How Highways Finally Crushed Black Tulsa

Greenwood 1930s

Greenwood’s heyday stretched into the 1950s, and even its moniker—”The Black Wall Street”—dates from this period.

What finally killed Greenwood wasn’t an angry racist mob, it was the federally-funded interstate highway system. Coupled with urban renewal, highways built through North Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood in the late 1960s did what the Klan and white racists couldn’t do: demolish the and depopulate the place. That’s the key conclusion of a newly published book by Carlos Moreno, which chronicles the neighborhood’s destruction, rebirth, and ultimate demise at the hands of the highway builders. NBC News interviewed Moreno, and reported:

In his new book set to be released next week, “The Victory of Greenwood,” Moreno explores how the neighborhood had a second renaissance led by Black Tulsans after the massacre, rebuilding even bigger than before. It was not the bloodshed that eventually destroyed most of Greenwood, however; rather, it was this, he said, pointing to the spaghetti of interchanges to the south and the expressway that stretches north.

In an essay at Next City, Moreno explains:

What often gets erased from Greenwood’s history is its 45 years of prosperity after the massacre and the events that led to Greenwood’s second destruction: The Federal-Aid Highway Acts of 1965 and 1968. As early as 1957, Tulsa’s Comprehensive Plan included creating a ring road (locally dubbed the Inner-Dispersal Loop, or IDL); a tangle of four highways encircling the downtown area. The north (I-244) and east (U.S. 75) sections of the IDL were designed to replace the dense, diverse, mixed-use, mixed-income, pedestrian, and transit-oriented Greenwood and Kendall-Whittier neighborhoods.

As in so many other US cities, the construction of freeways was used to demolish, divide and isolate communities of color. President Biden acknowledged the federal government’s role in Greenwood’s decline in his proclamation of a Day of Remembrance:

And in later decades, Federal investment, including Federal highway construction, tore down and cut off parts of the community. The attack on Black families and Black wealth in Greenwood persisted across generations.

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