did go to Harvard and he made arrangements for it. And I went to Howard and finished in Howard university.


And I was very proud of that. Cause I like . I know he was satisfied to them. Um, I got a job in Tulsa because I had grown up into also Misty. Debbie was a principal called me up first. He got me a job down in where they go home. I talked to him. They bought a hammer, the old three or four months, maybe a half a year.


And, uh, he called me, yes, that was my father's name. The last name was gas. He called up and said, yes, I got a job for you. You Tulsa, you what I said, you know, I do. So he said, we get permission from your principal. And, and every lady since select came up in that, tell us about 41 years. And I'm retired now, maybe seven years old at the prison.


So what was life like for African Americans living in Oklahoma, including Tulsa black wall street during the first couple of decades of the 20th century? Well, that all depends. Indeed Oklahoma was seen as a land of opportunity for many blacks looking to escape the Jim Crow South, or for those seeking new opportunity.


According to the Tulsa historical society and museums website, quote from the mid 19th century to 1920, African-Americans established more than 50 identifiable towns and communities. It goes on to say, quote, Many started as cohesive farming communities that supported businesses, schools, and churches, eventually gaining town status entrepreneurs in these communities started every imaginable kind of business, including newspapers and advertised throughout the South for settlers and quote.


However, while there certainly were more success stories that mirrored those up. Wilamena guess how's family, not everyone was well off Greenwood and Oklahoma in general was not a golden ticket to prosperity for many people and pockets of poverty or well-documented as with most places, a large wealth gap existed, not only between blacks and whites, but also between African Americans who were more well off.


Than others at the same time, while many of these all black towns or communities were made up of black doctors, lawyers and entrepreneurs, a large portion of African-American's in Oklahoma, including in Greenwood, worked as servants or in service positions, such as waiters or in various hospitality positions.


Here's an excerpt from the book black wall street written by attorney. Author consultant and diversity expert, Hannibal beef Johnson, quote, native American tribal conflicts, the influx of thousands of settlers in search of quote free land in Oklahoma. The absence of discernible economic markets and unresolved cultural tensions combined to make Oklahoma, at least for some, anything but paradise.


It goes on to say, quote, despite the poverty and substandard living conditions. In some parts of Oklahoma, they kept right on coming in search of something better. And finally it says, quote, Oklahoma spelled opportunity, the guests, family, and scores of families before and after them pulled up stakes and headed for the plane.


Many of these African Americans brought small parcels of land in the Oklahoma territory from native Americans. Others received land under then prevailing federal government, Indian allotment policy. Indeed, Oklahoma boasted more all black towns and communities than any other state in a land remarkably.


At one time, there were some 30 African American newspapers in Oklahoma. Langston university historian, Currie Ballard attributes, the remarkable proliferation of all black towns to trees between the United States and the native American tribes that required the native Americans to free their slaves and a lot them land.


African-Americans pooled their resources. And a lot of lands became communities. These communities opened their arms to freed slaves from all across the country. Many African Americans came to the Oklahoma territory and answered to the call of African American, Oklahoma Pote boosters. These boosters viewed the Oklahoma territory as an escape from the racism and sometimes barbarism, they faced in their home States, promotional literature, touting free land, full citizenship rights, and an escape from race based discrimination proved irresistible.


For many


African Americans in Oklahoma also faced another challenge for all of the boosters who advertised Oklahoma as a promised land for blacks, as it turned out, blacks faced discrimination in this. Land just as they did virtually anywhere else in the country. At the time, the racial realities of the day meant that African Americans could neither live among whites.


And if they did attempt to shop alongside them, they were often discriminated against. As a result, the people of Greenwood developed their own insular economy out of necessity. Most made their dollars outside of Greenwood, but the majority spent their money almost exclusively. Within the community of Greenwood, largely because they had no other choice.


They desired to live in a place where they could pursue the American ideals of life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They wanted to live in a community that allowed them to enjoy the fruits of their labor without facing the constant ugliness of racism or having to fear for their own safety and lives.


The result was a thriving district of mostly black owned businesses, including grocery stores, barbershops. Hair salons, doctor's offices, attorneys, offices, hotels, transportation companies, newspapers and schools.


Rubin Gantt executive director of the John hope center for reconciliation. Mr. Gant, could you just introduce yourself and tell us what the center does? What we do is we make a, a concerted effort and attempt to create a cross cultural interactions, which we feel is important to dispel myths and rumors.


Overcome, hopefully barriers of discrimination. And we think that is best accomplished through personal interaction, but we, we spent a lot of our time creating venues and opportunities for cross cultural dialogue and discussions of issues of social impact. And this is sort of personal for you because you are from Tulsa.


Your family has lived in Tulsa for several generations. Can you just explain, because we have been talking about the black experience in Oklahoma and Tulsa and the events. And conditions that sort of led up to the Tulsa race massacre of 1921. Can you just talk about your own personal family history briefly and explain how they arrived in Tulsa, what it was like for them and tells that and your relatives who survived the massacre?


