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The 1921 Greenwood/Tulsa Race Massacre

Dear Friends,

I wanted to share with you briefly our experience in Greenwood. I must say it was the most emotionally overwhelming and difficult history experience I have had, and we have been all over the South on many trips exploring our past. 

We spent 4 days in Tulsa, including a 4-hour walking/driving tour of Greenwood with Chief Egunwale Amusan, who was born and raised there and who did not learn until he was a young man that his grandfather was a survivor of the massacre. I wish that all Americans would go there and learn about what happened. I thought I knew, but until I saw the extent of the cruelty and the huge area that was destroyed I didn’t fully get what happened. Fortunately, there are photographs to demonstrate the before and after. Honestly, if they can’t get reparations—and they still are fighting for it—then it may be very difficult to get it elsewhere. It is an open-and-shut case.

Our tour guide, although he markets his tour as The Real Black Wall Street, doesn’t really like the term Wall Street. It was a huge area, and much more collectivist and community-oriented than Wall Street ever was. It began in large part because of a weird twist of fate—Black people by the thousands had been enslaved by Native American tribes in the Oklahoma Territory. When the land was negotiated (taken) by the federal government, part of the deal was that tribal members would get a big chunk of land, including in most cases each of the enslaved people would also benefit. Then oil struck. Overnight many Black people had a lot of money. They founded Greenwood and word spread throughout the South for Black people to come there. Beautiful hotels, a theater, and many, many businesses grew up.

Overnight in 1921 all of this was destroyed by a mob of thousands of white people, including turpentine bombs being dropped by airplanes. There are still mass graves they are fighting to identify. From a dynamic, thriving community, in 24 hours it was leveled, burned, and an unknown number of people killed. Something like 1200 homes burned to the ground. It was like a lynching times hundreds or thousands of people.

I hope you will all make the time to go there someday. There is a lovely John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, which is inspiring. It includes a labyrinth walkway, fountains, and gardens, but at the same time does not shy away from showing the terrible history. Three statues are called Hostility, Humiliation, and Hope.

Our guide was delighted to learn about MoCoLMP and PGCLMP (Prince George's County LMP)—his group works with EJI too. Above is a picture of us (my friend Katie Pugliese, on the right, is a leader of PGCLMP) with our guide, Mr. Amusan.

So much hidden history to be discovered!


Beth Baker

Steering Committee, MoCoLMP

For more information, see The Tulsa Historical Society.


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