A hundred years ago, a white mob in Tulsa, Oklahoma killed 300 blacks and ashed Greenwood’s prosperous black community, also known as “Black Wall Street.” New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow talks about one of the most notorious massacres in American history and those who witnessed it.
A hundred years ago today, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a black teenage shoeshine maker named Dick Roland boarded an elevator operated by a 17-year-old white girl. The absurd claim of what happened in the elevator between two teenagers would lead to one of the most notorious massacres in American history.
Roland was arrested the next morning and printed by Tulsa Tribune Burning article A young man claimed to have tried to “assault” the girl. A white mob landed in court and demanded that Roland be handed over.
An armed black man appeared to defend Roland and prevent him from being lynched. The gunshot went up immediately. This became known as the Tulsa massacre as whites began witnessing blacks.
The once prosperous Greenwood self-sufficient black community (also known as “Black Wall Street”) turned into ashes, killing as many as 300 people and leaving 8,000 homeless.
Rather than remembering and compensating for this atrocities, Tulsa began an effort to erase the case from history. However, it could not be erased from the memories of the living people.
In 2018 It was an honor to interview Olivia J. Hooker, One of the last survivors of the Tulsa massacre. When I met her, she was a healthy 103 years old. She dies after only two months.
Hooker was a girl only six years old at the time of the slaughter. It destroyed, polluted, or destroyed everything that was beautiful, represented the reality of black sophistication, or held the potential for black joy. It was the memory of the men who stole it.
“They took their hatchets to their sisters’ pianos and anointed their grandmother’s bed,” Hooker said. “They brought back all the silverware, coffee pots and teapots that mom had just got for Christmas. Such a beautiful thing.
Her remorse made it clear that the genocide was not just an elevator incident, terrorism or a mass murder. It was also about greed and malice. About the disappearance of black excellence, whose existence poses a fundamental threat to white supremacy.
Black Wall Street represented the prosperity of blacks, even in times of oppression, and white supremacy had to destroy it.
Don’t miss the one-hour special “Tulsa 1921: American Tragedy” anchored by Gale King at CBS at 10 pm EST on Monday, May 31 (Tuesday, June 1 at 10 pm ET to Smithsonian Channel). It will also air on Tuesday, June 1st at 11:00 pm EST (at BET).
A story produced by Robin McFadden. Editor: Carol Ross.
Memories of the 1921 Tulsa massacre
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