Greenwood Avenue, Tulsa, Oklahoma
There is much to be said about our nation’s African-American promised land. Its narrative will unequivocally exist forever as the most exceptional account of Black achievement in the 20th century.
Black Wall Street is a non-fiction tale, kept from the history books for fall too long.
The horror of its destruction in 1921 too frequently creates a disheartening narrative that clouds the beauty and strength of the many people who built it, rebuilt it, and whose hands may have very well experienced the forced labor on a cotton or sugar cane plantation before emancipation.
Henceforth, only mighty and resilient hands could turn centuries of pain into a black human gold rush. At this time in American history, Oklahoma was for the negros, and Greenwood was a mecca for black entrepreneurship.
The Founding of Greenwood
In 1906, just before statehood, O.W. Gurley, the son of enslaved parents, purchased 40 acres of land in the Oklahoma Territory. His property lines began at the Frisco Railroad tracks and extended several blocks north to Pine Street, and east from Lansing Avenue westward to Cincinnati Avenue — which is now Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.
Little did Gurley know that his first business, a rooming house near the Frisco Railroad tracks, would be a seed that would blossom into one of the most prosperous communities for people of African descent in the western world.
The area became known as Greenwood. It was the Wakanda of the west. A self-sufficient community that stood on its own merits. Gurley named his newly found district and its first street road Greenwood, after a Mississippi town.
Upon the completion of the rooming house, Gurley built three two-story edifices and five residential homes to service or be sold to blacks and founded the first community church, the Historic Vernon AME Church, which still stands today.
In addition, Gurly purchased 80-acres of land in Rogers County, which would serve as farmland for his growing Black town.
These determined Black Americans, who settled in Greenwood to help Gurley build their promised land, were hard-working people, some of who experienced the fall of institutional chattel slavery and others the descendants of the enslaved.
Two generations after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation breathe a small city called Greenwood that comprised of black migrants who fleed the racial terror and fallout in the American south after the nation’s Civil War.
The Black Excellence of Greenwood