by Grace Benham
Grace Benham is an Anthropology major from Tulsa, OK who wrote this essay in Timothy Bradford’s Spring 2019 “From Spirituals to Hip-Hop” class.
O Greenwood! Lest you go unheralded,Wynonia Murray Bailey, Riot Survivor, May, 1967
I sing a song of remembrance
While sons of your bounty, loyal still
Place a headstone at the site of your victory
Picture this: a white 17 year old student rolling up to Jenks High School at 9 am, blasting a bass heavy trap song about a Black rapper selling cocaine to make ends meet in the projects, the booms beating against the frame of their brand new Jeep Grand Cherokee. This student, like many others, wasn’t allowed to stray far from the cozy 5 million dollar homes, freshly cut lawns, and well paved roads of South Tulsa. Certain areas, like 61st and Peoria–or even worse, North Tulsa–were specifically off limits according to many ‘protective’ white parents. This could be because North Tulsa is associated by many in the city with poverty, criminal violence and drugs, but it is also home to the Greenwood District-once hailed in the time leading up to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre as “Black Wall Street,” an incredibly prosperous Black neighborhood. Fast forward one century, this once-financially-prominent district is now branded as a part of ‘North Tulsa,’ the ill-famed place all the white kids with the brand new Jeeps can’t go. The rule of thumb, “When the streets lose their numbers, you know you’ve gone too far,” refers to where 1st St. gives way to Archer, and then to Pine, at the intersection of M.L.K Jr. Blvd and Greenwood Dr. So, what happened to Greenwood that made it transform from a shining beacon of Black prosperity into an area from which many white Tulsa residents stay away? And surely rich white kids from Tulsa are allowed to listen to rap, but the contrast between their musical tastes and commonly-held opinions towards the predominantly Black sections of their own city is certainly in need of un-packing. What can this musical anecdote, within the context of Tulsa’s history, tell us about our country’s history of racism and what implications does this have for contemporary Tulsa?
To examine the ways in which old wounds still afflict Tulsa almost 100 years later, I’m going to explore some of the very Black music South Tulsa kids love, and it’s antecedents. Black music, when scrutinized, reveals something about the essential nature of the Black experience in the US, and something about the country itself (Baraka ix-x). Greenwood’s musical creations, examined over time through Jazz, Funk, and Hip Hop, echo the experiences of Black Greenwood residents. Their lyrics, rhythms, melodies, and harmonies reflect optimism despite the scarring of racism and continued hardship during the city’s evolution; however, they also bear the marks of defiant resistance and pursued pleasure. The Black music of Tulsa’s Greenwood district is a testament to the largely unhealed wound created by a single incident of racist violence that has been reopened after a century of racism. Tulsa’s story, as told through history and music, has a valuable lesson to teach us about how racism is sustained, and the steps necessary to move on from racism’s impact.
The first relevant information which aids in understanding Tulsa’s complicated racial history is how and why Black Wall Street came to exist. After the Civil War, many Black Americans travelled North in search of opportunities, but some travelled west to territories like Oklahoma. While many built communities in small towns in Oklahoma, some 8,000 had settled in Tulsa’s large Greenwood District by 1921 (Brophy 2). These communities (including Greenwood) were typically located away from white communities–a product of both de jure and de facto segregation. As author Ralph Ellison explained, many descendants of enslaved Americans considered Indian Territory a “territory of hope,” and a place for Black Americans to “create their own opportunities” (Brophy 2). Greenwood residents found great success within their self-created opportunities, and they built thriving businesses, music clubs, and a movie theater—they created “Black Wall Street” (Johnson, “Black Wall Street” 14-17). Their prosperity wasn’t welcome, however, as although Indian Territory lacked the “customs, traditions, and manners” which made the South especially hard to occupy for African Americans;, it was still filled with those (whites) who wanted to ensure that Tulsa remained “the whitest town in Oklahoma” (Brophy 2; Johnson, “Black Wall Street” 8). Around this time in 1919, mounting racial contempt flared up across the nation in many episodes of racial violence during the “Red Summer.” These incidents were often perpetrated by local whites against Black residents; they almost always ended with a higher number of dead Black residents than white and were frequently categorized as “race riots,” a trick whites used to change the narrative to indicate that Black residents were the perpetrators. With increased tension evident in the “Red Summer” string of national race violence, the future of “Black Wall Street” was on shaky ground (Johnson 28).
