"Pathway To Hope" Seeks To Start Conversation About Damage Building I-244 Did To Greenwood

May 28, 2021

As Tulsa commemorates the centennial of a white mob's 1921 attack that leveled the prosperous Black community of Greenwood and killed as many as 300 residents, there's another historical wrong to discuss: an interstate cutting through the district.

The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission and Greenwood leaders dedicated the "Pathway to Hope" Friday evening. The pedestrian walkway connects Greenwood and Elgin avenues behind ONEOK Field. It was built along the south side of I-244 on an area that was mostly unused.

Community leaders hope the highway can be relocated someday. 

"It allows us to say, 'So, what does environmental justice look like? What does it mean to raise money to relocate this highway?'" said 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission Project Director Phil Armstrong.

Tulsa native Reuben Gant has worked to boost Greenwood's profile in the days after his six-year career in the NFL. Gant said while the Tulsa Race Massacre destroyed Greenwood, its Black residents rebuilt, and it once again became a thriving community.

"But what really destroyed Greenwood was not the massacre itself, but it was desegregation, the building of a highway in the middle of a business district and urban renewal," Gant said.

Desegregation let Black Tulsans visit white-owned businesses. With less money changing hands in Greenwood, it hit an economic slump in the 1960s. Then, a new section of interstate was built through the community, resulting in Black-owned property being seized and Greenwood's remaining business district getting cut off from the rest of the community. 

"Pathway to Hope" symbolically reconnects the Greenwood district. It will also feature art and plaques honoring Greenwood residents.

The first plaque unveiled honors Julius Pegues. Born 14 years after the Tulsa Race Massacre, Pegues became Pitt's first Black basketball player. He returned to Tulsa and has been deeply involved in the community.

The project cost a total of $5 million, with the Sanford and Irene Bernstein Foundation and the Tulsa Stadium Trust providing principal funding. The centennial commission also provided funding for the walkway.