Black Wall Street: Origin of Black Wall Street

Black Wall Street

neighbourhood, Tulsa, Oklahoma

Origin of Black Wall Street

The founders of Tulsa’s Greenwood District

 Black Wall Street was the old name for the Greenwood neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where African Americans established a self-sufficient and thriving business center in the early twentieth century. Until the Tulsa racial murder in 1921, the phrase "Black Wall Street" was used. The term has also been extended more broadly to areas of high economic activity in Black America.

Historically, African Americans in Tulsa worked primarily as servants, developing their own insular culture with its own economy. In 1905, when African Americans purchased the area that would become Greenwood, black businesses concentrated around the strip of land that would become Greenwood. A grocery store and a barbershop were among the businesses. Doctors and real estate agents each started their own companies. There was also a newspaper and schools in the area.

Ottowa W. Gurley (aka O.W.) was a Black educator, entrepreneur, and landowner who was born to former enslaved Africans around the start of the twentieth century. After resigning from a position with President Grover Cleveland's administration in 1889, O.W. moved from Arkansas to Perry, Oklahoma, to take part in the Oklahoma Land Grab of 1889. He eventually moved to Tulsa with his wife Emma to take advantage of the city's diverse population boom's economic opportunities. After arriving, O.W. purchased a 40-acre plot of undeveloped land and built a grocery store on a dirt road just north of the city's train tracks.

O.W. later formed a business partnership with John the Baptist Stradford (aka J.B.), a fellow Black businessman with whom he shared a general distrust of white people. Both men went by their initials rather than their given names. Because men in the South were addressed by their surnames, while boys were addressed by their first names, this gesture was a sort of silent protest. Unfortunately, as a sort of emasculation, white men frequently addressed Black men by their first names. O.W. and J.B. got around this practice by using their initials.

O.W. and J.B. had differing viewpoints on occasion. For example, while O.W. supported African American educator Booker T. Washington's philosophies, J.B. favored civil rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois' more radical views. Despite their differences, the two collaborated to create Tulsa's first all-Black neighborhood. They divided the area into housing zones, retail lots, alleys, and roadways, all of which were reserved for additional African Americans fleeing lynchings and other racist atrocities.

The Origin of Greenwood

After constructing several square two-story brick boarding houses near his grocery store, O.W. named the street where they stood Greenwood Avenue, after the Mississippi town where many of his early residents came from. Greenwood was soon established as the name for the entire region, which included a school and an African Methodist Episcopal Church. The Gurley Hotel, however, was O.W.'s best achievement, rivaling the state's finest white hotels in terms of quality.
O.W. and J.B. grew increasingly wealthy as hundreds of African Americans flocked to Greenwood for the oil boom, with O.W. having a reported net worth of $150,000 ($3.6 million adjusted for inflation). O.W. took advantage of his good fortune by establishing a Black Masonic lodge and an employment agency, as well as funding efforts to combat voter suppression in the state.

Black Wall Street was thriving at the time of the Tulsa race massacre of 1921. The violent incident, however, took a heavy financial toll on African Americans. Many homes and businesses were destroyed. Moreover, following the massacre, residents of Greenwood met resistance to rebuild. Nonetheless, Black American professionals and entrepreneurs slowly began to rebuild. 
The late 1970s saw the establishment of the Greenwood Cultural Center, which drew tourists to the neighborhood. The cultural center was tasked with protecting Black Wall Street as well as addressing African American culture and working toward more amicable race relations in the city. The Greenwood District's John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park debuted in 2010. It honors the victims of the massacre as well as prominent historian and civil rights advocate Benjamin Franklin, who grew up in Tulsa. Greenwood Rising, a historical center founded after the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, also tells the tale of the massacre. 


Ottowa W. Gurley was a Black educator, entrepreneur, and landowner, who was born to former enslaved Africans.
At the beginning of the 20th century, he bought 40 acres of land in Tulsa, Okla.
Gurley forged a partnership with Black businessman John the Baptist Stradford, and the two developed an all-Black district in Tulsa, which became known as Greenwood.
When hundreds of African Americans moved to Greenwood for the oil boom, the two became increasingly wealthy.
Greenwood’s prosperity became legendary in Black America, with Booker T. Washington dubbing it "Black Wall Street."

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