Listen to this article here
It’s been a long time coming, the second oldest African American Chamber of Commerce in the United States announced that they will be listed in the National Register of Historic Places “at the local level of significance for commerce and ethnic heritage” according to their press release.
The Greenwood Chamber is made up of many different shops, restaurants, offices and other Black-owned and operated enterprises. The location is a historical mark in the 40 block area of Greenwood, Oklahoma which was burned to ash during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
They have been pursuing this recognition since 1980.
The only remaining bricks from the original buildings of Black Wall Street were used to help rebuild after the flames of White hate and jealousy spread. You can still see charred bricks on the west side of the T-shirt shop that makes a white patch in the wall.
The Greenwood Chamber received a grant to be modernized last year and used it to replace roofs on the 10 buildings and finance reconstruction of the exteriors. Now that they are on the registry, President of the Chamber Dr. Culver Freeman plans to spend any future grants or funds donated to investing in more refurbishing and new cooling towers for the AC. This is crucial considering the chamber’s busiest season is in the summer during the massacre’s Centennial and the Juneteenth Festival.
The Greenwood Chamber of Commerce is the third location in Greenwood to be recognized on the National Registry, however it is far from the last that deserves national recognition. District 4 City Councilperson Kara Joy McKee attended the press conference in support of the Chamber. The row of buildings are located in her district.
Expanding with a new Speakeasy
“I’m really glad that this is here and I wonder if the defined area will be able to be expanded as we do more of the archaeological surveys,” Councilwoman McKee said.
“Dr. Alicia Odewale with the the team of archaeologists that’s been doing the grave search was out doing an Archeological Survey of standpipe hill and there are further investigations excavations not just grave sites but of other evidence that you can find in the soil that could really give more evidence that can be utilized to help restore the boundaries of Greenwood,” McKee added.
The Greenwood Chamber of Commerce is doing some expanding within their own buildings. New Way Counseling Co-founder and Director Devin Williams spoke at the Chamber’s announcement press conference about building a future speakeasy that will bring nightlife to Greenwood. The restaurant will have a bar and area for talent to showcase their performances. It will open in Fall of 2021 according to Williams, and it will be the only building on Black Wall Street that will be open after dark as of now. The renderings were released on Juneteenth.
Setting new goals
“DW Speakeasy is going to be a true speakeasy because we got the historical destination, set in the 1920s,” Williams said.
“During prohibition there had to be illegal bars because people still wanted to come and drink Moonshine. A lot of times people would go to Black-owned businesses and you would walk through a restaurant essentially, and then behind a closed door or behind a bookshelf there was a bar where people drank.” Williams said explaining the origins of a Speakeasy.
Dr. Freeman went into detail about the goals the Chamber has for Greenwood. They want to bring new affordable housing to Greenwood.
Greenwood 2031 plan
“We have a Greenwood 2031 plan,” Dr. Freeman said. “We want to increase African American homeownership by 31%, by 2031. That’s gonna happen, but we have to advocate for that.”
There are many different levels of membership if you would like to get involved with the Greenwood Chamber. There is the Friends of Greenwood level, which gives you a free tour, free access to all exhibits and event newsletter subscription. as well as other levels geared toward corporations, nonprofits and churches.