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Ottowa W. Gurley

Gurley was an educator and entrepreneur who made his wealth as a landowner. In 1889, along with his wife, he came to what was then known as Indian Territory to participate in the Oklahoma Land Rush, staking a claim in what would be known as Perry, Oklahoma. The young entrepreneur had just resigned from an appointment under President Grover Cleveland to strike out on his own.” In Perry, he rose quickly, running unsuccessfully for treasurer of Noble County at first but later becoming principal at the town’s school and eventually starting and operating a general store for ten years. In 1905, Gurley sold his store and land in Perry and moved with his wife, Emma, to the oil boomtown of Tulsa where he purchased 40 acres of land, which was “only to be sold to colored people.

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. In addition to his rooming house, Gurley built three two-story buildings and five residences and bought an 80-acre (320,000 m2) farm in Rogers County. Gurley also founded what is today Vernon AME Church. Gurley formed an informal partnership with another Black entrepreneur, J.B. Stradford, who arrived in Tulsa in 1899 and developed Greenwood together. In 1914, Gurley’s net worth was reported to be $150,000 (about $3 million in 2018). And he was made a sheriff’s deputy by the city of Tulsa to police Greenwood’s residents, which resulted in some viewing him with suspicion. By 1921, Gurley owned more than one hundred properties in Greenwood and had an estimated net worth between $500,000 and $1 million (between $6.8 million and $13.6 million in 2018 dollars).

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