Greenwood Category

Tulsa, north of downtown, aerial photo, 1951

Tulsa, north of downtown, satellite photo, 2014

Tulsa's Near Northside neighborhood, whose rise and demise I documented in a 2014 story for This Land Press ("Steps to Nowhere"), is part of an area that will be the subject of the Unity Heritage Neighborhoods Design Workshop, next week, September 11-15, 2017, led by urban design students from Notre Dame:

The University of Notre Dame Graduate Urban Design Studio will be traveling to Tulsa to work with our community to provide positive visions for future development. The studio will be conducting a 3-month design study focused on the Unity Heritage Neighborhoods located immediately north of downtown. The study broadly encompasses areas such as the Brady Heights Historic District, Emerson Elementary, Greenwood, and the Evans-Fintube site. To kick-off this effort, the studio will be conducting a week-long design workshop from September 11th - 15th to meet with the local community, to hear our thoughts for the area, and to begin envisioning the possibilities with us through a series of visual urban and architectural designs. Come on out and imagine the future together!

The workshop includes three events for public input and feedback. All are free and open to the public, but RSVPs would be appreciated. The links below will take you to the registration page for each event.

Workshop Introduction & Initial Community Input: Monday, September 11th, 2017, 6-8pm, at 36 Degrees North, 36 E. Cameron St. (That's just east of Main on Cameron in the Brady Bob Wills Arts District.)

Meet the team. Hear about the components necessary for making vibrant, walkable, mixed-use, diverse, and inclusive cities, towns, and neighborhoods. Share your vision and desires for the area.

Mid-Week Design Presentation & Initial Feedback: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017, 6-8pm, at the Greenwood Cultural Center:

Check out the in-process urban and architectural designs and provide feedback for the students to work on to further shape the vision.

End-of-Workshop Design Presentation & Feedback: Friday, September 15th, 6-8pm, at Central Library:

See the final designs from the week and provide your thoughts and feedback for the students to continue to work on during the remainder of their study. The studio will return to Tulsa in December to present their final designs and findings for the community to use as an ongoing resource.

MORE: Here's my Flickr set of images of Tulsa's lost Near Northside.

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Relevant to yesterday's post on the Smithsonian Channel documentary that misrepresented the history of Greenwood, Tulsa's historic African-American neighborhood that its residents rebuilt after it was sacked and burned in the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. The rebuilt neighborhood thrived and prospered for decades, becoming known as Black Wall Street, before urban renewal and expressway construction destroyed it again in the late 1960s. Here is a news story from the time that illustrates the social and financial impact of the decision to route the expressway through the heart of the Deep Greenwood commercial district.

From the Tulsa Library's online "vertical files," this article from the May 4, 1967, Tulsa Tribune, shows a photo of the demolition of the Dreamland Theater to make way for I-244. The story reports on the number of long-time small businesses that are closing down because they can't get financing to reopen somewhere new. Although the library's PDF has OCR text, it is full of mis-scanned words, so I decided to transcribe it here, and correlate it with other contemporaneous sources of information.

An Old Tulsa Street Is Slowly Dying
Greenwood Fades Away Before Advance of Expressway

By JOE LOONEY

An old man walked doen the sunny side of Greenwood Avenue and paused to stare at a pile of rubble.

Across the street, Ed Goodwin looked out the window of the offices of the Oklahoma Eagle and shook his head. "That's L. H. Williams," the Negro publisher said. "He comes down here every day. Since he had to sell out, he's just put the money in the savings and loan and lives off the interest . . ."

Ed Goodwin and L. H. Williams grew up with Greenwood Avenue. They remember the early days, when the first buildings were put up in the two blocks north of Archer Street.

They saw the riot of 1921, when many of the buildings burned. They saw the street rebuilt, grow and prosper. They saw, too, as a slum festered.

And now they are watching Greenwood Avenue die.

Its business district will be no more.

THE CROSSTOWN Expressway slices across the 100 block of North Greenwood Avenue, across those very buildings that Goodwin describes as "once a Mecca for the Negro businessman--a showplace."

There still will be a Greenwood Avenue, but it will be a lonely, forgotten lane ducking under the shadows of a big overpass. The Oklahoma Eagle still will be there, but every forecast is that some urban renewal project will push down the buildings that have not already been torn down by the wrecking crews clearing right-of-way for the superhighway.

Williams' son went to college and got a degree in pharmacy. He helped his father in the drug store, later was its manager. Today, he is looking for a job. He can't get financing to build another drug store anywhere.

"Very few of the businessmen here are able to get the financing they need to relocate," Goodwin said. "A Negro just can't do it. So, most of them are just out of business."

IT WAS BECAUSE of financing that Goodwin stayed on the street when [sic] he grew up instead of building a new office in another neighborhood.

His father operated a grocery store in a building across the street--one of those torn down to make room for the expressway.

"He built it in 1915," Goodwin recalled. "and it was destroyed in the 1921 riot. But he rebuilt and there was a grocery store there until 1930. I ran a furniture store there for a while, then put the Eagle office in there in 1936."

There, the Oklahoma Eagle remained until last year.

Goodwin owned an old theater building. It was not in the path of the highway.

"I wanted to put the paper out closer to my house, but they wanted so much money for the property, I decided it would be better to put the money into the building."

In the midst of old buildings, most of them dark, red brick structures dating to the early 1920s, he built a shining modern buff-brick structure. Behind the new building housing the Eagle, in what had been the orchestra pit of the old theater, he put a sunken garden.

OTHER PIECES of history have scattered away. There was the Dreamland Theater. J. W. Williams built it in 1916, then rebuilt it after it burned in the 1921 riot. A Negro Elks lodge moved in years ago, and this was a leading social center for the Negro community.

A rather substantial expressway pillar is slated to plunk down just about where the lobby of the theater was. The Elks managed to find a house 15 blocks up the street and there they moved a few weeks ago.

Otis Isaacs had a shoe shop next door. He rented his space from Alex Spann, who owned many of the buildings on the street. lsaacs had to shift for himself. He found a place 10 blocks away.

Attorney Amos Hall had an office downstairs. and upstairs had provided space for the Negro Masonic Lodge, of which he is Grand Master. Hall and his lodge both moved Into a building five blocks away.

BUT THE WILLLIAMS Drug is not being relocated. Nor has barber Joe Bulloch found a new place to go into business. Dr. A. G. Bacholtz has given up the private practice he carried on for so long on Greenwood Avenue, and is working with the City-County Health Department.

And Alex Spann. the building owner. He had a pool hall. With the money he got for his buildings, he bought another old pool hall a mile up Greenwood.

Hotel owner A. G. Small couldn't build another hotel anywhere. So he decided to retire. Mrs. Joseph W. Miller, whose late husband built a hotel which she operated, also could not rebuild. She, too, has retired.

A couple who operated a cafe gave up their own business and went to work for restaurants in downtown Tulsa. A man who owned a garage was just about able to get his mortgage paid off from the funds from the sale of the building to the highway department. He is not back in business anywhere else.

PAT WHITE was able to move his barbecue stand into a new home on Pine Street. The Christ Temple CME Church moved to Apache and Lewis.

"There is no Negro business district anymore," Goodwin said. Tulsa attached the name of Greenwood to the entire district occupied by Negroes--a name that ironically came from the city of Greenwood, Miss., a pIace hardly considered a Mecca for Negroes.

"They might as well take down all these parking meters," the publisher said. "There's nothing to park here for anymore."

In its heyday, it was a busy street. But the buildings grew old. The Negro population moved into newer neighborhoods. Slowly, integration opened a few doors downtown, on the other side of Archer Street. Places to eat. Go to a movie. To work at good jobs.

RAUCOUS CLUBS and rooming houses sprang up around Greenwood and Archer. Long before the expressway came and brushed the old street away, it was a dying street, like the main street of many an old, small town.

