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The Tulsa Massacre and the Destruction of Black Wall Street - May 31, 1921
Commentary by Black Kos Editor Deoliver47

Funny, but when I think of Oklahoma I don’t think of black folks.

I tend to think of  the song from the Broadway show by Rodgers and Hammerstein, as a place “where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain and the wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet when the wind comes right behind the rain”.

I don’t think of the stench of burned bodies and burned out homes.

If I think a bit deeper and longer it was the place at the end of The Trail of  Tears, or “Indian Territory".

I certainly don’t associate Oklahoma or Tulsa with the largest massacre of African-Americans after the end of slavery.  Nor – when I think of prosperous historical African-American communities would Tulsa come to mind – certainly Harlem, or DC, or Philadelphia, New Orleans or Chicago would be instant picks.
Black Wall Street?  In Oklahoma?  

Yes.  It was there.  And this week is the 90th  anniversary  of the lives and deaths of a people and a once thriving community.  

Listen to the spoken word of Brother Arthur L. Farahkhan

Black Wall Street Massacre

Or to this feature piece done to mark the 75th anniversary on the Today Show, with Bryant Gumble.

I do not think of Tulsa as a place that had internment camps.  Yet it did.

The devastation was complete.  Greenwood was hit by what was like a human tornado.  A white tornado.  


ruins of Tulsa

As black Tulsans won their release from the various internment
centers, and returned to Greenwood, most discovered that they
no longer had homes any more (Courtesy Department of Special
Collections, McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa).

When I hear reports of the bombing of US civilians, I do not see a visual of Greenwood. I think of what happened in Philly to the folks from MOVE.  Yet black residents of Tulsa were attacked - not just by roving mobs of whites and State Troopers - they were hit from the skies as well.

Attack by air

Numerous accounts described airplanes carrying white assailants firing rifles and dropping firebombs on buildings, homes, and fleeing families. The planes, six biplane two-seater trainers left over from World War I, were dispatched from the nearby Curtiss-Southwest Field (now defunct) outside of Tulsa. White law enforcement officials later claimed the sole purpose of the planes was to provide reconnaissance and protect whites against what they described as a "Negro uprising." However, eyewitness accounts and testimony from the survivors confirmed that on the morning of June 1, the planes dropped incendiary bombs and fired rifles at black Tulsans on the ground. Even one white newspaper in Tulsa reported that airplanes circled over Greenwood during the riot.

In her "Author's Note", Jewell Parker Rhodes cites a 1983 Parade magazine headline article entitled "The Only U.S. City Bombed from the Air" as the initial inspiration for her 1997 novel Magic City.

Several groups of blacks attempted to organize a defense, but were ultimately overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of whites and weapons. Many blacks, conceding defeat, surrendered. Still others returned fire, ultimately losing their lives.
As the fires spread northward through Greenwood, countless black families continued to flee. Many died when trapped by the flames.

Funny how when you here the word "riot" and "looting"  seems to always have black faces attached to those words.  Yet here was a place where whites ran riot - burning, shooting and looting.  

All this happened. In Tulsa.  

All these images, sights and sounds are part of a history that is not simply buried in a book somewhere, collecting dust.  There are still living survivors of that 1921 massacre.  There is still a section of Tulsa Oklahoma called "Greenwood".

The PBS documentary "Goin' Back to T-Town", tells the story of a thriving community, what occurred in Tulsa and the aftermath.

The title refers to the Tulsa, OK, site of one of the ugliest incidents of racism in the 20th century. Narrated by the award-winning actor Ossie Davis, this documentary was televised as an installment of the PBS series The American Experience. As the program shows, "Jim Crow" laws kept blacks segregated in the Greenwood Avenue section of Tulsa. After Sarah Page, a white elevator operator, accused a black man named Dick Rowland of grabbing her arm, Rowland was arrested and a white mob burned 35 blocks of the Greenwood district on June 1, 1921. The governor declared martial law and sent in the National Guard to restore order. The documentary shows that enterprising African-Americans rebuilt the "Negro Wall Street," but that the community succumbed to desegregation, age, and urban renewal in the 1960s. Highlights of this program include residents of Greenwood. Historical advisors on the documentary include Jimmie Lewis Franklin, history professor at Vanderbilt University, and John Hope Franklin, James B. Duke Professor of History, Emeritus.