Soon after, the Greenwood District fell victim to this wave of national anti-Black racist violence. In 1921 a massacre which bears the “gross misnomer” ‘Tulsa Race Riot’ occurred (Madigan 144). It began when Dick Rowland, a shoe shiner who needed the use of a downtown elevator only so that he could access the inconveniently located ‘colored’ restroom, was accused of sexually assaulting white elevator operator Sarah Page (Goble 124). Claims like this were frequently made against Black men in the US, and these cases led to a large portion of lynchings in the early 20th century (Goble 124). After Rowland was brought into custody, some fifteen-hundred whites gathered outside the courthouse to do just that, with less than 100 armed Black Greenwood community members there to mount a defense (Goble 124). Somehow a shot was fired, then many more, and the white mob eventually pushed the Black Tulsans back to their community and, as punishment for their self-defense, began to lay waste to the Greenwood District.
This sweeping attack on Tulsa’s Black community, perpetrated by whites and aided by law enforcement, destroyed Black Wall Street (Madigan ix). The thriving Greenwood district’s movie theaters, churches, businesses, libraries, and the public hospital and school, as well as over 1,200 homes were burned to the ground (Hirsch 119). Over 35 blocks total were burned and/or looted (Halliburton Jr. 19). The death toll ranges from the teens to over 300 depending on who and when you ask, but the consistency is the high death toll of Black residents. It is important to remember that this violent event was perpetrated by local whites upon Black residents because the privileged whites felt empowered to take the legal process into their own hands and lynch a Black man as a form of extra-legal ‘justice,’ and because they became so enraged by Black self-defense that they felt entitled to ‘teach them a lesson.’ 100 years later, the racist violence inflicted upon the Greenwood district is known by few.
The conveniently forgotten history of events like the Tulsa Race Massacre, some argue, are best left in the past or consciously buried. In fact, many think we have achieved “social equality and a lack of race consciousness,” which was ironically said to be achieved in Tulsa by 1938 (Workers of the Federal Writers’ Project, 11). In my experience, Tulsans who have this mindset and resist claims that America is a racist country are the same people who think letting their kids listen to Black music forms is a testament of progress, while disallowing them to visit certain ‘bad’ parts of the city isn’t an issue. By contrast, Black Tulsans and US citizens as well as scholars argue that historical racism still bears down upon communities of color, as it’s often the root of systemic racism that affects people of color today. This idea has received increased attention following the death of George Floyd, among many more, at the hands of police in recent years, but this idea is also strongly supported by the musical legacy of Black Tulsa residents.
To get a baseline, let’s first examine the music of the Greenwood district before and around the time of the Massacre. The blues rolled into Oklahoma with African Americans from the South, many of whom descended from enslaved Americans. By the time Oklahoma’s Blues was put on paper, it looked more like ragtime. One of the first 12 bar blues songs published was Hart Wand’s “Dallas Blues,” released in March of 1912 in Oklahoma City (Wofford). Written in standard blues tempo, it’s played much faster. The upbeat tune, with its melodic riffs and contained variation bound by repetition, bears an optimistic tone. Being the hot new music, this surely would have filled the music halls of Greenwood, a blossoming district. The tone of this song reflects the experiences and expectations of African Americans as they moved west to Oklahoma. Although they experienced discrimination and segregation, the citizens of Greenwood turned this around to make a center of commerce and a safe community for Black families to create, consume, and contribute to the district’s growth.
This optimism epitomized by early Jazz obviously suffered a huge blow during the Massacre, and this continued for several years. Right after the Massacre ended, Tulsa saw a resurgence of support for the KKK, and Klansmen and Klan-supporters held positions of local authority throughout the 20s (Madigan 232-233). To make matters worse, the Massacre was mostly erased from white public consciousness; there was no mention of the Tulsa Race Massacre in any history textbook until 1941 (Madigan 252). When the Massacre was mentioned, it was painted as a long-gone tragedy with no lasting ill-effects; a 1938 Travel Pamphlet for Tulsa, the same one that applauded the city on reaching ‘total social equality and lack of race consciousness,’ explained that the city had since moved past the issue and was working toward mutual understanding (12). The pamphlet explains that the Black residents of Tulsa were cared for in the aftermath of the Massacre, as “white residents organized a systematic rehabilitation program… and gave generous aid” (12). To be clear: this is directly refuted by historical records, and personal accounts of Black survivors; this sanitization is evidence of the desire of those in a space of privilege to avoid concerning themselves with the consequences their violence had on Black Tulsans. They also assure visitors that the “negroes” had equal and entirely separate public accommodations, and that the Black residents exclusively occupied the segregated Greenwood District, with only “such members of the race as are employed in white homes [living] in quarters outside the area” (11).
