Around the start of the 20th century, O. W. Gurley, a wealthy black landowner from Arkansas, came to what was then known as Indian Territory to participate in the Oklahoma Land run of 1889. The young entrepreneur had just resigned from a presidential appointment under president Grover Cleveland in order to strike out on his own."
In 1906, Gurley moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma where he purchased 40 acres of land which was "only to be sold to colored." Among Gurley's first businesses was a rooming house which was located on a dusty trail near the railroad tracks. This road was given the name Greenwood Avenue, named for a city in Mississippi. The area became very popular among black migrants fleeing the oppression in Mississippi. They would find refuge in Gurley's building, as the racial persecution from the south was non-existent on Greenwood Avenue.
Another black American entrepreneur, J.B. Stradford, arrived in Tulsa in 1899. He believed that black people had a better chance of economic progress if they pooled their resources, worked together and supported each other's businesses. He bought large tracts of real estate in the northeastern part of Tulsa, which he had subdivided and sold exclusively to other blacks. Gurley and a number of other blacks soon followed suit. Stradford later built the Stradford Hotel on Greenwood, where blacks could enjoy the amenities of the downtown hotels who served only whites. It was said to be the largest black-owned hotel in the United States.
Sources: Lori Latrice Sykes, Making the System Work for You: The Alexander Norton Story, M & B visionaries (2008) ISBN 0-615-19355-2
James S. Hirsch, Riot and Remembrance: The Tulsa Race War and Its Legacy, Houghton Miffin (2002) ISBN 0-618-10813-0
BLACK WALL STREET PIONEERS
In July of 1906, O.W. Gurley moved to Tulsa and bought 40 acres "to be sold to Coloreds only." His first business was a rooming house on a dusty trail near the railroad tracks. He called the avenue Greenwood, named for a city in Arkansas. Many of the migrants fleeing the oppression in Mississippi would room in his building near the Frisco railroad tracks. He and his wife Emma also built three two-story buildings and five residences and bought an 80-acre farm in Rogers County. Gurley was also a founding member of what is today Vernon AME Church.
Gurley's self-imposed segregation set the Greenwood boundaries of separateness that exist to this day: Pine Street to the North, Archer Street and the Frisco tracks to the South, Cincinnati Street on the West, and Lansing Street on the East. The segregation is pronounced in subtle landmarks. South of Archer, Greenwood Avenue does not exist in white neighborhoods. To the North of Pine, in what was an all-white area, it is called Garrison.