Editors note: This is the second of two columns on the Tulsa massacre.
By this date in 1921, the thick black smoke from arsonists on the ground and in the sky that hovered over Tulsas Greenwood district had cleared, revealing the smoldering ruins of a Black community destroyed by hate.
Today, the history of the Tulsa Race Massacre is seen in stunning clarity, its centennial surrounded by unprecedented media coverage including a spate of documentaries, books, and newspaper, magazine and online articles.
But Tulsa wasnt an aberration, an atrocity never seen before or since. It wasnt the only Black community in the United States to be attacked by white supremacists. Still shrouded and buried deep in our history are other datelines of racist mob violence.
It was a violence rooted in the institution of slavery. John Locke, the 17th-century English political philosopher, wrote that when a man enslaves another man, he has entered a state of war with him. After emancipation and the Civil War, Black people sought to raise families, own land, build businesses, create safe and self-sustaining communities, and live in freedom and peace.
But Jim Crow, Black Codes and white mobs, especially in the South, continued to wage war on them.
During Reconstruction, on Easter Sunday in 1873 in Colfax, La., armed Black men whod gathered to defend a courthouse surrendered to a white paramilitary group known as the White League. Upon surrender, as many as 150 of the Black men were killed, some after being held prisoner for several hours.
In 1898, Wilmington, N.C., was a city with a Black majority, Black elected officials who served as part of a multiracial government and a prosperous Black middle class. On Nov. 10, white supremacists declared a White Declaration of Independence, overthrew the local government and murdered 60 to 300 Black residents. David Zucchino, author of Wilmingtons Lie: The Murderous Coup Of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy calls it Americas first and only armed overthrow of a legally elected government.
In Slocum in East Texas, whites in July 1910 went on a rampage against Black residents, shooting them down, torching their homes and running them out of town. No one knows how many were killed. It could be in the dozens. It could be 100 to 200. As is often the case in these massacres, bodies were buried in mass graves or thrown into rivers.
The year 1919 was so bloody with racial violence across the United States that it was called the Red Summer. That July in Longview, white people burned down homes and business of Black residents, killing one. In September in Elaine, Ark., a white mob attacked Black farmers attempting to unionize, killing up to 200 Black residents.
Before Tulsas centennial, the 1923 murders of 150 Black people in Rosewood, Fla., may have been the better known of the massacres because of John Singletons 1997 film Rosewood.
There were other massacres, along with more than a century of domestic terrorism lynchings, and Black citizens being run out of towns, and Black citizens having their land confiscated. Animating all these attacks were white supremacy and the desire to suppress the rights and ambitions of Black citizens.
Beyond terrorizing Blacks, these were assaults on democracy, a decades-long campaign of pillage and plunder that, paired with the use of laws, limited the opportunities of African Americans to fully participate in the political system and create generational wealth.
This isnt Black history that should be taught and known. This is American history that should be taught and known. The only reason for not wanting to learn all your nations history, the ugly as well as the glorious, is that you dont want to feel uncomfortable or be held accountable.
Our intelligence agencies warn that white nationalist groups are the greatest threat to the nation. In 1921, white supremacy destroyed Black Tulsa. In 2021, white supremacy threatens to destroy the United States. This time, as violence escalates and democracy is dismantled, Black people wont be the only ones who suffer.
Whatever discomfort we feel learning unpleasant facts about our history pales to the pain well feel in refusing to learn from that history.
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