Hip Hop And Healing: Commemorating Tulsa

May 30, 2021

Hip-hop artists from the Fire In Little Africa project which commemorates the Tulsa Race Massacre centenary.
Credit Ryan Cass

Monday, May 31, 2021, at 9 PM

A century ago, one of the worst episodes of racial violence in US history took place - the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

Greenwood was a prosperous and thriving district, nicknamed 'Black Wall Street' because it was a mecca for Black entrepreneurs and businesses. On Memorial Day 1921, a young shoe-shiner, Dick Rowland, was wrongly accused of attacking a white girl in an elevator - a charge she would quickly recant.

But after a sensationalist newspaper report, a mob gathered outside the courthouse. Violence broke out, many of the white mob were deputised and given arms. During the evening of 31 May 1921 and 1 June, 35 square blocks of Greenwood were looted and burned to the ground. The true extent of the massacre will never be known, but the Red Cross at the time estimated up to 300 residents lost their lives, over 1200 homes were destroyed. Property damage totalled almost $2 million.

Since the massacre was declared a 'riot', insurance claims were rendered invalid but miraculously many in the community managed to rebuild.

Jerica D Wortham is an author, poet, and publisher, born and raised in Greenwood. Jerica invites us to witness how the community is marking the centennial.

Fire In Little Africa is a multimedia project uniting local hip-hop artists. Now signed to Motown, their album is a personal response not only to the massacre, but to Greenwood today and their vision for its future. It is about community healing but also a reawakening of Black Wall Street, reclaiming the entrepreneurial spirit of their ancestors.

We also meet two community elders preparing works for The Greenwood Art Project, an initiative of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission and part of Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge. They experienced the rebuilding of Greenwood and the destructive impact of ‘urban renewal’ policies. Two local poets Crystal Carter and Sterling Matthews share their responses, alongside Jerica’s own poem A Love Letter To Greenwood.

Listen to the documentary from the BBC World Service