Black Wall Street Plaques Tell The Story Before Tulsa Race Massacre

Thursday, August 27th 2020, 11:08 pm
By: Joseph Holloway

TULSA, Okla. -

If you've walked down Greenwood Avenue in Tulsa, you might have seen plaques lining the sidewalks. The plaques make sure people never forget the successful businesses that stood here before most of Greenwood was burned to the ground. It's an idea that came from Michael Reed.

"We developed our own community and that's something I'm really proud of and I want the world to know it," said Reed.

He spent a lot of time on Greenwood growing up and heard stories about Black Wall Street, the 1921 Race Massacre and how the community rebuilt after that horrific time in Tulsa's past. Reed wanted to find a way to tell that story to tourists and a new generation of Tulsans.

"It was a shame to lose the recognition of the pioneers, the historic value and contribution of the citizens that were here in the early 1900s," Reed said.

In the early 1990s, Reed worked with local leaders to get the first markers installed. He then worked to get even more put in place in the mid-2000s. Ruben Gant was the president of the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce then. He helped Reed find out where each business was located.

"I thought it was a great idea. It was a way to pay homage to the story of Greenwood," said Gant. "It created a sense of identity and I notice people walking through the district with their heads down and what they were doing is reading the plaques."

There are more than 170 markers now, extending all the way into the Tulsa Arts District and as far north as Pine Street. The Ross Group said it removed a few during a construction project, but crews are almost done reinstalling them.

"Each plaque tells a story," said Current Greenwood Chamber President Freeman Culver.

Freeman believes it's inspiring to walk down the street and think about how black people prospered here.

"We've had a lot of successes. We should be able to do even greater works than they were able to do over 100 years ago," Culver said.

According to Reed, there are plans for more plaques near the USA BMX property, but there's no timetable for when that will be finished.

As race and equality conversations continue across the country, Reed believes the story of Greenwood can be a source of inspiration.

"The timing is right, so that's why I'm working even harder," Reed said.