You can view the entire documentary via you tube (12 parts). I am only embedding part 1.

It opens with a description of the growth of the Greenwood section of Tulsa - which came to be known as Black Wall Street.

"The Black Wall Street"
During the oil boom of the 1910s, the area of northeast Oklahoma around Tulsa flourished, including the Greenwood neighborhood, which came to be known as "the Negro Wall Street" (now commonly referred to as "the Black Wall Street") The area was home to several prominent black businessmen, many of them multimillionaires. Greenwood boasted a variety of thriving businesses that were very successful up until the Tulsa Race Riot. Not only did African Americans want to contribute to the success of their own shops, but also the racial segregation laws prevented them from shopping anywhere other than Greenwood. Following the riots, the area was rebuilt and thrived until the 1960s when desegregation allowed blacks to shop in areas that were restricted before.

The buildings on Greenwood Avenue housed the offices of almost all of Tulsa’s black lawyers, realtors, doctors, and other professionals. In Tulsa at the time of the riot, there were fifteen well-known African American physicians, one of whom was considered the “most able Negro surgeon in America” by one of the Mayo brothers. Greenwood published two newspapers, the Tulsa Star and the Oklahoma Sun, which covered not only Tulsa, but also state and national news and elections.
Greenwood was a very religiously active community. At the time of the riot there were more than a dozen African American churches and many Christian youth organizations and religious societies.

In northeastern Oklahoma, as elsewhere in America, the prosperity of minorities emerged amidst racial and political tension. The Ku Klux Klan made its first major appearance in Oklahoma shortly before the worst race riot in history. It is estimated that there were about 3,200 members of the Klan in Tulsa in 1921 .

Oklahoma Historical Society

describes the events leading up to the massacre: incident involving Dick Rowland, an African American shoe shiner, and Sarah Page, a white elevator operator, would set the stage for tragedy. While it is still uncertain as to precisely what happened in the Drexel Building on May 30, 1921, the most common explanation is that Rowland stepped on Page's foot as he entered the elevator, causing her to scream. The next day, however, the Tulsa Tribune, the city's afternoon daily newspaper, reported that Rowland, who had been picked up by police, had attempted to rape Page. Moreover, according to eyewitnesses, the Tribune also published a now-lost editorial about the incident, titled "To Lynch Negro Tonight." By early evening there was, once again, lynch talk on the streets of Tulsa.

Talk soon turned to action. By 7:30 p.m. hundreds of whites had gathered outside the Tulsa County Courthouse, demanding that the authorities hand over Dick Rowland, but the sheriff refused. At about 9 p.m., after reports of the dire conditions downtown reached Greenwood, a group of approximately twenty-five armed African American men, many of them World War I veterans, went down to the courthouse and offered their services to the authorities to help protect Rowland. The sheriff, however, turned them down, and the men returned to Greenwood. Stunned, and then enraged, members of the white mob then tried to break into the National Guard armory but were turned away by a handful of local guardsmen. At about 10 p.m. a false rumor hit Greenwood that whites were storming the courthouse. This time, a second contingent of African American men, perhaps seventy-five in number, went back to the courthouse and offered their services to the authorities. Once again, they were turned down. As they were leaving, a white man tried to disarm a black veteran, and a shot was fired. The riot was on.  

Over the next six hours Tulsa was plunged into chaos as angry whites, frustrated over the failed lynching, began to vent their rage at African Americans in general. Furious fighting erupted along the Frisco railroad tracks, where black defenders were able to hold off members of the white mob. An unarmed African American man was murdered inside a downtown movie theater, while carloads of armed whites began making "drive-by" shootings in black residential neighborhoods. By midnight fires had been set along the edge of the African American commercial district. In some of the city's all-night cafes, whites began to organize for a dawn invasion of Greenwood.

By the time it was over hundreds were dead - and Greenwood was leveled.

Much of what occurred in Tulsa was never dealt with.  There was a cover-up, and the number of people who died was not reported. It took 75 years before the State of Oklahoma would investigate.

