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The Forgotten Women of Black Wall Street

Here’s what’s known famously about Greenwood, the early 20th century Black community of Tulsa, and infamously about its destruction: Black businessmen helped build Greenwood into a financial Black mecca that produced an abundance of successful entrepreneurs, some of whom turned into millionaires.

A young Black man, Dick Rowland, accused of accosting a white woman in an elevator, became the impetus for one of the worst race riots in U.S. history. That riot began with a mob of white men from Tulsa and beyond who flocked to the courthouse to lynch Rowland, which led to the assemblage of a counter-mob of Black men who took up arms to defend him.

These are the beginning chapters of what would become known as the Tulsa Race Massacre, which took place 100 years ago this week. From May 31 to June 1, 1921, white people — many of them law enforcement — shot up, bombed and burned down the dozens of Black-owned businesses and hundreds of Black homes that made up Greenwood, killing nearly 300 Black residents and injuring and displacing thousands more.

It’s a story told almost exclusively about, and through, men.

However, we only know many of the lurid details about that massive tragedy because of a Black woman named Mary E. Jones Parrish, who ran a typing school on North Greenwood Street. Her bookEvents of the Tulsa Disaster, published in 1922, tells her own story along with eyewitness accounts from dozens of other Black Greenwood survivors. There’s been little known about the Black women of Greenwood who, like Parrish, helped create the neighborhood’s national reputation as a haven of Black intellectual and financial prowess, known popularly as “The Negro’s Wall Street.”

Emerging scholarship on Greenwood is changing that, showing that Black women were as critical to building Greenwood as they were to helping Black people survive the massacre, and rebuild the neighborhood afterward. 

“Women tend to play a supporting role in the narrative,” writes Victor Luckerson, an independent journalist, in his blog/newsletter Run it Back. “But who were they? History has been designed to omit large portions of the Black experience, and the issue is compounded for Black women.” 

Read entire article at Bloomberg CityLab