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GREENWOOD Dist.–The site of the broken down Moton hospital, which once served victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, is being restored and remodeled as a business resource and incubator hub. When it opens, it will serve a new generation of Black entrepreneurs.
On August 2, marking the beginning of National Black Business Month, Tulsa Economic Development Corporation (TEDC) held a demolition ceremony to begin dismantling the 1970s addition to historic Moton hospital, located at 660 E. Pine St.
It marks the beginning of the site’s transformation from a dilapidated structure to a central headquarters for Black business owners in North Tulsa.
Thanks to a partnership between Partner Tulsa, the city of Tulsa and TEDC, Greenwood Entrepreneurship at Moton (GEM) will support the resurgence of Black-owned businesses in a community home to the original Black Wall Street.
The 9,500 square foot space will offer support services, 30 workspaces, a 40-person meeting space, conference rooms, a lounge, kitchen, breakroom and storage. An entrepreneur seeking to occupy a space must either have completed a cohort program through TEDC or have an approved business plan actively being launched, according to Rose Washington, VP and CEO of TEDC.
“Those enrolled in a TEDC cohort program will have the ability to cowork at GEM at no cost,” Washington told The Black Wall Street Times.
KKT Architects and Nabholz Construction Corporation have joined the project, helping to restore original architectural elements. Greenwood Entrepreneurship at Moton is expected to open in late 2024.
The legacy of Moton hospital
For many who grew up in Greenwood and North Tulsa, Moton hospital isn’t just a building. It’s engrained in the historical culture of the community.
First erected as the Maurice Williams Hospital after the Tulsa Race Massacre, it was the only place victims of the white domestic terror attack could go without being turned away. It was too late for famous Black Wall Street surgeon Dr. A.C. Jackson, who was shot by a member of the white mob at point-blank range with his hands up. Yet the hospital saved countless other lives in Greenwood.
A decade later, the structure was rebuilt and named after Robert Russa Moton, a former president of the Tuskegee Institute, along with Dr. W.A. Morton, a doctor at the health center. Thanks to a city of Tulsa initiative, the Vision 2025 program, the clinic relocated to a new building in 2006.
Now, the site is once again being remodeled to serve as an entrepreneurial hub for the next generation of Black business owners. Combined, the city and county have invested $5 million to take the project from an idea to reality.
“It means creating physical spaces where Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs can access the resources and mentorship they need to launch and grow their own businesses, and ensuring these businesses can access capital through targeted loan funds,” PartnerTulsa Executive Director Kian Kamas told The Black Wall Street Times.
Overcoming historical barriers to rebuild Black entrepreneurship
It’s been a century-long journey toward self-determination for the enterprising residents of Greenwood and North Tulsa.
For decades even after the Massacre, a combination of city, state and national governments wielded their power to deprive Black residents of their full potential.
The city police deputized thousands of white men to capture or kill the Black residents of Greenwood during the two days of terror between May 31 and June 1, 1921, according to the Tulsa Historical Society.
The state sent in the Oklahoma National Guard, which rounded up Black survivors and detained them in internment camps for days while white residents looted the valuables from any homes that remained standing.
Beginning in the 1930s, the federal government allowed the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation to redline communities of color, devaluing their neighborhoods. Redlining refers to a racist practice in which U.S. banks would deny loans, insurance and other services to communities with heavily Black populations.
The entirety of Greenwood and much of North Tulsa was redlined, along with Black communities across the nation. Not only did this impact the financial health of these communities, it impacted the physical health of Black residents as well.
Black adults who live in zip codes that were formerly redlined by the U.S. banks are 8% more likely to develop heart failure than Black Americans in non-redlined areas, according to a study published this year in the American Heart Association’s scientific journal Circulation.
Additionally, urban renewal in the 1960s led to a highway bulldozing through the literal heart of Black Wall Street. These decades-long government-sanctioned policies and practices led to Tulsa’s stark racial disparities in business ownership today.
Formed just over two years ago, PartnerTulsa seeks to reverse the damage done to the city’s Black community by facilitating economic development.
The organization hasn’t always enjoyed the trust of some residents. Yet its partnership with TEDC, the city and the county to establish Greenwood Entrepreneurship at Moton signifies an authentic desire to reshape the future of Tulsa’s Black business ecosystem in a positive way.
“Our ultimate hope is that the work that happens at GEM builds a strong pipeline of successful Black-owned businesses that will become the tenants and owners in any future development that occurs in the Kirkpatrick Heights-Greenwood neighborhood, or in commercial corridors like 36th Street North and Peoria as efforts with Envision Comanche play out over the next several years,” Kamas said.
According to TEDC CEO Rose Washington, the new business resource and incubator hub expects to open near the end of 2024, though construction and cleanup issues on the site may cause delays.
Nevertheless, as more Black-owned business move to a community that some have renamed Black Tech Street, the upcoming Greenwood Entrepreneurship at Moton will offer a ladder for more Black business owners to climb.