In late May 1921, the thriving African American community of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, suffered one of the deadliest racial massacres in U.S. history. It was one in a series of actions of racist violence that convulsed the United States in towns and cities beginning with the period of Reconstruction in the late 19th century. In Tulsa, as in all of these massacres, white mobs destroyed Black communities, property, and lives. A century after the massacre, the people of Tulsa and the nation continue to struggle to reckon with its multiple legacies.
Communities of Freedom
For much of American history, land was a potent symbol of freedom and a foundation for the practice of self-determination. The Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma has a history that is rooted in the history of Black settlements and towns in 19th century Oklahoma and a wider geography of communities of freedom that stretch far and wide across the continent for hundreds of years.
In the 1830s the first African Americans came to the Oklahoma Territory with Native Americans along the Trail of Tears. Some were enslaved, and some were free. After Emancipation, they settled throughout the territory and founded several all-black towns.
Dubbed “Negro Wall Street,” Greenwood was one of the most prominent and prosperous African American communities in the United States with churches, schools and community organizations as well as hundreds of Black businesses by 1921. Virtually all of Greenwood was destroyed in the massacre.