Endogenous Racism against People of African Origins–Tulsa and Sharpeville: Parallels in History (Part 1)
HISTORY, 14 Jun 2021
The Global Injustices towards Black People
9 Jun 2021 – June 1st 2021 marked the centennial of the Race Riots now called the Race Massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA in 1921, which led to the killing 300 North Americans of African origins, destroying their residences, businesses, and eradicating “The Black Wall Street” of Oklahoma, forever.
This massacre which the conspiracy to commit a genocide of Black Americans, who were brought as slaves to the country, was orchestrated by White supremacists, racist Americans, with some members belonging to the Ku Klux Clan, an ever present, formidable force in the southern states of America. This massacre subsequently left an indelible mark of sadness and a scar of endogenous racism by the whites against phenotypically different creation of the Lord, the Blacks who have endured centuries of oppression, occupation, exploitation and concerted attempts at eradication of their race. Sad to note that this reptilian brain philosophy of some whites is still prevalent throughout the world in different guises of a façade of civility, as exemplified by lesser forms of racial discrimination in Britain, Europe, Australia but highlighted in the United States by the murder of George Floyd and others by the omnipresent and racially biased police force in the States. The author has described this as a manifestation of the workings of the primitive limbic system, over riding rational and civilised thinking of the neo cortex, as a later acquisition of physical and social evolution in the anthropological history of humanoid apes.
Across the vastness, coldness and turbulence of the Atlantic Ocean, in South Africa, when one mentions the name of Tulsa, nobody, including the older activists have heard of it. When one mentions “Tulsa Massacre”, to a Black, South African, the response is “it is a place somewhere in Africa where a civil war took place and people were massacred as in Rwanda”? This ignorance, hopefully, not indifference, on the part of South African Blacks is principally due to censorship of information by the racist, apartheid, nationalist government of white of Dutch and British origins in South Africa. Thankfully, this minority government controlling the majority Black peoples of Africa, indeed a familiar story, as it happened in South West Africa, the present-day Namibia, where the Hereros’ were oppressed, discriminated, murdered in a genocidal frenzy, by starvation and forcibly removed from their own land by the colonial Germans in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, which peacefully ended in 1994. This change was led by the iconic President, Nelson R Mandela, in a bloodless transition to democracy.
Hence, we as South Africans of colour, be it Black or Brown, or any other colour of the “Rainbow Nation”, can empathise with and are proud to be associated with and can identify with the trials and tribulations, hegemony, and racism, with the African Americans who have similarly suffered severely under the racist, white oppressors. It is to be noted that racist killings of individuals, such as the murdered medical student, Steve Biko, as well as the massacres of Blacks in South Africa were well documented by the international media, while the murders, lynching and eradication of the Black race in the United States were concealed by the government, and the whites who were complicit in the racially motivated hate crimes, the numbers of Blacks who were “disposed” of were probably higher in the States, than in South Africa. This is simply in view of the reverse population demographics, as well as a concerted effort to cover up these racially motivated atrocities committed by the likes of the members of the infamous, “white hooded”, Ku Klux Clan and other anti-Black groups in the States.
Similarly, if Sharpeville is mentioned to an American, even an elderly citizen, the response is “sounds like some place in Europe, or Ireland, where Catholics were fighting the Protestants”. Such is the state of knowledge of these two God forsaken places on the globe, one in United States and the other in South Africa, in the present-day Province of Gauteng, which share the history of atrocities committed by White racist against the oppressed Black people, the voiceless creations of the Lord, destined in history, to endure perpetual suffering at the hands of White racist on a genocidal mission to exterminating the Black race, forever.
Presently in the democratic United States, many an unarmed Black people were killed by the law enforcement officers as confirmed by the knee compression of the Late George Floyd by a former, white police office, Chauvin, in Minnesota. This led to the formation of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, to seek redress and reparations for the sad unfolding of the racially motivated situation.
However, way back in 1921, there was no recourse for the Black community of Tulsa, when the City Fathers, the National Guard, as well as the law enforcement officers, actually deputised 200 White citizens to attack and lynch the helpless Black men, women and children. It is indeed commendable that President Joseph Biden gave the massacre official recognition 100 years later, against great the effort to wipe off the civil event from the history of the United States, going to the extent of removing pages from local newspapers on microfilm files in Tulsa and not teaching about the sad racial killings in history lessons, in schools.
