1619 marks the entry of Africans captured by White American settlers captured in their homeland and brought to a new world (America) to be their slaves. For the next four hundred years, the slaves toiled in the fields and factories to build the wealthiest, richest country in the world; leading in technology, the arts, religion and economics. They toiled, not for themselves, but for the slave owners and their descendants.
For over four hundred years, Black people have suffered at the hands of White men, who took credit for the slaves’ works and accomplishments. There were uprisings seeking equality, with occasional victories; but, in a land where they were never the ruling group, they had few successes. Black people fought for and got the right to vote, to sit in a restaurant with whites, buy a house and get a loan from the White man, on terms set by the white man.
The second and third generations of Black people, after slavery, went to White colleges and/or worked in White industries; making money for themselves, all the while continuing to beg for equality. They played ball and entertained them and sang and danced for White people, occasionally opening a new door of opportunity; however, they were reminded by politicians like George Wallace, Donald Trump and a thousand others, that White people owned the studios and controlled the doors to opportunities, where they were not welcome.
We, as Black people, shared their holidays without mentioning what they meant to us, i.e. the Fourth of July, which whites celebrate their freedom, independence and justice from England. We fought in wars for opportunities and the same justice and equality with no rewards: no educational opportunities, housing opportunities or loan opportunities. We worshipped White heroes by playing in parks and attending schools named after slave-holders like Andrew Jackson and Robert E. Lee, who fought to keep us in bondage while increasing White wealth. We saw no statues of Black abolitionists like Nat Turner.
An example of how Black people were treated, let’s visit the history of Tulsa, OK and Rosewood, FL; cities where Black people worked to build their wealth, on their own, only to have it destroyed by White rioters during massacres which killed hundreds of Black citizens and demolished thousands of homes, churches and businesses. These types of massacres were repeated in city after city where Black people had wealth and developed the land they owned. After each massacre, the Black citizens tried to re-build, only to have their attempts destroyed by jealous White people. In later years, White people continued to make drugs, automatic guns and other sources of destruction to end Black family wealth.
The Tulsa riot of June 1, 1921 is was supposedly a riot borne by jealous White people, sparked by an incident in an elevator which, after is lurched forward, caused a Black man to allegedly step on a White woman’s foot causing her to scream. She and some white men later accused him of attempted rape. A White “mob” went to the Black community, known as Greenwood, and the nothing was spared. Black men, women and children were all massacred by White rioters, who killed and looted the Black residents and their hard-earned wealth. It was a rare event in that, not only were guns used to kill the citizens; but, the police joined the white rioters, some using airplanes to firebomb the businesses and homes.
American history does not tell the story of what happened in Tulsa, OK nor does it tell the history of Juneteenth: June 19, 1865, when Black slaves in the State of Texas learned they free, two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
The misnomer is that rioting is always presumed to be the actions of Black folks; however, Greenwood and Rosewood were considered riots by White folks, even though it was a massacre of Black people and the looting of Black peoples’ personal and business properties, located in the area known as “Black Wall Street” due to the highly successful business district. Among the property lost/stolen were: Black-owned homes; thirty five blocks of 200-plus Black-owned businesses; two Black-owned hotels, as well as Black-owned grocery stores, the Dreamland Theater, three drug stores and two newspapers. One Black man owned seventeen rentals where he collected an average of $450 per month. All were destroyed during the riot. The prized fur coats of many Black men and women were taken from their home closets after the residents were killed.
Of the 23 Black churches in Greenwood destroyed during the riot, two of the largest Black churches, Mt. Zion Baptist Church and Mt. Vernon A.M.E. Church were a huge loss. Mt. Zion Baptist Church, with over 1,000 members, was rumored to be a repository of guns and weapons. The riot occurred and the church burned down shortly after its’ inaugural service on April 4, 1921. The congregation had raised $ 92,000 for building the edifice; however, it would take another 30 years before the church was rebuilt and dedicated (October 21, 1952).
Numerous White people helped Blacks out of their despair during the riots. A Jewish doctor hid a Black family in his home; while other Whites shielded their Black maids and butlers. A White construction company owner provided the funds for re-building the Baptist Church after the Tulsa riot; however, many goodwill efforts were hampered by racial events, such as when some Black soldiers had their uniforms torn off by White people because they didn’t believe Black men were entitled to wear a United States military uniform.
In Tulsa, the tragedy of the riot continued after the actual event. The Tulsa Tribune printed an editorial guaranteeing Black Wall Street would not be rebuilt. In the opinion of the editor, rebuilding Greenwood was a bad influence. The Governor of Oklahoma at the time of the riot, Frank Keating, said the Tulsa event was NOT a race riot; but an assault on the Black community. Well-known Black historian, Dr. John Hope Franklin, called for reparations from the State of Oklahoma, the City of Tulsa and the United States of America under the promise of Equal Opportunity for all. Instead the State called for an all-White commission to study the property claims of the citizens. This “reconstruction committee” was replaced by a Red Cross committee, which ultimately did nothing regarding reparations, except effectively assist with the transfer of Black-owned property to, and establishment of, a new Black business district.
The State of Florida serves as a model following the Rosewood, FL Riots. The State provided a scholarship assistance fund of $4,000 to eligible descendants resulting from the January 1, 1923 event. The authorities, with a duty to provide equal opportunity and protection, knew of the pending riot but did nothing to stop it.
Other riots occurred during the early 1900s*: East St. Louis, MO, where, on July 17, 1917, 125 Black people died; a July 19, 1919 riot in Washington, D.C., where seven died; a July 26, 1919 riot in Chicago, IL, where 38 died and 500 were injured; an October 2, 1919,riot in Elaine, Arkansas, which resulted in thirty deaths and over 100 injuries; an Omaha, NE riot on October 5, 1919 resulted in three deaths, several injuries and the mayor was hanged, although he was cut down before he succumbed.
We note that in in 1920, there were 61 recorded lynchings of Black Americans; in 1921, there were 57 recorded lynchings of Black Americans; and, there were KKK chapters in twenty seven States with a population of over 100,000).
While Black people await reparations for the enslavement of our ancestors, the United States Congress paid reparations to eligible Japanese persons interned in concentration camps during World War II. Surviving Japanese internees were paid $20,000 each under the Civil Liberties Act of 1988 until 1993. The payment intended to (1) acknowledge injustices; (2) apologize on behalf of the people of the United States; (3) provide public education so as to avoid the reoccurrence of similar injustices; (4) make restitution to those interned; (5) discourage similar injustices in the future; and, (6) lend clarity and credibility to declarations of United States concern for violations of human rights committed by other persons. We’re still waiting.
*These white riots are included in Hannibal B. Johnson’s book, “Black Wall Street”, pg 71.