Many of you, I am sure, are just learning about the massacre in the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 31, 1921, one hundred years ago.
The killing started on May 31st, 1921…
But on June 1st, the killing, the burning, and the looting were still going on in what was known as “Black Wall Street”, the affluent dignified community created by black people, despite the times and the odds against them.
It started, typically, with the accusation of rape of a white woman by a black man.
An estimated 300 hundred were killed with another 800 wounded.
(We will never know the true number.)
Hundreds who escaped the killing were put in internment camps.
No charges were filed.
No arrests were made.
No insurance was ever paid, even though all had insurance.
No investigation was ever done until 80 years later.
Surely, a bloody day like that only happened once?
The Colfax, Louisiana Massacre
April 13, 1873
After the Civil War some freedmen tried to utilize their freedom to protest and assemble in front of the courthouse.
Their freedom was not even a decade old.
Southern whites were infuriated.
About 300 members of a racist paramilitary group called “The White League” descended upon the group and killed 80 to 150 of the freedmen exercising their rights…with guns, cannon fire, etc.
Of the over 300 murderers, only 9 were brought to trial and all were acquitted.
To make matters worse, the Supreme Court ruled in “The United States vs Cruikshank” that the Federal Government had no power to protect them from murder and that the “equal protection” and “due process” clauses in the 14th Amendment applied to states, NOT individuals.
“Free” black people had no protection. The KKK and others were free to reign terror as the law turned a blind eye. The Federal Government was powerless.
And a bloody legal precedent was set into motion…
Wilmington, North Carolina Massacre
November 10, 1898
Thirty Three years after Emancipation, Willimington had a thriving majority black population with several black elected politicians. There were numerous black professionals and businessmen and a rising middle class.
The only daily black owned newspaper in the country printed from its editor about the issue of white women and black men, that not all white women who wound up with black men were there by force, which prompted a white newspaper to post from a feminist, “If it requires lynching to protect woman’s dearest possession from ravening, drunken human beasts, then I say lynch a thousand negroes a week … if it is necessary.”
Black Wilmington was destroyed with terrorism from “The Red Shirts” and some 60 to 300 black people were killed with the newspaper and other property burned to the ground.
The editor of the paper fled and the government officials were marched out of town at gunpoint.
For many years, Wilmington hid this ugly history.
This was the only successful coup in American history.
September 22-24, 1906
An Atlanta newspaper reported that four white women were raped by black men. It was unfounded.
The truth was that black people were becoming upwardly mobile and whites felt that they were taking their jobs. Job competition was new for whites.
One of the most prominent black people was Alonzo Herndon who opened a very successful barbershop with black barbers that cut all kinds of hair, black and white. His success and the success of other black Atlantans caused tension for whites.
This bogus claim of sexual assault drove a couple thousand white men to the streets, into black communities to beat, stab, choke, kill any black person in sight and burn property.
Multiple communities were destroyed and the death toll was about 100 people.
Atlanta was concerned with how they were viewed around the world. So they agreed to stop attacking with segregation laws being the “answer”. Blacks were blamed for the rioting and massive disenfranchisement was the result. The following year a disenfranchisement law was passed that reduced the black electorate from 25% o 4%… for decades.
Elaine, Arkansas Massacre
Black people outnumbered whites 10-1 and were demanding economic justice beyond just sharecropping. Blacks, many WW1 Vets, created a union and whites were outraged! Robin Hill was the black man who started the union. He had had enough!
In September, there was a Union meeting and whites showed up to riot. Black people defended themselves and a white man got shot. “Black insurrection” rumors swelled and whites responded, as usual, with violence.
Many black Veterans of WW1 fought back but were outnumbered with over 200 black people killed including children…all killed indiscriminately…keeping limbs and body parts as souvenirs, burning and looting property.
Sherriff Frank Kitchens with his deputies organized the posses.
5 whites were also killed.
Many black people, who were not killed, were tortured in custody and forced to “confess” about insurrection. They were not allowed legal council. Many confessed still in chains after being beaten, shocked, formaldehyde stuck up their noses, etc.
Twelve got the death penalty after quick guilty verdicts.
They became known as “The Elaine 12”, and with the help of the NAACP, their case went to the Supreme Court and they were exonerated in 1923.
This was one of the NAACP’s first successful Supreme Court victories.
Rosewood, Florida Massacre
A mere two years after Tulsa:
A married white woman, Fannie Taylor, accused a black vagrant, Jesse Hunter, of raping her. She lived in the neighboring town of Sumner.
It was rumored that he was hiding in Rosewood with the help of the Black community.
One black man, who supposedly had information, was lynched and his body hung on display as a warning to the black community.
(The truth was, she was sleeping with a white man.)
As the news spread of the “rape”, it set off a killing spree and reportedly 150 black men were killed for the assault from the imaginary black man by several hundred white men.
Over 30 black men, women, and children were killed with many escaping into the woods. They fled by train to Gainesville, never to return.
After Rosewood was destroyed, a grand jury decided there was not enough evidence and charged no one with the crimes.
These are, by FAR, not all of the stories.
Not even close!
It happened in some form or fashion in Memphis, New Orleans, St. Louis, Columbia TN, and so many other cities in between.
Too many to name.
Not all were riots.
Many did not get headlines.
Many were individual lynching’s, beatings, mutilations, destruction of property, etc.
It happened when blacks tried to integrate neighborhoods in the north after “The Great Migration” from the south.
It happened when black people integrated schools.
It happened when black people tried to integrate buses.
There are too many stories to name.
Many Black people, especially older black people, learned that it was safer to be quiet about these terrible personal stories.
But I guarantee you they are there.
My parents and my older relatives have them.
That pain, that terror, is in the DNA of of the black community.
All of this happened AFTER the two and a half centuries of slavery.
This was the black community’s “freedom”.
This was the state of “Emancipation”.
This is not information only for Black and brown people.
This is important for anyone who truthfully believes in “Equal justice under the law” and is willing to work towards it.
The only reason one misinforms you about the past…
Is to mislead you in the present with plans of misleading you in the future.
This is not about Republican vs Democrat.
This is not about right vs left.
This is about right vs wrong.
With this information…
Let us all…
Begin to form a more perfect Union…
We’re the greatest country that there’s ever been,
But if we’re not together we will never win.
We are American.
- Joseph Wooten