NEH: The 1921 Tulsa Massacre: What Happened to Black Wall Street


As city streets throbbed with protests (and what some might call uprisings) during the summer of 2020, two science fiction dramas recalled the massacre of Tulsa, Oklahoma, which took place 100 years ago this spring. Watchmen and Lovecraft Country, both on HBO, filled television screens with imagery of Tulsa’s Black neighborhood of Greenwood—Booker T. Washington nicknamed it Negro Wall Street, which morphed into Black Wall Street—as it was shot up, torched, and bombed from the air by white vigilantes. Viewers wondered if the events depicted were more fiction than science. Social media was abuzz with people trying to find out more about Tulsa. Among African Americans, however, the memory had not completely faded.

Even before Watchmen (which premiered in fall 2019) and Lovecraft Country (fall 2020), Black social media and public lectures promoted the hashtag #BlackWallStreet. In the fall, rapper, activist, and entrepreneur Killer Mike, who extols the values of Black self-determination and independent institution-building, cofounded a Black and Latinx digital bank called Greenwood.

The name Greenwood still evokes the possibilities and history of Black entrepreneurship, but talk of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre reminds the world of the centuries-long struggle of Black people against white mob violence and its greenlighting from white authorities.

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