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Local & Regional

Local Historian Speaks About Greenwood's History

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A local historian gave a lesson to the Tulsa Regional Chamber about the history of Greenwood this morning.

Hannibal Johnson is the chair of the education committee for the Race Massacre Centennial Commission and the author of Black Wall Street 100: An American City Grapples With Its Historical Racial Trauma. Johnson spoke about misconceptions he hears about Greenwood.

One is that Greenwood disappeared after the massacre.

"A lot of people I talk with don't understand that the Greenwood community was destroyed, but it was rebuilt. It actually peaked in the early-to-mid 1940's," said Johnson.

Johnson said Greenwood was founded out of necessity. Black people were not permitted to do business with white people, and so they created their own economy. In the 60's and 70's, policies on integration started to change, so Greenwood changed, too.

"Integration comes along in the 60's and 70's and dollars are allowed to flow out of the community. It undermines the financial foundation of the community," said Johnson.

The construction of Interstate 244 also fractured Greenwood.

Johnson also said that some people believe the Greenwood community did not defend itself, but that isn't right. Greenwood citizens defended themselves as best they could, though the effort was short-lived since they were outnumbered and not armed as well as their attackers.

Finally, Johnson said some people tend to exaggerate the death toll.

The official death toll of the massacre sits at 36, while those who have studied the massacre put it at 100-300. Johnson said he's heard it misstated as high as 3,000.

"That kind of exaggeration only fuels those who say that didn't happen, this wasn't a big deal," said Johnson.

Johnson also spoke about recently passed legislation that limits the teachings of certain racial concepts in public schools. He called HB 1775 a "solution in search of a problem."

"There is no problem," he said. "What's happening is that the demographic realities of America are catching up, and without exploring what that means or what that could mean for our nation in a positive sense, some people are letting anxiety and fear take over," said Johnson.