Revitalizing Tulsa’s Historic Greenwood District

Greenwood is a neighborhood in north Tulsa, Oklahoma. In the early twentieth century, it was referred to as the “Black Wall Street” of America because of its successful African American business district. This nickname was a reference to the prosperous Wall Street financial district in New York City. In 1921 and again in the early 1970s, the Greenwood community was destroyed. Today, a new generation of African Americans is focusing on rebuilding Greenwood and its business district. 

Photo of the destruction of homes and businesses in the Greenwood District, an African-American community in Tulsa Oklahoma, after the Tulsa Massacre race riots June 1st, 1921, Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The Greenwood District in Tulsa after the riot in 1921.

Greenwood Is Destroyed—Twice 

In 1921, a mob of white rioters looted and burned Greenwood. Almost 300 African Americans were killed in the massacre. The business district was set on fire, and more than 1,200 homes burned to the ground. About 36 city blocks of Greenwood—including schools, churches, and a hospital—were destroyed.  

The rebuilding of Greenwood began almost immediately. The American Red Cross provided aid for many of the 5,000 African Americans made homeless by the violence. Within several years, most property owners and entrepreneurs, or business owners, had rebuilt their homes and businesses. African American prosperity returned to north Tulsa for the next 45 years, and so did the nickname of “Black Wall Street.” 

A second destruction occurred in the early 1970s. Interstate highway I-244 was constructed through Greenwood. People in the neighborhood tried to save their homes and businesses, but the government took their land through eminent domain. Eminent domain is the power of federal, state, and local governments to take private property for public use. Hundreds of homes and dozens of businesses were replaced with roadways and highway overpasses. Greenwood’s prosperity was wiped out a second time.  

Greenwood Today 

Several organizations are working to rebuild the Greenwood neighborhoods and bring economic prosperity to the business district once again. The North Tulsa Economic Development Initiative (NTEDi) is a nonprofit organization formed in 2007 to re-energize north Tulsa. The NTEDi supports programs that focus on economic development, housing, and education in Greenwood and nearby Kirkpatrick Heights. NTEDi also works to stop outside developers from buying up property in the Greenwood district and forcing African Americans to move. 

Other organizations focus on helping individual African American entrepreneurs rebuild Greenwood’s business district. ACT House, for example, provides financial aid, mentoring, and other support to African American and Latino start-up companies.  

In 2023, the Biden administration offered “Reconnecting Communities” grants to groups who are trying to fix the problems caused by highway construction through urban neighborhoods. Greenwood community leaders applied for and were awarded a grant of $1.6 million. Their proposal is to remove the section of I-244 that slices through Greenwood. The land that would become available could be put into a community trust and be used to build affordable housing and more local businesses owned by African Americans. With the highway removed, community leaders hope that people will enter the historic and revitalized Greenwood district instead of driving past it on the overpass. 

Dig Deeper Other cities have been inspired by Greenwood’s efforts to rebuild. Research how St. Louis and Chicago have worked to develop their own “Black Wall Streets.”