The Tulsa massacre occurred in 1921 when an angry white mob burned down a thriving black neighborhood known as Black Wall Street and killed most of the residents there. While the once prominent African American neighborhood ended in tragedy, today there are still black business owners doing business in the famous North Tulsa neighborhood.
In an email interview with BLACK ENTERPRISE, current residents shared stories about opening their shops in the historical neighborhood and staying true to its legacy.
“I am interested in the preservation of Black history and culture and wanted the gallery to be a place for education and celebration. We should be honoring all cultures, which is how we work towards unity,” said Ricco Wright, founder and curator of the Black Wall Street Gallery. Wright often collaborates with local artists to bring awareness to social justice causes. His space also includes a clothing and record store for visitors. “Continuing the legacy of Black Wall Street makes me proud because I know how much they sacrificed to build this fledgling business district.”
While some preserve the history of Black Wall Street through visual aides, some use the power of books like Onikah Asamoa-Caesar, owner of Fulton Street Books. “One of the greatest ways to pay homage to those who came before us is to respect their legacy enough to not just commemorate it but to keep it alive. Being a young Black business owner to me is to be one more person keeping the flame lit,” said Asamoa-Caesar.
“…When I see images of Black Wall Street, I see Black excellence. I want Fulton Street to agitate that deeply embedded bit of oppressor that suggests that there is something second class about Black-owned businesses. Because of the legacy of Black Wall Street, I feel the need to work twice as hard to ensure we disrupt some of the notions about Black-owned businesses. We have big shoes to fill, and I don’t take that lightly.”
The owners are used to seeing both locals and tourists come into their shops to see what the area looks like today. For these owners, that history greatly impacts their business. “It’s impacted us in a lot of ways. For one, we’re embracing that history in our model. We want to use what we do best (sell apparel, display art, host events) to help spread that history,” says Venita Cooper, owner of Silhouettes Sneakers and Art, a high-end curated retail store.
“I get excited when someone from Miami or LA visits our shop and buys a Greenwood Ave. tee that proudly displays the name “Black Wall Street.” So many people have been deprived of that history for so long, and it feels like an important role for us to share it. We also benefit in terms of traffic and interest. As a historic area with a story that’s gaining more and more national attention, people from all over visit us or shop online with us.”