The future? A question mark for some like L. H. Williams Jr. More certain for young Jim Goodwin, who like his father became a lawyer, or for Ed Goodwin Jr., who edits the newspaper his father publishes. For others, they simply are passing from the scene, like the street they knew for half a century.

Right-of-Way for Crosstown Expressway

SOMETIME, POSSIBLY about four years from now, an elevated eight-lane expressway will cross Greenwood Avenue between Brady and Cameron Streets.

Right-of-way for the project is now being cleared. This Tribune photo looks northwest along the construction path.

Greenwood enters the picture at the upper left, and the buildings in the right background are on Cameron.

The expressway will be about 30 feet above the ground as it crosses Greenwood.

It will carry the designation Interstate 244, and will be part of the Crosstown Expressway which forms the north side of a planned inner dispersal loop around the downtown area.

East of Greenwood, the project is taking nearly all the land between Cameron and Archer Streets as far east as the Texas & Pacific Railway (formerly the Midland valley) tracks.

The expressway will cross Archer Street and both the T&P and Santa Fe railroads east of Hartford Avenue.

West of Greenwood. the right-of-way runs northwesteriy, crossing Cameron before it gets to Frankfort Place.

Here is a section of the January 5, 1951, aerial photo showing Deep Greenwood.

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Here is the same area, from the September 10, 1967, USGS aerial photo, taken just four months after the Tribune article. As you can see, the expressway cuts right through the heart of the Black Wall Street business district. Had planners moved the expressway a block further south or perhaps built over the broad Frisco right-of-way, Greenwood would not have lost its commercial heart. Who decided the exact route is a question worth investigating.

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Here is the same area as it is today, from Google Maps.

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The buff-brick building mentioned in the story is still the home of the Oklahoma Eagle, at 624 E. Archer St., the SW corner of Archer and Hartford. The mention of the theater and orchestra pit on that property sent me looking: Sanborn's 1915 map shows a single-story building labeled "moving pictures" on the south side of Archer just east of the north-south alleyway that split the block; that's west of the "new" Eagle building. 1939 and 1962 maps show a two-story building, about twice as deep as the theater, with rooms on the 2nd floor and two retail spaces on the first floor.

Here is the 1962 Sanborn map covering most of the area described in the article:

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On the jump page are lists of businesses, from the 1957 Polk City Directory, on blocks that were affected by demolition. To add context, I've included buildings that were spared (at least spared by the expressway, but those buildings that were demolished for the expressway are shown in bold; italics indicates a business mentioned in the Tribune story. Even though this directory was published a decade before demolition, it's notable that so many businesses were still around 10 years later, persisting until the end. It's also notable that there were so many small, family-owned businesses and so many residences in such a concentrated area.

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There was some excitement among Tulsa history buffs when it was learned that the Smithsonian Channel would be showing colorized clips from home movies showing Greenwood, Tulsa's historic African-American district, as it was in the mid-to-late1920s. Instead we have another instance of the erroneous notion I call the "Greenwood Gap Theory" -- the idea that Greenwood was never rebuilt after the riot -- this time being promulgated by one of America's most respected cultural institutions.

The Smithsonian Channel is not available on cable TV in Tulsa, but the program, "America in Color: The 1920s," is available to watch on the Smithsonian Channel website, free of charge. The segment on Greenwood begins about 16 minutes into the program and lasts about 90 seconds.

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As American Heritage reported back in September 2006 (noted here on BatesLine a few days later), Oklahoma historian Currie Ballard had acquired 29 cans of film that had been taken by Solomon Sir Jones, a black Baptist preacher, who had been assigned by the National Baptist Convention "to document the glories of Oklahoma's black towns." Yale University has made the Solomon Sir Jones film collection available for viewing online. The stills above are from Film 18; the stills below, from the offices of the Oklahoma Eagle in 1927, are from Film 2.

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It's disappointing that Arrow International Media (producers of this Smithsonian series) chose to present images of a prosperous Greenwood (and Muskogee) circa 1925, followed by film of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. The order of presentation and the narration leave the viewer with the impression that the riot destroyed the prosperity shown in the Jones films when in fact, the Jones films depict the triumphant resurgence of the Greenwood community after the riot.

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It's understandable that a member of the general public, knowing about the 1921 Riot and seeing the area as it is today, might leap to the conclusion that Greenwood was never rebuilt. But the producers of the Smithsonian video had access to all the information they needed to tell the complete story.

Doug Miller of Müllerhaus Legacy, a publishing house in Tulsa, debunks the Smithsonian presentation with precision and passion.

I was initially excited today to see that the Smithsonian Channel was including Greenwood in a new documentary entitled "America in Color." But, upon watching the section that discussed Greenwood and the race riot, I was saddened to see an almost total misrepresentation of the the film footage. I immediately saw significant errors and omissions that, in my opinion, rob Greenwood of its rightful legacy.

As you'll read below, the mistakes are many and were so obvious that I can only assume they were made knowingly with the intention of elevating narrative above fact. It's a practice that has become common place in the news media today. Sadly, it has apparently also filtered down to historians. Before supposing that these errors don't really matter, I hope you'll read my entire post. I outline the errors that I think matter very much. And I explain why.

Miller lists and rebuts five egregious errors in the segment: (1) None of the footage shows Greenwood before the riot, as the narration implies. (2) Much of the street footage shown was actually from Muskogee, as Rev. Jones's meticulous title cards clearly indicate. (3) Greenwood's founding is misrepresented. (4) The riot is depicted as an attack motivated by universal white resentment against Greenwood's prosperity; the reality, documented in contemporary news sources, is much more complex.

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The fifth error does the greatest cultural damage:

Fifth, and most damning: the film says nothing of Greenwood's rightful legacy. Perhaps I should not single out this film on this point. Most tellings of the Tulsa Race Riot are, in my opinion, guilty of doing the same. I have long been of the opinion that the rebuilding of Greenwood needs to take its rightful place as one of the single most powerful and inspirational stories of Black America's fight to overcome the injustice of segregation and racial inequity. When one fairly considers the breathtaking scope of the destruction, the speed of reconstruction, the opposition to rebuilding (even within the black community), and the defiant independence with which the community achieved all they did, one cannot help but be moved at the level of the soul.

Yet, while the story of the riot is advertised far and wide, very few Tulsans and even fewer outsiders know the glorious story of Greenwood's rebuilding. From my own personal interactions, I dare say that most Tulsans believe that Greenwood's history ended in 1921. Many people are shocked to find out that Greenwood reached its economic peak in 1941 and continued to thrive well into the 1960s.

No, the white mob did not win. Greenwood won. And that should be what every Tulsan remembers best about the legacy of Greenwood. It is a story of remarkable victory, not defeat and destruction. To say otherwise is to deny the inconceivable achievement of every African American father and business leader who died protecting their community and their families during that horrific event. And, who chose to defiantly stay in Tulsa to rebuild.

Miller is absolutely right on all points: Most people assume that the Riot is the reason that so little of Greenwood remains (and that the neighborood to the west is vacant except for a few eerie Steps to Nowhere).

Miller is right, too, that the rebuilding of Greenwood is an inspirational story of African-American resiliance, perserverance, and initiative in the face of violent racism that every Tulsan, every American ought to know.

So why is there this preference for the Greenwood Gap theory, the notion that "Greenwood's history ended in 1921"? Why is the rebuilding rarely mentioned in discussions of the Riot?

I have two hypotheses: One speaks to local political concerns and the other deals with national cultural sensitivies.

