JAMES HENRI GOODWIN
AMONG THE BLACK WALL STREET'S PIONEERING SOULS
Armed with a fourth-grade education, James Henri Goodwin departed Water Valley, Mississippi, in 1909, arriving in Tulsa two years after statehood. Tired of the humiliations of the South, he had been impressed by the promotional invitations of O.W. Gurley, courting blacks to come to the Promised Land. Gurley is credited as the founder of what was to become The Black Wall Street of America.
As Greenwood prospered, so did the Goodwin patriarch, holding an interest in many businesses and several parcels of land and rental properties. On arriving in Tulsa, the elder Goodwin worked for the S.D. Hooker and Company, a variety store business in which he would later become a stockholder and that his son, E.L. Goodwin would purchase after graduating from Fisk University. E. L. Goodwin, Sr. is recognized for saving the remnant of the business district that his pioneering father helped shape. During the riot, the S. D. Hooker variety store lost a $25,000 inventory.
E.L. changed its name to the Greenwood Haberdashery, where he marketed high fashion men's clothing. In doing so, he became the youngest entrepreneur on The Black Wall Street of America.
Known as "J.H.," the elder Goodwin, a self-made man, earned a considerable fortune, much of which was lost during the riot. He was a founding partner in Jackson Undertaking Co., the oldest continuing business enterprise in North Tulsa. The funeral parlor lost $40,000 in the riot, but even though funerals for blacks were banned, it was left with a hearse and family car. The Goodwin Building, valued at $30,000, was reduced to ashes along with a rooming house, Union Grocery and the Duncan-Clinton Restaurant that were housed in it.
Part Cherokee and white, the fair skinned J.H. could not fashion himself to the southern customs of degradation. Nonetheless, he could certainly take advantage of his fair skin. According to family members, some of his early successes were attributed to his cunning sense of business, and that other opportunities denied blacks of the day may have been opened to him because he was assumed to be white. One family story is that when the colorful J.H. would return to Mississippi for visits with his son, he would integrate diners and hotels with the dark complexioned E.L. by telling the segregationist owners the son was his "servant"-- much to E.L.'s chagrin.
J.H. also owned and sold the land on the site of St. Monica Church. During the race war, while many of the Goodwin properties were lost, the homestead was saved. There are two versions of why. According to The Chicago Defender, J.H. hired white men to stand in front of the home and direct the mob away. Another is that the fair complexioned J.H. stationed himself outside his home and assumed by the mob to be white; he steered the arsonists away.
As the kindling of the riot was being lighted at the courthouse, E.L. was among his 1921 Booker T. Washington classmates decorating the Stradford Hotel for the prom scheduled for June l, 1921. Named as the most likely to succeed by classmates in the 1921 yearbook, almost as a prelude to the race war to come, during which his father would save the family home, E.L. wrote: "I know not where my life shall lead me, when death shall come. But this I know He shall not find me unprepared without a home." E.L. and his family were spared from the degradation of concentration camps by the heroics of his father.
E.L. purchased The Oklahoma Eagle newspaper in 1936, the second oldest continuing business in North Tulsa, entered law school beyond age 50, and helped organize the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce. Among his more noted achievements was to halt urban renewal bulldozers as they were encroaching on the last block of what was left of Greenwood. He is recognized for saving the remnants of the business district that his pioneering father had helped shape. The Oklahoma Eagle was the last business to abandon the once famed boulevard. E.L. took an option to purchase the street's remnants from the City of Tulsa. The few buildings spared from the bulldozers were renovated in the late 1970s. Honoring his contributions, a gallery was named for him in the Greenwood Cultural Center. Entrepreneurs Goodwin and Goodwin, the father and son, were illustrious examples of the best tradition of the Black Wall Street's pioneering souls.