(OAKLAND) – Just around the start of the 20th century Ottawa W. Gurley, a wealthy African American land-owner from Arkansas, traversed the United States to participate in the Oklahoma Land run of 1889. The young entrepreneur had just resigned from a presidential appointment under president Grover Cleveland in order to strike out on his own.
In 1906, Gurley moved to Tulsa where he purchased 40 acres of land which was “only to be sold to colored”. Black ownership was unheard of at that time.
“You had the wealthy, middle class, the poor Blacks all living on the same block, and so many of those individuals who started out in the working class, because they lived there, would eventually go on to own their own business in the Greenwood district,” said Dr. Michael Carter, Sr., founder and national president of the Black Wall Street USA national movement. “That’s a result of Gurley’s contributions.” Dr. Carter added.
Dr. Carter, a theologian, told INC. Magazine in December 2020 that, “Out of the 600 businesses in Tulsa, Gurley owned at least 100 as a result of demand and need,” Dr. Carter says. “What Gurley did was for the long term–for the generations who never would have met him. calling Gurley’s work “a blueprint for future generations: He laid the groundwork for our generation to pick it up and run with it.”
An educator and entrepreneur who made his wealth as a landowner, Gurley purchased 40 acres in Tulsa to be sold to “coloreds only.” Senate Bill Number 1, the state’s first piece of legislation, prevented coloreds from residing, traveling and marrying outside their race. Gurley’s property lines were Pine Street to the north, the Frisco rail tracks to the south, Lansing Avenue to the east and Cincinnati Avenue to the west.
Among Gurley’s first businesses was a rooming house which was located on a dusty trail near the railroad tracks. This road was given the name Greenwood Avenue, named for the city in Mississippi. The area became very popular among African American migrants fleeing the oppression in Mississippi. They would find refuge in Gurley’s building, as the racial persecution from the south was non-existent on Greenwood Avenue. READ IN FULL