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Students create website for Black businesses destroyed in massacre

▶ Watch Video: Students honor lost businesses on 100th anniversary of Tulsa Massacre

Hundreds of Black people were killed or injured by a White mob during the 1921 Tulsa Massacre. An estimated 200 businesses that were part of Black Wall Street were also destroyed during the two-day rampage.

Now, 100 years later, the legacy of Black Wall Street continues digitally, thanks to tech industry veteran and Tulsa native Mikeal Vaughn and his students at the Urban Coders Guild, which teaches STEM skills to kids from underserved communities.

“This was one of those crazy ideas that come to you at 2 a.m.,” Vaughn told CBS News correspondent Omar Villafranca. “There was a whole community of businesses that existed, and so the idea is that if those businesses existed in 2021, they would most likely have a website. They would most likely have a mobile app. And we’re teaching kids to make websites and we’re teaching kids to make mobile apps. And so it made sense that we do this.”

They created historicblackwallstreet.com, a collection of web pages for businesses including the Dreamland Theater, the Hotel Alexander and the Red Wing Cafe, noted at the time for its “swell electric piano.”

The students are getting a history lesson in addition to a computer science lesson, Vaughn said.

“My kids are learning the web technologies, the mobile technologies, but we partner with Tulsa Community College,” he said. “They’re doing the research, and then there was another group of people from Tulsa Community College that were doing graphic design and logos. And so, this is a collaborative effort, very much in the spirit of Greenwood and very much in the spirit of Black Wall Street.”

Brother and sister Isaac and Raven Arterberry are two of 40 students in the Urban Coders Guild. Isaac researched Vernon AME Church, the only building that survived the massacre.

Asked what it’s like creating something digitally but also physically seeing it, Isaac said, “I think it’s interesting that we’re able to make it more permanent in a way because physically it could be destroyed and all that. But when you make it digital, it basically lasts forever, which I think is really cool.”

Brenda Nails-Alford, a descendant of several survivors of the massacre, said she appreciates the work of students like the Arterberrys.

“It speaks volumes to the legacies that make Black Wall Street, and you all will carry on that legacy,” she told them.

The project is connecting the students to the past that a lot of people don’t talk about.

“It’s connecting them to a past for sure, but we also want to focus on connecting them to a future that maybe they didn’t even imagine, a future working in tech, maybe being a coder,” Vaughn said. 

He said he hopes they are the next chapter of Black Wall Street.

So far, there are only a handful of businesses in the directory, but they plan to add more in the coming months.


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