Phil Armstrong, project director for the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission. (Courtesy photo)

By Ralph E. Moore Jr.
Special to the AFRO

The mob violence by White supremacists, Jan. 6, at the U.S. Capitol was shocking to many, but it would not have been to civil rights activist H. Rap Brown. When he once famously said, “Violence is as American as Cherry Pie,” he could have been referring either to the Jan. 6 event, or to the 1921 Tulsa Oklahoma massacre, the 100th anniversary of which is to be commemorated this year. Three hundred Black citizens of Tulsa were killed by an angry White mob and a successful Black development was demolished. Banks, hotels, doctors’ and lawyers’ offices and residences were reduced to rubble and ashes by Whites hellbent on cancelling Black success. Black Wall Street, as it had come to be known, was totally destroyed, removed from memories and from the pages of history books. The strongest Black concentration of wealth, construction, development, job creation and unity in American history to date was unjustifiably and criminally erased from existence, with 300 solid Black citizens of the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa killed and no Whites ever prosecuted for any of their murders.

But the Tulsa Massacre of 1921 must never be forgotten. And so, on Feb 24th and 25,th a conference entitled “Return on Inclusion (ROI)” was conducted virtually in Oklahoma, to advance the concepts of diversity and inclusion but also to remember the very sad episode’s 100th anniversary. As stated on the Return on Inclusion’s website, Oklahoma’s largest professional diversity and inclusion conference returns, convening business, nonprofit and community leaders and professionals to educate and empower on the powerful return made when we invest in people. Return on Inclusion (ROI) works to reinforce the business case for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) across all lines of difference.”

Greenwood got organized after a 1906 visit from Booker T. Washington in which he expressed the potential of the residents to be self-reliant and strong.

Phil Armstrong, project director for the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, who spoke on “The History of Greenwood, the Original Black Wall Street,” talked to the AFRO before the conference.

“The area was nicknamed ‘Little Africa’ by hostile Whites,” Armstrong said. “Anti-blackness surrounded the 12 block long area whose gateway at Greenwood and Archer Streets gave birth to Black Wall Street, and fortunately had no passage through White neighborhoods.“  

He also spoke fondly of Charles (Buck) Colbert Franklin, a strong civil rights attorney and homegrown Oklahoman who sued successfully for surviving Blacks and Native Americans to get land returned to them after the Tulsa Massacre and for oil rights due them from the wealthy White robber barons. His son was the noted civil rights activist and historian, John Hope Franklin (“From Slavery to Freedom”).  

Armstrong is very optimistic about Tulsa’s future. He said foundation support is increasingly stepping up to advance Tulsa even further than the rebuild of the African-American community did after the mob’s complete devastation of Black Wall Street in 1921. “There are currently four billion-dollar foundations working with Tulsa on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. Most unusual is they’re working with the community, while giving it self-determining authority over the foundations’ assistance. There is a groundswell of progressive activities in the area,” Armstrong said.

Ralph E. Moore, Jr., Cofounder of Peace Camp. (Courtesy Photo)

The summit was a commemorative event, looking back, but more importantly, there were many qualified speakers looking forward in their discussions of the benefits and beauty of diversity. Tulsa’s awful history of racism and hateful violence must never be forgotten. James Baldwin’s marvelous quote is emblazoned on a wall at the gateway to where Black Wall began. It reads, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” And so, from the devastating hate and demolition, Black Tulsa rebuilt and continues to look forward.  The 1906 words of educator Booker T. Washington still inspire. “Build and cooperate.”