The Village That Was Greenwood

By Gregory L. Towns, Native Tulsan    
Tuesday, 25 April 2006
The saying has been bandied around the last few years "It takes a village to raise a child" is so appropriate now that Greenwood Blvd in downtown Tulsa is all but gone. From my view at 432 Latimer street when I grew up The Greenwood was a village that gave me and countless others life and a sense belonging.

Known as the "Black Wall Street", to a youth in Tulsa of the 50’s and 60’s this village was a wonderful place comprised of many very enlightened people and a culture that had to be experienced. In this culture of Black American there was a feeling of independence, wealth, art, and education, class and fine culture unseen anywhere else in the southwest. The Greenwood was a city unto itself, a Mecca of Black Men and Women who created for me a sense of pride, prominence, and proved to be a source of motivation to reach higher goals because I am black and this is what is expected of me as a man.

I was born in a Black hospital in the Greenwood Moten Memorial Hospital that still stands, I was brought into this world by one of a handful of black doctors who by the way, made house calls until I was 15 years old. I was raised by not one but two hardworking parents who took their rightful place in this village as leaders they were not wealthy or highly educated but stood as pillars of the small but tightly woven village.

The Greenwood‘s borders were from Archer street on deep Greenwood to Pine street and from Cincinnati to Peoria and on every corner there was a parent and in every block there was a teacher of life skill’s. A village where when I did something wrong on Lansing Street – trouble made it home before I did and on the way I was chastised by everyone that saw me do wrong just too get it worse when I got home. I was taught the right way of living by all and when I was wrong I was corrected or disciplined by all. There were police in the Greenwood but no one had need for them we had motherhood and a fatherhood that handle the matters of misconduct and those who disobeyed parental law.  In those days everyone in the village had the option to discipline a young person and with me they usually took the option. Some say that Greenwood was only a street but I and many more contest that street was the great Black hope.

In the Greenwood there were countless stores restaurants, ice cream parlors, men and women who were seamstresses and tailors, funeral services that provided service to only the Black village, butchers and bakers, craftsmen and service persons like Mr. Boyd who was a master electrician and took several young men under his wing as a teacher.

This bustling village in the Greenwood had its own mechanics; plumber’s and Black merchants who provided everything this village needed. Shops of all kinds lined Greenwood also the offices of doctors, lawyers and Black men who owned real estate. There was Cannons Dry Goods, Farley’s Cleaners, and Mr. Goodletts upholstery shop.  Greenwood had our own shoe shops and hotels. Cherry’s drug store where limeade or a coke was ten cents and you got three plays on the juke box for a nickel. Barber shops with men swapping lies and the cackle of women getting pretty in the many beauty salons.

There were night clubs and dance halls. The Prince hall lodge and several Masonic groups for Black men and the Eastern Stars for women they served our village proudly and gave young people a chance in life by donating money for college and to start businesses. The debutante’s ball and other social events, women’s Saturday “tea’s,” and the 20 Gents club – a social and civic organization that made black people in the Greenwood and Black people all over the southwest aware of the Greenwood white tie society. The Greenwood was a proving ground for young black men and women a place they called their own apart from those who thought us “second class” citizens.

The Greenwood is where I had my first date, my first fight, and my first kiss. The days I remember where those when I would walk home from Carver Jr. High School with the fifty cents I saved from lunch and met all the guys at Pearson bean parlor in those days fifty cents was a bowl of parsons chili a “dough ball” and a drink and blues on an old record player or Saturday movies at the Rex when two dollars was entry for a double feature, a hot link sandwich, a drink and a bag of popcorn for two. It was walking home with a group of the guy’s or with your favorite girl on a warm summer night.

The Greenwood was a dip in the pool at old Berry’s/Lincoln Park or a fifteen cent Frito chili pie at the drive-in on Peoria. Dances at the Hutchinson branch YMCA where Jimmy Goodwin was our chaperone or listening to Granville Farley’s group the “Magnificent 7" at the Rose room or Blue moon and walking home afterwards to steal a kiss.

