In August, Oklahoma State Rep. Sherrie Conley spoke to The Frontier about her uncertainty that the perpetrators of the Tulsa Massacre were racist.
Ryan Walters, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, also rejects the idea of the historical event being racially motivated.
“But to say it was inherent in that [racism] because of their skin is where I say, ‘That’s critical race theory.’ You’re saying that a race defines a person, I reject that,” said Walters. “So I would say you be judgmental of the issue, of the action, of the content, of the character, of the individual absolutely. But let’s not tie to his skin color and say the skin color determined that.”
Government officials in positions of leadership with these views are perpetuating the idea of the Tulsa Massacre being insignificant regarding black history in America.
Why was the Tulsa Massacre significant?
An article from
History Workshop states her initial claim was propelled by the sensational rhetoric of reporting in the Tulsa Tribune. The newspaper was popular in Tulsa and its reporting led to white people amassing and planning retaliation for the assault. The article stated how white Tuslans resented black achievement, were jealous of their land and were racially hostile.
This incident led to the arrest of Rowland and “. . . spurred a confrontation between black and white armed mobs around the courthouse. . . . Shots were fired and the outnumbered African Americans began retreating to the Greenwood District.”
White rioters looted and set Greenwood on fire the next morning. More than 800 people were treated for injuries and contemporary reports of death began at 36. In the aftermath, 35 city blocks lay in charred ruin.
During the violence, public officials were given weapons to terrorize Greenwood and residents were arrested by the Oklahoma National Guard and detained in holding centers. People, some of whom were government agents, stole, damaged and destroyed property such as churches, schools and hospitals, in addition to family homes.
The first and second Black Wall Streets
The first “Black Wall Street” was located in the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Okla. It was a setting where black people didn’t have to experience the rigorous constraints of Jim Crow.
An article from History Workshop states that “Black Wall Street seemed to have it all: movie theatres, dance halls, pool halls, restaurants, grocery stores, haberdasheries, furriers, dry cleaners, hotels, barber shops, beauty salons, transportation services, clothiers, professional services [like doctors, dentists, and lawyers].”
After its destruction in 1921, it was rebuilt to a substantial degree in the 1940s “. . . with well over 200 documented black owned businesses, but then there was a second devastation . . . through policy.”
For example, the Federal-Aid Highway Acts of 1965 and 1968 decimated the second “Black Wall Street”. One of the highways, Interstate 10’s Claiborne Expressway, led to the destruction of 500 homes and divided local neighborhoods.
“The financial toll of the massacre is evident in the $1.8 million in property loss claims — $27 million in today’s dollars — detailed in a 2001 state commission report”, as stated by the New York Times.
Neither Conley nor Walters acknowledged how their own government decimated “Black Wall Street” with their policies. The Tulsa Massacre destroyed the first Black wall Street and highway construction destroyed the second one.
Was there some racist motivation in the passing of the federal highway bills in the 1960s? Couldn’t the U.S. government have routed Interstate 10 differently? Maybe, “racist” is the wrong word to use, but a lack of care appears evident when it comes to the black population in Tulsa.
Luckily, black entrepreneurs like Diddy, Oprah, Beyonce, Killer Mike and Jay-Z have been prominent figures in the new Black Wall Street spread across America. For example, Beyonce released a black owned directory in 2020 called “Black Parade.” It supports businesses in fashion, art, beauty and home-ware.
A new “Black Wall Street” market was also built in Atlanta, Ga., which has become a hub for minority businesses and a place that can act as a business incubator.
Also, “it includes options for entrepreneurs to choose between renting resident merchant spaces, temporary pop-ups, a consignment program where goods can be sold in various anchor shops”, according to Roundabout Atlanta.
The NBA’s Jaylen Brown talked about developing a new “Black Wall Street” in Boston with his supermax contract extension deal with the Boston Celtics according to People.
Tulsa History states, “Not one of these criminal acts was then or ever has been prosecuted or punished by the government at any level: municipal, county, state, or federal.”
Edited by: James Sutton