TULSA (AP) — Placing the site of Tulsa’s 1921 race riot on the list of National Register of Historic Places would teach future generations how to learn from the atrocities that happened there, preservationists said Tuesday.
The Greenwood Historic District, which encompasses about 36 city blocks in north Tulsa, could make it on the federal register as early as December if the city’s 94-page nomination is approved by the National Park Service.
In one of the nation’s worst race riots, some 300 blacks were killed and dozens of black-owned businesses were looted and burned to the ground. The violence decimated the Greenwood District, where black businesses, newspapers and grocery stores, thrived along what historians today call the Black Wall Street.
“Not all of our history is pleasant events,” said Melvena Heisch, Oklahoma’s deputy historic preservation officer. “It’s important we understand the things that led to the tragedy and that those events not be forgotten.”
The state’s historic preservation office will send the application in late October to the park service, and the government has 45 days to consider the nomination
While being added to the national register is largely an honorary designation, the city’s preservation planner said Tuesday it shows the federal government recognizes that Greenwood is “an important place.”
“It’s another piece toward reconciliation,” said planner Amanda DeCort. “It’s not going to fix everything, everybody knows that, but it’s another thing we can do to recognize Black Wall Street, what went on here in 1921 and help tell the story to the public.”
Geographically speaking, planners view the Greenwood District in three parts: the area where blacks settled in Tulsa in 1905, the part encompassed by the 1921 riot and a look at how the area has rebuilt post-riot, according to the application.
Tulsa author Eddie Faye Gates, who has written extensively about the black experience in the city of 391,000, said a national designation will educate people unfamiliar with the city’s dark past.
“It would acknowledge the things that went wrong, and those who stepped up to make sure all people were created equal,” Gates said from her home Tuesday.