“Time is an enormous, long river, and I’m standing in it, just as you’re standing in it. My elders are the tributaries, and everything they thought and every struggle they went through and everything they gave their lives to, and every song they created, and every poem that they laid down flows down to me—and if I take the time to ask, and if I take the time to see, and if I take the time to reach out, I can build that bridge between my world and theirs. I can reach down into that river and take out what I need to get through this world.”
The Victory of Greenwood
In the present day, we—the Tulsa community—ask ourselves: Why does North Tulsa look the way it does? Why have its people failed to prosper and build generational wealth? Why is there a 20-year life expectancy gap between residents of North Tulsa and South Tulsa? The answer we have arrived at, since the discovery of the events surrounding the Race Massacre in May of 1921, is that North Tulsa's neighborhoods were destroyed, and the area has simply failed to recover from that event.
However, this is a false narrative; one that comes from the perspective of the white community in Tulsa.
The Victory of Greenwood endeavors to tell the story of Greenwood from the perspective of the heroes and entrepreneurs who built Greenwood and then rebuilt it after its destruction. Historians have published many books and articles about the days surrounding the 1921 Race Massacre, but Tulsa knows very little about the founding of Greenwood. We know even less about Greenwood's reconstruction. Against all odds, the neighborhood was built again, better than before, and became known as “Black Wall Street”.
We are currently investigating and researching original sources to provide a series of historically accurate articles being published in partnership with The Tulsa Star. These articles tell the stories of individuals who were instrumental in the creation of Greenwood. The first series of articles will discuss the founding of Greenwood and its prominence—from the perspective of those who built it. In the second part of this series, we will discuss the rebuilding of Greenwood. The white narrative of Greenwood is that it was a prosperous area, a white mob came to destroy it, and North Tulsa has never recovered. A retelling of this chapter in our city’s history from a Greenwood-centric perspective discusses the resilience of a neighborhood who refused to give up but instead built it back better than it was before its destruction. This series of articles will include prominent figures in Greenwood’s history from the 1930s to the late 1960s. The final destination for these articles will be in the form of a book (hardback and E-Book) to be published in 2021 in partnership with All Souls Unitarian Church.
We have listened to our city’s conversation about the massacre and about Greenwood’s history and legacy for the past 20 years, and we believe that it is incomplete. This project, for us, is an attempt to tell the story of Greenwood’s triumphs, so that as a city we might learn from and be inspired by the people who rebuilt the neighborhood in spite of the tremendous challenges they faced.
John & Loula Williams and their son Bill (left), & B.C. Franklin, June 1921 (right)
Greenwood: 1920s (left), and 1940s (right)