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The Greenwood Story

Posted November 2, 2019

The 35-block Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma, dubbed America's "Black Wall Street" by Booker T. Washington, became a prosperous center for black commerce in the early 1900s.  On May 30, 1921 a 19-year-old black man named Dick Rowland was accused and arrested for an alleged incident in an elevator involving a 17-year-old white woman. An inflammatory report in the May 31 edition of The Tulsa Tribune spurred a confrontation between black and white armed mobs around the courthouse where the sheriff and his men had barricaded the top floor to protect Rowland. Hannibal B. Johnson of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission explains:

"That single catalytic event is often cited as the cause of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. Truth be told, longstanding underlying socioeconomic factors led to the brutal attack on Tulsa's African American community. Fueled by anger over African American prosperity, land lust, and a racially-hostile climate in general, segments of Tulsa's white community lashed out."

The Tulsa Race Massacre (also known as the Tulsa Race Riot or the Greenwood Massacre) resulted in the single deadliest and most destructive act of racial violence and domestic terrorism in the United States. In less than 48 hours from the rumored incident, the Greenwood District was burned to the ground, with more than 300 African Americans murdered, more than 10,000 African Americans left homeless, and more than 2,000 business destroyed. You can learn more about the events that transpired by visiting the Tulsa Historical Society.

Donald Byrd’s Greenwood explores the possible incidents that might have taken place in the elevator to spark the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Hear from Mr. Byrd himself and peek inside the rehearsal studio as he creates the piece.



Have you seen Greenwood?
We invite you to share your thoughts about Greenwood on Ailey’s Facebook and Instagram pages, or in your own posts and tag @alvinailey.

Here are some questions to get your discussions going:

How did learning about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 make you feel?

Does knowing about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre change/inform how you experience Greenwood?

How does Greenwood and the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre connect to events today?

What does Greenwood say about the importance of weighing multiple perspectives?

What does the relative silence around the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre say about us and the systems and institutions that surround us?

What can you to do to bring light to this (and other) untold parts of American history?


Watch a video about Greenwood aka "Black Wall Street" by the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission


Learn about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission.

Other Resources