Rediscovering Black Wall Street: New Film Reaches Back Into Tulsa’s Once Thriving Business District

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BET.com: What inspired you to make this film?

Naila Jefferson: Transform Films approached me to make this film because there are stories that I want to tell as a documentary filmmaker, stories about black history, especially stories within black history that grew and Regeneration is not done. It seems to me that the same has happened with the Black Wall Street story. What I call vanishing black contributions, black stories, black values, black joy, and American history has a long tradition. And so whenever I am given the opportunity to uplift and elevate those stories, and give them justice, I take great pride in it and, and I am really inspired to tell them.

Then it seems to me that there is a lot of Black Wall Street all over the country and that’s why we hear a lot of frustration stories about the black community and people say that we can’t do this and that, but I think the Black Wall Street is an ideal example of what we can do when left alone, when allowed to fully flourish and fulfill our potential.

related: The survivors of the 1921 Tulsa massacre testify in Congress, foreshadowing their terrible consequences

BET.com: The film feels like a multidimensional time machine in some ways. I can see a century in the past but simultaneously in the present. Was that what you were trying to say?

Naila Jefferson: Of course, we definitely wanted to draw a line from 1921 to 2021. Because Tulsa caste was massacred, and then what? What happened to these families? What happened to these businesses? I don’t think that question has been answered, because people tell the story of the Black Wall Street and Tulsa caste massacre. So the people who have those answers are descendants.

So, it’s like a time machine where they can go back to 1921, and then take us back to those 100 years. We realized that it was Tulsa Caste Massacre, After that, certain policies and practices were implemented that oppressed the black community and did not make them available to build another Black Wall Street. During those years, families lost business, they lost land, they lost their inheritance. So absolutely, the power of film can take you through space and time. So why not use it as a time machine to tell the story and tell the whole story?

BET.com: You saw two families in this film and it seems as if their legacy as wealthy people has been erased over time. How did you find it?

Naila Jefferson: I think that was the question: what happened? Obviously, black people can do it, but why was it not achieved again? Why couldn’t they rebuild? Between 1921 and 2021, it is 100 years that it seems we will be able to rebuild Black Wall Street. I think those families can answer this question, so we had to go back to them. And they were able, they told us what was kept, practices and policies that prevented them from continuing their family businesses.

But not only that, if you look at the Williams family, Byron [Williams, a descendant] Talks about the trauma that his great-grandmother had suffered as a result of the Tulsa caste massacre and his dreams, Williams Dreamland Theater, Destroyed and unable to make it back. He also talks about how this stopped everyone in his family from becoming entrepreneurs. This not only disbanded the businesses, but I think there is a certain feeling within them as well.

BET.com: In your research, what did you find more harm to the black community, the actual violence or the redistribution and redistribution of the Greenwood district in later years?

Naila Jefferson: The interesting thing is that within a year Black wall street Was rebuilt. Of course, you know, we lost our lives, still haven’t been officially told how many lives we lost. But within that year, without insurance, people rebuilt – and I don’t want to mitigate the effects of the Tulsa caste massacre, but they were able to overcome it at least through the rebuilding of property.

But then after that … their property was taken illegally, and then legally taken over. Then after that, I think the white people just said that if we pass some laws, if we target this community again and again, and make it illegal for them to rebuild, and flourish, then They will not. And this is what happened. It is constantly pushing, and targeting this community, and not allowing them to reach their full potential. Really thinking is very sad and worrying.

BET.com: The oldest surviving survivors recently testified to Congress that compensation was due to the families of the survivors of the massacre. How will it help the people of Tulsa today?

Naila Jefferson: How will it not happen? I think that whether 100 years ago there was trouble, whether it was 10 years ago or 20 years ago, you have to try what was done in the past. When you look at these families, many of them will not talk for years about what happened during the Tulsa caste massacre. Byron talks about the slight embarrassment he still feels today when what happened to his family.

You have to start somewhere and I think I am trying to make people whole, because … they have never been given anything from the city and all of them have insurance claims rejected. If you can start a reconciliation there, and accept what was actually done wrong and say that it was a massacre, it was not on either side. It was not Black and White. It was a disgusting act that took place against the black community. If you can start there, I think we can start the healing process, but to me that is part of accepting the compensation and reconciliation that Tulsa so desperately needs.

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