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U.S. labor secretary touts recent federal legislation on Greenwood visit

United States Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh exits Black Wall Street T-Shirts and Souvenirs on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023, during a tour of Greenwood Avenue.
Max Bryan
United States Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh exits Black Wall Street T-Shirts and Souvenirs on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023, during a tour of Greenwood Avenue.

Secretary Marty Walsh visited Tulsa's historic Black Wall Street on Thursday. During his visit, he said legislation passed during the current administration can be used to improve Black Americans' economic situation.

United States Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh touted legislation he believes will help Black Americans economically during his visit to Tulsa's historic Greenwood Avenue on Thursday — a visit he called "an important history lesson."

During his tour of the district Thursday morning, Walsh met with the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce and several small business owners and spoke about economic opportunities for Black Americans.

Greenwood Avenue was home to arguably the most prosperous Black neighborhood in the United States before a white mob razed the entire area and killed more than 100 residents in 1921. Any possible resurgence was later hampered by the construction of Interstate 244, which divides the area to this day.

"It was destroyed, and it didn't go away, and right now, we think about where we are as a country — President Biden and Vice President Harris have been very clear — we want to be equitable in our work," Walsh said.

Walsh said the Biden Administration is taking a bottom-up approach to the economy — a contrast to the "trickle-down" approach that creates pathways to the middle class. He said Black Americans disproportionately don't get to experience financial security and home ownership.

Walsh's visit to Tulsa came two days after the State of the Union address, where Biden pointed out that the unemployment rate for Black Americans was the second-lowest it's been in recorded history.

"On the other side of that coin, the Black unemployment rate is twice that of white. The wealth of white people over Black people is far more than two times ... The president has been very focused on that, and making sure that, we can talk about the celebration and say, 'We've done good things here,' but our work isn't done," Walsh said.

Walsh touted legislation passed under the Biden Administration like the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, which he believes will help provide all Americans pathways to economic stability.

During his visit, Walsh toured Greenwood Rising, the museum in the district that documents the massacre.

"What really struck me is, it wasn't that long ago," Walsh said.

Cleo Harris, the owner of Black Wall Street Tees and Souvenirs and a descendant of a woman hurt in the massacre, said Walsh's visit to his store was "impactful" for him. Harris said he was able to share his thoughts and concerns with Walsh during his visit.

"I would like to see reparations, I would like to see more support for Black-owned businesses, and I would like to see preserving the history in a way where it is not just a ceremonial-type thing, fun fest, but a memorial to where people can learn the true, authentic history of what happened here," Harris said.

Neither state Rep. Regina Goodwin nor city councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper — the municipal and state elected officials who represent the Greenwood District — were aware of Walsh's visit. The Chamber did not confirm if Goodwin or Hall-Harper had been contacted about the event, but Walsh's office said in a statement that it's "standard practice" to notify the governor's office and mayor's office of these kinds of visits.

Because they did not attend Walsh's visit, Goodwin and Hall-Harper declined to comment on the event.

But when asked what kind of investment she would like to see in the area from a federal level, Goodwin said she'd like to see the northern leg of Interstate 244 removed. In 2022, U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigeig said money awarded to the city through the Infrastructure Act could be used to address the divide the highway has caused.

Goodwin also said there's a difference between empowerment and gentrification when people talk about revitalization.

"I would hope the federal government, the state government, the county government and the city government would understand that," Goodwin said.

Max Bryan is a news anchor and reporter for KWGS. A Tulsa native, Bryan worked at newspapers throughout Arkansas and in Norman before coming home to "the most underrated city in America." Several of Bryan's news stories have either led to or been cited in changes both in the public and private sectors.