This information is notable because it provides the sociopolitical context Black Tulsans found themselves in as they attempted to rebuild their destroyed community. Following the Massacre, a Tulsa founder and KKK member W. Tate Brandy took over the Tulsa Real Estate Exchange and sought to make it “prohibitively expensive” for Black residents to rebuild, with the goal of moving the Black community farther away from the city center (Day). White Tulsans and local leaders sought to transform Greenwood into an industrial district with white owned businesses, so they changed the building codes to require more expensive materials and floor plans by June 7, 1921, barely enough time for the embers to cool down (Brophy 93). Additionally, the rebuilding process was slow, with as many as 2,000 Black residents still living in tents throughout 1922 and 1923, two years after the Massacre (Goble 129). This is evidence that the Jazzy progress of Tulsa’s 20s-40s took place only in strong opposition to harsh racism that still curtailed progress.
Despite these setbacks, Greenwood did have some success in rebuilding. By 1942, Greenwood had as many as 242 Black owned and operated businesses (Johnson, “Greenwood”). It’s important to remember that Greenwood residents had to do this on their own, with only the help of their fellow African Americans, since “[they] didn’t get hardly any help from the white community,” as stated by Mabel Little. Mabel and her husband Pressley had run a beauty parlor and a shoeshine shop (respectively) out of their small home, but the Massacre saw to it that their years of hard work went up in flames (Johnson 80). Little explains that her and the other residents of Greenwood had to “save [their] own, use what little [they] had, and cooperate” in order to rebuild, and that it was hard work (Johnson 80). In fact, much of the rebuilding that took place was only able to happen because the Black owned Spears, Franklin, and Chapelle Law Firm took the City of Tulsa to court and got the racist, cost-prohibitive fire ordinances overturned (Johnson 95).
This determined community brimming with hope despite setbacks is reflected in the renewed musical fervor in the years after the Massacre. It is unclear how soon Jazz returned to Greenwood after the Massacre, especially with the slow and racism-riddled rebuilding process. But it is clear that Jazz did return. Greenwood once again became the “premier spot for Jazz to be heard” where musicians stopped as they travelled between Kansas City and Oklahoma City (Arnold 36). In fact, Greenwood became “one of the cradles” of Kansas City Jazz as it developed, as its signature riffs, guitar licks, and saxophone wails filled the streets (Johnson, “Black Wall Street”). Especially with the Massacre affecting Black musicians, Jazz’s presence in Greenwood after the Massacre can be seen as a kind of cultural revival, as the complex and liberating musical form is ultimately “one of the most effective ways to fortify communities of resistance and simultaneously reserve the right to communal pleasure” (Rose 61). Another area of uncertainty lies in the specifics of Black Wall Street’s Jazz environment in the years after the Massacre. They had several Jazz clubs, like The Rhythm Club, Casa Dell, Rialto Theater, and The Hole; they also produced several prominent Jazz musicians like Ernie Fields, Al Dennie, and Clarence Love (Carney). There are, however, no specific recordings of Tulsa’s many bands and musicians. This is consistent with the nature of Jazz–being that it’s based on an improvised and ever evolving musical conversation that creates and combusts with each song. It also reflects the somewhat uncertain nature of the District during this period. Despite some gaps in the records, it is resoundingly clear that at this time, Greenwood citizens sought to escape the bitter wound of the Massacre and pursue pleasure while also immersing themselves in their own culture and their own successes–Jazz is the epitome of that experience.
Despite the jazzy spirit of an exciting future, it was mostly just a bandaid over the gaping wound left by the Massacre. After overcoming obstacle after obstacle and managing to partially rebuild the Greenwood district and continue with their lives, the victims of the Massacre were still left behind, suffering from continued racism. Their struggle is evident in the efforts of Black Tulsans during the Civil Rights Movement. In comedic resilience, Black Tulsans held a “Jim Crow Funeral,” celebrating the anticipated death of segregation the same day Dr. King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech (OHS). Next year, CORE and the NAACP staged sit ins at local Tulsa restaurants which accompanied the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Aleckson). In addition to having to fight for these rights, University of Oklahoma student James W. Russell participated in the fight to desegregate Tulsa schools and provide equality in education (Aleckson). This had to be done despite the Brown vs Board of Education Supreme Court Case of 1954. During this era, Jazz’s transformation into Big Band music was followed by the beginnings of R&B and Rock n Roll. The escapism and resiliency of these tunes is exemplified by Ernie Fields’ Orchestra’s “In The Mood,” released in 1959. Fields was one of the more prominent musicians and bandleaders emerging from Tulsa, and he toured around the country before settling in Tulsa for his retirement (Carney).
