Greenwood Rising: The Black Wall Street History Center

In 2021, Tulsa observed the centennial anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. The tragic events of May 31 – June 1, 1921 destroyed the historic Black business district known as Black Wall Street and the surrounding community that once stretched outward from Greenwood Avenue leaving thousands homeless, hundreds injured, and an unknown number killed.


Local Projects

Practice Area


The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission


The Challenge

In 2016, a group of federal, state, and local leaders formed the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission. Their mission was to “leverage the rich history surrounding the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre by facilitating actions, activities, and events that commemorate and educate all citizens.”

In service of that mission, the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission engaged our firm to develop and execute an experience design for the history center located at the heart of Tulsa’s Greenwood District.

Beginning with a series of onsite workshops and interviews in Tulsa in July 2019, the team worked in close collaboration with the Greenwood Rising project team, the architects, and key community stakeholders to develop an experience that would remember and honor the victims and survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, and create an environment conducive to fostering entrepreneurship, heritage tourism, and dialogue.

Project Vision

Tulsa, like so many other American cities, continues to grapple with the legacy of its historical racial trauma.

Through acknowledgement, apology, and atonement, Tulsa sought to heal its lingering wounds and be both a beacon and a positive example for other communities seeking racial reconciliation.

Orientation Theater

Mel Willis, Local Projects

The Greenwood Spirit

Mel Willis/ Local Projects

Systems of Anti-Blackness Gallery

Mel Willis, Local Projects

Massacre Gallery

Mel Willis, Local Projects

Design + Execution

The Greenwood Rising visitor experience tells the specific story of the dignity of a people who turned trials, tribulations, and tragedy into a triumph of the human spirit.

In the lobby, a 2 – 3 minute film introduces visitors to the history of the Greenwood District as both a Black business mecca and site of racial violence, and features Greenwood community members set against audio of Maya Angelou reading her poem “Still I Rise.”

The Greenwood Spirit exhibition explores the early placemaking of Greenwood — how Native American, African American, and European American communities often collided, and sometimes connected. Visitors cross a set of recreation train tracks to meet district founders and learn about Greenwood’s economic rise. A film projection-mapped to the facade of a period barbershop shows the building of Greenwood brick by brick. Visitors then pass into the barbershop’s interior, which comes to life with holographic barbers who engage the visitors with the hopes, dreams, and activity of folks in early Greenwood.

Changing Fortunes Gallery

Mel Willis, Local Projects

Journey Toward Reconciliation Gathering Space

Mel Willis, Local Projects

Commitment Sculpture

Mel Willis, Local Projects

Project Details
The Greenwood Rising exhibition is lively, uplifting, and poetically authentic. It explores both the joys and hardships of Black Wallstreet. This dynamic exhibition successfully allows for a guest journey full of immersion, introspection, artifact exploration, and communal reflection. This team has done a stellar job of creating an engaging experience for a painful moment in American history.
Juror 1
This exhibit takes on the challenging, vital task of telling the stories of painful history and racial trauma while honoring the triumph and resiliency of victims and survivors. It succeeds in providing space for dialogue, reconciliation, and hope.
Juror 2
This museum brings a complicated historical narrative to life in a way that anyone can approach. We appreciated the community involvement in the design process and its incredible visual storytelling.
Juror 3
Design Team

Local Projects


Selser Schaefer Architects (lead architect)

Loyal Kaspar (media producer)

Trey Thaxton (intro film productor/director)

1220 Fabrication (physical fabrication)

Photo Credits

Local Projects

Open Date

August 2022