Against a black backdrop, the north-facing wall of Interstate 244 in the Greenwood District says “Black Wall St.” in large, white-framed block letters, each of which depicts a part of Tulsa’s black history.
The “K,” which first attracts the eye, includes imagery of the burning of buildings on Black Wall Street during the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, with flames and smoke trailing up to the concrete barrier of the highway. The first “L” contains an eagle in a nod to The Oklahoma Eagle, Tulsa’s black-owned newspaper, while the “T” — which drew arguably the highest interest for photo-ops on Friday — shows off the hornet mascot associated with Booker T. Washington High School.
“We know that black is beautiful, so we might as well have a mural that is also beautiful and that complements us,” State Rep. Regina Goodwin told the audience at the Greenwood Cultural Center Friday afternoon, where community leaders publicly unveiled the display, simply named “The Black Wall Street Mural,” 97 years after the Tulsa Race Riot took place.
The Tulsa Race Riot Centennial Commission, TYPros Foundation and Fowler Ford sponsored the installation of the mural, which sprung out of a partnership between the cultural center and Tulsa artist Chris “Sker” Rogers, who worked with Tulsan Bill White and Kansas City-based graffiti artist Donald “Scribe” Ross to complete the project.
“When I see this mural, I see good and bad,” District 1 City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper said of the mural’s components. “I see success. I see destruction. I see murder, resilience, spirit, history, talent and injustice.
“We have so much to do in preserving the history of Greenwood and Black Wall Street and making so many wrongs right. And, yes, a mural doesn’t solve any of those problems, but what it does is lighten the spirit and sparks interest — an interest that will create a space to tell our story. And that’s what art does.”
Scribe, who has also installed murals in Kendall-Whittier and the Tulsa Arts District, said he hopes the Black Wall Street illustration “plants some seeds in the community” so it can be unified.
“We expect this new Black Wall Street mural will increase tourism to the community, will foster new conversation about our shared past and our shared future, and will bring people together,” Rogers said. White, echoing that view, said every person he has spoken to about the mural so far has had a different interpretation about its meaning.
Goodwin said she was glad to see Greenwood “come alive” again as a result of the artwork.
“What we should do is make sure Greenwood is a place that is welcoming for black folks, that is welcoming for white folks, Hispanic, Native American, what have you,” she said. “The bottom line is this: when we all work together and we all give our best, Tulsa will become one community, and that will indeed be a great day.”