Smithsonian Magazine: Decades After the Tulsa Race Massacre, Urban ‘Renewal’ Sparked Black Wall Street’s Second Destruction


What often gets erased in writing about the Tulsa Race Massacre is the 45 years of prosperity in Greenwood after the attack and the events that led to the neighborhood’s second destruction: The Federal-Aid Highway Acts of 1965 and 1968. As early as 1957, Tulsa’s Comprehensive Plan included creating a ring road (locally dubbed the Inner-Dispersal Loop, or IDL); a tangle of four highways encircling the downtown area. The north (I-244) and east (U.S. 75) sections of the IDL were designed to replace the dense, diverse, mixed-use, mixed-income, pedestrian, and transit-oriented Greenwood and Kendall-Whittier neighborhoods.

An article in the May 4, 1967, issue of the Tulsa Tribune announced, “The Crosstown Expressway slices across the 100 block of North Greenwood Avenue, across those very buildings that Edwin Lawrence Goodwin, Sr. (publisher of the Oklahoma Eagle) describes as ‘once a Mecca for the Negro businessman—a showplace.’ There still will be a Greenwood Avenue, but it will be a lonely, forgotten lane ducking under the shadows of a big overpass.”

Despite these protests, the construction of the IDL was completed in 1971. Mabel Little, whose family lost their home and businesses in the 1921 massacre, rebuilt and lost them both again in 1970. Little told the Tulsa Tribune in 1970, “You destroyed everything we had. I was here in it, and the people are suffering more now than they did then.”

What the city could not steal in 1921, it systematically paved over 50 years later. In an interview for They Came Searching, educator Jobie Holderness said, “Urban renewal not only took away our property, but something else more important—our black unity, our pride, our sense of achievement and history. We need to regain that. Our youth missed that and that is why they are lost today, that is why they are in ‘limbo’ now.”

Read the full article here.