America's Broken Promise: Equality

Equality - noun

  1. the state of being equal, especially in status, rights, and opportunities.

Today is the 100th commemoration of the Tulsa Massacre in the community of Greenwood in Oklahoma. This area was known as Black Wall Street because of the wealth and Black infrastructure they built, making their average income higher than many other Blacks in the country.

The Greenwood District in 1921 –

Greenwood was an affluent Black community whose land, originally purchased by Ottawa W. Gurley in 1906, a Black real estate mogul from Arkansas, and demanded that the land only be parceled out to Black people. His exact words "only to be sold to colored." While there were other areas in the country where Black communities soared, the Greenwood community in Tulsa was home to the only Black hospital in the state. It housed prominent Black physicians, schools, educators, attorneys, grocery stores, restaurants, banks, and many other small businesses, creating unmatched Black self-sustaining infrastructure. And while many Black people still worked for white companies, they spent their money on Black Wall Street, reinforcing their community.

What Happened?

We will never know what really happened, but many suspect that during Memorial Day weekend in 1921, Dick Rowland, a Black shoe shiner, stepped on the foot of Sarah Page, a white 17-year-old elevator operator to which she screamed in pain. When other "witnesses" heard the scream, the assumption was made that Mr. Rowland had sexually assaulted Sarah. That assumption was false and was proven by Sarah's admission. The damage of the rumor had been done, and a news article released the next day prompted an angry white mob to converge on the courthouse where Mr. Rowland was being held. When word reached the Greenwood District, several Black men, armed, went to offer their assistance to the police to protect Mr. Rowland. They were turned away and assured that Mr. Rowland would be protected.

The scenario repeated itself hours later, with more angry terrorists appearing and more Black men coming to protect. During this last encounter of the two groups, a white man attempted to disarm a Black man, and the gun was discharged. A gunfight was then in action in front of the courthouse. After the initial fight, it's believed over 20 people were killed, but that was just the beginning. The white terrorists quickly began to descend upon the Greenwood District (known to be Black Tulsa) and start the additional reign of terror. Businesses and homes were looted and burned to the ground. People were murdered in the street, and those that weren't murdered were "captured" and held in internment camps (the freaking audacity). Many Black Tulsans attempted to defend their homes, but they were outnumbered by the white terrorists, who also had many police officers and National Guard members on their side. Attacks were being made against the Greenwoods community from land and air as airplanes owned by White Tulsans flew over the community, shooting and dropping explosives.

The Aftermath

The terror continued for over 24 hours, leaving the Greenwood District completely destroyed with over $35 million in today's dollars in damage, and an estimated 300 people were killed; those that survived not only had mental anguish to deal with but the sad reality that their life as they knew it would never be the same again. This community was the foundation for generational wealth to come, but of course, that was decimated by white folk. Some people could rebuild their businesses and homes after being released from the internment camps or coming out of hiding in the woods/fields. The rebuilding efforts were fruitful for many but for some, the emotional trauma was too much to bear and they moved out of Tulsa to start again elsewhere.