Education

Tulsa’s black schools unequal to white schools 51-years after integration

Report card sample of a majority black school in north Tulsa.

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Report card sample of majority white school in south Tulsa.

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I thoroughly dislike pointing out racial disparities; however, to save my community and the future of Black Wall Street, we must address the academic racial disparities in Tulsa’s public school systems. We have to address the issues, even if it means engaging in hard conversations about race.

“Knowledge makes a man unfit to be a slave.” Frederick Douglas


Published 03/10/2019

ANALYSIS | By Nehemiah D. Frank

An apocalyptic future awaits America’s Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma that will ultimately decimate the descendants of this once seemingly-viewed promised land for Blacks escaping racial hostility in the American south.

In this city, schools with a large African-American student-population are failing some 51-years after the U.S. Justice Department filed suit against Tulsa Public Schools (TPS) to force a plan for desegregation.

Upon this forced governmental policy on this twin city, African-American students were isolated from their prosperous community that already produced successful schools in the Greenwood District, dubbed the Negro Wall Street of America by Booker T. Washington. They were forced to attend unfriendly, and at times, hostile learning environments at white schools.


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Mrs. Pinkston enrolls second-and third-graders in the newly integrated classes at a Springer elementary school on Aug. 29, 1958. Springer is in Carter County north of Ardmore. Getting ready to receive supplies are (from left) Linda Smith, 8; Karita Ellis, 8; Eva Lois Wilson, 7, and Donald James Herndon, 7. 


For these African-American students, it was a cultural shock on steroids, having been forcibly introduced to teachers who more than likely harbored concrete racial biases towards them.

The students who were bussed to predominantly white schools faced racial discrimination from both students and staff.

Those with means, mainly white Tulsans, opted-out of TPS and fluttered to the nearby suburbs. This school district experienced the most significant decrease in its white student population between 1968-1981. The thought of ‘negros’ attending ‘their’ white schools undoubtedly horrified and disgusted many white Tulsans.

Notably, 47-years before TPS’s federally forced integration that would change the playing field for the continual African-American success on Black Wall Street perpetually — the city experienced the worst massacre of African-American lives in American history; it was the first time citizens accused their government of strategically orchestrating the desecration of their black community.

The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre destroyed the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma, leveling the nearly self-sufficient Black mecca in less than 48 hours. White Tulsans senselessly murdered over 300 African-American Black Wall Street inhabitants — shooting, stomping, beating, and lynching their black neighbors. The ‘unofficial’ townships’ two libraries destroyed along with schools, hospitals, churches, homes, and businesses.


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Image of child carrying an unknown victim during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.


White Tulsans despised the evidence and idea of African-American intellectualism and economic success being in such proximity to them; after all, in 1907 the sons and daughters of the Confederacy established white supremacy in Oklahoma as the law of the land.

They, therefore, built anti-black laws into their governmental policies and institutions. The police and sheriff departments, commerce, and school districts were contaminated by racism from their conception.

Racism and the stability of white supremacy is built into the DNA of its institutions; this is why African-Americans in Tulsa rarely get justice from in the courts and haven’t seen equity practiced in its schools.

Henceforth, Oklahoma’s institutions were not constructed for African-Americans to be protected nor prosperous.

Wealthy Klan members actively participated in the state and local politics.

Subsequently to the sunset of Jim Crow, redlining and de jure segregation were common practices in Tulsa’s institutions.

White educators disinterested in teaching their African-American students, once TPS schools were ‘integrated’, intellectually injured their black students because they didn’t teach them with the same passion as they taught their white students.

This idea of sociological, pedagogical segregation in diverse classrooms would be difficult to prove in federal court without sufficient evidence.

Thus, a generation of miseducating Black Wall Street ‘negroes’ oppressively ushered in an era of un-intellectualism and academic stagnation of African-American Tulsans.

This tactic of white supremacy is reigning in the ultimate destruction of Black Wall Street because it cripples the ability for the community to reproduce its next generations of teachers, doctors, policemen and policewoman, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and etcetera.

