May 29, 2021 10:39 AM | Alfonso Fernández (EFE)
15 minutes. The memory of the flames and the dead was as terrible as the decades of official silence. Tulsa, Oklahoma, will commemorate on Tuesday the largest racial massacre in recent United States (US) history, when in 1921 a white mob burned down and completely looted Greenwood, one of the wealthiest African-American neighborhoods in the country at the time.
The horror began after an elevator encounter in which a white teenage girl, Sarah Page, accused a young black shoeshine boy, Dick Rowland, of assaulting herbut that never mattered too much.
Between May 31 and June 1, 1921, a mob of whites, many supported by local authorities, razed, looted and burned more than 1,200 homes in that neighborhood in Tulsa, a symbol of the progress of the black population in the United States. after the end of slavery half a century ago.
In 1921, Greenwood’s success story was interrupted as Dick Rowland, a 19-year-old Black shoe shiner, was arrested for allegedly assaulting a white woman. She would eventually refuse to cooperate with his prosecution. https://t.co/vIALBNOZ7d pic.twitter.com/SqNR2cco0v
– The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) May 29, 2021
Not a single one arrested for the Tulsa massacre
The exact number of deaths is unknown because no one wanted to investigate. Now historians place the deceased at at least 300.
Not a single person was detained or faced charges for what happened in that city in the center of the United States. Nor was compensation paid to families who lost their homes and belongings.
“What happened in Tulsa is essential to understanding the experience of blacks in this country, where they have been subjected to violence by white supremacists from the beginning.” This was noted by historian Brenda Stevenson, professor of African American studies at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).
Greenwood was a “vibrant community,” the historian noted, made up of people who were “only a generation or two away from slavery at most.” He had managed to create “a very successful district, a very solid middle class, with its own social life with theaters, churches, schools.”
In 1921, the Tulsa neighborhood of Greenwood was a fully realized antidote to racial oppression of the time. It was a thriving community of commerce and family life to its roughly 10,000 residents.
It became home to what was known as America’s Black Wall Street. pic.twitter.com/JogsRkfH3R
– The New York Times (@nytimes) May 25, 2021
The Tulsa Massacre underscores “the persistent notion that African Americans are expendable, that our achievements can be erased, that our history can be suppressed“Stevenson said.
What the white assailants wanted in 1921, said the expert, “was to emphasize that if blacks are going to live in our society, they are going to do so as inferiors. They are not going to be economically or culturally equal.”
Silence for decades
For decades, local, state and federal governments looked the other way. It took until 2001 for the commission created by the state of Oklahoma to document the events to recognize, for example, that Tulsa law enforcement authorities themselves had supplied the mob of white assailants with weapons.
Mary Elliott, curator of the Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, identified as causes of this prolonged silence “fear of the threat of more violence.” Also, to “the people who fled, the thousands who left” since for “those who lived that experience, telling it is almost reliving it.
“And, of course, the people responsible for the violence also wanted to bury it, just as they buried the corpses, knowing that It is a trauma that no one will want to talk about“Elliott explained.
Only 3 survivors of the atrocious Tulsa massacre remain, all of them children at the time and witnesses to the terror.
One of them is Viola Fletcher, 107 years old. He appeared in March before Congress, where he recriminated the forgetfulness he had experienced.
“Our country can forget this story, but I cannot. I will not, and other survivors will not, our descendants will not,” he defiantly told legislators about what happened 100 years ago.
Biden to visit Tulsa
Perhaps a first step so that this tragedy is never forgotten is the visit that US President Joe Biden will make to Tulsa on Tuesday to commemorate what happened.
He will be the first president in office who will come to the city on that special date. It does so after the wave of protests for racial justice that the US has experienced in the last year, triggered by the death of African-American George Floyd after being suffocated by a white policeman in Minneapolis (Minnesota).