No one really knew where Black Wall Street was after asking several people on the street. I walked around and was headed over a bridge and was stopped by a sign that said “ROAD WORK AHEAD.”
My intuition told me I was going the wrong way, so I turned around and started walking the other way.
Trigger warning: Some of the photos inside this article may be difficult to view.
The clerk at the hotel advised me that he was going to give me a room on the East side of the building so that I would be more comfortable during the day. I inquired about the air conditioner and finding a copy of the Black newspaper in town. With a serious voice he said, “It will still be very hot. The air conditioners cannot compete with the Oklahoma sun. Um, we don’t carry newspapers any longer.”
I nodded in agreement about the heat and looked at him curiously about the newspaper statement. I was still checking my body for melting skin while he mumbled about USA Today and COVID. The wait for the airport van was brutal and I just wanted to lie down.
I thought I would be tired when I arrived at the room but I was curiously excited to see Black Wall Street. I arrived in Tulsa early so I had enough time to explore before the first meet and greet.
In my mind, I imagined brick buildings and brownstones. I promised that I would not do any research on Tulsa before I visited. I should have checked the weather though. I wanted to just be surprised.
I was very surprised when I finally started exploring. The streets were empty. The clerk had given me random directions to Black Wall Street but he did not know exactly where it was.
I finally spoke to a man who said, “It is past the baseball field.”
I started walking in the direction of the baseball field and felt lost. The overall feeling of sadness and loss had engulfed me even before I knew where I was actually headed to. I could see the baseball stadium, which looked like it was just placed in the middle of the city.
I noticed small bronze plaques on the sidewalk. They were memorial plaques. They built the stadium right over Black Wall Street’s destruction.
As I turned the corner in anticipation of seeing old buildings and history that I could grasp, I was shocked. The City of Tulsa had built a highway to nowhere right through the middle of Black Wall Street.
I had to gather myself because I could taste the disrespect that the powers that be had for the area. I let out an audible gasp and reeled back a little. I could feel it.
It was a half block long and my despair was overwhelming. I had to sit down and process why and how this could happen.
I had lunch at Wanda J’s soul food restaurant and listened to a group of men who had gathered to talk about politics. I met a man from Detroit who had moved to Tulsa. My food was delicious and I made my way back to the hotel and had to take a nap.
I still could not understand the way that I was feeling. Was my feeling of excitement now mixed with uncertainty and fear and I had to meet and greet new people.
This feeling that I can’t put into words, makes me work harder every day. I did not know what I was going to do with it. It was a new feeling. I did not process the emotions that I may feel standing on the ground where many people died. However, I knew that they deserved more and so do their ancestors.
I had not even visited the museum yet. Even while writing this, I feel sad. The experience was traumatic for me as a journalist. We are humans too.
The Greenwood Rising museum was so disturbing and interactive at the same time. We were told that the 100-year anniversary was the first time a lot of people had even heard about it.
When Black people talk about generational wealth being taken from them, this interactive space will give you insight int what that means.
Listening to the videos and going through the photos and editing them was akin to looking at photos of those who have died.
I will say that going to Tulsa really opened my eyes. If you are ever down that way, you MUST go there.
To read more about Greenwood Rising, log on to www.greenwoodrising.org
This is from https://www.tulsahistory.org:
On the morning of May 30, 1921, a young black man named Dick Rowland was riding in the elevator in the Drexel Building at Third and Main with a white woman named Sarah Page. The details of what followed vary from person to person. Accounts of an incident circulated among the city’s white community during the day and became more exaggerated with each telling.
Tulsa police arrested Rowland the following day and began an investigation. An inflammatory report in the May 31 edition of the Tulsa Tribune spurred a confrontation between black and white armed mobs around the courthouse where the sheriff and his men had barricaded the top floor to protect Rowland. Shots were fired and the outnumbered African Americans began retreating to the Greenwood District.
In the early morning hours of June 1, 1921, Greenwood was looted and burned by white rioters. Governor Robertson declared martial law, and National Guard troops arrived in Tulsa. Guardsmen assisted firemen in putting out fires, took African Americans out of the hands of vigilantes and imprisoned all black Tulsans not already interned. Over 6,000 people were held at the Convention Hall and the Fairgrounds, some for as long as eight days.
Twenty-four hours after the violence erupted, it ceased. In the wake of the violence, 35 city blocks lay in charred ruins, more than 800 people were treated for injuries and contemporary reports of deaths began at 36. Historians now believe as many as 300 people may have died.
In order to understand the Tulsa Race Massacre, it is important to understand the complexities of the times. Dick Rowland, Sarah Page, and an unknown gunman were the sparks that ignited a long-smoldering fire. Jim Crow, jealousy, white supremacy, and land lust, all played roles in leading up to the destruction and loss of life on May 31 and June 1, 1921.
PS Oh and the weekend was fabulous! I learned and listened to a lot of my cohorts from around the country.
I went on the Juneteenth tour and to the festival. It was so crowded on the street that you had to push you way to where you had to go.
It finally dawned on me that all the people that I thought I should have seen were probably basking in the air of their cooling units. Whew.. OK “Hot’ Tulsa. lol
PSS Happy Hispanic Heritage Month to all of the Afro-Latinos in the world. Pleased to say that Afro-Mexicans are now being counted in Mexico’s census.