The local hypothesis is that Tulsa's civic and cultural leaders found it more pleasant to leave people with the incorrect impression that Greenwood was never rebuilt than to face their own culpability in its second destruction. If you remind people that Greenwood was rebuilt, bigger and better than before, according to eyewitness accounts, it raises a question in their minds: Why isn't it here anymore? And the answer to that question raises questions about decisions made, mainly in the late 1960s, by people who were still alive and active in city government and community affairs for decades afterward:

  • Who signed off on the decision to run I-244 right through the heart of Deep Greenwood?
  • Who decided that the Greenwood and Lansing Avenue commercial districts should be demolished?
  • Who decided to demolish the original Booker T. Washington High School, a building that had survived the 1921 Riot?
  • Why were the promises of new and better housing, retail, and community facilities never fulfilled?
  • Who among African-American community leaders lent their support to these plans?
  • How is it that a well-intentioned, progressive program like Model Cities, part of President Johnson's War on Poverty, resulted in the destruction of Black Wall Street?

It's easy to imagine city leaders thinking: Better that Tulsans should blame long-dead city leaders and anonymous rioters for the destruction of Greenwood than to wonder about the judgment of present-day leaders who signed off on its second destruction.

Some day, someone needs to write the history of urban renewal in Tulsa, with a particular focus on the Greenwood District and Model Cities.

But these local factors would not have influenced the writers and producers of the Smithsonian documentary.

This is the most generous spin I can put on it: They couldn't believe that Greenwood was rebuilt so quickly after the riot (or at all), so they assumed that the dates on the films were incorrect and that the scenes of prosperity predated 1921.

My hypothesis regarding Greenwood and national cultural sensitivites is twofold: First, that the story of Greenwood's reconstruction would undermine the left-wing narrative that only government action can right societal wrongs, which are the result of capitalism and individual liberty. This was the gist of OSU-Tulsa Professor J. S. Maloy's objection to my 2007 column about the Greenwood Gap theory, expressed in a letter to Urban Tulsa Weekly: "The free market will always indulge racism, ignorance, fear, and sheer pettiness of spirit in the name of profits. Only a democratic process--public investment constrained by public consultation--can do better." While his letter to UTW is not online, the original version of my rebuttal is here, detailing my sources and inviting him to do his own investigation. Maloy's apparent ideological commitment to the superiority of government action to voluntary action led him to disbelieve documentary evidence to the contrary.

Second, that the reconstruction of Greenwood and the resilience of its people raises uncomfortable questions about present-day American culture. If Tulsa's African-American community could rebuild within a year, despite government-imposed obstacles, despite the resurgent Ku Klux Klan, what was it about the character and social capital of that community that we lack today?

TAKE ACTION: Tulsans concerned about an accurate portrayal of Greenwood's resurgence can contact the Smithsonian Channel and urge them to issue a correction and to edit the narration and sequence to reflect the correct locations and chronology.

We would love to hear your thoughts. Send Smithsonian Channel your suggestions, comments, questions, and concerns to contact@smithsoniannetworks.com or call us at 844-SMITHTV (764-8488).

Tulsa's Greenwood Ave, west side looking south, circa 1925, from S. S. Jones film collection

100 block of N. Greenwood Ave., Tulsa, west side looking south toward Archer, 1924 or 1925, just three years or so after this block was destroyed in the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921.

It is an exciting thing to see Greenwood alive as it was in its heyday.

The Solomon Sir Jones collection of films, discovered about seven years ago by Oklahoma historian Currie Ballard, is available for viewing on the website of Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. In 2006, Ballard was concerned about finding a home for these rare and precious films documenting the resilience and industry of African-Americans in Oklahoma. Within three years, the films were available through Global Image Works. Now Yale is making them available for viewing and download.

Dr. S. S. Jones was a Baptist pastor in Okmulgee, a denominational leader, and a businessman. This collection consists of about six hours worth of film, in 29 reels, of African-Americans in Oklahoma in the mid-1920s. Jones had a good 16 mm camera and a kit for making titles using white letters on a black background; nearly every segment has an identifying title.

Jones would occasionally insert other films or shots of photographs. Film 18 begins with a short, stock clip of Pacific coast fishermen. That was followed by a procession of 71 white-robed baptismal candidates and hundreds of other church goers entering First Church in Okmulgee. I could imagine Jones showing this silent film to a group and narrating something about being fishers of men.

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Starting about 5 minutes in, there are extended clips of Tulsa's Greenwood District: The S. D. Hooker Dry Goods company at 123 N. Greenwood; smartly-dressed members of the Tulsa Business League; photos of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, destroyed just two months after it was dedicated, and then film of the church as it was at the time -- just the basement that survived the riot; the C. B. Bottling Works at 528 E. Archer (SW of Archer and Greenwood); street scenes on Greenwood, including a funeral procession of cars; students at the noon hour at Booker T. Washington High School and on the playground and in the agricultural gardens at Dunbar Elementary School.

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Marching band (in white) and convention delegates at the Tulsa Municipal Theater for the 1927 National Baptist convention.

On film 28 there is about three minutes footage of C. C. Pyle's Bunion Derby, including close-ups of winner Andy Payne and many of the other runners.

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Of course, this isn't just about Tulsa. Okmulgee, Muskogee, Taft, Boley, Okay, Langston, Porter, Coweta, Hugo, Bristow, Wetumka are among the other Oklahoma cities and towns featured in these movies.

This is really exciting stuff.

This looks interesting. Tonight, Sunday, May 26, 2013, at 5 p.m. at the Church of the Restoration, 1314 N. Greenwood Ave., there will be an event sponsored by the Tulsa African Ancestral Society, entitled "Black Wall Street: The Ninth Wonder." The poster shows four photos of the Williams Dreamland Theater: Before the 1921 Tulsa race riot, the gutted theater in the aftermath of the riot, the new theater under construction, and the new theater open for business. The photos and the caption -- "Rebuilt Black Wall Street, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Reopened and Ready for Business" -- suggest that the event will be about the post-riot resurrection of Tulsa's African-American neighborhood. I've written about the rebuilding of Tulsa's Greenwood District and its ultimate dismantling by expressway construction of urban renewal; perhaps this event will have the same theme.

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Greenwood-Sanborn-1939-500.pngOne of the fun things about blogging for over eight years is when someone posts a comment or sends an email about a long-ago blog entry. Someone is searching on the web for information, perhaps about family or friends, and finds one of my entries, then writes a note to fill in more details, often with a touching personal story.

Yesterday, Brenda Terry posted a comment on my entry on the 90th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Riot, in which I talked about Greenwood after the riot -- its rebuilding and flourishing, followed by its second demolition in the name of urban renewal. She offered her own recollections and those of her mother. Brenda is the daughter of blues great Flash Terry; Rocky Frisco recalls sitting in with Flash's band on Greenwood back in 1957, one of the anecdotes I cited in my talk about Greenwood's post-riot rebirth.

Thanks Mike for the information posted on this site regarding Greenwood's Post Riot history.

I am actually the oldest daughter of Flash Terry, you mentioned him briefly in your presentation. Recently my mother spoke about musicians who visited our house in the late 1950's before they were famous (i.e. Curtis Mayfield, Bobby Blues Bland, but that's another story).

My mother grew up on North Owasso, west of Peoria during the late 40's after her mother died. Her mother, before she died in 1940, lived directly across the street from the Mt. Rose Baptist Church on Lansing. She speaks fondly of those days, and of Greenwood. Actually everyone you speak with about Greenwood who is old enough to remember the 20's, 30's, 40's, 50's and 60's in those days, speak with a hint of pride in their eyes, and a longing for the unity and pride they experience is visible in their voices. One of the memories I have as a very small child in the late 50's, is of my aunt who lived in one of the rooming houses on Deep Greenwood (looks like one of the homes in the photos posted). She worked as a dispatcher for a taxi company. Even now I can remember how bustling and alive the area was back then. When I think of the history plowed down in the name of progress, my heart sinks. The neighborhoods were a testimony for strong and determined people, who in some cases, had fought their way up from the bonds of slavery. During Urban Renewal development, my great-grandmother's home (where I was born),and rental property were destroyed.

