The fire bombings by airplanes and other military-style strategies by mobs of vigilantes in Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 31, and June 1, 1921, in the most thriving Black-owned business district in America, “Black Wall Street,” has become better known in recent years. The recorded number of dead persons ranged from 75 to 300; and while this “single worst incident in American racial violence” destroyed more than 35 predominately Black-occupied city blocks, what is lesser known are the stories of those who built Tulsa’s Greenwood District.
For the past two years, the 400 Years of African American History Commission (400 YAAHC or Commission), enacted in 2018 by Public Law 115-102, has awarded grants to organizations to plan, develop, and carry out programs and activities that record and highlight the resilience and cultural contributions of African Americans over and beyond 400 years. In 2020, a grant by 400 YAAHC to Table SALT Group’s Black Wall Street Research Project led to the development of a curriculum for African American entrepreneurs based on six factors that fed Greenwood’s massive entrepreneurial success and best practices for community and economic growth: access, collaboration, education, health, communication, and ownership.
“For the second time, the Commission is pleased to renew the award to the Table SALT Group to produce an E-book that will tell “Before the Tulsa Massacre” stories from this once thriving Black community, said Ms. Addie Richburg, Executive Director of the Washington, DC-based 15-member Commission.
LaRachelle Samuel-Smith, co-founder of the Table SALT Group – which consults with small businesses and organizations offering tools, tips, and resources for growth and leadership development – is an educator dedicated to researching entrepreneurship in underserved communities and the progress of historically Black universities in the Southern land-grant educational system. Dr. William H. Turner, author of the critically acclaimed memoir, “Harlan Renaissance: Stories of Black Life in Appalachian Coal,” retired as Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Studies and Regional Ambassador from Berea College. Dr. Turner also worked as a research associate with Alex Haley on the production of “Roots” and serves as co-author of the e-book, slated for publication in late 2022.
“Logically, the central and first story will profile Mr. O.W. Gurley, one of the wealthiest people in Tulsa, who founded Greenwood in 1905 during the oil boom years as African Americans were flocking to the region to cash in on the oil field success,” said Ms. Smith, adding how the Table SALT Group – using the grant from the Commission – produced an array of digitally-based content, some of which is already used in public and private schools in Tulsa and Houston.
“This E-book, titled Black Tulsa before the Massacre, documents the detailed personal accounts, reports, and the strategies – ‘best practices’ – that were cultivated and advanced more than a century ago on Black Wall Street, stories that are instructive to the present-day and future efforts of African American entrepreneurs, narratives of how Blacks in the Greenwood district collaborated with the result that nourished Greenwood’s massive entrepreneurial successes for personal wealth-building and community and economic development. Indeed, this is the quintessential ‘Back to the future’ story,” said Smith.