Today, African-American inhabitants continue to deal with the fallout of white supremacy’s stain.

Black Tulsans and Oklahomans disproportionately swell the state’s public and private prisons, and the school-to-prison pipeline philosophy couldn’t be more apparent in this state when the Oklahoma Department of Education releases a report that factually shows little to no academic growth in its schools that services majority African-American student bodies.

Frederick Douglass once eloquently proclaimed that “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” Public schools may be graduating African-American seniors in the city at higher rates than previous years, and pre-K enrollment may be up, but a higher graduation rate is meaningless if African-American students are exploitatively passed through the system just to check a box. If they aren’t college ready, then they aren’t competitive enough to rebuild their community.

We can collapse schools together to create bigger ones. We can close schools to save money. But none of that matters if black students in Tulsa can’t compete academically against the white students on the other side of town.

The insidiousness of dismantling the status quo of white supremacy’s anti-black agenda in Tulsa and across Oklahoma is the civil rights issue that we must address immediately.

My thought-provoking question for everyone who reads this analysis: Is the slow death of Black Wall Street as it relates to black economic and intellectual success in Oklahoma intentionally?


Schools in Tulsa with a majority black student population are failing and aren’t growing academically at the same rates as majority white schools in the city. 

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These abysmal scores aren’t to discredit the hardworking teachers in many of these classrooms nor is my observation aiming to discredit the job of the districts superintendent and the current administration.

My criticism aims to highlight the systemic residue of how white supremacy continues to negatively impact black Tulsa students.

My criticism aims to point out that the current education system isn’t designed to make black children equally competitive to white students attending majority white schools.

Our schools are the future, and black Tulsan’s will continue to believe the system is rigged against them unless Tulsa gets intentional and makes the necessary changes to increase academic outcomes and growth for black Tulsa students. 

It’s unconscionable to have academic and growth gaps this significant in 2019 for black children.

This outcome shows that there has been no reconciliation and that the idea of OneTULSA is superficial. 

What further research is needed to correct this injustice? 

Unlike many African-American schools across the United States during the Jim Crow error, which often times lacked the resources to make those students successful,  schools in the wealthy Greenwood district produced excellence.

Furthermore, the benefit of being led by Black teachers and Black school administrators, who had full autonomy over their school’s curriculum, made the transition and reproduction of Black Wall Street possible. Hence, they lost their Black autonomy once the schools were integrated. Consequently, hundreds of Black teachers in the city lost their jobs. 

It’s important to point out that the only majority Black schools that are performing equal to the majority white schools in the city are the two public charter schools listed above, this is why I am such an advocate for school choice despite what teacher unions and uneducated people say about free public charter schools. What I do know is that free public charter schools in Tulsa are more of a benefit to Black students in Tulsa than the public schools.

Schools in Tulsa with a majority White student population are on par with the state’s average or are performing better.

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There is a vast difference between the city’s majority black schools and majority white schools. 

This analysis only shows a sample of the disparities between majority black and white elementary schools in the city of Tulsa. The middle and high school differences are equal heartbreaking. 

I don’t considered the city’s magnet schools part of the general student population because they only pull students with the best test scores. 

I will add that Kipp Tulsa a charter school in North Tulsa with a majority black student population still out performed the public schools by a significant proportion. 

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You can research the middle and high schools by clicking the links below. To review more information on Oklahoma schools report cards click here.


Nehemiah FrankNehemiah D. Frank is the founder and executive editor of The Black Wall Street Times. He graduated from Harold Washington College in Chicago, IL, and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Oklahoma State University. A rising voice in America and an emerging leader in the education reform movement, Nehemiah frequently travels for speaking engagements around the country, is a blogger for Education Post, and has been featured on NBC as well as in Blavity and Tulsa People. Nehemiah is also a teacher at Sankofa School of the Performing Arts in Tulsa, OK, a 2017 Terence Crutcher Foundation honoree, a recipient of the 2017 METCares Foundation Community Impact Award, and a 2018 Oluko Fellow. He gave a TED Talk at The University of Tulsa in the spring of 2018. 

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Categories: Education