In 1997, following increased attention to the riot brought on by the seventy-fifth anniversary of the event, the Tulsa Race Riot Commission was created to study and develop a "historical account" of the riot. The study "enjoyed strong support from members of both political parties and all political persuasions."[12] The Commission delivered its report on February 21, 2001.[13][14] The report included recommendations for substantial restitution; in order of priority:

        Direct payment of reparations to survivors of the 1921 Tulsa race riot
        Direct payment of reparations to descendants of the survivors of the Tulsa race riot
        A scholarship fund available to students affected by the Tulsa race riot
        Establishment of an economic development enterprise zone in the historic area of the Greenwood district
        A memorial for the reburial of the remains of the victims of the Tulsa race riot

The Tulsa Reparations Coalition, sponsored by the Center for Racial Justice, Inc., was formed on April 7, 2001 to obtain restitution for the damages suffered by Tulsa's Black community, as recommended by the Oklahoma Commission.

In June 2001, the Oklahoma state legislature passed the "1921 Tulsa Race Riot Reconciliation Act." While falling short of the Commission's recommendations, it provided for more than 300 college scholarships for descendants of Greenwood residents, mandated the creation of a memorial to those who died in the riot, and called for new efforts to promote economic development in Greenwood.There have been limited attempts to find suspected mass graves used to bury the unknown numbers of black dead. The Commission reported that they were not authorized to do the necessary archaeological work to verify the claims.

Five elderly survivors of the riot, led by a legal team including Johnnie Cochran and Charles Ogletree, filed suit against the city of Tulsa and the state of Oklahoma (Alexander, et al., v. Oklahoma, et al.) in February 2003, based on the findings of the 2001 report. Ogletree said the state and city should compensate the victims and their families "to honor their admitted obligations as detailed in the commission's report." The plaintiffs did not seek reparations as such; rather, they asked for the establishment of educational and health-care resources for current residents of Greenwood. However, the federal district and appellate courts dismissed the suit citing the statute of limitations on the 80-year-old case,[19] and the Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal. In April 2007, Ogletree appealed to the United States Congress to pass a bill extending the statute of limitations for the case.

The fullReport is available online.

Further Reading:


Death in a Promised Land


The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921


Reconstructing the Dreamland: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, Race Reparations, and Reconciliation

We have just held a memorial day for US veterans.

Let us also have a moment of silence for those who died as a result of injustice and racism right here at home.

                                  News by dopper0189, Black Kos Managing Editor
This definitely needs more research  OpEdNews: Are Black Public Officials More Likely Than Whites to be Prosecuted in the Deep South?

The five commissioners who govern a rural Alabama county were arrested last week. What did the entire Bullock County Commission do to merit being charged with felonies? They violated the Alabama Competitive Bid Law, according to a statement from the state attorney general's office.

It's certainly possible that Bullock County's finances and procedures are a wreck--and that criminal activity was involved. Violations reportedly showed up when the Alabama Examiners of Public Accounts conducted an audit from October 2008 to September 2009. Irregularities also appeared on audits in 2006 and '07.

But a reasonable person, looking at the broad picture, could ask: Was the real reason these people were arrested that they represent a county that is mostly black, relatively poor, and largely Democratic? In other words, are political prosecutions still the tool of choice for the conservative elites who rule Karl Rove's Alabama--even with Barack Obama in the White House? Are such shenanigans still going on in other "deep red" regions of the country?

Alabama's new attorney general, elected in the Republican windfall of November 2010, is Luther Strange. "Big Luther" is a former oil lobbyist who used to work at Birmingham's Bradley Arant, one of the most right-wing, "pro business" law firms in the state. Strange also fell out of the "Bob Riley Political Family Tree," which includes some pretty ugly branches, bearing names such as Jack Abramoff, Michael Scanlon, Bill Canary, and of course, Karl Rove.

Gil Scott-Heron, poet and musician, has died The Grio: Gil Scott-Heron was more than the 'Godfather of Rap'
The Gil Scott-Heron that showed up at the radio studio in Los Angeles for the scheduled interview with me in the mid-1970s was not at all like the man I expected. The Heron I expected was a hard edged, posturing, rhetoric spouting black militant. Instead Gil was soft spoken, had an easy laugh, and was witty.

The interview was less an interview about his music and his recently released album Winter in America than his probing me about how conditions were for blacks in the city, police problems, and the organizations fighting for change. Heron was in Los Angeles on a performance and promotional tour for the album. I even forgot for a moment that I was talking to one of the premier musical artists of the day but felt I was discussing the political and social issues of the day with a social scientist.

