Sunday, January 06, 2008

Just a little perspective

Tulsa, Oklahoma - 1921

Even if Barak Obama is not elected President of the United States in November, 2008, the fact that he has been confirmed as a viable candidate for that office is extremely significant.

In order to put his victory in perspective on only needs to look at an incident that happened in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921, a brief 87 years ago - within the living memory of someone here with us today. You won't find the incident outlined in your high school history book. It's part of the history about ourselves as Americans that we choose to ignore. Our textbooks don't cover it; even our teachers are not aware of it as they teach to the standard tests that never mention the incident. It's not part of the "feel-good" image we have of ourselves and, therefore, we tend to look the other way.

Racial unrest and violence against African Americans permeated domestic developments in the United States during the post-World War I era. From individual lynching to massive violence against entire African American communities, whites in both the North and the South lashed out against African Americans with a rage that knew few bounds.

From Chicago to Tulsa, to Omaha, East St. Louis, and many communities in between, and finally to Rosewood, white mobs pursued what can only be described as a reign of terror against African Americans during the period from 1917 to 1923. Although the number of lynching had declined from 64 in 1921 to 57 in 1922. In 1921 Tulsa was the site of one of the worst race riots in U.S. history. From the evening of May 31st, to the afternoon of June 1, 1921, more Americans killed fellow Americans in the Tulsa riot than probably anytime since the Civil War.

The official death count in the days following the riot was around 35, but evidence has surfaced through an investigation to suggest that at least 300 people were killed. Rumors still persist that hundreds, not dozens, of people were killed and that bodies were crudely buried in mass graves, stuffed into coal mines and tossed into the Arkansas River. If so, the Tulsa race riot would go down as the worst single act of domestic violence on U. S. soil since the Civil War; worse than the 1965 Watts riot, the 1967 Detroit riot, the 1992 Los Angeles riot and the 1995 Oklahoma city bombing.

Those events left a total of 301 dead. Two days of violence and arson directed by whites against African American neighborhoods left hundreds dead, hundreds injured, and more than 1500 African American owned homes and 600 businesses destroyed. Also destroyed in the African American neighborhoods were 21 churches, 21 restaurants, 30 stores, 2 movie theaters, a hospital, a bank, the post office, libraries, and schools.
We all remember the 1965 Watts riot, the 1967 Detroit riot, the 1992 Los Angeles riot because we are taught that part of our history, but when white people riot there is only silence. Even the piece above neglects to mention that the rioters in this race riot were white Americans and the victims were black Americans. You have to read between the lines to parse out the unmentioned facts.

... and the cause of this riot?
A grand jury investigating the riot indicted about 20 African American men, but no whites. Many of the African American men fled. No one went to jail. The case against Dick Rowland was dismissed at the end of September, 1921. His dismissal followed the receipt of a letter by the county attorney from the girl he was accused of assaulting, in which Sarah Page stated that she did not wish to prosecute the case.
Dealing with our institutionalized American brand of racism began with "Reconstruction" at the end of the Civil War in 1865. We have not overcome it, yet. Obama's victory in Iowa with support from Democrats, Independents and disgruntled Republicans doesn't mark the end of our ingrained racism but it just might mark the end of the beginning of the struggle within our American psyche.

My father was 9 years old in 1921. The riot is not ancient history.

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 an "historical account" of the riot. The study "enjoyed strong support from members of both parties and all political persuasions." The Commission delivered its report on February 21, 2001. The report included recommendations for substantial restitution; in order of priority:
  1. Direct payment of reparations to survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot (read "African Americans")
  2. Direct payment of reparations to descendants of the survivors of the Tulsa Race Riot ("African Americans" again)
  3. A scholarship fund available to students affected by the Tulsa Race Riot ("African Americans" again)
  4. Establishment of an economic development enterprise zone in the historic area of the Greenwood District ("African Americans" again)
  5. A memorial for the reburial of the remains of the victims of the Tulsa Race Riot (not spelled out but "African Americans" again)
- Wikipedia

Find more about the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 here ... and here ...

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