Years later, Dunbar Elementary School where both my mother and her children attended, destroyed. I am ashamed that every residence who had history in not only Greenwood, but North Lansing, Owasso, and other streets now under I75, did not make their voices heard, and more importantly make themselves understood. I was a teenager at the time with no interest in history, but since I began researching my family history, I have learned that to know our history is to understand ourselves. Without this knowledge we have no foundation and lack direction.

Thanks again and with deep regards, Brenda.

I'd like to give the cover story in the new issue of This Land the attention it deserves, but at the moment I'm overwhelmed by a backlog of entries in progress about the Tulsa City Council primary, now just eight days away, so we'll make do for now with links:

Lee Roy Chapman has written a detailed, well-researched historical essay on the links between Tulsa founding father Tate Brady, the Ku Klux Klan, a vigilante attack on IWW members (and the daily newspaper that supported it), and the city's attempt to dispossess the black Tulsans whose homes and businesses had been burned and looted in the attack on Greenwood (the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot).

Sidebars to the story: Steve Gerkin's history of Beno Hall, Tulsa's Klan HQ on north Main St., and a transcript and audio re-enactment of Tate Brady's testimony to the tribunal investigating Klan activity in Tulsa.

Fox 23 spoke to Tulsans about changing place names that honor Brady, including the Brady Heights historic neighborhood, Brady Street, and the Brady Arts District. I'm inclined to agree with 94-year-old race riot survivor Wess Young:

He doesn't want the neighborhood's name to change. "That's history, why would you try and change what has gone one and not show what progress you have made," he told FOX23. He says he doesn't live in Tate Brady's neighborhood, he lives in his neighborhood. No matter what name it has. "It doesn't bother me because I have the privilege to live where I can afford."

My thinking -- keep Brady Street and Brady Heights as a humbling reminder that men like Brady were a part of Tulsa's past, but pick a better name to market the area north of the tracks downtown. I like Lee Roy Chapman's suggestion: Call it the Bob Wills District.

Today is the 90th anniversary of a white mob's attack on Tulsa's African-American district, known as Greenwood after its principal avenue. The attack, which began the evening of May 31, 1921, killed hundreds and left thousands wounded and homeless.

Once hushed up, the attack known as the Tulsa Race Riot has received an increasing amount of public attention over the last 30 years. I have half a shelf taken up with books on the topic, and I will leave that history to others who have told it far better than I could ever hope to do.

What is often overlooked is the triumph and tragedy that followed the riot. The story of Tulsa's Greenwood District did not end in 1921, and over the last few years I've taken it upon myself to learn that story and attempt to bring it to a broader audience.

After the riot, there was an attempt by the city's white leaders to keep Greenwood from being rebuilt. The City Commission passed an ordinance extending the fire limits to include Greenwood, prohibiting frame houses from being rebuilt. The idea was to designate the district for industrial use and resettle blacks to a new place further away from downtown, outside the city limits.

African-American attorneys won an injunction against the new fire ordinance; the court decreed that it constituted a violation of the Fourth Amendment, a taking of property without due process. The injunction opened the door for Greenwood residents to rebuild.

They did it themselves, without insurance funds (most policies had a riot exclusion) or any other significant outside aid....

The Greenwood district flourished well into the 1950s. In 1938, businessmen formed the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce. A 1942 directory lists 242 businesses, including over 50 eateries, 38 grocers, a half dozen clothing stores, plus florists, physicians, attorneys, furriers, bakeries, theaters, and jewelers -- more than before the riot 21 years earlier. The 1957 city directory reveals a similar level of commercial activity in Greenwood....

The rebuilding, subsequent renaissance, and final removal of Greenwood are documented by aerial and street photos, land records, fire insurance maps, newspaper stories, street directories, and census data.

All that raw data is fleshed out in the memories of those who lived through those times. Some of those stories have been captured in books like They Came Searching by Eddie Faye Gates and Black Wall Street by Hannibal Johnson.

Here are a couple of reminiscences included by Gates in her book that clearly connect the term Black Wall Street to the post-riot, rebuilt Greenwood:

"They just were not going to be kept down. They were determined not to give up. So they rebuilt Greenwood and it was just wonderful. It became known as The Black Wall Street of America."

- Eunice Jackson

"The North Tulsa after the riot was even more impressive than before the riot. That is when Greenwood became known as 'The Black Wall Street of America.'"

- Juanita Alexander Lewis Hopkins

But then came the planners:

"Slum clearance," as a cure for Greenwood's ills, had been discussed for years, but in 1967, Tulsa was accepted into the Federal Model Cities program.

Model Cities was not just an ordinary urban renewal program. It was intended to be an improvement over the old method of bulldozing depressed neighborhoods. The Federal government provided four dollars for every dollar of local funding, and the plan involved advisory councils of local residents and attempted to address education, economic development, and health care as well as dilapidated buildings.

For all the frills, Model Cities was still primarily an urban removal program: Save the neighborhood by destroying it. Homes and businesses were cleared for the construction of I-244 and US 75 and for assemblage into larger tracts that might attract developers. Displaced blacks moved north, into neighborhoods that had been built in the '50s for working class whites.

Only the determination of a few community leaders saved a cluster of buildings in Deep Greenwood -- but these buildings are isolated from any residential area, cut off from community.

In April 1970, as Tulsa's Model Cities urban renewal program was beginning to demolish homes, Mabel Little, whose new home was burned down in the 1921 attack, told the Tulsa City Commission [from the April 11, 1970, Tulsa Tribune]:

"You destroyed everything we had. I was here in it, and the people are suffering more now than they did then."

Years later, Jobie Holderness reflected on the spiritual damage done by urban renewal:

"Urban renewal not only took away our property, but something else more important -- our black unity, our pride, our sense of achievement and history. We need to regain that. Our youth missed that and that is why they are lost today, that is why they are in 'limbo' now."

Here's my talk on this topic at Ignite Tulsa in 2009:

And here are links to previous BatesLine entries about Greenwood's renaissance:

Greenwood 1957: A summary of commercial activity in Greenwood, based on the 1957 Polk street directory of Tulsa.

Greenwood's streetcar: The Sand Springs Railroad (includes photos)

The rise and fall of Greenwood (includes high res 1951 aerial photo of Deep Greenwood)

Tulsa 1957 restaurants: A KML (Google Maps) file locating restaurants listed in the 1957 street and phone directories, including many that lined Greenwood Ave.

Film of Oklahoma's 1920's black communities

Notes on the sources documenting Greenwood's post-riot renaissance

Physical signs, such as the commemorative plaques along Greenwood's sidewalks and on the Greenwood Cultural Center, that document the district's reconstruction after the riot and demolition during urban renewal

Finally, here at a glance are three Sanborn maps from 1915, 1939, and 1962, showing Deep Greenwood over the decades:

Sanborn Map: Deep Greenwood in 1915

Greenwood-Sanborn-1915-500.png

Sanborn Map: Deep Greenwood in 1939

Greenwood-Sanborn-1939-500.png

Sanborn Map: Deep Greenwood in 1962

Greenwood-Sanborn-1962-500.png

Construction of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Tulsa, c. 1948, Pastor J. H. Dotson

Construction of Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Tulsa, c. 1948, Pastor J. H. Dotson

Pastor J. H. Dotson during the construction of Mt. Zion Baptist Church. The photos appear to show the remnant of the ruins of the 1921 structure, which had been roofed in 1937 and was being used for worship, being incorporated into the new structure, c. 1948. Beryl Ford Collection/Rotary Club of Tulsa, Tulsa City-County Library and Tulsa Historical Society.

I was looking for something (the National Park Service's "1921 Tulsa Race Riot Reconnaissance Survey," a 2005 publication that identified sites of importance related to the riot, which used to be on the web, but is no longer).

