100 years later, Black Wall Street is alive and well in Tulsa’s Greenwood District

All but destroyed in the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, today the neighborhood honors its heritage through its many Black-owned businesses and art galleries

In the early 20th century, the all-Black Greenwood District in Tulsa was a thriving community. So thriving, in fact, it earned the nickname “Black Wall Street” for all the ambition, commerce, and success that turned the area into a neighborhood unlike any other in the country at the time.

But on May 31, 1921, the Tulsa Race Massacre tore the district apart. A white mob descended on the area and overnight between 100 and 300 people were killed, almost all of them Black; 1,256 homes were burned or looted; and an entire community was all but destroyed. But its spirit remained, which is evidenced by what the neighborhood has become in recent years: a thriving, vibrant, and proud community that supports its members and celebrates its heritage. 

Today, more than 100 years after the massacre, it’s a district that believes in itself, as well as the skills, abilities, and dreams of the people who call it home, and is proud to once again claim the title Black Wall Street. These are just a few of the historic destinations and Black-owned businesses that have made the neighborhood what it is today.

Exhibit at Greenwood Rising in Tulsa, Oklahoma
Greenwood Rising. | Photo: Alisha McDarris

1. Greenwood Rising

Until recently, the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., was the only museum in the country with an exhibit about the Tulsa Race Massacre. But that changed when Greenwood Rising opened in August 2021. Here you are immersed in interactive exhibits from the moment you enter. Maya Angelou’s voice joyfully reads her poem “Still I rise”; heart-wrenching exhibits full of photos, videos, audio recordings, and written history detail not only the massacre, but systems of oppression in America; and voices of survivors share memories. But while an air of solemnity pervades most of the space, the world-class museum also offers moments of hope and joy as it celebrates the resilience of a community and how it rebuilt itself despite all the suffering.

Fulton Street Books & Coffee signage
Fulton Street Books & Coffee. | Photo: Alisha McDarris

2. Fulton Street Books & Coffee

Fulton Street Books and Coffee is a literary haven where everyone is welcome. The emphasis is on amplifying the voices of people of color and marginalized communities in Tulsa and across the globe. To that end, most of the books on the shelves of the inviting space are by BIPOC authors or those from other historically marginalized communities. Titles run the gamut from local history and nonfiction to novels, comedy, and children’s books. Readers hungry for more than enlightening words can sit and sip a cappuccino or grab a pastry in the attached cafe.

Statue at the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park in Tulsa.
John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park. | Photo: Alisha McDarris

3. John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park

The John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, part of the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, is a reflective outdoor space that memorializes the Tulsa Race Massacre. A trio of larger-than-life bronze sculptures at the entrance depicts the hostility, humiliation, and hope Greenwood residents and their white neighbors experienced. A sky-high sculpted bronze tower in the center of the park tells the story of how African Americans helped forge and establish the state of Oklahoma and paints a picture of the never-ending journey to reconciliation. Poetic signage offers brief history lessons and a healing labyrinth invites walks steeped in thoughtful contemplation.

Clothing store in Tulsa's Greenwood District
Silhouette Sneakers & Art. | Photo: Alisha McDarris

4. Silhouette

Silhouette is a highly curated retail experience that offers sneakers and apparel that celebrate the culture of the Greenwood District and the history of the city and its entrepreneurial spirit. Apparel from local Black-owned brands such as Town Apparel and Greenwood Ave. line racks alongside vintage clothing and house-designed mature street styles. Three-hundred pairs of vintage, modern, and limited-edition sneakers are meticulously arranged in bright displays waiting to be admired by sneakerheads of all stripes.

5. Black Wall Street Liquid Lounge

Coffee and conversation are what Black Wall Street Liquid Lounge does best (but the pastries and tea are good, too). The space is the self-proclaimed watering hole of Greenwood, and in addition to cappuccinos and croissants, the lounge deals in local history, education, and support for the community. A rotating selection of art and photography on the walls tells the story of the neighborhood, goods like candles and T-shirts from local makers are available for sale, regular Black Wall Street trivia questions offer visitors the opportunity to earn a discount on their frappe, and the manager even offers historic walking tours of the area from time to time.

6. Wanda J’s Next Generation

When it’s time to get your grub on, don’t miss the chance to stop in for some classic Southern soul food at Wanda J’s. Catfish, mac and cheese and collard greens, and the best fried chicken on the planet (according to locals) are all on the menu, and everything is made from scratch. Where does the “next generation” come in? Wanda’s granddaughters man the helm these days. And what they’ve created is an inviting, cozy atmosphere alive with familial warmth. When you dine, whatever you do, don’t forget dessert.

Art exhibition at the Greenwood Gallery in Tulsa, Oklahoma
Greenwood Gallery. | Photo: Alisha McDarris

It’s an art gallery, sure, but it’s also the living room of Black Wall Street. Greenwood Gallery is a place to not only display the works of local artists of color, but to mingle and relax. The mission of the gallery is to give underrepresented artists the exposure they deserve. But the space also hosts pop-ups, book clubs, and a small rotating exhibit on Oklahoma history. And it’s all free—artist and owner Queen Alexander says the gallery is curated for access—though donations are welcome. There’s merch, too, including shirts and bags that celebrate the history and culture of the neighborhood.