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GREENWOOD Dist.–The Black Wall Street Legacy Fest is set to host the Greenwood Quilt Memorial, an installation of 18 handmade quilts made by Oklahomans to commemorate the estimated 18,000 quilts lost during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. 

The installation will be hosted in the hallways of North Pointe, the building owned by the Terence Crutcher Foundation at the gateway of North and Downtown Tulsa. This will be the second event held in the building since its purchase- the first was a citizenship and resource fair hosted in partnership with the Cherokee Nation.

Greenwood commemorative quilt project. (Taylor West / The Black Wall Street Times)

These quilts have each been made by multiple individuals, each with their own unique contributions for remembrance of both the Massacre and the prosperity of Black Wall Street, which represents the purpose of the festival, to spread truth, inspire hope and extend tradition.

Remembering the African “Hellacaust”

One of the largest quilts, a Black Wall Street t-shirt quilt that refers to slavery, lynchings, Jim Crow and racism as the African “Hellacaust,” was made over a six-month period by “Mama” Joyce Williams, a Greenwood historian and social worker.

Greenwood Quilt Memorial. (Taylor West / The Black Wall Street Times)

“There’s been a pattern of the treatment of African people who live in the United States and on Greenwood. It’s a consistent pattern. So, when I was doing this quilt, I wanted to show that you have to know who you are,” Williams told The Black Wall Street Times.

From Marcus Garvey, to the “Black Hellacaust,” to the three living survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre (Mother Viola Ford Fletcher, Mother Lessie Benningfield Randle and Uncle Redd Hughes Van Ellis), the quilt creatively captures the vibrant spirit of a resilient people.

“The biggest part of this struggle today is not for money or land. It’s for your mind, for your memory,” Williams said. “There’s a mass effort to take away books, to take out history, to criminalize teaching, to completely eliminate you from history. To keep you from knowing who you are. Remembering is an active form of resistance.”

Reclaiming our collective memory through the Greenwood commemorative quilt installation

Katrina Ward, an OSU geography graduate, got the idea for the project a few years ago after coming across the book “Riot and Remembrance” by James S. Hirsch that described the quilts destroyed during the massacre. After writing a paper about it for school, Ward was encouraged to turn it into a project. After receiving a grant, she did just that.

“I think it’s really important to remember, and the city of Tulsa did a really good job covering up what happened,” Ward told The Black Wall Street Times. “I think this process is supposed to let people be involved in the act of remembrance.”

Greenwood Quilt Memorial (Taylor West / The Black Wall Street Times)

Nicole McAfee collaborated with Ward, local artists, and artists around the nation to create a “tangible memorial process” to engage people in the storytelling of the massacre and ongoing fight for reparations.

“I think that for a lot of folks, especially white folks in and around Tulsa and Oklahoma, while the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre was newsworthy, the advocacy and activism for people not directly impacted sort of stopped at that point,” McAfee said.

McAfee hopes the project reminds people of the quilts that were lost as businesses and homes were burned down in a city-sanctioned racial domestic terrorist attack that killed upwards of 300 Black men, women and children.

“I think this is a way for people to approach some of the physical loss that is relatable to a lot of people. I hope it brings folks into the space to look at all the quilts and to join the ongoing fight for reparations for survivors and descendants who have still not seen any sort of justice today,” McAfee said.

To learn more about the 2023 Black Wall Street Legacy Festival, visit their website.

Deon Osborne was born in Minneapolis, MN and raised in Lawton, OK before moving to Norman where he attended the University of Oklahoma. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Media and has...

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