As Tulsa marks 100 years since the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, business owners in Greenwood said they are proud to be a part of a revitalization and making sure the resiliency of Black Wall Street continues.
At Vici B’s Dance Company, young ballerinas are prancing into history with every move.
Owner Victoreah Brunson said she brought her business to the Greenwood District two years ago for a reason.
“The history of Greenwood is so powerful for our community, and I wanted all of my dancers to feel that as soon as we hit Greenwood,” Brunson said.
Brunson said it is fitting that her dance company is across from where the Dreamland Theatre used to stand before it burned down in the 1921 Massacre.
Brunson started with only eight students and now has 63.
“I just hope to always empower young girls in our community that might not see ballerinas the same color as them—but for them to know that no matter their race, no matter their body types that they can also achieve the goal, and vision, and dream that they have to be a dancer.
A few doors down, Cleo Harris, Jr. restocked t-shirts and souvenirs after a successful year.
He said faith led him to his business, which he called a ministry.
“It means a lot. I’m from here; I grew up down here,” Harris, Jr. shared.
Harris, Jr.’s business started a few years ago with the t-shirt design “Kill Racism, Not Me” and selling the shirts outside a restaurant.
He now works out of a storefront in the Greenwood District.
It is one of the first stops for all visitors, and there is more than just mementos.
Visitors can find educational books and people to help discuss what happened here.
“That is my goal: to let people feel comfortable enough to talk about those things that are hard to talk about and begin that healing process in both communities—Black and white,” Harris, Jr. explained.
More people are stopping by this one block stretch of 30 businesses housed in these 10 buildings.
There is a wide range of businesses—from insurance, to taxes, to bail bonds services, to several restaurants, a health food store, and a barbershop and many more.
Dr. Freeman Culver is the president and CEO of the Historic Greenwood Chamber of Commerce.
He said so many people around the world are learning about the work being done here.
“The negro city directories of the 1920s show that there were 191 African American businesses registered with the city,” Dr. Culers said. “10 years after the massacre, there were 242 businesses registered. So, that shows the great progress that was made even after tragedy, and that’s why this is so significant—this centennial.”
Dr. Culver said 28 of the businesses are owned by Black entrepreneurs, and 85 percent of these owners are Black women.
As a dark part of Tulsa’s history comes to light, Dr. Culver believes it is helping this community share hope.
“There were resilient enough to come together and build it back. And so, that story of resiliency—we’ve been dealing with a pandemic, a lot of people had to close their businesses, some lost their jobs, and some lost their health,” Dr. Culver said.
Whether strolling through or stopping by a business, people of all ages are learning from these experiences.
Ron Littles used to have an upholstery business here in the 1980s.
Now, he enjoys showing his granddaughter, McKinley Henderson, the value of supporting this street.
“It is really history, and I thought it is something to be proud of since they have brought it back up,” Littles said.
For 8-year-old McKinley, it is inspiring.
The past is helping her young mind plan for the future: “probably owning a cake shop or something like that,” McKinley said.
As for the future of Greenwood, Dr. Culver sees continued inspiration and success.
“The buildings are going to be renovated, looking great,” Culver said. “There will be 100 businesses in here. The dollar is going to circulate amongst the business owners and throughout the community. There is just so much potential.”
Potential to prosper like it once did and revitalize Black Wall Street.