Sure. My, my ancestors migrated here from Starkville, Mississippi. And are in the late 18 hundreds and their journey here was to escape these issues of discrimination and abuse in the South. And it was a protection mechanism for their families, particularly females of the family. So at the time Oklahoma was being built as a promised land for blacks and they moved their families here.


To escape, the oppression of racism and discrimination in the deep South. And now coming here, of course, what was prevalent for blacks was a subsistence farming. And so they were farmers. And here in Oklahoma, my grandmother was part Cherokee. So there was a relationship with Cherokee nation or the Cherokee tribe.


Was she one of the African Americans with native American lineage who was allotted land in Oklahoma. But yes, he was allotted 160 acres here in Oklahoma, in Sequoyah County, which is a West near the Arkansas border from Tulsa. So yes, he was a lot T. And you mentioned that your family came here to escape the discrimination they were experiencing in the South.


Did it work? Did they find that Oklahoma was more tolerant than other places? It, it worked for a while until statehood and, and statehood the dynamics. So the territory changed because the first law. Passed by the legislature was Jim Crow. And that changed the relationship and the dynamics of what was Indian territory becoming state of Oklahoma.


Part of my family, uh, you know, part of the history of Oklahoma is the establishment of all black towns here. And so I do know not. From them, but just from doing independent research on my own that my family owned banks and a town called Boley Oklahoma, which was the largest and most prosperous black town in Oklahoma at the time.


So my. There were two aunts that owned two banks, a bank each in Boley, Oklahoma. And in Tulsa, you know, my mom migrated to Tulsa when she became an adult and she was a domestic worker here. So, but your family's experience of migrating to Oklahoma from the South is not unlike that of many, many, many African Americans who did the same.


And you mentioned the Jim Crow sort of atmosphere, they were trying to escape in your research. Do you have an idea of exactly what kind of conditions they were leaving behind in the South when they came to Oklahoma? I mean, I don't think it's too much different than what's occurred is in America.


During and after the civil rights movement and priests or rights movement being discriminated against of being denied opportunities and privileges, I mean, those things that were prevalent back then appear to be prevalent today, which is a sad commentary, but the intent was to. No escape and environment to leave an environment where they could not appropriately and respectfully and properly protect their families because of the second class citizenry that they was addicted to.


And, you know, there was an overwhelming amount of racism that. African-Americans ended up encountering in Oklahoma, including those that fled that sort of atmosphere from the South in the 19th and 20th centuries. And you mentioned that your family came to Oklahoma because it was billed as sort of promised land.


Right. And even we know through history and research, Oklahoma booster, EAP McCabe, he's a African American man at the time for. Tell us a really, I guess, blossomed into the Negro wall street or the black wall street. It was known to be, he was sending blacks to Oklahoma promising equal opportunity and prosperity, but that wasn't the case for a lot of black people in Oklahoma.


Correct. No, no, actually not. I mean, it was, it wasn't a new settlement and really for them, I mean, it's like, you know, discovering the wild, wild West it's being able to build, create and build a life for themselves free of discrimination. Uh, well that was the thought at the time. And being able to participate in the economic prosperity.


As most citizens should be able to do. And so that's what they came in for looking for opportunities and a better lifestyle for their family, but they did encounter some of the racism. They were trying to escape in the South that those who did migrate to Oklahoma, correct. Oh, they did. It was not unlike anywhere else.


They were limited to shopping amongst themselves, spending their monies amongst themselves, trading amongst themselves. That is really what created the prosperity of Greenland. A dependence on each other, the monetary recycling because of the inability to spend money across the railroad track, so to speak.


So that created an enormous amount of. Opportunity and wealth within the Greenwood district itself. Now, not everyone, not every resident in Greenwood was able to capitalize on those opportunities, but just like any other community you're going to have, you know, classes of economic status. Whether it be high, low, mid range, and relatively speaking, that was the situation back then.


So you mentioned Oklahoma before statehood, before statehood. What was the dynamic like between native Americans, African Americans, Caucasians. Do they all live in, you know, the same areas and towns and settlements, or did they have their own. Pockets where black people would stick to their black community and so forth.


They had pockets. I'm sure. But there was, I mean, you have to look at this in terms of it's a new territory. It's a new beginning. So for instance, the establishment of Greenwood occurred because a black man chose to come to Oklahoma territory, Indian territory, I should say. And they could claim of 40 acres of land.


With the idea that in order to create this black settlement, that he would only sell the land to black ownership. And that is what created Greenwood. And that was. And opportunity for black to become homeowners and property owners and being able to establish a foundation for building a future for their families.


And so this black man that you speak of, do you know his name? Oh, w Gurley it's written in probably every historical account of Greenwood. You're going to see O w Gurley's name it's well written in a lot of documents and periodicals and publications that O w Gurley. Was the one that established the founding or the boundaries of Greenwood by purchasing 40 acres of land and making a commitment to only sell it to black families.


