Black Wall Street Gallery Commemorating Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Faces Attack of its Own
White paint smeared over the gallery’s name on the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. | Photo courtesy of the Black Wall Street Gallery

The Black Wall Street Gallery commemorated the centennial anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre with the opening of “21 Piece Salute”, an art exhibition in New York City featuring 21 pieces by 21 Black artists from around the world.

The exhibit honors those who lost their lives when the once-thriving Black community in Tulsa, Oklahoma known as Black Wall Street was attacked and destroyed. It also celebrates Black art and entrepreneurship. 

“I want people to know that it’s not just a tragic narrative. Our ancestors were pioneers who created wealth and paved the way for us to be here so we have to honor that and build on it,” said gallery owner and curator, Dr. Ricco Wright.

The exhibition, which launched on May 27th, marked the grand opening of Black Wall Street Gallery’s new space since opening at a different location in New York City last October. 

However, the commemoration of the massacre and celebration of Black art have been marred by vandalism after the gallery’s exterior was defaced three times in one week. First someone smeared white paint on the gallery’s glass facade, obscuring the words “Black Wall Street Gallery.” The next day white paint was used to paint the letters “EDHRLL” on a window display. The following day graffiti was drawn on the gallery door that read “ETC REAL ART.”

“This was very deliberate and intentional,” Wright told ESSENCE. “I’m not shocked that merely three days after opening in celebration of our ancestors, we would find a literal white washing of Black Wall Street on our front window,” he said.

 The first incident took place on May 31, which was the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, when an armed white mob decimated the Greenwood District of Tulsa over a two day period. Thirty five city blocks of Black-owned businesses, churches, hospitals and homes, were bombed, burned and destroyed. It’s estimated that up to 300 people were killed. Thousands were left homeless and generations of wealth destroyed in one of the worst instances of racial violence in U.S. history. 

“This is an example to remind people that racism still exists and that it exists in 2021, in New  York City,” Wright said, adding that what happened at his gallery should be treated as a hate crime.  

At a news conference at the gallery on June 3, Wright was joined by Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, the former commissioner of the N.Y.C. Department of Small Business Services, Gregg Bishop and the NYPD’s Chief of Community Affairs, Jeffrey B. Maddrey who said they would not tolerate hate in New York.

“I know hate when I see it. I know hurt when I see it. I know harm and trauma when I see it,” said Maddrey. “What happened here on this building right here, this museum right here is all of that…Let’s stand up against hate,” he said.

There is an active investigation by the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force, but Maddrey said he could not provide further details on it at this time. 

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For Wright, a fourth generation Tulsan, he says he will not let these acts of vandalism deter him. In fact, he’s grateful that it took place. 

“The perpetrator or perpetrators only helped to illuminate what we’re doing… So I’m really grateful for this time because what we represent is something that’s bigger than us,” he said. 

The “21 Piece Salute” art exhibition doesn’t focus on revisiting what happened during the massacre. Instead, through themes such as Black joy, social justice, and community building, it centers continuing the legacy of group economics and entrepreneurship set forth by the pioneers of Black Wall Street. The exhibit seeks to serve as a reminder that the story of Black Wall Street is more than what we know of its destruction.

“It’s important to me that I get to contribute to a conversation that has to happen. But, I also get  to contribute to something that brings things beyond the massacre,” artist Jeffrey Melo told ESSENCE about having his work featured in the show. 

The Black Wall Street Gallery and the carefully curated exhibitions it displays are part of a larger mission to build community, educate the masses on issues of race and social justice and support Black artists. 

“I hope that when people come and they see the exhibition that they walk away filled with hope…more than anything I hope that they feel seen,” said artist and Oklahoma native Charica Daugherty. 

A major goal for Dr. Wright is to get 75 percent of the artists represented in permanent collections of museums around the world and to make museums more inclusive spaces for Black artists where their work is valued and honored. 

“The more we can share our resources and work together, the more and more we can emulate what the pioneers of Black Wall Street built,” he said. “I won’t let hate stop that.”

“21 Piece Salute” will be on display at the Black Wall Street Gallery until Juneteenth— June 19th— the holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the U.S. when military leaders occupying Galveston, Texas, informed the last enslaved Black Americans of their freedom. 

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