The post-Massacre strife continued into the latter half of the 20th century, as the Greenwood District saw a period of relative decline. Several changes including the decrease of segregation, a new business climate, urban renewal, and the aging of Black Wall Street’s founders are likely major causes of the economic decline which began in the 1960s and continued throughout the 70s and 80s (Johnson, “Greenwood”). Even worse, a portion of the district was levelled in 1970 to make way for a highway (Day). During this time, as in the period directly following the Tulsa Race Massacre, Greenwood residents fueled their resilience and found solidarity in their music and other cultural forms. In addition to the building of the Greenwood Cultural Center in 1980, this reaffirmation of the Black experience arrived in the form of Funk.
Funk emerged toward the end of the Civil Rights Movement and grew to represent the more radical advocates of racial progress. This music “[burst] with power and energy,” and was embraced during this period as the music of Black pride–“a defiant celebration of African American identity” (“Ain’t It Funky”). Funk was developed by musical greats like James Brown, on the backs of innovative rhythms and provocative vocal techniques. The more politically impassioned tracks during this time drew heavily from the social surroundings of the era, and “[reflected] Black anger at decades of poverty, police brutality, and injustice” (“Ain’t It Funky”). In the atmosphere of increased racial tension and violence in the form of ‘riots,’ Black songwriters took to Funk music to write out their experiences and find collective solace. Although not always clearly (lyrically, that is) political in nature, Funk was a way to “signify that you’re celebrating everything about [Black] life;” Funk was a way to acknowledge the pain and suffering of being “trapped in [ghettos]” and to simultaneously condemn these conditions while also celebrating that Black Americans had a style and a rhythm and a soul to be proud of (“Ain’t It Funky”).
This funky celebration of Black identity wrapped up with defiant political resiliency happened in Tulsa, too. In fact, the perfect song to exemplify Black Tulsans’ pride in spite of their experiences of continued racism in the years following the Tulsa Race Massacre is “You Dropped a Bomb on Me,” released by The Gap Band in 1982. The Gap Band was formed by Tulsa residents and brothers Charlie, Ronnie, and Robert Wilson in 1974. As the brothers grew up in the Greenwood district, they named their group after 3 prominent streets–Greenwood, Archer, and Pine.
The song introduces itself with a single, sustained synth chord which is paused, followed by a quick laugh, before being reintroduced, accompanied by quick and powerfully thrusting drums. They are relentless, like a running march racing towards the beginning of the song. A low timpani crash ushers in the melody, played in synths and bordered consistently by the punching drums; a quick and lyrical cadence of notes ends each line. The first sound effect, which is repeated throughout the song, comes in — the whistle of a descending bomb. The lyrics begin, with a soft and high, yet masculine voice entering to introduce the toxic relationship between him and a woman who “dropped a bomb on [him].” The song is decidedly repetitive, with the same synthetic melody and strong percussion pattern never ceasing or decrescendoing for us. The chorus is especially repetitive, with “you dropped a bomb on me, baby” and “you turned me on/out, babe” chasing one another round and round.
The first, second, and third verses are short-lived, barely whizzing by before the return of the pleading, insistent chorus; the third time around, the chorus’ “baby” is accompanied by a sharp synth staccato, and the refrain is repeated 4 times here instead of 2 or 3. The next verse is 4 lines, like the first one, followed by the return of the chorus with new ad-libs like “I won’t forget what you done to me, babe” and more consistent bomb-noises which now rain down like a military barrage. They frame a new, repeated line–“I I-I I-I-I won’t forget it”. Before this is repeated again, there is a musical interlude accompanied by a new, high harmony layered over the original melody and the ever-increasing bombs.