Nearly four decades later, it seems and sounds odd to read and hear the tributes and remembrances of Heron since his death that exclusively focus on two things. One is his fast paced, hard edged, take no prisoners signature single "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." The other is to label him "the Godfather of Rap." Neither of these do justice to Heron. The spoken word "Revolution" was hardly the first or the hardest hitting musical homage to the spirit of black radicalism of the times.

In fact, by the time "Revolution" hit the airwaves in the early 1970s, black singers, jazz musicians, and spoken word poets had been pouring out incendiary black radical lyrics, sounds, and poetry for several years. The rap cadences were pronounced in many of their works. In the decades before the 1960s, legions of black jazz, bee bop, and blues singers "rapped", scatted, and hooped in their songs.

Musician and poet Gil Scott-Heron performs onstage in circa 1977. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Because anything is better that trusting big bank The Grio: 'Sou-sou': Black immigrants bring savings club stateside
t's like karmic cash. You get as good as you give. And Marie Lumen Clersaint is Brooklyn's reigning queen of sou-sous -- an informal savings club popular among Caribbean and African immigrants. When anyone in her tight knit circle of savers needs a large sum of money, they come to her.

At any given time, Clersaint runs two sou-sous where people come together and make regular contributions to a common fund, which is then disbursed as a lump sum to one member of the group every cycle. The payouts for her current sou-sous are $20,000 and $10,000. They have 40 and 20 members, respectively. Each member puts in $500 bi-weekly. Every two weeks one member of each sou-sou will receive their group's entire payout, until each person gets a turn. The $20,000 sou-sou runs or 18 months, the $10,000 saving club lasts 10 months. For the person who gets the first disbursement, it's an interest-free cash advance and for the last payee it's a no-interest savings plan. And for those in the middle, it's a combination of both. There are no checks or money orders involved. It's all cash all the time.

"When people get their money, many personally thank me. Sometimes they even give me a little bit of their payout as a gift. I like to help people do what they need to do in life," said Clersaint who has seen members of her sou-sous use their disbursements to put down payments on houses and cars, pay off their debts and send their kids to college.

Clersaint isn't a banker or an accountant. She's a Haitian immigrant who works for a chain of five independently-owned money transfer stores in Brooklyn, New York called Caribbean Air Mail or CAM. Since most Haitian immigrants send money back home on a regular basis, it's a strong probability that those in Brooklyn have come through one of her stores at one time or another. "Everybody knows me," Clersaint said. They also know she runs among the largest and most consistent sou-sous in her community. She's also known for deciding the order of the recipients' payout based on specific requests from people who know they will need the money by a certain date.

Many want to join Clersaint's unofficial savings club, but the chosen are few. She has to be very selective because it's all based on the honor system. There is no legal paperwork involved. No credits check or proof of income required. You don't even have to sign your name. She has to know and trust every participant. There are no laws against sou-sous as long as every member gets exactly what they put into it. However, there is little legal recourse in the event someone is taken advantage of.

Marie Lumen Clersaint (photo courtesy of Marlie Hall)


Voices and Soul


by Justice Putnam
Black Kos Poetry Editor

Gil Scott Heron died on Friday. I was a freshman in college in 1974, trying to play football for Cal Poly when a teammate, a junior, gave me the LP, Small Talk at 125th and Lenox. My teammate told me he was sure that after I listened, I would understand. I did and Heron changed my life.

Today's Voices and Soul is in tribute to the Poet, Gil Scott-Heron. I am sure he is holding Grandma's hands in Heaven.

"An Intellectual’s Funeral"

On such a day we put him in a box
And carried him to that last house, the grave;
All round the people walked upon the streets
Without once thinking that he had gone
Their hard heels clacked upon the pavement stones.

A voiceless change had muted all his thoughts
To a deep significance we could not know;
And yet we knew that he knew all at last.
We heard with grave wonder the falling clods,
And with grave wonder met the loud day.

The night would come and day, but we had died.
With new green sod the melancholy gate
Was closed and locked, and we went pitiful.
Our clacking heels upon the pavement stones
Did knock and knock for Death to let us in.

-- Jonathan David

Gil Scott-Heron (rest in peace)


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Originally posted to Black Kos on Tue May 31, 2011 at 12:59 PM PDT.

Also republished by Black Kos community.

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