I found something else: Mt. Zion Baptist Church's registration form for the National Register of Historic Places. The application was written in April 2008 by Cathy Ambler, Ph.D., a preservation consultant based in Tulsa.

The application, accompanied by maps and photos, both current and historical, tells the story of Greenwood before, during, and after the riot through the story of Mt. Zion. The church's brand new edifice, dedicated in April 1921, was destroyed on June 1, 1921. The membership met in members homes and, later, in a roofed section of the building's ruins until they raised enough money to pay off the debt from the destroyed building and to build a new structure, which was not complete until 1952.

The document is worth reading for a synopsis of the story of Greenwood from its earliest days, through riot, rebuilding, and urban removal, and as a tribute to the indomitable spirit of the members of Mt. Zion.

MORE:

Here is Mt. Zion Baptist Church's webpage on the history of their building.

Two weeks after the riot, Walter F. White, a reporter for The Nation published an on-the-scene report of the causes, its aftermath, and the corrupt and lawless state of Tulsa in 1921.

Here it is:



Here are some previous entries on BatesLine that touch on Greenwood and include some of the material I shared at Ignite Tulsa.

Greenwood's streetcar: The Sand Springs Railroad (includes photos)

The rise and fall of Greenwood (includes high res 1951 aerial photo of Deep Greenwood)

Greenwood 1957

Film of Oklahoma's 1920s black communities available through Global ImageWorks

Tulsa 1957: Restaurant map

Notes on sources documenting the resurgence of Greenwood

Signs of Greenwood's rebuilding

Sometime soon, I will post the slides with a recorded narration, closer to the way I would have delivered the talk had I taken more time to rehearse and memorize. (No excuse, but I returned from a business trip just 90 minutes before the event was scheduled to begin. I waited far too long to get my slides together, and I should have taken time to write a narration and to revise my slides before submitting them. It takes a lot of work to say something in five minutes.)

I encourage you to watch all of the excellent Ignite Tulsa presentations. (I plan to do so; I was too distracted before my talk to absorb as much as I should have, and shortly after I finished, I was notified that I was needed at home.) My thanks to the organizers for bringing this idea to Tulsa and making the inaugural event such a success.

In my Ignite Tulsa talk on the "Greenwood Gap," I mentioned in passing the physical indications of the rebuilding and flourishing of Tulsa's African-American district after it was burned in 1921 by a white mob. I would have included photos of some of those signs, and I had some that I'd taken, but I couldn't find them, so earlier today I took some more, finding dates on buildings, on cornerstones, and on commemorative plaques that tell the story of Greenwood's post-1921 resurgence. (Click that link to view the set on Flickr.)

The churches, and the dates on their cornerstones, beg the question: If there wasn't a rebuilt neighborhood nearby, why were the churches rebuilt there? (Further, why did congregations build newer fancier buildings in the late '50s and early '60s?) (NOTE: In the olden days, churches were built in neighborhoods and people traveled short distances to church. They weren't set up like consumer-oriented big-box stores with huge parking lots, isolated from neighborhoods.)

Here's the Williams Building at 102 N. Greenwood Ave., rebuilt in 1922, after the building previously on that site was destroyed by the riot. Note the year above the name of the building.

Williams Building, 102 N. Greenwood Ave., Tulsa, rebuilt in 1922

After the jump, you'll see the plaque set in the sidewalk next to the building, and two more plaques -- one on the entrance to the Mabel B. Little Heritage House and the other on the entrance to the Greenwood Cultural Center.

A couple of years ago, I told you about historian Currie Ballard's amazing find of films taken in Oklahoma in the 1920s of African-American families, communities, businesses, and events. (This YouTube user has some clips from the films.)

These were in the news again recently, and in looking for more information I came across the website of Global ImageWorks, a service that provides stock footage. They list Ballard's collection in their online catalog:

BLACK AMERICAN TOWNS FROM 1920s

Global ImageWorks is exclusively representing a rare and unique film collection discovered by historian Currie Ballard consisting of six hours of film documenting the daily lives of successful black towns in Oklahoma thriving in the aftermath of the infamous Tulsa Riots of 1921. The footage illustrates a little known piece of history and includes footage showing entire black communities visiting one another's country homes, parading through downtown Muskogee in some two dozen Packards, crowding an enormous church in Tulsa not long after the riots, gathering at the National Baptist Convention, and traveling to Europe. It includes black cowboys riding horses amidst oil derricks rising from their ranches, various sporting events including rare footage of the 1928 Los Angeles to New York "Great American Foot Race" in which three of the finishing runners were black Americans. The material found by Ballard came in 29 cans and was shot by the Rev. S. S. Jones, a circuit preacher assigned by National Baptist Convention to document the glories of Oklahoma's black towns of Guthrie, Muskogee, and Langston.

The embedded video on that catalog page is a series of short clips from the collection, which appears to have been beautifully restored.

A site search turns up six "tapes" containing footage from the collection. Here are the titles links to each item page, each of which includes a detailed list of the scenes contained therein:

OKLAHOMA COVERAGE 1924 -1928 - MIDDLE CLASS BLACK LIFESTYLE Tape #: 3382 | Date: 1920s | Location: Clearview, Muskogee, Langston, Bristow, Tulsa, Oklahoma | Length: 60:00 | Master Format: film - 16mm video - digi beta | B/W

Oklahoma coverage of middle class black family life in Clearview, Muksogee , Langston and Bristow showing families on their farms and their oil wells. Unique footage from the Currie Ballard Collection. 1925-1927

AFRICAN AMERICAN MIDDLE CLASS LIFESTYLE IN BLACK RUN TOWNS IN OKLAHOMA 1920S
Tape #: 3383 | Date: 1920s | Location: Muskogee, Harlinville, Depew, Boley, Duncan, Okemah,Taft, Oklahoma | Length: 60:00 | Master Format: film - 16mm video - digi beta | B/W

Scenes of black middle class lifestyle in Oklahoma in completely black run towns of Muskogee, Duncan etc. in 1920s. Church, train scenes, Antioch cadets, black kids in school, grocery and filling stations, farms, and local commerce. From the Currie Ballard Collection.

PEOPLE AND LIFESTYLE IN BLACK RUN TOWN OF MUSKOGEE, OKLAHOMA IN 1925
Tape #: 3384 | Date: 1920s | Location: Muskogee, Oklahoma | Length: 60:00 | Master Format: film - 16mm video - digi beta | B/W

Various residences of people living in Muskogee, Department store, basketball team and high school speling contest, classes, faculty etc. From the Currie Ballard Collection

MIDDLE CLASS LIFE STYLE SHOWING RESIDENCES, FAMILIES AND SCHOOLS.
Tape #: 3385 | Date: 1920s | Location: Okmulgee, Tulsa, Oklahoma | Length: 60:00 | Master Format: film - 16mm video - digi beta | B/W

Middle class life style showing residences, families and schools. From the Currie Ballard Collection

OKLAHOMA - AFRICAN AMERICAN LIFESTYLE
Tape #: 3386 | Date: 1920s | Location: Oklahoma | Length: 60:00 | Master Format: film - 16mm video - digi beta | B/W

Various towns of Oklahoma, residences,schools, baptism, construction, lifestyle, Masons parade, Masonic lodge, Church. From the Currie Ballard Collection.

OKLAHOMA AFRICAN AMERICANS
Tape #: 3387 | Date: 1920s | Location: Germany, Jerusalem, Italy, Oklahoma | Length: 60:00 | Master Format: film - 16mm video - digi beta | B/W

Oklahoma African Americans from the Currie Ballard Collection.

