As protests erupt across the country in reaction to George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police, America is also marking the anniversary of one of its worst incidents of racial violence — and one that was covered up for decades.
May 31 and June 1 mark the 99th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre, when a white mob descended on an affluent black community in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The Greenwood District, which was known as “Black Wall Street,” was decimated in a matter of days. Roughly 1,200 homes were burned, 35 blocks burned, and an estimated 300 black people killed.
Buildings burning in the Greenwood District in Tulsa.
Homes burning in an affluent black neighborhood of Tulsa.
The massacre was largely brushed over for decades — records of it disappeared, and it wasn’t often talked about. When it was, it was dubbed the Tulsa race “riot” as a way to muddy the waters of what happened and make it seem that both sides were equally at fault. In the 1990s, Oklahoma put together a commission to try to find out what happened in the 1921 massacre, and in 2001, it released a report on its findings. From its prologue, written by then-state Rep. Don Ross:
A mob destroyed 35-square-blocks of the African American Community during the evening of May 31, through the afternoon of June 1, 1921. It was a tragic, infamous moment in Oklahoma and the nation’s history. The worse civil disturbance since the Civil War. In the aftermath of the death and destruction the people of our state suffered from a fatigue of faith — some still search for a statute of limitation on morality, attempting to forget the longevity of the residue of injustice that at best can leave little room for the healing of the heart. Perhaps this report, and subsequent humanitarian recovery events by the governments and the good people of the state will extract us from the guilt and confirm the commandment of a good and just God — leaving the deadly deeds of 1921 buried in the call for redemption, historical correctness, and repair.
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