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The Black Wall Street Records logo, C-Le Logo

The Black Wall Street Records logo, C-Le Logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Waco’s Church Swap group went on a Civil Right’s Tour this past weekend, which featured visits to Memphis, Tenn.; Little Rock, Ark. and Tulsa, Okla. I joined the group in Oklahoma. We visited The Department of Special Collections and University Archives of the McFarlin Library at The University of Tulsa. It was there that I learned for the first time of the Tulsa Riots.

The event seems almost impossible to believe. During the course of18 hours, more than 1,000 homes in “Black Wall Street” were burned to the ground. Practically overnight, entire neighborhoods were suddenly reduced to ashes. In less than 24 hours, nearly all of Tulsa’s African American residential district — some 40-square- blocks in all — had been laid to waste, leaving nearly nine-thousand people homeless. The area featured two theatres, several grocery stores, hotels, skating rinks, schools, churches, etc.

The riots began after black men, who were WWI vets, tried to protect a 19-year-old black man accused of “bothering” a white women. This is one account of how the event unfolded: Sometime around or after 4 p.m. Dick Rowland, a black shoeshiner employed at a Main Street shine parlor, entered the elevator at the rear of the nearby Drexel Building at 319 South Main Street en route to the ‘colored’ washroom on the top floor. Upon entering the elevator, he encountered Sarah Page, the 17-year old white elevator operator who was on duty at the time. A clerk at Renberg’s, a clothing store located on the first floor of the Drexel, heard what sounded like a woman’s scream and observed a young black man hurriedly leaving the building. Upon rushing to the elevator, the clerk found Page in what he perceived to be a distraught state. The clerk reached the conclusion that the young woman had been assualted and subsequently summoned the authorities. She later admitted he was innocent.

Many of the members of the Church Swap group became emotional as they learned of the lost potential of the thriving black settlement, which was called “Black Wall Street” because of the many successful African-Americans who lived there, including attorneys, teachers and the a top surgeon.

Tulsa African-Americans received a formal apology for the riots a few years ago. They were also promised reparations. However, they have not collected them. The city also funded scholarships and a multi-purpose center in the area.