Black Wall Street, former byname of the Greenwood neighbourhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where in the early 20th century African Americans had created a self-sufficient prosperous business district. The term Black Wall Street was used until the Tulsa race riot of 1921. The name has also been applied more generally to districts of African American high economic activity.
Historically, African Americans worked mainly as servants in Tulsa, where they developed their own insular society with its own economy. Black businesses clustered on the strip of land that would become Greenwood in 1905, when African Americans acquired the land. Businesses included a grocery store and a barbershop. Doctors and real estate agents opened their own businesses. The neighbourhood also had its own newspaper and schools.
Black Wall Street was thriving at the time of the Tulsa race riot of 1921. The riot, however, took a heavy financial toll on African Americans. Many homes and businesses were destroyed. Moreover, following the riot, residents of Greenwood met resistance to rebuild. Nonetheless, African American professionals and entrepreneurs slowly began to rebuild. Lawyers offered legal assistance to African Americans jailed in the riots and helped them sue the city for compensation. A massive reconstruction of the district was completed in 1922, only one year after the riot and without the help of the greater Tulsa community. Eighty businesses were opened by the end of 1922.
By the end of the 1950s, however, more than half of the businesses had closed. Desegregation allowed the entry of businesses owned by whites, while increasing numbers of African Americans in the community invested in entities outside Greenwood.
By 1961, 90 percent of African American income in Tulsa was spent outside of the Greenwood district.
The creation of the Greenwood Cultural Center, formed in the late 1970s, attracted tourism to the area. In addition to addressing African American culture and working on creating more harmonious race relations in the city, the cultural centre was charged with preserving Black Wall Street. It was also responsible for building the 1921 Black Wall Street Memorial in the name of the people who had died in the riot.
This article was most recently revised and updated by André Munro, Assistant Editor.
LEARN MORE in these related Britannica articles:
TulsaTulsa, city, Osage and Tulsa counties, seat (1907) of Tulsa county, northeastern Oklahoma, U.S., situated on the Arkansas River. It originated in 1836 as a settlement of Creek Indians who named it for their former town in Alabama. White settlement began after the arrival in 1882 of the St. Louis-San…
Tulsa race riot of 1921Tulsa race riot of 1921, race riot that began on May 31, 1921, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and was one of the most severe incidents of racial violence in U.S. history. Lasting for two days, the riot left somewhere between 30 and 300 people…