On the 102nd anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre, the efforts for justice in the historic Greenwood neighborhood are being overshadowed and undermined by hollow symbolism. The powerful imagery of television crews, passionate protests, and presidential declarations has faded away, leaving Greenwood to face its struggles alone.
Greenwood, also known as “Black Wall Street,” has endured a steady decline over the years. Once a vibrant hub filled with grand homes, lively nightclubs, and majestic churches, the neighborhood now stands diminished. Only a block and a half of humble storefronts and a neglected community center remain. To make matters worse, much of the land that was once owned by Black residents has been taken over by white-controlled enterprises, such as high-rise apartments, a sprawling college campus, and even a sports stadium.
The haunting contradictions in Greenwood are impossible to ignore. Sidewalk plaques that commemorate the burned-down businesses from the race massacre now serve as welcome mats for gleaming new office buildings. A mural adorns the highway that once tore through the neighborhood, destroying homes and businesses, but its purpose seems more focused on garnering Instagram likes than on delivering tangible benefits to Greenwood’s descendants.
Despite the attention brought by popular culture through shows like HBO’s Watchmen and Lovecraft Country, the fight for justice in Greenwood is far from over. Symbolic gestures can easily distract visitors and journalists, but to truly grasp the gravity of the situation, one must become part of the community.
Journalist Victor Luckerson experienced this firsthand. He relocated to Tulsa and delved deep into Greenwood’s history, examining land transactions, lawsuits, and conducting oral history interviews with those affected by the race massacre. He immersed himself in the present-day struggles, covering protests, court hearings, and legislative debates aimed at restoring justice to the community.
One of the pressing issues for Black Tulsans is police violence, which remains a constant concern. Tiffany Crutcher, a descendant of race massacre survivors, became a vocal police reform activist after her unarmed twin brother, Terence, was killed by a Tulsa police officer in 2016. Despite initial promises of change, including talks of an independent monitor for the police force, the momentum fizzled out, and little progress was made. Crutcher now focuses on grassroots efforts, listening to the concerns of the community and working towards policy advancements through her Terence Crutcher Foundation.
Regina Goodwin, another descendant of massacre survivors and a state legislator representing the Greenwood district, aims to restore the neighborhood’s physical landscape. She advocates for removing the I-244 overpass that was built on the ruins of Greenwood. Goodwin envisions freeing up land for commercial and residential development that directly benefits the historic residents. To prevent the cycle of gentrification, she proposes creating a community-owned land trust.
Three survivors of the Tulsa race massacre, now in their twilight years, seek justice through a lawsuit against the city, government agencies, and the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce. Their aim is restitution for the destruction of vital community institutions and the suffering endured by thousands during the massacre. The case, currently being considered by the court, holds the potential to shed new light on the massacre’s untold details.
Regardless of the trial’s outcome, Greenwood’s fight for justice will persist. The issues it faces, including police reform, destructive urban planning policies, and reparations, resonate with Black communities across America. These are collective problems that demand collective solutions, requiring unity and collaboration to bring about lasting change. The story of Greenwood must not fade into obscurity again; it serves as a stark reminder of the work that lies ahead in addressing systemic injustices.