It`s unbelieveable. 100 years ago, the Tulsa race massacre took place on May 31 and June 1, 1921. Mobs of White residents, many of them deputized and given weapons by city officials, attacked Black residents and businesses of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The massacre is also known as the Black Wall Street Massacre, and it marks one of «the single worst incidents of racial violence in American history».
The attack, carried out on the ground and from private aircraft, destroyed more than 35 square blocks of the district at that time the wealthiest Black community in the United States, known as «Black Wall Street».
It wasn`t easy in Oklahoma 100 years ago. Oklahoma had a racially, and politically tense atmosphere. Many servicemen had returned following the end of the First World War in 1918, and the American Civil War, which ended in 1865, was still in living memory.
Civil rights for African Americans were lacking, and the Ku Klux Klan was resurgent (primarily through the widly popular 1915 film; The Birth of a Nation).
Tulsa was also a booming oil city, supported a large number of affluent, educated and professsional African American people. Greenwood was a district in Tulsa, and Greenwood became so prosperous that it came to be known as «the Negro Wall Street», but now commonly referred to as «the Black Wall Street.
Most Black people lived together in the district. Black Americans had created their own businesses and services in this enclave, including several grocers, two newspapers, two movie theaters, nightclubs, and numerous churches.
Harlows Weekly reported in an article that the actions that took place was economically and politically, rather than racially, motivated.
The territory of northern Oklahoma had been established for the resettlement of Native Americans from the southeast, some of whom had owned slaves. Other areas had received many settlers from the South whose families had been slaveholders before the Civil War.
Oklahoma was admitted as a state on November 16, 1907. The newly created state legislature passed racial segregation laws, commonly known as Jim Crow laws, as its first order of business. The 1907 Oklahoma Constitution did not call for strict segregation, delegates feared that, should they include such restrictions, U.S President Theodore Roosevelt would veto the document.
Still, the first law passed by the new legislature sesgregated all rail travel, and voter registration rules effectively disenfranchised most Black Americans. That meant they were also barred from serving on juries or on local office. These laws were enforced until after passage of the fedral Voting Rights Act of 1965. Major cities passed additional restrictions.
Northeastern Oklahoma was in an economic slump that increased unemployment. Since 1915, the Ku Klux Klan had been growing in urban chapters across the country. Its first significant appearance in Oklahoma occurred on August 12, 1921.
By the end of 1921, 3,200 of Tulsa`s 72,000 residents were Klan members according to one estimte. In the early 20th century, lynching were common in Oklahoma as part of a continuing effort to assert and maintain white supramacy.
By 1921, at least 31 people, mostly men and boys, had been lynched in the newly formed state, 26 were Black.
The massacre in Tulsa began during the Memorial Day weekend after 19-year-old Dick Rowland, a Black shoeshiner, was accused of assulting Sarah Page, the 17-year-old White elevator operator of the nearby Drexel building.
(This case is very similar to George Floyd`s case, were he was accused for stealing cigarettes).
He was taken into custody. After the arrest, rumors spread through the city that Rowland was to be lynched. Upon hearing reports that a mob of hundreds of White men had gathered around the jail where Rowland was being kept, a group of 75 Black men, som of whom were armed, arrived at the jail in order to ensure that Rowland would not be lynched.
The sheriff persuaded the group to leave the jail, assuring them that he had the situation under control. A shot was fired, and then, according to the reports of the sheriff, «all hell broke loose.»
At the end of the firefight, 12 people were killed: 10 White and 2 Black. As news of these deaths spread throughout the city, mob violence exploded. White rioters rampaged through the Black neighborhood that night and morning killing men and burning and looting stores and homes.
Around noon on June 1, the Oklahoma National Guard imposed martial law, effectively ending the massacre.
About 10,000 Black people were left homeless, and proerty damage amounted to more than $1,5 million in real estate and $750,000 in personal property ($32,65 million in 2020). Many survivors left Tulsa, while Black and White residents who stayed in the city kept silent about the terror, violence, and resulting losses for decades. The massacre was largely omitted from local, state, and national histories.
In 1996, 75 years after the massacre, a bipartisan group in the state legislature authorized formation of the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. The commission`s final report, published in 2001, states that the city had conspired with the mob of White citizens against Black citizens, it recommended a program of reparations to survivors and their descendants.
The state passed legislation in order to establish scholarships for the descendants of survivors, encourage the economic development of Greenwood, and develop a park in memory of the victims of the massacre in Tulsa.
The park was dedicated in 2010. In 2020, the massacre became a part of the Oklahoma school curriculum.
On Monday, Biden signed a White House proclamation declaring a day of remembrance, which called upon Americans to remember those who were killed as well as those who survived, and to «commit toghether to eradicate systemic racism and help to rebuild communities and lives that have been destroyed by it.»
President Joe Biden will visit Greenwood on Tuesday, but the visit is not expected to be public. He will tour the Greenwood Cultural Center across the street from Vernon AME Church.
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