Some of the Tulsa-related scenes:


  • The Oklahoma Eagle Divinity Company, Greenwood Street 1927 Tulsa

  • Tulane Avenue Baptist Church Bus from New Orleans, Louisiana at Gen Convention Tulsa Brady Theater 1927 Tulsa

  • Church members leaving church winter brick church inner city

  • Scenes from Thanksgiving Day 1925 parade and football game: "MTH Muskogee vs. BWH of Tulsa" (Tulsa won, 13 to 9)

  • Mr. Jessie Brown new $75,000 Funeral Home, 540 E. Easton 1928 Tulsa

  • Brown Funeral Service 1928 Tulsa

  • Union Baptist CadetS at State SS & BYPU Convention, Rev. D.C. Cooksey August 4, 1928 Tulsa

  • Train loaded with cars, oil derrick in background

  • Church Baptist Cadets

  • Ground Breaking Union Baptist Church Pastor D.C. Cooksey Officers and Members August 4, 1928 Tulsa

  • Church ground breaking (older Church burned down during Tulsa Race Riot 1921)

  • Tulsa Business League Dr. S.S. Jones (right to left) Tulsa

  • Dr. S.S. Jones eyeglasses Tulsa

  • Mt. Zion Baptist Church after the Riot Photo Stills (right to left) Tulsa

  • Greenwood Street seven years after Tulsa Race Riot 1921

  • C.B. Bottling Works, 258 E. Archie (right to left) Tulsa

  • Soda Pop Bottling Company

  • Jackson's Undertaker Co. (right to left) Tulsa

  • Booker T. Washington High School, noon hour Tulsa

  • Dunbar Grade School (right to left) Tulsa

  • Dunbar Agri Gardens (right to left) Tulsa

There are scenes from many Oklahoma cities and towns, including Okmulgee, Muskogee, Haskell, Coweta, Ardmore, Langston, Bristow, Taft, El Reno, Oklahoma City, Lawton, Depew, Boley, Wewoka, Boynton, Gibson Station, Wetumka, Eufaula, Red Bird, Porter, and Holdenville plus scenes from travels to Paris, London, Chicago, and the Holy Land.

These, along with old street directories, newspaper microfilm, and Sanborn fire insurance maps, could be the makings of a fascinating documentary.

MORE: From an Oklahoman story on the films from September 2006:

The significance, he said, is the "positive light it puts on blacks in this state. Under the heat of Jim Crow laws, it showed that blacks were prosperous."

Many blacks living in the 1920s were former slaves, and the films show a bustling and prosperous way of life, Ballard said.

"It was rare for a white person to have the camera and equipment in those days," he said. "For someone black to have a camera was unreal. That's what makes it so rare. The movies are from an African-American point of view....

Some of the movies were taken just a few years after the Tulsa race riots of 1921, which virtually destroyed the city's Greenwood district. Jones chronicled the 1925 (black) National Baptist Convention in Greenwood and an accompanying parade.

"The movies showed the strength and resilience of the people of Greenwood to pull off a national convention and to rebuild what was burnt to ashes," Ballard said.

That's the footage that also impresses Blackburn. Like Blackburn, he said it shows the people were able to not only recover but to prosper.

"It would have been easier to be intimidated and to run away and go to St. Louis or Chicago," Blackburn said. "This film footage is very important."

What is interesting, Blackburn said, is that the films show no signs of destruction, but vitality of the Tulsa black community.

STILL MORE: Currie Ballard was recently appointed Assistant Secretary of the Oklahoma State Senate.

In this week's issue of Urban Tulsa Weekly I wrote about the proposed look for the new downtown ballpark, and I mentioned the location's connection with two railroads and the Greenwood district:

From the 1910s until sometime in the 1990s, the site was bisected by the M. K. & T. railroad tracks. For the first 50 years of that period, the interurban from Sand Springs ran down the center of Archer until about a half-block east of Elgin, where the tracks curved northward, running roughly where the ballpark's outfield fence will be. The trolley tracks then ran down the middle of Greenwood Ave. from Brady St. to Haskell St., before veering off to the east to connect to the Santa Fe tracks to the north.

You can still see some old bits of the track behind the commercial buildings on the west side of Greenwood. The triangular shape of that block of buildings marks where the Sand Springs and Katy railroads crossed paths. If you look closely, you can see where the middle of Archer and the sidewalk on its north side were patched when the interurban tracks were removed.

In the Tulsa Library's online archive of the Beryl Ford Collection of historic Tulsa photos, I found a series of photos showing the Sand Springs line in Greenwood in what appears to be the late 1940s and early 1950s. Not all of the photos were taken at the same time, but I've put them in order starting near the corner of Greenwood Ave. and Brady St. and moving north to where the tracks leave Greenwood Ave. at Haskell Ave. and head north-northeast along a road called Greenwood Pl. toward a junction with the Midland Valley and Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad tracks north of Independence St. Each photo and caption is linked to a slightly larger version on the library's website. Someday I hope to see a full resolution version of each these pictures, which would make it possible to pin down details like years on license plates, street signs, and names and numbers on buildings.

The Sand Springs Railroad's waiting room at the Tulsa end of the line was on the northwest corner of Archer and Boston. I do not know whether or not passengers were carried all the way to Greenwood Ave.

(UPDATE 2015/02/07: In an interview for the Voices of Oklahoma Series, Marques Haynes, basketball hall-of-famer and Sand Springs native, confirms that the streetcar had a stop on Greenwood. He mentions that because he couldn't go to the whites-only movie theater in Sand Springs, he and his friends would ride the Sand Springs interurban into Tulsa; the trolley stopped on Greenwood, right across from the Dreamland Theater. That stop was probably in front of the building on the left of the first photo below, on the NW corner of Greenwood and Brady.)

Sand Springs Railroad interurban tracks, looking north toward Brady St. & Greenwood Ave., Busy Bee Lunch, and Vernon AME Church.

Sand Springs Railroad interurban tracks, looking north toward Brady St. & Greenwood Ave., Busy Bee Lunch (in the Center Hotel building), and Vernon AME Church. While the Vernon Church is still there, as is the building in the foreground, in between is now the route of I-244.

I've been so busy creating content for this coming week's Urban Tulsa Weekly that I haven't had time to link the current issue's column. It's about what I call the Greenwood Gap Theory, the widely-held notion that nothing happened in Tulsa's one-time African-American commercial district between the 1921 Race Riot and the late '80s construction of the OSU-Tulsa campus.


greenwoodpolksample.JPGTo fill the gap, I look at the historical record provided by aerial photos, street directories, and oral histories, all of which reveal that Greenwood was rebuilt after the riot, better than before in the view of many, but it was government action -- in the form of urban renewal and freeway construction -- that produced the empty lots in the '70s which OSU-Tulsa replaced.

An annotated aerial view of Deep Greenwood (the part of the district extending a few blocks north of Greenwood and Archer) from 1951 accompanies the story. Here's a larger version of the graphic for your perusal (1 MB PDF). (The scan of the aerial photo was done by INCOG at a cost of $35. INCOG has aerial photos of the entire county taken at roughly 10 year intervals.) And this photoset contains the pages from the 1957 Polk City Directory for N. Greenwood Avenue, showing the businesses, churches, and residences in house number order. Specifically they are pages 357 through 360.

This is the originally submitted version of my column in the June 13, 2007, edition of Urban Tulsa Weekly. The published version is available at the Internet Archive. The image below accompanied the article. It is from a 1951 aerial photo, labeled to indicate streets and landmarks and to show the present-day location of I-244.

Deep Greenwood, Tulsa, 1951 aerial photo

The Greenwood Gap Theory: The remaking and unmaking of the Black Wall Street of America

By Michael D. Bates

There's a widespread myth about the history of our city, and it persists even among those who are otherwise well educated about Tulsa's past.

It's a myth that stands in the way of learning some valuable lessons about urban development, urban renewal, and the essential elements of a thriving community.

