Coalition seeking national monument status for Black Wall Street, Greenwood District

City councilors will discuss on Wednesday whether to support an effort to have Black Wall Street and the historic Greenwood District designated as a national monument.

Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper is part of a local coalition working on the project and is the sponsor of the resolution.

The federal government “seeks the support of the community, and one way to do that is through resolutions from the city and local government, letters of support from the Mayor’s Office and other organizations and entities,” Hall Harper said.

The issue is on a committee meeting agenda. If councilors decide to move forward with the resolution, it would be voted on Feb. 22.

National monuments can be designated through an act of Congress or by the president through the use of the Antiquities Act. The resolution before city councilors on Wednesday encourages President Biden to make the designation.

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“The National Park Service’s ‘1921 Tulsa Race Riot Reconnaissance Survey’ found the Historic Greenwood District and Black Wall Street, and the Tulsa Race Massacre, to be ‘nationally significant,’” the resolution reads in part.

Historians have estimated that as many as 300 people were killed in the rioting that took place on May 31 and June 1, 1921, destroying more than 30 blocks of Black Wall Street and the Greenwood District and leaving thousands homeless.

The official death toll, according to death certificates, was 37.

To date, 83 properties of historical, cultural or natural significance have earned the national monument designation, according to the National Park Service’s website. They include the Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument and the Booker T. Washington National Monument in Virginia.

Mayor G.T. Bynum sent a letter to President Biden last week urging him to add Black Wall Street and the Greenwood District to the list.

“Desite the events that unfolded in 1921, the legacy of Black Wall Street and Greenwood lives on and stands as a testament to the resilience and entrepreneurial spirit of our community,” Bynum wrote.

“Designating this monument would not only acknowledge the tremendous contributions of those in this community, but it would also serve as a powerful symbol of perseverance in the face of adversity.”

Reuben Gant, executive director of the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation, said his hope is that the Greenwood District will be recognized for its historical significance.

“All that it does is it stamps the Greenwood area as a significant part of American history,” Gant said. “And so, basically, the effort is to solidify Greenwood’s story in American history.”

Gant said a number of Greenwood organizations are working on the project.

“It is basically all of the parties that operate or own properties within the Greenwood District,” he said. “So it would be the universities, the (Greenwood) Cultural Center, the churches, Greenwood Chamber. Just trying to get a coalition of support before we step out and get a full-blown community support for the idea.”

The coalition plans to engage the public in the effort, Gant said, but no timeline has been established for completing the process.

“The federal government works at their own pace,” he said. “So I wouldn’t want to build up false hope.”

The Greenwood District was added to the National Register of Historic Places last year. In 2020, John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park was designated as part of the nation’s African American Civil Rights Network.

President Joe Biden designated the first national monument of his administration at Camp Hale, a World War II-era training site in this state, as he called for protecting “treasured lands” that tell the story of America. The announcement at Camp Hale is a boost to the state’s senior Democratic senator, Michael Bennet, who has for years advocated for the designation and is in a competitive re-election bid this November. The location is an alpine training site where U.S. soldiers prepared for battles in the Italian Alps during World War II. Many troops who trained at Camp Hale returned to Colorado after the war and helped create the state’s lucrative ski industry.While most national monuments protect extraordinary natural landscapes, there are at least 12 other military sites designated as national monuments by other presidents. “When you think of the natural beauty of Colorado and the history of our nation, you’ll find it here,” Biden said. The Biden administration also announced Wednesday it is pausing new mining and oil and gas drilling on 225,000 acres of public land in the Thompson Divide, a natural gas-rich area not far from Camp Hale. The move is separate from the monument designation. Citing a need to protect wildlife, the Interior Department said it is initiating a review of a proposed 20-year withdrawal of the area from new leasing. Preexisting natural gas leases that account for less than 1% of active federal leases in Colorado won’t be affected.

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