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What the removal of a highway could mean for Black Wall Street in Tulsa

A 'Welcome to Greenwood' sign sits under the I-244 bridge that cuts through the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Okla.
Jamie Glisson
/
Focus: Black Oklahoma
A 'Welcome to Greenwood' sign sits under the I-244 bridge that cuts through the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Okla.

Tulsa’s North Peoria Church of Christ used to call Greenwood home. That was before I-244 displaced it and cut through historic Black Wall Street.

StateImpact’s Britny Cordera talked with Democratic Rep. Regina Goodwin, who represents the area and attends the church, about its legacy and a planning grant to study the removal of the expressway.

TRANSCRIPT

Britny Cordera: I'm curious to know, how did a North Peoria Church of Christ get involved with this kind of environmental justice work?

Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa
Oklahoma House of Representatives
Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa

Rep. Regina Goodwin: Cody Brandt is someone very involved in community and his work in college. Actually, his thesis had to do with highways and community. And actually, he first approached me about the idea of I-244 the potential for that being removed and the Infrastructure Act. And from that initial conversation, I began to do research and saw that this had occurred in Milwaukee and Syracuse, and Rochester, New York. We're talking about some 20 years prior from Milwaukee. And saw that it was very plausible and doable. If you can construct a highway, you can deconstruct it. And when I saw then that the Biden administration specifically had our dollars that could be used to remove highways, that it cut through black communities in particular. This was a project that I thought was worthy of research.

Cordera: Recently, a Tulsa reporter from KWGS his name is Ben Abrams. He attended a press conference where a sign was unveiled to honor Kevin Ross, who served on the Public Oversight Committee searching for Graves from the 1921 massacre. His brother, Edward, shared that the city can honor the massacre victims by knocking down the expressway. I'm wondering if you could tell me more about the connection between reparations for the Tulsa race massacre victims and the removal of I-244.

Goodwin: Clearly, we talked about the destruction that happened in the race massacre in 1921 to a community 1,256 homes. The businesses that were destroyed, the lives no longer with the generational wealth. We're talking about murder. Right. And so you saw that first wave of destruction, the second wave of destruction that occurred on Greenwood through the highway, which then it came in and hit and destroyed homes and livelihoods. Right. In terms of businesses. The connection. One is that Greenwood is the community that continues to be disadvantaged, the people of Greenwood, the historic residence. But I also think there's a difference between good policy and reparations. The Biden administration. The Infrastructure Act has to do with reconnecting community, and they had the good sense to address the issue of the wrong. That was done by highways that cut through black communities. Reparations are due. No question. Reparations. I do. But understand this. Reparations has to do with generational wealth. Reparations has to do with victim compensation for the victims and for descendants.

Cordera: Tell me a little bit about what your dream for Greenwood looks like.

Goodwin: Should there be partial removal of it to 44 acres that would open up some 30 acres. You could then repurpose that land. You could then see good affordable housing and small businesses. Replenished in that area that ideally for the historic residents that they might benefit, that there might be ownership through community land trust that would stem the gentrification that exists right now. Those are the kinds of things that we need to address. And we're going to really talk about reconnecting community. And that is something that is very tangible and it could happen if you have the cooperation of certain entities. The state of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority, the city of Tulsa. I'm talking about what's best for the Greenwood area.

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Britny Cordera has been StateImpact Oklahoma's environment and science reporter since July 2023.
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