City of Tulsa Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) Map (circa 1930s), courtesy of Mapping Inequality. The area in red covers much of Greenwood and North Tulsa, meaning the HOLC assessor designated the area swathed in red as “Hazardous” to lending institutions. This designation effectively signaled to potential lenders that Greenwood and North Tulsa were “Undesirable” and effectively disinvested the entire area.

Practices such as redlining disinvested Greenwood while mid-century Urban renewal efforts and capital and infrastructure improvement projects that served white Tulsans transformed what had once been a thriving, prosperous, and independent community of Black business people and families into a gentrified, primarily white-occupied area. 

In 1967, an interstate highway was built directly through the Greenwood district, dividing the City of Tulsa in two. The highway separates the North side from the South side, and, largely, the poor from the wealthy, the Black from the white, and the neglected from the preserved.

Disparities in policing and criminal justice can also be traced back to the Massacre. In the weeks following the event, the City of Tulsa issued a report, which said, “Let the blame for this negro uprising lie right where it belongs—on those armed negros and their followers who started this trouble and who instigated it and any persons who seek to put half the blame on the white people are wrong . . . .”[1] Later, a grand jury came to the same conclusion and recommended “more policing and more regulation of the black community.”[2] Over time, that very recommendation came to fruition: in an interview with the Human Rights Watch in 2017, “Former Police Chief [Drew] Diamond said that policing is carried out ‘differently’ in North Tulsa than in the rest of the city, and that officers in North Tulsa regularly conduct unnecessary stops of black people.”[3]

The most poignant instance of foreshadowing of the present state of the Tulsa Police Department’s relationship with Tulsa’s Black community is described in James S. Hirsch’s book, “Riot and Remembrance: The Tulsa Race War and Its Legacy”:  

Even after the riot was over, white Tulsans continued to believe that they would be invaded by armed Negroes from other towns as the police fielded dozens of panicked calls to that effect[;] City leaders formed the Business Man’s Protective League of two hundred fifty men to deploy armed patrols on the roads leading to Tulsa as well as key streets within city limits. In what a later age would call ‘racial profiling,’ they were instructed to halt any African American who looked suspicious and to fire if the individual refused to stop on command.187

. . . fire if the individual refused to stop on command. These words sound remarkably similar to the explanation now-former Tulsa Police Officer Betty Jo Shelby gave in an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes after she shot and killed Terence Crutcher, an unarmed Black man, in September of 2016, as he walked away from her with his hands in the air:

If he would've complied. If he would have communicated with me, if he would've just done as I asked him to do we would not be here.188

[1] ROOT, “GET ON THE GROUND!”, at 28 (citing Tulsa City Commission Meeting Minutes (Jun. 14, 1921), excerpted in HANNIBAL B. JOHNSON, BLACK WALL STREET: FROM RIOT TO RENAISSANCE IN TULSA’S HISTORIC GREENWOOD DISTRICT, 62 (2007)).


[3] ROOT, “GET ON THE GROUND!”,  at 85.

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