Retrospective: Black Wall Street Burns

During May 31st and June 1st 1921, the residents of the Greenwood section of Tulsa, Oklahoma became the victims of an act of domestic terrorism. The community was created from the oil boom of the 1900s which attracted many African-Americans to move to Tulsa. Due to the harsh segregation, African-Americans made the Greenwood section home, making it flourish in spite of the oppression surrounding them.

Many forget that before segregation, black communities flourished as they depended solely on their neighborhoods for everything out of necessity. It makes you rethink the true effects of desegregation through a financial prism. Greenwood residents were staunchly entrepreneurial, with a thriving business center inclusive of hotels, banks, clothiers, movie theaters, restaurants, cafes and contemporary homes.  Modern luxuries like indoor plumbing and excellent school systems were the norm in Greenwood, something uncommon for their White neighbors. Educated Black children were cultivated like beautiful flowers, soaking all the knowledge they could like roots being diligently watered.

Tulsa’s Black Wall Street massacre

CNN’s Sara Sidner takes us back to a time in America’s history many would like to forget.

However, the area known then as Little Africa would eventually be subjected to domestic terrorists who acted upon the fear of black economic superiority and the myth of the white damsel in distress. 

When a young white woman accused a local black man of rape, it fueled an already burning desire to see the community destroyed by Tulsas white police force and deputized local mobs. The result of what was re-labeled a race riot was devastating, as more than 300 African Americans were killed. Forty square blocks of African American homes were looted and burned to the ground, displacing over 1200 people from there homes. Hospitals, churches and schools were razed and over 150 businesses were destroyed.

Over 6,000 members of the community were rounded up by the National Guard and newly deputized white citizens of Tulsa. Those held in detention were only released after being vouched for by either a white employer of white citizen. In its wake, over 9,000 residents were left homeless and forced to live in tents well into the winter of 1921.

Today, fear grips many who look at the Trump Administration as the millennial example of white privilege on steroids. The eroding of harsh drug law repeals and prison release of felons with drug convictions by the Obama Administration is no more. The fear of citizens is back in full force on immigrant communities who desperately hold onto their indigenous culture and way of life through entrepreneurship. The cyclical nature of supremacy holds true from The Black Wall Street to the MOVE bombings in Philadelphia in 1985. We must understand the past to know where we are going.

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