Greenwood ― the most preeminent black community in the United States at the time ― was home to 10,000 residents and contained scores of black-owned businesses, hotels, restaurants, law offices, doctors offices, movie theaters, and more. Following an incident between a young black man and a young white woman in a downtown elevator, many of the nearly 3,200 Klan members in Tulsa and countless more white vigilantes armed themselves with firearms and marched north to Greenwood.
They opened fire in the streets, set businesses and homes ablaze, and dropped napalm-like bombs from fertilizer planes flying overhead.
With the help of the National Guard and the local police force, they arrested nearly 6,000 black residents and forced them into temporary internment camps in the Brady Theater ― now a popular Tulsa music venue ― while their thriving community was systematically leveled. Many of those imprisoned were starved, beaten and killed in the same space the city hosts jubilant concerts in today.
In just a few short days, Greenwood was completely destroyed and nearly every single one of its 10,000 residents was left homeless. While the official death toll from the American Red Cross at the time caps the loss of life at 300, some researchers estimate that the true number could rival that of Pearl Harbor and the September 11th attacks.
The Tulsa Race Massacre (NOT “Tulsa Race Riot”) was one of the greatest terror attacks in the history of this country, and yet it is so frequently missing from the pages of our history books. When it is mentioned, it is given the false label of “riot” ― implying that, somehow, the black community of Greenwood was complicit in the attack.
This is what whitewashed history does ― it allows us to choose against facing the true horrors of our past, thereby absolving us of responsibility to rectify it.
If you live in Tulsa, I would encourage you to engage in the events happening tonight and tomorrow at Reconciliation Park downtown and to attend the Police Accountability Forum from 9-2 on Saturday at the 36th Street North Event Center.
Regardless of where you live, it’s incumbent upon us ― especially white people, who benefit from the same system that allowed this attack to occur, protected its perpetrators from legal action, precluded its victims from receiving compensation, and hid it from view of the masses for generations ― to seek out the stories that have been purposefully hidden or misrepresented in order to continue perpetuating false, placated narratives of our country’s true past.
Once we know, we need to act.
- Share your knowledge of our past with others.
- Learn about implicit biases and check your own consistently.
- Look at current events through a lens of systemic racism and call it out.
- Support black-owned businesses and businesses run by other communities of color ― use your money as a tool to help right centuries of wrongdoings.
- Support organizations like the Greenwood Cultural Center that fight to preserve this history and to restore the community of Greenwood.
The story of Greenwood is not an isolated one. We have so much work to do as a country to undo a history of violence and oppression against communities of color ― and it all starts with knowing.
To learn more about Greenwood and Black Wall Street today, I would encourage you to follow The Black Wall Street Times on Facebook, Twitter (@BlackWallStTime), or online at www.theblackwallsttimes.com.
Source: Nate Morris’ Facebook Post
Nate Morris is a contributor to the Black Wall Street Times. Nate was born and raised in the Washington, D.C. area and moved to Tulsa in 2012 after graduating from Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia. He received his Master’s degree from the University of Oklahoma in 2015. Nate is a Teach for America alumnus and has worked in schools throughout the Tulsa area. He is an advocate for educational equity as well as racial and social justice throughout Tulsa and the nation as a whole.