After a century of silence, the story of the Tulsa Race Massacre will be shared with the nation.
In 1921, a small group of white residents in Tulsa, Oklahoma destroyed the thriving African American neighborhood of Greenwood, known as Black Wall Street, flattening over 35 blocks and killing over 300 people. The incident known today as the Tulsa Race Massacre was covered up by the state and federal government, and is often not taught in American schools. The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission has tapped Local Projects to develop an exhibition space that will tell the remarkable and resilient story of Greenwood and it’s community by finally bringing this story to vivid life on the very site where Black Wall Street used to stand.
Concept Design, Exhibit Design, Experience Design
This section explores the early placemaking of Greenwood — how and why the African American community came to this place, the struggles they faced, and the ways in which they succeeded in building this vibrant and wealthy community, even in the face of systemic racial oppression.
Black Wall Street
In this “hall of fame” gallery, we meet the people behind Greenwood’s early success, exploring personal stories of entrepreneurship and bringing Historic Greenwood to life through oral and written histories. We highlight and connect the men and women who built the Greenwood District, including O. W. Gurley, J. B. Stradford, Simon Berry, A. C. Jackson, B. C. Franklin, John and Loula Williams, Mabel B. Little, A. J. Smitherman, Ellis Walker Woods, and J. D. Mann.
Life in Greenwood Through the Lens of a Barbershop
Visitors are immersed in a barber shop / beauty salon environment offering personal encounters with early entrepreneurs and the emotional stories of their triumphs. Barbers and hairdressers relay stories of past customers and their businesses, explaining the history of Greenwood and instilling community values into the visitor as reflected in the oral histories of hard work and success.
Racial Violence in America Timeline
This section brings to the forefront the racial violence and systematic oppression present throughout even Greenwood’s success by highlighting key moments of racial trauma in Oklahoma and contextualizing them within an overall narrative of national oppression. Events are presented as a build-up to the Massacre. Key moments of violence against African Americans are contextualized nationally and explored by juxtaposing quotes, photographs, and both black and white-owned media headlines.
1921 Tulsa Race Massacre
This exhibit brings to life the horrors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, immersing visitors in the minute-by-minute accounts from survivors and memories from descendants. Told from the perspective of survivors, the humanity and despair frames the photographs of crumbling businesses and burning homes that witnessed the destruction of a thriving African American community. First person accounts taken from interviews with survivors like Eddie Faye Gates weave together the black experience of the Massacre.
Here, we honor the spirit of those who stayed to rebuild Greenwood into a strong business community more vibrant than ever before. We highlight how the Greenwood community came together to rise from the ashes in the face of open hostility like sensationalist press, law suits, internment and required green cards, and the city’s efforts to impede rebuilding. Those who stayed worked tirelessly to rebuild from the ashes. The result of these efforts led to a vibrant rebuilding of the district, thriving in the face of the city’s coordinated efforts to suppress the spirit of the community.
Changing economic and social currents shifted Greenwood from a once-again thriving district to an unstable insular economy. Integration, urban “removal,” a comprehensive renovation and replacement of housing and public works which systematically cut through the heart of the community, and the building of I-244, affected not only the shape of the district, but also the buying power of those who remained.
Journey to Reconciliation
This section offers visitors an opportunity to transcend divisions and create an unflinchingly honest acknowledgement of biases and understanding of others. Acknowledgement of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and lasting racial disparities is not sufficient — action must be taken by political and community leaders. Visitors will be encouraged to explore prompts with strangers that can open up dialogue, such as “What could our country look like if there was no hierarchy of human value?” and “Describe an experience that shaped your view of community.”