Social media posts ignited a firestorm Wednesday when two emails from the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce were made public.
An email from chairman Freeman Culver sent March 17th asked that permits closing the street for the centennial and Juneteenth celebration be denied.
“Do not shut down the roads in May 2021 or June 2021 for no event,” Dr. Culver said in the email.
He went on to request that no one “grant a special permit allowing any group to shut down our area. Do not allow a stage, do not allow vendors, do not allow anything in our area for May 2021 or June 2021.” Culver sent the email to two City of Tulsa employees.
Events like the Juneteenth celebration and the annual commemorations of the 1921 massacre have taken place on Greenwood Ave. for decades. The knock at tradition upset many Tulsans who took to Facebook to vent their frustrations. Some also voiced confusion at Dr. Culver’s statement insinuating that the Chamber owned the roadway.
“The Greenwood Chamber of Commerce, Inc is the sole property owner for this area and we do not want anything permitted in our space,” the email stated. The Chamber, however, does not own the streets or sidewalks. Those belong to the city.
A Second Email
The Chamber then sent a second, more erratic email to the Sheriff, the Tulsa Police Chief, the mayor and seven other city officials on March 19th. The Chamber again asked city officials to deny any street permits on the block for events in May and June.
The March 19th email stated, without specific evidence, “agitators are planning something very horrible” for the May and June events. “You have been officially warned!” the message exclaimed.
The email contained links to private Facebook accounts of three community members with the urging “do something before it’s too late.” Each of the links were reviewed by The Black Wall Street Times. No concerning content was immediately apparent.
The Times also found nothing to suggest that any city officials plan to deny the street use permits for either the centennial or Juneteenth events.
The Chamber Responds
The Black Wall Street Times reached out to Dr. Freeman Culver. We asked him to clarify if the Chamber owned the street and respond to public concern about denying street permits. We received a press release which placed the blame for his request on city officials. The statement read in part:
“The Greenwood Chamber of Commerce, Inc. supports all African American Cultural Heritage events in the Greenwood District. Still, the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce, Inc. board members, staff, and business owners have received numerous threats leading to the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial.”
The statement went on to assert that a reason for requesting a permit denial was due to inadequate city maintenance.
“In addition, The Greenwood Chamber of Commerce, Inc. wants the City of Tulsa to repair the public sidewalks in the historic area,” the statement read.
The Chamber claimed they have asked the city on multiple occasions to improve lighting and sidewalk conditions, to no avail.
“For more than a year, The Greenwood Chamber of Commerce, Inc. has been reaching out to the City of Tulsa for assistance with these issues,” the Chamber stated. “The City of Tulsa is obligated to maintain public safety, repair public sidewalks, and provide adequate street lighting.”
Neither email to city leaders obtained by the Times mentioned concerns about sidewalks or street lighting. The Chamber claimed public scrutiny was their reason for asking the permits be denied in the email sent on March 19th.
The Summer Ahead
The statement provided to the Times citing unresolved maintenance issues conflicts with the emails made public Wednesday. In the March 17th email, Culver asked officials “please do not try to make us compromise this or work any type of agreement with other groups.”
Several groups have worked together to host community events like Juneteenth in recent years. The Black Wall Street Chamber, the Crutcher Foundation and the Guthrie Green all jointly hosted last year’s event. This year’s centennial commemoration in May will also likely include many organizations from across the city and state.
This Summer will be one of the busiest seasons for the district in more than a generation. The block of Greenwood Avenue between Archer and 244 is a powerful and central piece of Tulsa’s history.
For many, the Chamber’s push to deny access to this sacred space would do more than just cut against tradition. They believe it would dishonor the legacy of Greenwood and those who built it in the first place.
Click here to read the emails referenced in this article. For confidentiality purposes, some names and contact information have been redacted.