Full episode now streaming
SEGMENT

Greenwood and the Tulsa Race Riots

In the early 1900s, Greenwood was home to a thriving, independent “Black Wall Street” until the violence of the Tulsa Race Riots changed the community’s legacy forever.

AIRED: 2/27/2019 | 00:03:25
Read Transcript

BETWEEN THE 1870s AND THE BEGINNING OF WORLD WAR I, BLACK PIONEERS SETTLED MORE THAN 100 ALL BLACK TOWNS IN THE WEST EACH WITH THE GOAL OF ECONOMIC INDEPENDENCE.

AMONG THE MOST WELL-KNOWN WAS A BLACK DISTRICT IN TULSA, OKLAHOMA KNOWN BY ITS RESIDENTS AS GREENWOOD.

If we were to go back in time to 1920 and walk up and down Greenwood Avenue, one thing that would probably strike us is the absolute variety of businesses ] The numbers are astonishing.

30 restaurants, 45 groceries and meat markets.

There were dry good stores, milliners, a photography studio, dental offices, Greenwood is no longer called Greenwood.

It's now known as Black Wall Street.

This whole idea of self-containment really existed there.

The dollar would stay in that community sometimes over three to five years before it ever went outside of the community IN 1919, BLACK SOLDIERS RETURNED FROM WORLD WAR I WITH HIGH EXPECTATIONS FOR RACIAL PROGRESS AT HOME.

BUT IN ONE CITY AFTER ANOTHER, WHITE MOBS ERUPTED IN VIOLENCE, TARGETING BLACK VETERANS, CITIZENS, AND BUSINESSES.

HUNDREDS DIED.

ON TULSA''S BLACK WALL STREET AFRICAN AMERICANS, INCLUDING ARMED VETERANS, WATCHED NERVOUSLY, AND PREPARED FOR WHAT MIGHT COME.

Countering this white militancy is very much an African American spirit of we're going to defend ourselves.

If the mob comes, we're not going to run, we've got our guns and we're going to protect ourselves, and that was especially important and valuable and potent in Greenwood.

ON MAY 30TH, 1921, THE MOB CAME TO GREENWOOD.

This white woman is in an elevator and this Black teenager allegedly whistles at her or talks to her.

He is taken to jail, a mob gathers of whites and Blacks and Blacks in Tulsa are armed.

They take their Second Amendment rights seriously and they come with guns and this is a threat.

Someone fires into the crowd and the riot is born.

This was not about the whistling boy in the elevator.

This was about Blacks becoming too economically powerful and showing that wealth in a way that anyone would by creating buildings and constructing churches and having property.

There was a whistle that blew and then the mass invasion and the destruction of Greenwood began.

WHEN THE SMOKE CLEARS IN THE EARLY MORNING OF JUNE 1ST, 1921, THE BLACK WALL STREET'' LAY IN RUINS.

This is by far the largest single incident of racial violence in all of American history.