Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre, one of the most tragic domestic terrorism instances visited upon the Black community.
On May 31st 1921, the Black neighborhood of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma – dubbed “the Black Wall Street” because of the concentration of wealth and successful Black-owned businesses – was razed to the ground over the course of 48 horrific hours. Ten thousand Black Tulsa residents were left homeless. Death toll estimates range from 39 to 300 dead. The devastation was so thorough that the massacre is now considered one of the worst instances of racial violence in American history.
Aftermath of the destruction on “the Black Wall Street,” on this day in Tulsa in 1921.
Sadly, our nation treated the Tulsa Massacre the same as so much of our country’s sordid history of racism – as a painful memory better left in the wastebin of forgotten past, as just one more insignificant footnote. For 80 years, Tulsa officials did not produce an accounting of the tragedy. If not for enterprising Black historians committed to telling the true story of the Black experience in America, the destruction of Black Wall Street may well have been lost to history.
But today, we remember.
We remember the lives that were lost and the community that was shattered over those fateful 48 hours. We remember the complicity of government officials who either ignored what was happening or fueled the violence. We remember that Greenwood was likely to have been bombed from the air by civilian and police airplanes, making it the first American city to have ever experienced such an assault.
We must also remember that the incident began over the Memorial Day weekend, on the national day of remembrance that traces its roots, in part, to 1865 when 10,000 freed slaves held a ceremony to commemorate the 257 Union Soldiers who died while held as prisoners of war in Charleston, South Carolina.
A number of Black Veterans tried to stop the Tulsa Massacre from happening, but they were powerless against the racist rage that consumed the city. They were the same Black Veterans who had lived through the “Red Summer” of 1919, in which thousands of Black people were murdered across the country in response to the attempts by Black Veterans to be treated equally after serving in World War I. Just like the other Black Veterans that came before and after them, they had to fight for the same freedoms at home as they did in battlefields overseas, often at great cost.
So today, we remember Tulsa and the bitter struggle of Black Veterans to be treated with honor and dignity. We remember because the success of our department’s mission to serve all Veterans and the endurance of our nation depends on knowing, acknowledging, and learning from our history.