Gotcha. And when Greenwood was being developed in the early 20th century, it was like you mentioned it. Difficult for some people, a little more advantageous for others, some people who visited Tulsa at the time, they have reported seeing rampant, poverty and rampant sort of destitution. In addition to other people reporting, obviously the blossoming well-to-do community.


What kind of dynamic did the. Wealth gap or the income gap create when it came to race relations in Tulsa at that time? Well, from the white perspective, um, and there was an element of jealousy in Indy that blacks could live on a level equal to or better than they did. So that created some animosity itself and seeing that this black enclave was self dependent that created some animosity as well.


And then having this black enclave or community of located in it and such a close proximity to downtown tofa. Which at the time was being established itself in terms of where commerce and trade the center point of commerce and trade took place. It was prime real estate. And so, I mean, there was an effort to acquire this real estate.


That's right because of its close proximity to the commerce and trade. And, and this animosity that was sort of simmering among some of the white Tolsons. This was despite the fact that not all black people in Greenwood were well off. There were still poor black people in Greenwood and elsewhere, but they you're saying didn't even want to see even this certain segment of the population outperforming them so to speak.


Uh, that's right. Uh, but you know, I mean, if you think about the dynamics, I mean, you have a community of 10,000, 11,000 people, not in the, but not everybody is going to be wealthy. Not everybody is going to have a, would have the means resources and access to same to create that kind of wealth. But those that did took advantage of it now, the rampant poverty, uh, I think that's relative too, because you think about the time and back then, when you look at living structures, albeit absent of those that had.


Financial means, um, you could probably could consider every resident poverty. That's a good point. And I'm assuming black people were aware of the animosity that was building towards them, especially those in Greenwood, which was also called little Africa. Correct? I mean, I've heard it once or twice. Uh, I don't know if I could, I can't speak definitively whether it was called little Africa or not.


Oh, okay. That's interesting. But, but black people were aware of the animosity that some white people had towards them, those African Americans that were doing well and financially thriving. Oh, absolutely. They were aware of and cognizant of their surroundings and their environment. But, you know, I think the most important thing is that opportunities.


To improve. Their quality of life was not denied because of the activities and interactions and opportunities that existed within the black community itself. So it was more of a self-driven. Aspirational. I mean, how successful do you want to be? And here are the opportunities for you to be successful.


It's up to you to take advantage of that. Some people did. Some people didn't, some people, some people don't want to be wealthy and rich, and some people are content and, but, you know, whatever choice. The opportunity existed. And so it was an individual choice to take advantage of it. More than anything, you mentioned this sort of Greenwood becoming a sort of self contained community or economy that's largely due to segregation because the other parts of Tulsa that were perhaps predominantly white were not as welcoming to black people.


Maybe spending their money or visiting, is that correct? They could spend their money. And, uh, you know, I don't think that, you know, any discrimination in the color green, so they'll take your money if you want to spend your money there, but you couldn't, for instance, go into a clothing store and try on a hat.


Before you bought it like a white person could do. So if you wanted to take that risk of buying a hat that may or may not fit, then they'll take your money. But you know, they're not going to give you a refund when you go home and figure it out. The hat is too small or too large. So that is the trade and commerce that occurred here.


You could go in a store, but you can't try on any clothes. You have to buy the clothes and then just hope they fit. And all this was happening at a time where a lot of people who were segregationists, they did not believe that black people should assimilate into society on the same level. As they were in terms of class, right.


That's right. That's right. But, but I think it's important for us to keep in our minds that, you know, the black population is the only figment of immigration. If you want to call it that, that did not come to America of its own volition, black people didn't come here by choice. Black people were voted here and forced into servitude here, and therefore we are, or were considered less than human.


I mean, I think the constitution kind of reflects that because we're in the constitution, you know, blacks only three fifth of a vote. And so we're not wholly human in that sense. And so even though black Tolsons were perhaps allowed to spend their money at white established businesses, but maybe weren't welcome in the predominantly white part of Tulsa.


They were still a large part of the working force of Tulsa. So for example, black people in Tulsa who lived in Greenwood would often work outside of Greenwood. Like you mentioned your relatives did, is that correct? That's correct. That's correct. They, they worked where they could make an income and provide for their families.


And so, because, uh, we were talking. Yeah, this is after the discovery of oil in Oklahoma, early 19 hundreds, 1907 or eight, I think. Well, that created employment. My mom was a domestic worker who worked for a wealthy family on the other side of the tracks. And so a lot of. That occurred in the green with area, there were butlers and may, uh, you know, found employment where they could get it just like today.


Basically you. Work where you have the skills to work.


in the next episode, we'll explore what was called the red summer of 1919 when approximately 25 different so-called race riots happened all across the country. And we'll look at how it relates to the Tulsa race massacre that came several years later. Be sure to follow us on social media, including Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, just search for black wall street 1921.


And don't forget to rate, review and subscribe to this podcast on iTunes or on your favorite podcast platform and make sure you visit our website. Black wall street, hyphen 1920 one.com where you'll find more resources about the Tulsa race massacre and where you can subscribe to sign up for our newsletter and stay up to date on all of our episodes.


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