From: Charles R Spinner <>
Newsgroups: soc.culture.zimbabwe,soc.culture.african.american,soc.culture.african
Subject: BHM Flashback: Little Africa That Was
Date: Fri, 28 Feb 2003 17:54:25 -0800
Message-ID: <>

Black Wallstreet: Riot Destroys America’s Most Affluent Black Community

By Michelle N. Jackson, [28 February 2003]

Black Wallstreet, a thriving 36-block black business district in Tulsa, Oklahoma, housed over 600 black owned and operated businesses at the turn of the century.

This self-sufficient community, often called Little Africa, consisted of hundreds of Black businesses functioning on local, national, and international levels. Little Africa embodied over 21 churches, 21 restaurants, 30 grocery stores, two movie theaters, libraries, schools, pawn shops, law offices, jewelry stores, a hospital, bank, post office, bus system, and six private airplanes.

On Black Wallstreet, the dollar circulated 36 to 100 times, sometimes taking a whole year to leave the business district in North Tulsa. Most of the trading was done hand-to-hand contributing to the wealth and intimacy of the community. Jim Crow, laws enforcing the Supreme Court decision of Plessy v. Ferguson’s (1896) separate but equal statutes, also contributed to the success of Black Wallstreet because members of the black community were dependent upon the products and services of black businesses.

Little Africa had approximately 15,000 citizens, some of whom came to Oklahoma by way of the torturous Trail of Tears; and others who migrated from the South. Once black people settled in Oklahoma, they established over 28 townships. Many also acquired the promised 40 acres and a mule through marriage to Native Americans. Many blacks discovered oil on their newly acquired land-a discovery that ultimately contributed to the wealth of the community.

Black Tulsa continued to thrive until the night of May 31st. That night, airplanes distributing nitroglycerin bombed the affluent community, and an angry white mob began the destruction of Little Africa.

The mobs burned and looted houses and businesses, and killed hundreds of innocent blacks. When the morning of June 1, 1921 came, virtually all of Black Wallstreet had been destroyed. The bombing of Greenwood, the once concentrated site of many black businesses looked very much like a war site. The district was a smoldering memory of prosperity.

Over 3,000 Black people were killed, buried in mass graves or thrown into the river; 503 houses were destroyed, and the once self-sufficient black business district no longer existed. Many families seeking refuge bought one-way tickets out-of-town, leaving behind remnants of their history, their homes, and their community wealth.

While the Tulsa Riot of 1921 devastated the community, blacks, however, did not stand idly by and watch their community be demolished by the white mob. Members of Little Africa knew their affluent community was envied by whites on the other side of town. They knew the time would come when whites would act on their impulse. So, they armed themselves with guns, and stored ammunition in a nearby church. They defended themselves, killing several whites during the riots.

Whites justified the insurrection because of a black man name Dick Rowland’s, alleged attack against a white elevator girl. He was charged with assault . As a direct result of a letter sent to the county attorney from the elevator girl stating that she did not wish to prosecute the case, charges against Rowland were dismissed months after the race riots.

A former police officer, Van B. Hurley, gave a 31-page confession naming city officials who met downtown to plann the air attack on Little Africa. The notorious Ku Klux Klan was said to be behind the entire conspiracy.

The total value of the losses incurred as a result of the 1921 riot were estimated approximately $1,500, 000 to $2,000,000.