Remembering “Black Wall Street” – The Tulsa Massacre of 1921

Explosions, gunfire, chaos, death, and pillaging is taking place all around you. Your first reaction is to gather your family and get to safety. However, low flying biplanes are dropping incendiary bombs indiscriminately on your neighborhood. You spot a shed and think your family will be able to hide out there. Nonetheless, the short journey is ripe with peril, the road is filled with marauding men, some dressed in white robes, and some carrying rifles. There is no one coming to save you, not the police, not army, no one. This was the reality for hundreds of black families living in the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma 100 years ago.   

Some call it the Tulsa Massacre, some call it the Tulsa Pogrom, some even call it a “race riot”, I call it attempted genocide. It all happened in the summer of 1921, when a vicious white mob attacked one of the most prominent black communities in the United States. The mob destroyed everything from businesses to doctors’ offices. It played out like a scene from a WWI film, with attacks coming from the ground and air. It is by far one of the most egregious displays of racial terrorisms to occur on American soil. 

The Greenwood district of Tulsa wasn’t just your average black community, this was Black Wall Street, a community of black doctors, lawyers, and business owners. Greenwood had restaurants, grocery stores, hotels, theaters, a library, pool halls, schools, a post office, a bank, and a hospital. It was a community that was made for us, by us. Over the course of a few days, it was destroyed, all because of an accusation by a white woman towards black man. 

The exact death toll is obscure, some estimates put the number at 300, but because of coverups, poor investigations, and overt systematic racism the truth will remain unknown. What we do is this, 1,400 homes and businesses were burnt down, 10,000 people were displaced, and it cost 33 million dollars in today’s money. Another galling fact about this incident is that the mass graves that had to be dug were never located, meaning dozens in hundreds of black souls didn’t receive a proper send home. 

Fast-forward 100 years and America is still dealing with the scourge of racism. Black lives are still being taken by the hands of evildoers, mass-incarceration still plagues the black community, and black people are still economically disadvantaged. The threat of white terrorism has taken a new form, mobs have become vigilantes, bad cops, and the obligatory “Karen”. The Tulsa Massacre has left a scar on the black soul, this scar has yet to heal, but it is one of many that black people have to live with. 

Nevertheless, this incident is no longer a footnote in American history books, details and stories are coming to the forefront. Viola Fletcher, the oldest living survivor of the Tulsa Race Massacre, recently got to tell her story during a congressional hearing. Land is being excavated in the hopes of locating the aforementioned mass graves. HBO’s Watchman series graphically depicted the event of the massacre during the opening of the show. We have to see to it that justice is brought to the victims of the massacre, that is the only way we can heal these scars. 

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