Mann’s Grocery

I love it when I come across an unusual postcard; it always encourages me to look a little closer. Sometimes, it is tied to quite a story. Such as this postcard for a grocery store in north Tulsa:

I’d never seen a postcard for a grocery store before. The cars in the image are quite a bit later than 1919, so that immediately told me that this business was around for a long time. I started doing some searching and discovered more of the story and a few more images.

Mann Bros. Grocery, courtesy of the Tulsa Historical Society

McKinley Monroe Mann along with his brothers Obie and J.D. opened their original market in 1919 at 1502 N Lansing Ave. This photo shows their market with staff. It would eventually grow to become the largest in Tulsa with five butchers on the payroll. Obie Mann is the tall gentleman on the far left.

Interior of the Mann Brothers’ store, courtesy of the Greenwood Cultural Center

Two years later, the darkest chapter in Tulsa’s history occurred. The Tulsa Historical Society has a good starting point for the Tulsa Race Massacre if you are unfamiliar with this event; it’s well worth your time and understanding. McKinley’s wife, Augusta, recalled that when they heard a riot was breaking out they closed up and went home. Obie, a World War I veteran, joined other men on the street to protect the neighborhood.

Image from the illustrated story, The Massacre of Black Wall Street, by The Atlantic

According to several sources, Obie was asked to surrender his gun. When he refused, there was a struggle and the gun went off. Whether it was a warning shot or an accident, it’s documented as the catalyst for an exchange of gunfire. That event started a cascade of violence that left hundreds of casualties and 35 square blocks destroyed. The Mann Brothers’ store was among the properties damaged. J.D.’s store at 814 N Greenwood was totally razed. McKinley’s store on Lansing opened after only three weeks, but Obie left Tulsa and was gone for three years. His family didn’t know if he was alive or dead until he came home.

In 1935, the Mann’s store moved to 1352 N Lansing Ave. “The grocery business was different in the old days,” Augusta said. “At that time people really cared about each other. There was especially a fondness for children in the community.” Kids would often play ball nearby and McKinley would stop doing whatever he was doing when the kids came in asking for some water. It was like children belonged to the entire community, not just their parents. Everyone looked after the children in the neighborhood.”

McKinley was a founder of the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce in 1938. Obie passed away in 1944 and McKinley died in 1961, but the Mann family remained active in the local grocery business through the 1970s. Augusta later became the first black woman to serve on the state Pardon and Parole Board. Much of the Mann family is buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Tulsa.

Obie Mann’s grave marker in Crown Hill Cemetery

Supposedly, the brick towers in the cemetery are built from reclaimed bricks from the destruction of Black Wall Street.

Augusta Mann interview snippets and information courtesy of an interview by Eddie Faye Gates for her 1997 book They Came Searching. Many thanks to Gayle Campbell for showing me the postcard, which led me to this story about a Greenwood landmark.

10 thoughts on “Mann’s Grocery

  1. I’m not even sure where to begin. I’m in Tulsa for the next couple days (drove here from Detroit). Can we speak?

    If not, you’ve still blessed me! Thank you for your research, and for your curiosity.

  2. I’m not even sure where to begin.

    Can we speak? I got in the Tulsa today, and will be here until Tuesday.

    Whether we speak or not, this has blessed me immensely! Thank you for your research, and especially your curiosity.

    I’m heading to Crown Hill! I desperately wanted to find my uncle Obie’s grave. That was my main mission for driving 14 hours!

      1. I wasn’t able to get back with you, but you left several treasures here that proved to be quite valuable for me. Thank you, again! I visited Octavia Mann’s grave, too, which was at Crown Hill. She was my great-great grandmother (the Mann Bros. mom).

        JD

      1. Jeremy you have a picture of McKinley Mann Jr. when he was 5? I would love to see it.

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