We’ve learned much from the Tulsa race massacre. Here’s how we can use that knowledge today
It began on May 30, 1921, when a Black teenager named Dick Rowland entered an elevator in a Tulsa office building. At some point after that, Sarah Page, the young white elevator operator, screamed. Rowland fled, the police were called, and the next morning Rowland was arrested.
A lynch mob formed, and a group of armed Black veterans went to the jail to protect Rowland. The Black men were vastly outnumbered by the mob, however, and they had to flee, as well. In the hours after that, a white mob, many of them carrying arms supplied to them by city government, stormed the Black neighborhood known as Greenwood. They burned buildings, looted homes, killed hundreds, and left thousands homeless. Numerous sources say bombs were dropped from planes.
For years, the story was suppressed. But a century later, the truth of that day must be told.
The truth is, Greenwood was a thriving Black community with a business district they called Black Wall Street. To build it, Black people did everything America tells us we should do to be accepted. They went to school. They earned degrees. They worked hard and obeyed the law. And still, when the opportunity came, white people burned down what they built, and even after admitting that Dick Rowland never assaulted a white woman, they sabotaged Black efforts to rebuild.
The lessons of the Tulsa massacre are many, but there’s one that sticks out in my mind. When we build Black wealth, we must never do it to gain the respect of those who hate us. Instead, when we build wealth, we must do it out of love for ourselves.
Photo: Ruins of Greenwood Section of Tulsa: 1921 By. Washington Area Spark