The destruction of Greenwood in Tulsa Oklahoma is considered the single most horrific racial terrorism event in US history. Approximately 300 people were killed, over 1200 homes and at least 60 businesses, churches, schools, a library, and even a hospital were destroyed. 100 years after the largest act of racial terrorism on US soil, we are still asking questions about what really happened in Tulsa and how we can move forward as a country.
Tulsa was considered a mecca for Black abundance and prosperity. It was the result of a wealthy black landowner purchasing 40 acres of land, and eventually selling property to other black residents. After years of continued growth, the area became known as the Black Wall Street. It was a self-sufficient community that left promise for Blacks after the revolutionary war. The Greenwood area of Tulsa presented a chance for Black people to build a new future for their families in a country that had worked so hard to keep them down. But their vitality was short-lived. On May 31, 1921 the city of Tulsa Oklahoma was burned to the ground by a white mob.
The residents and business owners of the city did not receive any help from local authorities in response to the destruction of their city. In fact, it is reported that allegedly there were law enforcement officers who also participated in the destruction of the city that day. Stories also recount explosives being dropped from airplanes to torch buildings, and armed men preventing firefighters from extinguishing the massive burning. Quite a traumatic turn of events for a group of people who had already fled to Oklahoma to escape racial terrorism.
In a recent hearing with The House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties three remaining survivors of the Tulsa Massacre gave their testimonies and their plea to receive the proper restitution that was due to be given to them and their descendents. Although funds were issued that were supposed to remedy the cost of the massacre, experts say that the dollar amount is extremely undervalued and is not equivalent to the actual loss that Tulsa residents endured.
Fast forward to the current day and there are monuments, statues, and signs that commemorate the Greenwood area contributions. Some have even started to rebuild and open businesses in the historic district; many paying homage to their ancestors who enjoyed a prosperous lifestyle before the destruction. But not everyone is excited about the revitalization. Many feel as though it is not enough. Ancestors of those who lost their lives in Tulsa have reported that many of the efforts that the city has initiated has only caused them to relive the horrific memories. The few survivors who were residents of the area live with the trauma of what they lost, as well as the questions of what could have been. Their plea has been that their experiences should be recognized properly; that the government acknowledge what was done and most importantly what wasn’t done. Students in Tulsa schools weren’t even aware of the history of the area until now. It was never taught in the schools there, and they were never taught about the government’s role or response to the incident.
So this raises the question – where exactly are we now? Are we living beyond the mentions of the incident in media outlets? Are we putting intention behind the signs and the statues? And what happens to the descendants of the area that were robbed of an unknown future? How does Tulsa move forward? And how do we as a nation ensure that no other city has to endure having their history physically ripped out from underneath them? 100 years later, and we are still looking for answers to a burning question.
For more information about the Tulsa Oklahoma tragedy, check out this story by NBC News