The Greenwood Chamber of Commerce kicked off a major fundraising effort to rebuild Tulsa’s Historic Greenwood commercial district, the home of Black Wall Street, last week. The group is seeking $1 million in donations to rebuild the site, which was destroyed by white supremacists in 1921 in one of the bloodiest racist massacres in U.S. history.
According to the group’s GoFundMe, the Greenwood Community Development Corporation—a nonprofit linked to the Chamber—the vast majority of the money will go toward urgent structural updates for 10 buildings. These improvements will include a complete roof replacement for all the buildings, heating, vent, and air-conditioning updates, and upgrades to the storefronts of those historic buildings.
But the campaign is about so much more than the buildings, as the Chamber’s GoFundMe page reads, “This ... is about remembering how resilient our people are.”
In an interview with Tulsa World, Freeman Culver, president and chief executive officer at the Greenwood Chamber, pointed to Greenwood’s recent re-emergence as an essential piece of the American narrative.
“This is not just Tulsa history; this is American history. It’s gotten international recognition. We just wanted to have a call to action so the community in Tulsa, America, and the entire world can have a chance to help us,” Culver said.
The Tulsa Massacre, once referred to as the “Tulsa Race Riot,” marked a bloody turning point in Tulsa’s history, but the story of the violent, white-supremacist led attack was buried for generations. Historians believe as many as 300 black people were killed in a concerted assault on Greenwood, an area so prosperous it was nicknamed “the Negro Wall Street.”
The violence was sparked by a white mob, which descended upon a black shoeshine boy who was unjustly arrested and accused of assaulting a white woman. The white vigilantes were “intent on lynching the shine boy,” according to the 2001 Tulsa Race Riot Commission Report. A group of armed black men who gathered around him was just as intent on defending him.
The confrontation set off a horrific, prolonged act of domestic terrorism in which government officials took part. By the time the violence abated, 35 square blocks of Greenwood were destroyed—including more than a thousand homes, businesses, churches, and schools.
The episode was never forgotten by Tulsa’s black residents, though it went unacknowledged by city officials for years. As the 100-year anniversary of the massacre approaches, the city is facing increased pressure to address its turbulent racial history in a way it never has before.
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum announced last year that he would open an investigation into the city’s mass graves. Researchers recently reported that they found evidence of a mass burial site in one of the city’s oldest cemeteries. The Tulsa Massacre also played a central part in the hit HBO show, Watchmen, which delved deeply into themes of generational trauma and the legacies of vigilante and state violence.
The fundraising efforts will be accompanied by an International Unity Walk, happening August of 2020 and 2021.
“It’s about bringing people together and having unity,” Culver said. “We want to bring racial harmony to this place and to the world itself.”