Little Africa: Historical Lesson From the “Black Wall Street”

Black Wall Street
The Black Wall Street

African history month is dedicated to the Motherland and Diaspora’s history, and every month has a different theme, and ” Little Africa ” will represent June in 2012.

“Little Africa” was the name; Whites gave to the prosperous African-American Greenwood community in Tulsa, Oklahoma, later became known as “Black Wall Street.” One of the most successful and wealthiest African-American communities in the United States during the early 20th Century, it was popularly known as America’s ” Black Wall Street ” until the Tulsa Race Riot in 1921. Unfortunately, the riot completely destroyed the once thriving Greenwood community on June 1st of that year.

Many African Americans moved to Oklahoma in the years before and after 1907, which is the year Oklahoma became a state. Oklahoma represented change and provided a chance for African-Americans to get away from slavery and the harsh treatment of racism. Most of them traveled from other states in the south where racism was very prevalent, and Oklahoma offered hope and provided all people with a chance to start over. They traveled to Oklahoma by wagons, horses, trains, and even on foot.

A lot of settlers were relatives of African American slaves who had traveled on foot with the Five Civilized Tribes along the Trail of Tears. Others were the descendants of runaway slaves who had fled to Indian Territory in an effort to escape lives of oppression. And also, the 13th Amendment freed the former slaves in 1865.

When Tulsa became a booming and rather well noted town in the United States, that was the era of segregation and discrimination. Naturally, Tulsa became two separate cities rather than one city of united communities. The White residents referred to the area north of the Frisco railroad tracks as “Little Africa.” This community later acquired the name Greenwood and by 1921. It was home to about 10,000 African-American men, women, and children.

Since African-Americans could neither live among Whites as equals nor patronize White businesses in Tulsa, African-Americans had to develop a completely separate business district and community, which soon became prosperous and legendary. African-American dollars invested in their own communities also produced self-pride, self-sufficiency, and self-determination.

The business district, beginning at the intersection of Greenwood Avenue and Archer Street, became so successful and vibrant that Booker T. Washington during his visit bestowed the moniker: “Negro Wall Street”, today we recognize it as “Black Wall Street”. By 1921, Tulsa’s African-American population of 10,000 had its own bus line, two high schools, one hospital, two newspapers, two theaters, three-drug stores, four hotels, a public library, and thirteen churches.

In addition, there were over 150 two and three story brick commercial buildings that housed clothing and grocery stores, cafes, rooming houses, nightclubs, and a large number of professional offices including doctors, lawyers, and dentists. Tulsa’s progressive African American community boasted some of the city’s most elegant brick homes, well furnished with china, fine linens, beautiful furniture, and grand pianos.

Well known African American personalities often visited the Greenwood district, including: educators Mary McCloud Bethune and W.E.B. DuBois, scientist George Washington Carver, opera singer Marian Anderson, blues singer Dinah Washington, and noted Chicago chemist Percy Julian. In addition, a chapter of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association was located there.

Greenwood was centered on a street known as Greenwood Avenue. This street was important because it ran north for over a mile from the Frisco Railroad yards, and it was one of the few streets that did not cross through both Black and White neighborhoods. The citizens of Greenwood took pride in this fact because it was something they had all to themselves and did not have to share with the White community of Tulsa.

It was home to the African-American commercial district with many red-brick buildings. These buildings belonged to African-Americans representing successful businesses, including grocery stores, clothing stores, barbershops, and much more. Tulsa reflected racism and was not one city but two. Practically, in the shadow of downtown, there sat a community that was no less remarkable than Tulsa itself. Some Whites disparagingly referred to it as “Little Africa”.

Regretfully, on June 1, 1921, Black Wall Street was systematically destroyed in one of the worse race riot in American history. After a series of nitroglycerin home made bombs thrown from private planes and followed with house-to-house assault. The White mobs would painstaking select anything of value for themselves, then burn and kill anyone in sight. What’s more egregious was newspapers and later microfiche records were systematically destroyed in an effort, denying the riot ever happen.

In the 1900s, any association with Africa, was the ultimate derogatory insult. Consider, the original phrase, ” Negro Wall Street , ” was authored by Booker T. Washington. ” Today, using ” Little Africa, ” would be appropriate to give homage to the great economic achievements that represented shining examples of self-pride, self-sufficiency, and self-determination. not only, for African-Americans but Africans around the world. Ultimately, addressing Greenwood, Tulsa, Oklahoma accomplishments as “Little Africa” is appropriate.

Historian John Henry Clarke quote

Black tells you how you look without telling you who you are. A more proper word for our people, African, relates us to land, history and culture.

Consider the Diaspora history and African history are always told separately but should be told together. In this mindset, it’s necessary to rewind time into the 1900s. In Africa, this was a few years after the Ethiopians defeated the Italians at Adowa in 1896. Making it the only African country to enter the 20th century with their sovereignty and cultural purity. Unfortunately, on the motherland, colonialism was in full bloom.

Additionally, African’s land and its raw resources were being systematically exploited by the various European powers. Hence, there were no opportunities for economic development. The Africans in Latin America, conditions were equally as bad.

Little Africa is a stellar example of African-Americans from all walks of life rallying together for a single purpose of economic survival. Just think and consider that era in time. On both sides of the Atlantic, whether victims of the Diaspora or Africans on the motherland, the condition was the same. They were laden with discrimination, segregation and disproportionate shares of police brutality. Nevertheless, these distinguish Africans despite the hard ship, build an economic community representing “Little Africa”.

Although, it was considerable time ago, we still must pay homage to its memory. Appropriately, we must crown it ” Little Africa ” and since copying is the biggest form of flattery. In that same frame work, it would be worthy to creation multiple Little Africa’s in the Diaspora’s cultures and also, on the motherland.

By: Sabamya Jaugu

African Manifesto