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Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial
Greenwood, Oklahoma, a suburb of Tulsa, was the type of community that African Americans are still, today, attempting to reclaim and rebuild. It was modern, majestic, sophisticated and unapologetically Black. Tragically, it was also the site of one of the bloodiest and most horrendous race riots (and acts of terrorism) that the United States has ever experienced.
This year will mark the Centennial, as many as 300 African Americans lost their lives and more than 9,000 were left homeless when the small town was attacked, looted and literally burned to the ground beginning in 1921. It’s impossible, however, to realize what was lost in Greenwood, which was affectionately known as "Black Wall Street."
The Greenwood community seems almost imagined when we examine it through a historical lens. The oil booms of the early 1900’s had many moving to Tulsa for a shot at quick economic gains and high life, and African Americans hoped to prosper from the new industry as well. Tulsa, like many cities and towns throughout the US, was hostilely segregated, with African Americans settling into the northern region of the city. As we often saw before integration, Blacks in the area created entrepreneurial opportunities for themselves, which housed an impressive business center that included banks, hotels, cafes, clothiers, movie theaters, and contemporary homes. Greenwood residents enjoyed many luxuries that their White neighbors did not, including indoor plumbing and a remarkable school system that superiorly educated Black children.
It was pure envy, and a vow to put progressive, high achieving African Americans in their place that would cause the demise of the Black Mecca many called “Little Africa”, and its destruction began the way much terrorism, violence and dispossession against African Americans did during that era. A young White woman accused a young Black man of attempted sexual assault, which gave local mobs and White men acting as police just cause to invade the unsuspecting community. On the malevolent and horrifying attack, Linda Christenson writes the following:
"The term “race riot” does not adequately describe the events of May 31—June 1, 1921 in Greenwood... In fact, the term itself implies that both blacks and whites might be equally to blame for the lawlessness and violence. The historical record documents a sustained and murderous assault on black lives and property. This assault was met by a brave but unsuccessful armed defense of their community by some black World War I veterans and others