The Greenwood was sitting on the porch and baseball in the streets, it was families who took part in each others life’s and protected all who lived near.

The Greenwood was the Wylie’s, the Latimers, the Stripling and the Ragsdale, the Hopson’s, the Mims brother, the pretty Busby sisters and those beautiful Reed girls and even old Hobart Benson.

The Greenwood was Miss, Stuckys cookies or delivering packages paid with candy for Miss. Carroll’s store. It was running errands for Mr. Dukes or being nice to old Miss Hardy so we could skate on her sidewalk. In the old days the Greenwood was ice sold off a horse drawn wagon in the early morning and watermelon and fruits and vegetables in the afternoon from the same wagon.. The Greenwood was $3.00 on a Saturday morning after delivering jars of clear liquid to the back door of the barbeque pit for old Mr. Anderson.

The village was Greenwood and I lived in a castle on Latimer Street.

The Greenwood of my youth was bright flashing lights Friday night and football or basketball and in the summer baseball. Friday night in the Greenwood was the smell of an ongoing barbeque competition from Latimers, Coleman’s, or Mr. Wilson’s brick barbeque pits or fried fish at Gibbs market.  Saturday night was the sounds of laughter and elegantly dressed people in fine automobiles riding down the boulevard with the sound of blues coming from a joint cross the tracks. Saturday night there was the smell of cigar smoke and loud voices coming from the Big 10 pool hall that we, as boys, were forbidden to enter cause there was a man called “big papa” there that knew all our parents and he would handle us and then tell our folks. The Greenwood was Mr. QT the policy man who brought your winnings to the house late at night. In this village around every corner there was a positive and prominent black man or woman looking out for our well being and safety.

Our schools had the names of important and famous Black men and Black women of our past like Marion Anderson, Charles S. Johnson, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Ralph J. Bunche, George Washington Carver and Booker T. Washington. The names tell of a proud and strong race and village leaders gone. Some even then were forgotten, but not for me as I had teachers who were also parents and leaders. Hattie Johnston taught me that science was exciting and important to life; Paul Fellows taught me a strong body helps to provide a healthy mind. Some were not so easy to forget like Ms. Clay and Ms. Stephens who were my introduction to school and education in kindergarten, Ms. Collier whose nurturing and patience gave me the gift of proper speech and the classics of literature and the stage while I was at Charles S. Johnson.

While at Carver, Mr. Moran not only taught me Oklahoma history but included a little Black history that no one else ever told us existed. Ms. Crutcher, Ms. Yelldale Mrs. Lawson, Mr. Rodgers and Mr. Middleton introduced me to classical and jazz music.

Mr. Tollie T. Moore provided strict disciple and taught me the importance of being a strong Black Man.

This village was also the foundation of what many of us in the Greenwood thought the most important part of our village the church. I grew up in St. Andrews Baptist church when it was the key figure on old Marshal Street. As a young child, if the activities were not at St. Andrews, the park. the school or the “Y” then you were at home with mom and dad. The church was an active part of Greenwood living and learning. The Word of God was taught by ministers like Reverend Jackson, Elder Winbush or Rev. T. Oscar Chappell, Rev Ferguson and my neighbor and mentor Rev Willie Lauderdale – an active part of my village upbringing. Sunday singing conventions showcased all the church choirs with food served on the lawn. Churches like Morning Star, First Baptist Church, St. Monica and Paradise Baptist church are still the corner stone in the Greenwood.

I received what I like to call my manhood training as a Cub Scout and Boy Scout with fine men like Jessie Wyle Jr., Fred Latimer Jr., Leo Hopson, and Jr. Jimmy Goodwin as these young men had sired by even finer men. Men who knew my father and mother and who contributed to who and what I am today.


About the Author:
Gregory L. Towns is a writer, a native Tulsan and can be reached at

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 25 April 2006 )