Tuesday, June 1, 2021
TULSA, OKLAHOMA MASSACRE! 100 YEARS AGO AND COUNTING!
First of all, let's get the wording correct.
The Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921 (May 30th - June 1st) was NOT a riot. It was a MASSACRE. A SLAUGHTER OF INNOCENTS. A POGROM. Plus, this kind of incident was not a "one off." It was business as usual across America for decades - Detroit. San Francisco. East St. Louis. Chicago. And on and on.
A race riot is one where the parties who are gonna rumble KNOW WHEN ish is gonna go down. The parties KNOW HOW it's gonna go down and the parties are BOTH ARMED in preparation for the confrontation.
No such conditions existed for the Tulsa, Oklahoma MASSACRE. It was a total surprise. An ambush of a successful, thriving, peaceful, self-sufficient BLACK community by a bunch of scared, misinformed, insecure, inadequate, bloodthirsty WHITE citizens.
What was at the root of this slaughter you ask? The stereotypical scenario. On May 30, 1921, a White man heard a scream and then witnessed a Black man (19 year old Dick Rowland) exiting an elevator in a building in the White part of town. An elevator that was operated by a 17 old White girl (Sarah Page). The witness said the Black man had exited the car quickly and that the girl looked "extremely distressed' and apparently had been the one who'd screamed. Police were called and a search was on for the young Black man. Rowland was found and arrested.
In that short period of time rumors had circulated that Page had been sexually assaulted by Rowland in the elevator. The local newspaper had printed as much even though NO EVIDENCE was discovered to confirm the story. That set the stage for tragedy.
The next day a mob of seething White men assembled in front of the courthouse bent on lynching the teen. In response, the sheriff barricaded Rowland on the top flor of the courthouse. About 25 Black men showed up to guard the boy but were turned away by the police. Later almost 100 Black men returned to the courthouse but were met by a now armed, angry White mob. Fighting and shooting ensued. The Black men fled back to their neighborhood.
The White mob, still fueled by the fantasy of the girl having been raped by the Black teen, and by the rumor that Blacks from near by towns were coming to Tulsa to kill the Whites there, stormed into Greenwood (the Black section of Tulsa known as "Black Wall Street") and began shooting, pillaging, plundering and burning everyone and everything in sight. Hell, there were even reports of PRIVATE aircraft dropping incendiary devices onto Greenwood! Shades of the bombing of the MOVE compound in 1985! By the morning of June 1st, Greenwood was a smoking pile of rubble. Its Black residents had either been killed or had ran away. They left behind businesses and homes. Homes and businesses that were now smoldering heaps of nothing. Schools, a hospital, a movie theater, 100s of established enterprises, churches, banks, restaurants, grocery stores, hotels. All were gone.
The only good from it all was that Sarah Page refused to press charges; the charges were dropped against Dick Rowland and he was escorted out of town. Never to return.
News of the slaughter was suppressed then and for for years, decades forward. Until Black survivors, finally unafraid in their old age, began speaking out publicly.
Dick Rowland. Sarah Page. Some said they were a secret "item." Who knows? Whatever happened in that elevator will never be known. But the murder and the pain rained down on Black Tulsans, and stirred up in the wild imagination of a White mob will be known forever.
P.S. incidents like this occurred across America continuously. Sometimes taking out whole little towns of Black people. Sometimes taking out groups of Black people as small as a few dozen homes and businesses. Generational wealth wiped out because a bunch of cretins could do anything without impunity. These repeated incidents are the main reasons Black Americans who are descendants of the those originally enslaved here STILL to this day have far less than their White counterparts financially. We are forever at the stating line, shoeless, hobbled and expected to "pull ourselves up by our bootstraps" and "work harder." Yes, we are owned reparations. Every last one of us. Then maybe ish would be even. Maybe. But knowing America, she would move the goalposts. She loves doing that when she feels the rules of the game she created are not in her favor.