#wcw: Lola T. Williams

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I am a firm believer that you must know where you come from in order to know where you are going. I even have a Sankofa tattooed on my back. During the past year, I have taken an interest in learning about the Black Wall Street. It’s imperative for us as a people to know where we come from. We need to understand what we are genetically capable of (again). Our history did not start here…

The name “Black Wall Street” was given to one of the most affluent neighborhoods in America.  It’s creation was very intentional. Entrepreneur, O.W. Gurley, an African-American man from Arkansas, moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1900.  Oklahoma was a state for Native Americans and Blacks with 28 Black townships settled around the beginning of the oil boom in the early 1900’s. Gurley, purchased 40 acres of land and only sold it to other African-Americans.

Black Wall Street consisted of 36-blocks, 11,000 people, and over 6oo businesses: 21 churches, 30 grocery stories, 2 movie theaters, hospital, banks, libraries, schools, law offices and a bus system. Let’s not forget the 6 families  who owned personal airplanes at a time when Oklahoma only had two, 1..2, airports. The doctors of this bustling neighborhood even owned medical schools. One of the most notable doctors was Dr. Berry, who also owned the bus system. His average income was $500 a day and I am not referring to what it would be in today’s market. This thriving community believed in nepotism and education.  It was noted that most of the students went to school in business attire because of the principles that were embedded.

This community flourished until June 1st, 1921. When we think of the word holocaust, we think of the Jewish people. Blame it on the bias history we were taught. But nah, what happened in Tulsa was a holocaust in every sense of the word .  It was reported that anywhere between 3oo-1,000 people were killed and 1,500 homes destroyed. Another story of our prosperity and (attempted) destruction left out of American history books. The Greenwood neighborhood was leveled in a day.  The famous GAP band is from Greenwoood. GAP stands for Green, Arch, and Pine streets, main through-ways in the historic neighborhood. 

I was determined to find female entrepreneurs of Black Wall Street and I did. The first I discovered was Lola T. Williams. She was one of the most prominent entrepreneurs in Tulsa. Mrs. Williams owned the Dreamland Theatre. Actually, she had a chain of theatres in the area, totaling about 3-4. They were all called Dreamland. The theatre held a thousand people showing live musicals, films and vaudeville. During this time, most African American theatres were operated by whites. Not only was she African-American, she was female and owned multiple theatres. When the theatre was destroyed she rebuilt and it continued to be a black theatre until the 1950’s.

I encourage you all to do your own research on Black Wall Street. I’m sure it will leave you mad but I hope it leaves you more inspired than anything.

 

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