Tulsa by Hilda Boulware

Tulsa, specifically the black district of Greenwood, one of the most affluent African-American communities in the United States, was also known as “Black Wall Street.” Ottawa W. Gurley was a wealthy African-American landowner from Arkansas. He traveled across the United States to participate in the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889. In 1906 Mr. Gurley purchased 40 acres of land in Tulsa which was “only to be sold to colored.“ With a population of about 10,000 at the time, most businesses were in the small geographical area of Greenwood, Archer, and Pine. There were at least 15 black churches, dozens of Black-owned businesses, movie theaters, skating rinks, hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, dry cleaners, entertainment halls, construction companies, and recreation centers. At least two Black families owned their own airplanes. It was truly a safe and sustaining black community.

On May 31, 1921, Tulsa‘s Black community was the target of a violent attack on by white residents of Tulsa. The attack included deputized citizens, and planes dispatched by law-enforcement to drop bombs on this community. Black Wall Street was destroyed, rendering many of its residents homeless and without their businesses. For many years, all historical reporting, and even talk about the horrific tragedy, was forbidden or hushed. Black people were encouraged to be silent and not retaliate for fear of another government backlash.

My mother’s stepbrothers, James and Abe Yates, lost residences in that massacre —a financial loss that was never recovered.

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