New Businesses Help Restore Tulsa's Black Wall Street 99 Years After Race Massacre

Thursday, July 23rd 2020, 9:45 pm


Hundreds of thriving businesses in Tulsa's Black Wall Street district were destroyed 99 years ago during the Race Massacre of 1921. As we approach the centennial of the Race Massacre, community leaders said they believe the rebirth of Black Wall Street is finally becoming a reality.

The words "Black Wall Street" are proudly displayed inside The Loc Shop, which just opened six weeks ago in Tulsa's Greenwood District. Gina Woods owns the salon.

"It represents so much. Self love is the biggest thing," Gina said.

She's a loctician and helps Black men and women embrace their natural hair.

"We would do a lot of damaging things to our hair, to straighten our hair to look more European. And so locs is like falling back in love with yourself again," said Gina. "There's nothing wrong with you being who God made you to be."

When Gina walks into work each day, she passes bronze plaques marking which businesses were there almost a century ago: two doctors and a real estate agent.

"When you look at the prominent men and women with their pride, and work ethic and things of that nature. I always just kinda wonder 'what could have been?,'" Gina said.

It's a reminder of how Greenwood once thrived. When there was a hotel, hospital, restaurants, shops, and the Dreamland Theatre. A place where black doctors and lawyers had offices. It all changed in 1921, when white mobs left 35 city blocks in ruin, decimating hundreds of businesses.

The history told in the community is that burned bricks recovered from the rubble, were built into the Bryant building, which now holds two businesses and a community room. A tangible reminder of the past, that is now a fixture in Greenwood's present.

"That spirit of resiliency is still right here on Greenwood. Whatever it takes, we're gonna overcome obstacles," said Greenwood Chamber of Commerce President Freeman Culver.

While every single insurance claim was denied according to the chamber, less than a year after the massacre some buildings were rebuilt. By 1925, Greenwood was back.

"If you look at the business directories, it was more businesses here. They actually rebuilt Black Wall Street bigger than it was before 1921," Freeman said.

Records show that momentum carried on, even through the Great Depression. The 1940's showed continued promise. Historians say desegregation in the 1960s meant African Americans could shop anywhere and money began to leave the Black community. 1969 brought a new highway and business on Greenwood slowed down even more. Freeman describes a grim outlook during the 1970s.

"If you look at some of the pictures of the late 1970s, I mean, it was horrible," said Freeman.

The 1980s and 1990s brought the beginning of redevelopment to the area with help from several community leaders and the city. But business growth came to a standstill in the early 2000s, according to Freeman.

Now 99 years after the race massacre, Tulsa is seeing new black-owned businesses opening in the Greenwood District. The Chamber shows 10 businesses have opened in the past year.

"We just got started," Freeman said.

For Gina, working on historic Black Wall Street means inspiring the next generation by showing them what's possible.

"It means everything to me. Our ancestors have left a awesome legacy. It's kinda like it's time for us to take the torch and run with it, and not only that, but pass it on," said Gina.