To accompany the long outro of the song, the three brothers (previously only all 3 engaged during the choruses) now harmonize even more loosely as they sing newer, syncopated refrains of the phrases in the chorus which now flood in and out, and weave between the drums and melodies. Dramatic timpani rolls and rough crashes, along with vocal yells, are now present, with the timpani rolls beginning each line. The “I won’t forget it” lines are layered over the “you dropped a bomb on me” phrases and other variants, before one of the brothers sings out clearly, as if soulfully hovering over the song to exclaim “you dropped a bomb on me!” With one final whizz of a bomb, the song decrescendos away. Despite the seemingly romantic tone, and the song’s upbeat vibes, it certainly includes coded lyrical references to the incident between Dick Rowland and Sarah Page, the burning and alleged bombing of Greenwood, and the injustice inflicted upon Black Wall Street by its white neighbors. The urgent, emphatic refrains echo a piercing remembrance of the violence from the Tulsa Race Massacre, a wound which was likely reopened for many Greenwood residents during the period of renewed racial violence in the 60s and 70s.
The accompanying music video, it’s worth noting, isn’t exactly what one would expect for a coded account of resentment following a racist massacre. This is likely due to the popularity of the song and the commercial motive of the music video. The unique video is clearly using new, trendy, digital visual tricks of the 80s to maximize audience entertainment. The simplicity of the video seemingly gives no hints as to the songs’ meaning. However, the attractive effects and jubilant tone are certainly reflective of Funk’s celebration of blackness, despite poor circumstances. Moreover, military imagery in the music video, coupled with the lyrics, are an immediate connection for Greenwood residents and many other Black thinkers. Tulsa-based poet Clemonce Heard, in his poetic reflection on the song, notes that the video “surely [makes] witnesses feel like they’ve marched back in time,” referencing the coded message which is all too easy to spot for someone touched by the effects of the Tulsa Race Massacre (Heard). Together, the song and video reflect the realities Funk was able to confront for Black citizens and the residents of Greenwood, as they remembered and attempted to heal from the daily reminders of old wounds with a collective strength and cultural pride.
Old wounds seeped into the 21st century, with new Black artists attempting to reckon with the past and make plans for the future. Frequently this takes the form of rap music, which young Black citizens often use to convey their struggles and encourage a form of “Black urban renewal;” this borrows from the optimism of Jazz as well as Funk’s political advocacy and defiant self love of blackness (Rose 61). Steph Simon is a great example of what rap can look like as a cultural reflection of the Black experience in modern Greenwood. Simon’s “Visions” song and video reflect the hardships he has faced growing up as a young Black man in North Tulsa. The video features imagery of the impoverished conditions of the neighborhood, as well as some historical photographs, and modern Black residents frequently sporting commemorative 1921 t-shirts. The lyrics deal with experiences of poverty, police brutality, and the power of place and community over Simon’s personhood and life experiences. There is also, manifested within the video and lyrics, a discernible sense of love for the Greenwood community and the city itself.
In fact, Simon’s music, viewed collectively, reads like a love letter to his city and his community–one that is frank about the area’s shortcomings. His music also regularly harkens back to the past, with an entire verse in “Visions” remembering the Tulsa Race Massacre; as Simon empathizes with its victims you can feel that it’s also an intimate part of him and that he shares in this collective memory and the pain it brings. Reflecting on the past in a way that brings pride, his music features regular references to the historical prosperity of Black Wall Street, and appeals to revive this. In addition, his song “The Gap” makes use of a Gap Band sample from their “Outstanding” for its main melody, as Simon reflects upon the more carefree moments of his childhood, and the positive feelings his community (affectionately called “the gap” here) brings him. Other positive imagery can be heard in his more recently released song “Upside,” which “alternates between hard-won celebration of the present and somber memorial of the past” (Bernstein). The music video features Black Greenwood residents (especially children) having a celebration at the historic Skyline Mansion. Formerly named the Brady Mansion after its owner, Tulsan KKK member Tate Brady, and built to resemble the home of Robert E. Lee, it is now owned by Greenwood’s Booker T. Washington High School alum and retired NFL player Felix Jones (“History–The Skyline Mansion”). The Skyline Mansion was also home to a recording studio session for Fire in Little Africa, an album project lead by multiple Black artists who seek to “commemorate and interrogate the legacy” of the Tulsa Race Massacre and to encourage pride and revitalization in the area through music and community (Payne).
