ConsultEcon Management & Economic Insight


June 22, 2021
Greenwood Burning—Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921
Written by: Thomas J. Martin, President, and James Stevens, Senior Associate, ConsultEcon, Inc.

Finally, widespread recognition of one of the worst incidents of racial violence in American history is occurring with the centennial and commemoration of the burning and massacre in Greenwood, the black neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma and its commercial district known as Black Wall Street. This massacre was the culmination of a number of years of major racial unrest in nearly three dozen American communities that followed the end of World War I, a significant national economic downturn and the Spanish Flu epidemic[1]. Among the events and documentaries, a new museum, Greenwood Rising: Black Wall Street History Center opens in June 2021 to memorialize this event. A slate of documentaries and movies[2], (CNN "Dreamland: The Burning of Black Wall Street" (trailer); PBS “Goin' Back to T-Town”; History channel “Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre”) are exposing the story to mass audiences.

The event, in which many residents of Greenwood were murdered, and 40 square blocks were burned to the ground, was generally unknown outside of Tulsa, and even among many residents.  After the rebuilding of Greenwood, subsequent violence against the residents of Greenwood was perpetrated through urban renewal and highway construction in the district.  The southern end of Greenwood closest to Greenwood and Archer was historically the “100 percent corner” of Black Wall Street and a checkerboard of important institutions.  Mt. Zion Baptist Church, the Greenwood Cultural Center, the block long redevelopment of Black Wall Street are today isolated from its residential neighborhoods by Interstate 244 and the Oklahoma State University Campus.  

Awareness of the massacre grew with a movement in the 1990s that led to the formation of the Tulsa Race Riot Commission by the State of Oklahoma. While the state legislature did not act upon it, the commission recommended reparations[3]. Following the commission’s report, the Greenwood Cultural Center and the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park were funded and constructed as part of responding to this community disaster. The National Park Service conducted a Reconnaissance Survey in 2005 which indicated that the massacre merited national recognition as an important event in American History.

The pain of this event and enduring generational trauma still affects the community today[4] (National Geographic June 2021: Tulsa finally confronts the day a white mob destroyed a Black community; Wall Street Journal, “The Tulsa Race Massacre: 100 Years later” May 29-30, 2021). There are continuing calls for reparations to account for the damage of the massacre on generations of black Tulsans. Like George Floyd’s death and Black Lives Matter, the centennial commemoration is yet another reminder of the damage that racial violence has done and that there is much work to be done in racial reconciliation.

ConsultEcon, Inc., in partnership with CityVisions Associates, in 2014 worked with representatives from the Greenwood and the larger Tulsa community to prepare an economic development strategic planning initiative for Greenwood.  This initiative focused on (supporting and returning) Greenwood to its proper place in the overall Tulsa community, in the local African American community and in the nation.  The work was funded by the ONEOK Foundation and resulted in 25 specific recommendations covering business district economic development, connectivity, and tourism development, as well as enhancement to the Greenwood Cultural Center and the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation.  While this event occurred 100 years ago, it is still present and resonant as the nation goes thru another period of racial unrest and attempts to come to terms with what has been called America’s original sin.  The staff of ConsultEcon is pleased to support and work toward these efforts to make our country a more perfect union.


[1] “Red Summer” Wikipedia: