In the early 20th century, black businessmen bought land in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and developed it into one of the most successful & affluent black communities ever built in America.
The Greenwood district in Tulsa, Oklahoma was once so self-sufficient & financially stable that it was known as “Black Wall Street” where black people lived, worked, bought, sold & traded with others, and everyone succeeded for it. Greenwood had its own banks, pharmacies, lawyers, doctors (including a Mayo Clinic endorsed surgeon), and published two newspapers. Large segments of the population lived with trappings of wealth that were rare even for black people in integrated northern states, like private planes.
But on May 31, 1921, it all literally burned to the ground. In a story that plays like a broken record, a rumor about a black man assaulting a white woman somehow justified genocide, and Tulsa’s racists, bolstered by the KKK, destroyed EVERYTHING in Greenwood. The community was bombed from the air & torched from below in a 2-day riot that no law enforcement official stopped & no one was ever held accountable for.
Over 800 people were injured, an estimated 10,000 were left homeless when 35 city blocks of over 1,256 residences were destroyed, more than a dozen churches and 600 successful businesses were lost, including 21 restaurants, 30 grocery stores, two movie theaters and a hospital. Greenwood’s founder alone lost over $200,000 in property assets. Archaeologists & historians estimate that as many as 300 died that day, and their bodies were dumped in a mass grave outside of the local cemetery. Known today as the Tulsa Race Riot, if estimates are correct, it ranks as the second deadliest attack on American soil behind 9/11.
Needless to say, Greenwood never recovered its original glory, and the story of what happened there only survived history because it destroyed a key milestone in black history. But it was hardly the only story of its kind. Between 1906 and 1923, notable mass murders of dozens of black people were carried out in Atlanta, East St. Louis, Rosewood, FL, and Slocum, TX. Similarly to the Tulsa Riot, ultimately, no one was held responsible for committing any of these crimes of murder, arson, kidnapping, rape, robbery and so on.
Today, when we point elsewhere to condemn senseless acts of terrorism, we should humbly acknowledge that our country has much to atone for to our own citizens in our not-so-distant past as well.