The contributions of women to Tulsa’s historic “Black Wall Street” are being highlighted in a new online project that promises to only get bigger with time.
“Women of Black Wall Street,” a website created by Oklahoma State University history students and their professor, focuses on women who were involved in businesses and other endeavors in Tulsa’s Greenwood District both before and after it was destroyed in the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
The site went live recently at blackwallstreetwomen.com, starting with profiles of 10 influential women.
With plans for future classes to contribute, it should continue to expand, said Brandy Thomas Wells, OSU assistant professor of history.
Wells initially saw the website as a personal project growing out of her interests in Africana, American history and gender and women’s studies.
But in the fall of 2020, when students in her senior-level class on digital methods in history learned about it, “they jumped on it,” she said.
“I was so grateful because it was a project that I just thought I had to do on my own. And frankly, I’m not sure that I would have been able to do it with all my other duties. But they came on board, and they did a fantastic job.”
Students researched and wrote the site’s content.
Among the women profiled are Susie Bell, co-owner of the Bell and Little Café and the Busy Bee Café; Emma Gurley, co-owner and manager of the Gurley Hotel and wife of Greenwood pioneer O.W. Gurley; and Dora Wells, co-owner of the Wells Garment Factory and manager of the Wells Hair Manufacturing School, a beauty school.
Brandy Wells, no relation to Dora Wells, said, “We are starting with 10 women, but every time I teach a digital methods course, that I teach Oklahoma history with, we’ll be doing this again. So students who work with me will have the opportunity to write these biographies.”
A variety of sources were used for research, including digital OSU archives, census records, photo records, newspapers and books.
One book that’s been especially meaningful to Wells is Mary E. Jones Parrish’s 1923 work, “Events of the Tulsa Disaster.”
Wells, a Georgia native, was already familiar with the history of the massacre when she joined the OSU faculty in 2018, but she’s learned much more through sources such as Parrish.
Parrish, a journalist and massacre eyewitness, would become one of the first women profiled for the new website.
Wells said by focusing on the women of Greenwood, whose perspective too often has been overlooked, “I hope the (site) offers a window into just how dynamic and multifaceted historic Greenwood was.”
“My dream is that it continues to grow.”