Black Wall Street

Black Wall Street

April 13th, 2009 // 6:50 am @

Black Wall Street
by Hannibal B Johnson

Greenwood Avenue,
a.k.a. Black Wall Street,
In the Oil Capital of the World.
Entrepreneurs and innovators,
Black men; black women.
Bold.
Visionary.
Of national renown.

Doctors and lawyers,
Musicians and morticians,
Theaters, shine shops, and beauty parlors.

Greenwood—Black Wall Street—
Rife with activity and excitement.

Black gold lubricating the local economy,
Creating mostly white wealth,
But also trickling down—
Down Greenwood way.

Dollars circulating
Again and again and again.

An insular economy
Born of necessity
And sustained as a matter of pride.

Greenwood booming.
Greenwood bustling.
Greenwood beckoning.

Tulsa, Oklahoma,
The Magic City.
Oil barons.
Crude millionaires.

Not Deep South,
But Southern.

Black.
White.
Indian.
Diversity
In a sometimes combustible mix.

Boomtown.
Powder keg.

Black prosperity.
Demands for full citizenship.
Racial stereotypes.
Sexual taboos.

Jealousy.
Envy.
Racism.
The Ku Klux Klan.
A yellow journal.

A black shoeshine boy, Dick Rowland.
A white elevator girl, Sarah Page.
The downtown Drexel Building.

A mysterious ride.
The two emerge:
Sarah screaming;
Dick fleet of foot.

The Tulsa Tribune.
An inflammatory article:
Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in an Elevator.
A thinly veiled rape charge
That Sarah would ultimately recant.
An incitement to riot.

“There’s gonna be a lynching!”
The talk of the town.
Dick Rowland: that boy is going down.

The arrest of Dick Rowland.
His confinement in jail.

Sheriff McCullough makes a solemn vow:
Dick Roland will be protected.

A burgeoning white mob.
Thousands milling,
Menacing the courthouse lawn.

Black men set out to protect Dick Rowland.
Marching.
Trudging toward the courthouse.

White and black meet.
An exchange of shouts and curses.
A struggle.
Shots ring out.

Roving gangs loot pawnshops.
They seize caches of weapons.

The armed mob spills out over the Frisco tracks
And fans deep into Greenwood.

Looting.
Shooting.
Burning.
Terrorizing.

Hunting savages in “Little Africa.”
Wild Kingdom.

Local law enforcement deputizes mob members.
The mob prevents firemen from doing their job.

Minutes pass.
Hours pass.
Time moves ahead
Even as the clock of civilization turns decidedly backward.

Apocalypse now.
The National Guard intervenes.
Late.
Too late.
But better late than never.

Greenwood lay in ruin.
Black Wall Street crumbled.

Hundreds dead.
Thousands injured.
Black men in interment camps throughout the city.
Homeless everywhere.

The American Red Cross provides relief.
Tent cities emerge.
Life, for some, goes on.

No one in the white mob
Is ever held accountable.
No one.
Ever.

The city commission blamed the Negroes.
So did the grand jury.

They called it a “race riot.”
It still stands as America’s worst.

1921. May 31st and June 1st of 1921.
Not so long ago.

Greenwood rose from the ashes,
Despite the odds,
With little outside help,
Bigger, better, bolder.

Integration, urban renewal, the new economy:
Greenwood fell victim again.
And again she rose up.

Education, history, and culture.
The new Greenwood speaks to these.
Another incarnation;
Fresh promise and new possibilities.
The triumph of the human spirit.


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