One hundred years after the worst case of racist mafia violence in twentieth-century America, the massacre of the Tulsa race finally gets the attention it deserves. The 1921 terrorist attack by a white mafia armed against a thriving black community is perhaps one of the clearest and most extreme illustrations of how many African Americans were stripped of their wealth for a generation.
In just 24 hours, an army of white male delegates ravaged the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma, burning what had become known as “Black Wall Street” and killing hundreds of residents and businessmen. There has never been a full account of the murder and the chaos unleashed on the community, and some estimates place the minimum death toll at 300.
While major media outlets eventually cover this dark incident as a symbol of historic white supremacist violence, a critical lesson in the Tulsa massacre is how economic injustice was challenged in Black America and how it was challenged. he took wealth out of the hands of these few blacks who found success within a capitalist system.
Professor Karlos K. Hill, president of the department and associate professor of African American and African American Studies at the University of Oklahoma, is one of the nation’s leading scholars on the history of racial violence and author of The Massacre of the Race of Tulsa of 1921: a photographic history. He explained to me in an interview that “the Greenwood district [of Tulsa] it was perhaps the richest black community in the country ”and a“ symbol of what was possible even in Jim Crow America. ”According to Hill, Greenwood’s 11,000 black residents lived in an area that housed hundreds of successful businesses and included four millionaires and six nearly millionaires in current dollars.It was Booker T. Washington who in 1913 called Greenwood the “Black Wall Street.”
In one day, everything that was built was destroyed. “The Greenwood district and its wealth attracted the ear of whites,” Hill said. He argued that the armed white mob and its supporters “saw Greenwood not only [their own] resentment over the accumulation of black economic wealth, but they saw the future in Greenwood. “In other words,” the fear was that if blacks could have economic and political equality, social equality would follow right behind. “And that was a threat to the foundations of Jim Crow ‘s segregation.
One of the survivors of the massacre, 107-year-old Viola Fletcher, testified in Congress a few weeks before the centenary and recalled growing up as a child in Greenwood in “a beautiful home” with “great neighbors and friends to play with.” It had everything a child could need. He had a bright future ahead of him, “he said. A few weeks after Fletcher turned seven, the gunmen attacked on May 31, 1921. After recounting the” violence of the white crowd “and their memories of seeing.” Black Bodies Lying in the Street ”and“ Black Business Burned. ”He went on to describe the ground poverty in which it was thrown as a result of the massacre.
Fletcher never made it past the fourth grade of elementary school. The promising future that his family had worked hard to give him was erased in the ashes of the Tulsa Race massacre. “Most of my life I was a domestic worker serving white families. I never made much money. To this day I can barely afford the daily necessities,” he told lawmakers during his witnesses.
The massacre of the Tulsa race was unusual in its scope, the fierce speed of its destruction, and the extent of prosperity that was decimated. But it was not uncommon for there to be relentless pogroms against black communities, especially between 1917 and 1923, so much so that one report characterized the period as “a reign of racial terror after World War I, when whites ascended. to eliminate thriving black communities “.
President Joe Biden’s proclamation on the centenary of the Tulsa Race massacre and his emotional speech in Greenwood went far beyond any president has ever gone to acknowledge Tulsa’s horrors and provide a starting point for justice. . Failing to file a reparation case, his announcement of “New Actions to Build Black Wealth and Reduce the Racial Wealth Gap” is also a much more progressive gesture to race-based systemic economic injustice than we might expect from the White House.
While Hill admits that “Biden’s plan is a good start,” he argues, “it’s not enough.” “We need to continue to focus on reparations for victims, survivors and descendants,” he said. In fact, the Tulsa Race Massacre Commission, which was created more than two decades ago by the state of Oklahoma, recommended repairs that “would involve compensation at the individual and community level.” In reflecting on what Fletcher’s life might have been like if the wealth of her family and community had not been burned to the ground, we can only imagine what was lost to her as an individual and to generations of black Americans. like her and her descendants. .
Today black activists, leaders and advocates are calling on black communities to calculate racial violence and the systemic elimination of wealth. The Movement for Black Lives, for example, explicitly calls for “economic justice for all and a reconstruction of the economy to ensure that black communities have collective ownership, not just access.” There is a direct link between the macabre history of racialized U.S. violence and contemporary forms of systemic racism designed to suppress the success and wealth creation of blacks. Study after study demonstrates continued discrimination against black Americans in mortgages on housing, rental housing, employment, wages, and college income, so much so that it harms the economy as a whole.
And yet, white conservatives still refuse to accept that the American economic system is designed to benefit them at the expense of people of color and especially black people. Hill stated, “We need to think more aggressively about the ways in which systematic racism has not only reduced black wealth, but made its construction impossible.”
The last front of the cultural right-wing war is a strange new campaign against the field of “critical race theory” that is being taught in academic institutions. In fact, the same year that marked the centenary of the Tulsa racial massacre, when a U.S. president finally gave unprecedented recognition to the event, and when the history of racist violence in Tulsa it finally began to gain the prominence it deserves. The state of Oklahoma banned the teaching of critical race theory. Hill bluntly denounced the move and said, “It’s so offensive that this state in the centenary of the race massacre passed this bill. It’s so crazy, it’s so frustrating, it’s a slap.” Perhaps because this is precisely the educational framework that can help young Americans analyze the history of racialized economic injustice, today’s white conservatives see it as a threat to maintaining their racial and economic privilege.
During his testimony about the survival of the Tulsa Race massacre, Fletcher warned, “Our country may forget this story, but I can’t. I won’t and our descendants won’t.”
Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, presenter and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. He is a member of the Economics for All project at the Independent Media Institute.
Source: Independent Media Institute
This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.