Ninety-nine years ago the first bombs ever dropped on American soil were dropped on the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Ok. At the time it was the wealthiest black community in the country, also known as “Black Wall Street”.
Greenwood - the most preeminent Black community in the United States at the time and 35 square blocks - was home to 10,000 residents and contained scores of Black-owned businesses, hotels, restaurants, law offices, doctors offices, movie theaters, and more. Following a false, racially infused accusation made by a white woman about a black man 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-style 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 were left homeless. While the official death toll from the Americans 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 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. They were not.
This is what whitewashed history does - it allows us to choose not to face the true horrors of our past, thereby absolving us of responsibility to rectifying it.
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 it’s victims from receiving compensation, and swept it from the 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 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 the right centuries of wrongdoings.
Support organizations like the Greenwood Cultural Center who fight to preserve this history and 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.
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