Let's call this myth the Greenwood Gap Theory. That's not a reference to the GAP Band, although the R&B group did take its name from Greenwood Avenue, Archer Street, and Pine Street. Those three streets were the main artery and the north and south boundaries of what was once the commercial heart of Tulsa's African-American community, and Greenwood Avenue lent its name to the entire district.

The Greenwood Gap Theory resurfaces from time to time. It popped up again a few weeks ago, when ground was broken for a campus for Langston University-Tulsa.

Langston President Jo Ann Haysbert said, "Although the campus will not re-create the more than 600 businesses that once operated on Black Wall Street in Greenwood before the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, it will produce graduates who will go out into the world with Greenwood's similar spirit of entrepreneurship and empowerment."

The assumption buried in Ms. Haysbert's statement, one shared by many Tulsans, is that in the 66 years from the Tulsa Race Riot until construction began on the University Center at Tulsa (now OSU-Tulsa) campus, nothing happened in Greenwood; the smoldering ruins were bulldozed, and the land lay fallow.

It's not hard to understand how the Greenwood Gap Theory gained currency. I first heard about the riot and the "Black Wall Street" of America in the '70s, and when I was old enough to drive I went to see what Greenwood Ave. looked like.

What I saw was a few churches, a few vacant commercial buildings, but mostly vacant lots. It was not hard to imagine that that had been the state of things since 1921.

Over time more of the commercial buildings went away and what was left was a vast undeveloped tract.

I learned I had been missing a big part of the story came on a 1997 walking tour led by Eddie Faye Gates, who had just published a book of reminiscences by Tulsa's African-American pioneers: They Came Searching: How Blacks Sought the Promised Land in Tulsa (Eakin Press, 1997).

As we walked south on Greenwood from the UCAT campus, a black woman who looked to be in her 40s pointed toward the pond and fountain near the Greenwood Cultural Center and said, "That's where my aunt's dress shop was!" and she reminisced about spending time in the store as a child. She wasn't old enough to have been around in 1921; she had to have been speaking about the late '50s or early '60s.

Thanks to aerial photos, street directories, and books like Gates's, we have facts to fill in the Greenwood Gap.

For the first roughly six decades of the 20th century, Tulsa's African-American community was segregated to a couple of square miles north-northeast of downtown - roughly east of Detroit Ave., west of the Santa Fe tracks, north of the Frisco tracks and south of Apache.
The prosperity Tulsa enjoyed as Oil Capitol of the World flowed into Greenwood as well. But on the night of May 31, 1921, a mob of whites descended on Greenwood and looted and then burned businesses, homes, and churches. Over a thousand homes were destroyed, at least 300 people were killed, and Greenwood lay in ruins.

The real history of the Greenwood District after 1921, set out by Hannibal Johnson in his book Black Wall Street (Eakin Press, 1998), is at once more inspiring and sadder than the myth. Where a hostile, racist mob failed to destroy the heart and break the spirit of the African-American community, fifty years later well-intentioned government officials succeeded.

After the riot, there was an attempt by the city's white leaders to keep Greenwood from being rebuilt. The City Commission passed an ordinance extending the fire limits to include Greenwood, prohibiting frame houses from being rebuilt. The idea was to designate the district for industrial use and resettle blacks to a new place further away from downtown, outside the city limits.

African-American attorneys won an injunction against the new fire ordinance; the court decreed that it constituted a violation of the Fourth Amendment, a taking of property without due process. The injunction opened the door for Greenwood residents to rebuild.

They did it themselves, without insurance funds (most policies had a riot exclusion) or any other significant outside aid. In They Came Searching, Eunice Jackson said, "They just were not going to be kept down. They were determined not to give up. So they rebuilt Greenwood and it was just wonderful. It became known as The Black Wall Street of America."

Juanita Alexander Lewis Hopkins said, "The North Tulsa after the riot was even more impressive than before the riot. That is when Greenwood became known as 'The Black Wall Street of America.'"

The Greenwood district flourished well into the 1950s. In 1938, businessmen formed the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce. A 1942 directory lists 242 businesses, including over 50 eateries, 38 grocers, a half dozen clothing stores, plus florists, physicians, attorneys, furriers, bakeries, theaters, and jewelers - more than before the riot 21 years earlier. The 1957 city directory reveals a similar level of commercial activity in Greenwood.

The district had three distinct commercial centers: Deep Greenwood, starting at Archer; a neighborhood commercial cluster running along Greenwood from King north to Oklahoma; and a shopping area along Lansing Ave. south of Pine Street. Maybe the best way for modern Tulsans to imagine these areas is to think of shopping streets like Cherry Street and Brookside, but with more two and three story buildings.

Deep Greenwood hosted a variety of businesses, but it was also home to nightclubs and pool halls, and it had a wild reputation. When he moved to Tulsa from Hugo, barber Hugh Hollins was advised by a friend to set up shop further north.

The reminiscences recorded in They Came Searching recall Greenwood as a kind of small town. If a young person got up to some mischief, his parents would know about it before he got home. Everyone knew everyone else, because people lived, shopped, went to church, and went to school all in a small self-contained area.

Of course they didn't have much choice. Official segregation and private discrimination limited where blacks could live, learn, worship, and spend money.

The lifting of those restrictions helped start the decline of Greenwood as a commercial center, as blacks exercised their wider options and began spending more money outside the community. At the same time, changing retail patterns and the rise of the chain store put all mom-and-pop stores at risk, no matter the ethnicity of the proprietors.

"Slum clearance" as a cure for Greenwood's ills had been discussed for years, but in 1967, Tulsa was accepted into the Federal Model Cities program.

Model Cities was not just an ordinary urban renewal program. It was intended to be an improvement over the old method of bulldozing depressed neighborhoods. The Federal government provided four dollars for every dollar of local funding, and the plan involved advisory councils of local residents and attempted to address education, economic development, and health care as well as dilapidated buildings.

For all the frills, Model Cities was still primarily an urban removal program: Save the neighborhood by destroying it. Homes and businesses were cleared for the construction of I-244 and US 75 and for assemblage into larger tracts that might attract developers. Displaced blacks moved north, into neighborhoods that had been built in the '50s for working class whites.

Only the determination of a few community leaders saved a cluster of buildings in Deep Greenwood - but these buildings are isolated from any residential area, cut off from community.

Jobie Holderness said, "Urban renewal not only took away our property, but something else more important - our black unity, our pride, our sense of achievement and history. We need to regain that. Our youth missed that and that is why they are lost today, that is why they are in 'limbo' now."

New Urbanists speak a lot about the importance of densely settled, walkable communities, with jobs in proximity to homes, with a mixture of uses - residential, retail, offices, schools, churches - within easy walking distance. By making it possible for residents to walk places, there are more chance encounters between neighbors. People keep an eye on the street, deterring crime. And each chance encounter on the street builds valuable social capital - neighbors know each other well enough to be able to help when there's a crisis.
Greenwood was a neighborhood like that, but the urban diagnosticians of the 1960s mistook the symptoms for the disease and killed the patient. The notion was that the insalubrious environment created social dysfunction - remove the environment, and you fix the problem.

In place of a dense, walkable, urban community, the planners created a slice of suburbia. The OSU-Tulsa campus is surrounded by an ocean of parking, completely cutoff from old Deep Greenwood and from nearby neighborhoods. The retail buildings at the north end of Greenwood have been replaced by modern (vintage 1980s) homes which turn their backs to the street. The Lansing commercial district and its surrounding neighborhood have been converted to a suburban-style light industrial park. What was once a cohesive neighborhood is now an assortment of isolated uses.

How might things have worked out differently?

Given time, the commercial buildings along Greenwood would have been rediscovered by entrepreneurs with an idea and a need for a cheap place to get started. The greatest thing government did for Cherry Street and Brookside was to leave them alone. Greenwood might have become gentrified, or it, instead of 21st and Garnett, might have become the home base for the Hispanic or Asian communities. Dallas's Deep Ellum was once like Greenwood and has become an entertainment district.

