G is for the Greenwood Riots

“Thirty-five blocks of Greenwood were burned to the ground, wiping out businesses” that decimated the section of town.

tulsa_riots_theater.1406030191283The Greenwood riots of 1921 represent a piece of U.S. history that is not widely known. They took place in the part of Tulsa, OK known as the “Black Wall Street.” As this PBS link notes: “Most black people lived in the racially segregated ‘Greenwood’ section of the city, which contained stores, shops, hotels, banks, newspapers, schools, theaters, and restaurants. Greenwood had several wealthy black entrepreneurs…”

Indeed, following World War I, Tulsa boasted one of the most affluent African American communities in the country, which created resentment and “pure envy”, as Ebony magazine put it.
“By 1921, membership in the Ku Klux Klan was rapidly spreading throughout America and an active chapter had been formed in Tulsa. The riot was triggered over a Memorial Day weekend by a report in two white newspapers that a black youth had tried to rape — or at least assault — a young white woman elevator operator. One of the newspapers allegedly editorialized that the youth ought to be hanged,” although the Tulsa World, in an extensive history of the period, says that the publishing such a piece “does not seem likely. For one, the Tribune actually editorialized against lynching, both before and after the riot.”

In any case, a “group of armed African-American men rushed to the police station with the intention of preventing a lynching from occurring. There was no lynch mob but a confrontation developed between blacks and whites… As the news spread throughout the city, mob violence exploded. Thousands of whites rampaged through the black community, killing men and women, burning and looting stores and homes. Some blacks claimed that policemen had joined the mob; others claimed that a machine gun was fired into the black community and a plane dropped sticks of dynamite.
“When the National Guard arrived, it arrested blacks rather than white rioters. Some four thousand to five thousand men and women were held in custody for several days before being released. No whites were arrested even though many of the mob members openly boasted of what they did. Thirty-five blocks of Greenwood were burned to the ground, wiping out businesses” that decimated the section of town. “Reports of the number of blacks killed ranged from 25 to 300. Approximately 20 whites were killed.
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“Despite promises to help, the city did not support those who lost their homes and jobs despite claims for over 1.5 million dollars in damage. Most support came from the black community and a few sympathetic whites. Only in recent years has white Oklahoma begun to accept any responsibility for what happened.”

In this 2014 report, Greenwood riots survivors tell their stories. More recollections are out there, many from 2011, the 90th anniversary, in the New York Times and The Root, e.g. Here’s a video from the History Channel.

Wikipedia has White American riots in the United States. In response to the primarily black violence in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore police custody, Salon notes: “White pogroms against blacks are a fixture of American history.”

ABC Wednesday – Round 18

Bottom photo from here.

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