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GREENWOOD Dist.–Historic Greenwood District Main Street has purchased B.S. Roberts Park, making it the first Black-owned property in Greenwood since the end of urban renewal over 50 years ago.

The organization is dedicated to preserving cultural heritage and promoting economic development in the district. Historic Greenwood District Main Street announced the decision at a press conference at the park Saturday afternoon, which included food, games and music.

“We are thrilled to announce the acquisition of B.S Roberts Park,” Bill White, Executive
Director of the Historic Greenwood District Main Street, said in a press release shared with The Black Wall Street Times.

“This park is a vital part of the Greenwood District’s history, and we are committed to preserving it for future generations. We believe that this acquisition will help to revitalize the Greenwood District and create a brighter future for our community.”

Members of Historic Greenwood District Main Street pose for a photo after announcing the purchase of B.S. Roberts Park on Saturday, July 22, 2023. (Photo courtesy of World Won Development)

Greenwood leaders propel economic justice after Tulsa judge dismisses reparations lawsuit

News of B.S. Roberts Park becoming the first Black-owned property in Greenwood in decades comes after a stinging setback for the once-wealthiest Black and Muscogee (Creek) Freedmen community in the nation.

Earlier this month Tulsa County judge dealt a severe hurdle to efforts at restitution and reparation for the survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre when she dismissed their case with prejudice.

“Mother” Viola Ford Fletcher, 109, “Mother” Lessie Benningfield Randle, 108, and “Uncle” Hughes Van Ellis, 102, all survived a city-sanctioned White mob numbering in the thousands on May 31-June 1, 1921. The racist lynch mob burned, bombed, looted and destroyed hundreds of businesses, over 1,200 homes, and upwards of 300 Black men, women and children, according to the Tulsa Historical Society.

With their attorney vowing to appeal the ruling by Tulsa County District Judge Caroline Wall, the survivors continue to seek justice in a case that has widespread ramifications for Black communities across the nation.

Tulsa Race Massacre survivors Hughes Van Ellis, 102, Viola Ford Fletcher, 109, and Lessie Benningfield Randle, 108, outside the courtroom of Judge Caroline Wall at the Tulsa County Courthouse on May 10, 2023. | Courtesy of Nehemiah D. Frank

Meanwhile, the purchase of B.S. Roberts Park in the heart of Greenwood symbolizes the community’s resilient determination to reclaim what was stolen.

Its current status as the only Black-owned property in Greenwood symbolizes the effects that urban renewal had on the community. Like historically Black communities across the nation, redlining wasn’t enough for powerful politicians seeking to modernize their cities at the expense of Black residents.

Urban renewal led to “urban removal”

Excited to get ahead of the pack, Tulsa was the first city in Oklahoma to establish an urban renewal authority, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society. The 91-acre urban renewal project concluded in 1968.

As part of the project, city officials cleared communities they considered “blighted,” including much of Historic Greenwood District, which had already been classified as undesirable by federal government workers who redlined the community in the 1930s.

Among the three former mayors that current Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum calls relatives, it was his grandfather Mayor Robert LaFortune, for which a popular park is named after, who oversaw the funds secured to construct a stretch of the I-244 freeway that literally cut Greenwood in half.

While most people assume the 1921 Massacre led to the destruction of Greenwood, the community rebuilt bigger for decades to come. It was the effects of urban renewal in the 1960s that led to what some historians consider Greenwood’s “second destruction.”

A few short years after the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, Greenwood’s homes and businesses came back. This photograph shows a parade held in the Oklahoma neighborhood during the 1930s or ’40s. Photo by Greenwood Cultural Center / Getty Images

B.S. Roberts Park to receive upgrades

For the Historic Greenwood District Main Street organization, buying back the block starts with B.S. Roberts Park.

“The land that we are standing on is sacred because the blood of Africans living in America in 1921 was shed, homes and businesses were looted and burned to the ground by a racist White mob and supported by racist local and state officials,” District 1 City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper told FOX23.

“So, we honor those who lost their lives, their homes, their businesses, the generational wealth that the Greenwood community cannot appreciate like that of our White affluent communities who were not massacred,” Hall-Harper said.

According to the new owners, the park will undergo renovations to preserve its historic character while also modernizing its amenities and making it more accessible to local residents and visitors.

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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