Projects like Fire in Little Africa, it seems, could come at no better time for America and for Tulsa. In 2020, as Hip-Hip dominates popular culture and is the most popular musical genre, race has reached the forefront of our public consciousness following an increased national discourse on racial injustice and systemic inequality (Lynch). Although these conversations and conflict play out at the national level, Tulsa and Greenwood have their own telling examples, and the Black citizens of Tulsa have come together in recent years to conduct activism for their communities. The 2016 death of Terrence Crutcher at the hands of police officer Betty Shelby and her subsequent lack of punishment reached national news, amid similar deaths of unarmed Black men at the hands of police officers. Tulsa, like the rest of the country, roared into a sea of Black Lives Matter protests and counter-protests in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd sparked calls for comprehensive police reform and defunding. Greenwood community members came together to paint a Black Lives Matter mural on Greenwood Avenue. Other activism is also conducted by this community in connection with its past, including the weekly protests of Reverend Dr. Robert Turner at Tulsa City Hall to seek reparations for the Tulsa Race Massacre. Juneteenth celebrations occur yearly, where the joy of Black life is celebrated in spite of historic and continued attempts to devalue it. There are also ongoing efforts to understand and reconcile with the Tulsa Race Massacre, in the form of archaeological investigations in search of mass graves (City of Tulsa).
It is important to note, however, that just as Black Wall Street was not allowed to exist as a beacon of Black success and defiance within a racist country, the activism for Black lives 100 years later also faces violent resistance from white Tulsans. The Black Lives Matter mural on Greenwood Avenue was defaced with paint, refuting the value of Black life in 2020 (Dekker). Donald Trump chose to host his first campaign rally, amid a pandemic, in a venue just a few miles from Greenwood on Juneteenth; despite changing the date slightly, his racist message and impact remained. Black Lives Matter protests and calls for police reform and defunding have been met with hatred and ignorance by many white Tulsans. Perhaps worst of all, in an all-too-familiar scene, Reverend Dr. Robert Turner was harassed by a mostly white group of Tulsan anti-mask protestors when they crossed paths as he advocated for Tulsans to support reparations and reconciliation for the Tulsa Race Massacre (The Black Wall Street Times).
This is not to say that there are no white Tulsans who value Black life. After all, white Tulsans helped to restore the Black Lives Matter mural, many joined Black Tulsans in their 2020 protests, and some accompanied the Rev. Dr. Robert Turner on a later protest to again advocates for reparations (Simons; Stanley). This is merely to say that, as the Reverend pointed out after he was attacked, “the racism that destroyed Black Wall Street in 1921 is alive and well in 2020” (The Black Wall Street Times). A great many white people in Tulsa are, at best, harmfully complacent and, at worst, actively resistant in the fight to protect the rights and lives of Black people. Plenty of them look like the composite teenage character presented earlier; they listen to Black music forms but never use them to learn about their own privilege and how it stands in contrast to their fellow citizens.
The musical efforts of Black artists have always been tied to the argument that Black life is valuable, and the creations of Blues, Jazz, and Rap stand as a testament to this. However, just as we have racism in 2020 despite Rap being widely popular, anti-Black racism has always coexisted with white affinity for Black music. The great Jazz halls of the U.S., like the famed Cotton Club of Harlem, New York, where Jazz icons like Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington performed, were often segregated or catered exclusively to white audiences, and they stereotyped Black artists, dehumanizing them in the process of using their music for entertainment (Winter). Knott’s Cotton Club could have been attended by white, Jazz-loving Tulsans, but it was burned down like the rest of Black Wall Street all the same; it now awaits its commemorative plaque under a highway that cuts right through Greenwood, next to faded murals from 1990s revitalization efforts.
These faded murals, however, also lie next to the new Black Wall Street mural, which celebrates the revived efforts to restore the area to its former glory and to achieve justice for Massacre victims and modern Black Tulsans. This new mural, down the street from the Greenwood Cultural Center and the Vernon A.M.E. Church (the last standing structure from the Massacre era) offers a visual celebration of Black Wall Street’s cultural contributions past and present. It also offers a reminder of the pain caused by events like the Tulsa Race Massacre, the crippling harm rendered by a century of continued racism, and the work required to accomplish the bright future that lies ahead. At the heart of Greenwood, Black Tulsans like Steph Simon fight to have their lives valued by the rest of Tulsa and the rest of America to the extent that their musical creations are valued. For Black musicians today, their art provides a chance for them to be heard on their own terms. For Tulsan musicians who carry the legacy of Greenwood, they are taking the chance to define what they want their communities to look like moving forward. To do this, they seek to use their music to teach about the pain of the past and the hope of the future. The music of Greenwood reveals to us that in order to heal and move forward from our historic and current racism as a country, we must understand and honor our past, and make amends when needed. The advocacy of Black citizens – musical and otherwise – must fall on deaf ears no longer; as the sons of Greenwood sing songs of remembrance, white Tulsans must begin to truly listen.
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