full century after the Tulsa
justice remains elusive for the victims of Greenwood and all Black
victims of racial violence and systemic racism. This is because the
white lynch mob never went home and they never disbanded.
domestic terrorism remains our greatest threat, yet white America
lives in denial about the history of Black Wall Street, a history of
genocide and racialized trauma, and wants to pretend it never
May 31, 1921, evil descended upon the prosperous and thriving Black
community when, following a false rumor that a Black man had
assaulted a white woman in an elevator, a white
mob murdered hundreds of residents
and an aerial bombing destroyed 35 square blocks of 1,200 homes and
the business district. And at least 4,000
Black Greenwood residents
were arrested and placed in internment camps by the Oklahoma National
before the 1985 MOVE bombing in Philadelphia, the Tulsa massacre was
bombing of American citizens
by government agents. This mass atrocity came during a time of
revival for the Ku
when white mob violence was taking place across the country, these
so-called "race riots" were acts of white supremacist
domestic terror designed to instill fear in Black folks and keep them
in their place.
Tulsa white community acted in earnest to erase the memory of the
massacre, even removing it from the newspaper records. No one talked
about what happened in 1921, and children never learned about it in
school. The recent testimony that Tulsa
recently gave before Congress is a reminder that neither Oklahoma nor
America has done right by these victims.
70 years, the City of Tulsa, and then its Chamber of Commerces told
us that the massacre didn’t happen,” said Fletcher, who
is 107. “Like we didn’t see it with our own eyes.”
courts in Oklahoma wouldn’t hear us. The federal courts said we
were too late,” said Van Ellis, referring to courts finding the
of Tulsa was not liable
for the massacre, and federal courts up to the U.S. Supreme Court
refusing to hear a case for reparations. “We were shown that in
the United States that not all men were equal under the law.”
memories of Black Wall Street were buried and kept secret for years,
the bodies of the victims were buried
in mass gravesites.
last year in
will be exhumed on June 1. And still, many families living in fear
for years never learned of what happened to their loved ones, what
became of their remains.
from the white mob was estimated at $200
in today’s currency. But the damage was far greater. “In
addition to killing the victim, often a secondary objective was the
externality a lynching produced — to intimidate the victim’s
family, community, or ethnic or racial group,” said Michigan
State University economist Lisa
“A lynching signaled that personal security — and with it
the freedom to work and innovate — was not guaranteed.”
the pain of Black Wall Street still lives on, as America lives in
denial of the past and white America would move to erase that past.
Even as white nationalist lawmakers oppose the removal of Confederate
statues –and Hitler
— because that is history, they don’t want to teach about
slavery and racism, because that’s history, too, just the kind
that white people don’t want to hear about.
the eve of the centennial of the Greenwood massacre, the 1921 Tulsa
Race Massacre Centennial Commission removed Oklahoma
as a member after he signed a law banning the teaching of race,
racism and Critical Race Theory in public schools. Specifically, the
new law will prohibit
that cause anyone to “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any
other form of psychological distress” because of their race or
denial of a history of racial violence has real-world consequences we
are experiencing today. America needs to heal. But healing means
acknowledging the atrocities and repairing the damage to Black folks.
the past with a vengeance
because America refuses to grapple with its past. America placated
the Confederates, and they returned as the Klan and segregationists,
as lynch mobs that massacred Black people and destroyed their
communities in Greenwood, Rosewood and so many other places.
America chose to forget about Black Wall Street. And because America
would not come to terms with systemic racism and white supremacy, the
white mobs returned on January 6 for the Capitol insurrection —
and not just to lynch Black people. They also returned as fascists
and white nationalists in Congress.
hundred years after the Tulsa Race Massacre, we are reminded that
never repeats itself,
but it does often rhyme.” They will tell Black people to get
over it, but we simply cannot do this. The ancestors still resting in
unmarked graveyards will not allow us.
commentary was originally published by The