Instead of the shopping-mall-style campus that was actually built for OSU-Tulsa, Greenwood's old commercial buildings might have even become home for the new university, following the example of Savannah College of Art and Design, which restored buildings all over the city's historic district for its campus, mixed in with retail and office and residential uses.

The next time you drive to OSU-Tulsa or drive past on I-244, remember the bustling district that was once there. Remember those entrepreneurs who rebuilt it after its 1921 destruction. And remember that it was well-intentioned government action that destroyed it again.

As I mentioned in my initial Tulsa 1957 post, I wanted to be able to create maps showing where things were back then. I finally figured out a relatively easy way to do it, using Google Earth, and I found a number of online tools to minimize the amount of development work I would need to do.

My first exercise was to create a KML file showing all of the more than 400 restaurants listed in the classified section of the 1957 Polk Directory of Tulsa. The usual GIGO warning applies. If the Polk Directory was wrong, the file will be wrong.

I would like to add, but have not yet added, non-duplicate entries from the Southwestern Bell Yellow Pages. I'm limited there because a quarter of a page from the "Cafes" section of the 1957 phone book was torn out.

Google Earth makes it possible to include all sorts of information in a map -- with enough time and energy, you could include images of newspaper and phone book ads and building photos.

To build the file I used Excel to enter name and address, then used an online tool called BatchGeocode to convert each address to a latitude and longitude and to create a KML file, which Google Earth can read. I had to do a bit of tweaking to get the icons I wanted, and the Geocoder had trouble with some addresses that no longer exist (e.g., the 100 block of South Main, the 500 block of East Brady and East Cameron). (I pre-modified Sapulpa Rd and Sand Springs Rd addresses to the modern day names of Southwest Blvd and Charles Page Blvd.) For some reason, Pennington's Drive-In wound up in the south Atlantic Ocean, but I fixed it.

Google Maps can load and display small KML files, but not a KML file with 400 entries. So you'll need to have Google Earth installed on your PC to get the full effect. In Google Earth, you'll be able to hover over an icon to see the name, and click on it to see the address. Here again is the link to the KML file of Tulsa's restaurants in 1957 which you can download and use in Google Earth.

For those without, and until I can figure a dynamic way to display the map online, I've provided some screenshots from Google Earth below the fold. One is zoomed out to show the location of all restaurants in the city, the other is zoomed in to provide more detail between Pine and 36th, Union and Harvard.

A cool idea for future implementation: Google Earth is able to display a fourth-dimension -- time. If you could compile the restaurant listings for each year, you'd be able to move the time slider back and forth and watch as one restaurant replaces another, and as restaurants move out toward the suburbs. What an amazing way that would be to visualize the development and undevelopment of the city over time.

Speaking of undevelopment, notice some of the clusters of restaurants. There are eateries on nearly every block downtown, and there's a linear cluster extending north of the expressway -- that's Greenwood -- the Black Wall Street of America. There's a cluster along Quanah / Southwest Blvd in west Tulsa (another urban renewal removal). Sheridan Road was the key commercial link between the airport and the rest of the city.

I hope to post more KML files in the future, covering places like drug stores, groceries, churches, beer joints, bowling alleys, and movie theaters. It would speed up the process if some of my readers were willing to help transcribe phone book entries. I'm not quite set up to accept help, but in the not too distant future, I will be able to send you an image of a page from the Polk Directory and a template Excel spreadsheet for you to fill in. Let me know if you'd be willing to help in that way by e-mailing me at blog at batesline dot com.

And as always, if seeing the name of an obscure restaurant stirs some memories, drop me a line and tell me about it.

Pictures after the jump:

This entry was inspired by a recent comment by the president of Langston University. I'll say no more now, as I will address the comment in this week's Urban Tulsa Weekly column, but here are some interesting facts I gleaned from analyzing the 1957 edition of Polk's City Directory.

For out of towners and newcomers to Tulsa: Greenwood Avenue was Main Street for Tulsa's African-American community prior to urban "renewal." A few commercial buildings remain at the corner of Greenwood and Archer, and a handful of churches still stand, but most everything else was demolished. The land at the southern end of Greenwood stood vacant for many years until it was designated for a state college campus, now the Tulsa campus of Oklahoma State University. The storefronts at the northern end were replaced with late '70s, early '80s suburban style homes.

It's hard to imagine what Greenwood was like just 50 years ago. This may give you some sense of the place.

In 1957 on Greenwood Ave. in Tulsa, there were nine grocery stores in the mile between Archer and Pine Streets, along with five drug stores, six variety/sundry/dry goods stores, a meat market, a confectionery, a bakery, a florist, a hardware store, a jeweler, a radio and TV store, two record stores, two appliance stores, two thrift shops, four gas stations, and a hardware store.

There were also 21 barber and/or beauty shops, four shoe repair shops, four shoe shine parlors, three tailors, a photographer, an upholstery shop, and eight dry cleaners.

Greenwood Ave. had five physicians, four dentists, a chiropractor, five law offices, two real estate offices, two insurance agencies,a newspaper (the Oklahoma Eagle), and seven churches.

There were two fraternal lodges, a dance hall (the Dreamland), a nightclub (the Flamingo), eight bars, a movie theater (the Rex), 19 restaurants (including three places with barbecue in the name and three chili parlors), and four pool halls.

There were eight hotels, 11 apartment buildings, 13 rooming houses.

That only counts businesses on Greenwood Ave. and doesn't include other streets and avenues in the district, which went as far west as Detroit and as far east as the Midland Valley and Santa Fe tracks.

If you want specifics about what businesses were where, you can see for yourself by looking at pp. 357-360 of Polk's 1957 directory of Tulsa.

Joel Blain emails to tell me about an amazing archival find. Oklahoma historian Currie Ballard has found 33 cans of motion picture film documenting life in the African-American community in Oklahoma in the 1920s. The American Heritage Places website has a page with information about the discovery and a few short clips:

The film shows them thriving in the years after the infamous Tulsa Riot of 1921, in which white mobs destroyed that city's historic black Greenwood district, which was known as the Black Wall Street of America. Through the flickering eloquence of silent film we see a people resilient beyond anyone's imagining, visiting one another's country homes, parading through downtown Muskogee in some two dozen Packards, crowding an enormous church in Tulsa not long after the riots, during a gathering of the National Baptist Convention.

Indeed, this extraordinary archive exists because someone at the powerful National Baptist Convention assigned the Rev. S. S. Jones, a circuit preacher, to document the glories of Oklahoma's black towns, Guthrie, Muskogee, and Langston. Reverend Jones surely has a way with a camera as he comes in close on the animated faces of his neighbors, sweeps wide to track black cowboys racing across a swath of ranch land, or vertically pans up the skyscraper-high oil derricks owned by the Ragsdale family, whose wells produced as much as a thousand barrels a day. We know the names of these families and others because typed labels accompany each of the eight-minute cans, and onscreen titles introduce the various segments.

But this treasure trove of film is at risk, and Currie Ballard needs help in preserving it:

Ballard admits that he mortgaged his life away when the opportunity arose to acquire this treasure. Now he's hoping to find an appropriate institution to take it over and transfer the highly unstable film to disk, a costly operation. He wants the world to view this material, to make people aware that only 60 years after emancipation, and in the shadow of one of the nation's most violent and destructive race riots, these people persevered and built anew. Perhaps someone out there, watching this, right now, will take the lead.

For more information contact Wyatt Houston Day, a bookseller and archivist who has been working with Currie Ballard. He's at whdbook@erols.com.

If you can help, or know someone who can, get in touch.

UPDATE 2017/07/03: The film archive rescued by Ballard is now part of the Yale University Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The Solomon Sir Jones Films, 1924-1928, are available for viewing online.

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