Let us examine what actually transpired in Tula between 30th May and 01st June 1921 from the historical records of the period, which may be biased against the Blacks at the time. The Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma had flourished as a neighbourhood built by Black people, for Black people, and which over a period of decades became the social and business hub for Africans American in Oklahoma. Tulsa was justifiably called the “Black Wall Street”, analogous to the White Wall Street of New York, the financial epicentre of the world, at least in 1921. African Americans at the time, migrated from other cites to Tulsa, to be part of the vibrant community and business centre, for Blacks, in the States.
This economic upliftment of the Black community as a whole created “raised eyebrows” amongst the Whites in the city, who realized that while the lower income Blacks were travelling to downtown Tulsa where they worked and earned a salary, they went back to the indigenous location, well outside the CBD of Tulsa, where they spent their meagre incomes, thus uplifting their own community. This was fueled by reptilian acrimony, especially amongst the lower socio-economic levels of humanoids within the White community.
The question, which was raised, especially amongst the members of the Ku Klux Clan, who were also interspersed amongst the members of the big businesses in Tulsa and were also part of the City Fathers of Tulsa, “that how come former slaves are living so well, having private vehicles and enjoying a flourishing lifestyle” thus sowing the seed of hate and jealousy. These sentiments were also experienced by the lower socio-economic classes of Whites in South Africa, during the apartheid era, which led to escalation of discrimination to such an extent that major freeway off ramps into the CBD of cities in South Africa, were designed in such a manner that they bypassed businesses belonging to people of colour, thus strengthening the economy of the White businesses.
However, these brewing sentiments against the African Americans in Tulsa, led to numerous plans and excuses to attack the Black Wall Street and exterminate the Black forever in Tulsa. In 1921 such an opportunity arose, which led to the burning down of Black Wall Street in Tulsa by a White mob. This was such a premeditated, strategically planned and targeted move by the acrimonious Whites, that the attack and subsequent coverup by the city officials as well as the central government led to the total eradication of all records of this chapter from the dark history of the United states, to such an extent that it was not even mentioned in school history classes in the United States. It was mentioned that many more Blacks were murdered, than recorded in the official toll of deaths, that mass graves were rapidly dug to inter the dead, Black people.
Over the course of 18 hours, from May 31st to June 01st, 1921, a White mob attacked residents, homes and businesses in the predominantly Black Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Greenwood is a northern suburb of Tulsa in the racially segregated southern city of Tulsa in the United States. News reports were largely squelched for decades, despite the fact that hundreds of people were killed, and thousands were left homeless and Black Wall Street which had flourished as a self-contained Black business Hub, was no longer a threat to the White economies. The violence in Tulsa in 1921 claimed more than lives, than ever recorded before. It also decimated 35 blocks of what had been a bustling, self-contained, self-generating hub in the city’s Greenwood District, where African Americans had relocated to the region after the Civil War as Oklahoma became known as a safe haven for African Americans. Between 1865 and 1920, African Americans founded dozens of Black townships and settlements in the region. Soon the Greenwood neighborhood that was “built for Black people, by Black people” was thriving. The Black Entrepreneurs who developed Greenwood, were African Americans, former slaves, in Tulsa who pooled their resources and built wealth to foster successful businesses in the self-contained Greenwood neighborhood amid racial discrimination.
Historically, one of the early entrepreneurs was O.W. Gurley, who purchased 40 acres of land on the north side of Tulsa and opened a rooming house, provided loans to help other Black people start their own businesses. J.B. Stradford, opened a luxury hotel that was considered the largest Black-owned hotel in the country, with 54 guest suites, a pool hall, saloon and dining room. Meanwhile, A.J. Smitherman founded the Tulsa Star newspaper, a Black newspaper based in Greenwood. All these activities in a thriving city, within a city, a symbol of pride for people of colour, success and wealth for the Black Community, ironically caused its destruction, by envious forces of a different race-the Whites.
The massacre began, with an excuse the Whites were waiting for years to materialise. Such an opportunity presented itself on May 31st, 1921 when a 19-year-old Black man, Dick Rowland, hopped on an elevator and allegedly offended a 17-year-old White female Sarah Page, an elevator attendant. Page screamed, with allegations that he had fondled her and Rowland, being a Black man, in a time of racial bias, ran away. He was later arrested that night for sexual assault. Little is known about Page or Rowland, including the ages of the two, their actual names, or the situation that might have surrounded the two before they ended up in the elevator together. Rowland is often said to have been a shoe shiner or delivery boy and may have actually been named John Rowland, according to Tulsa World. Page would disappear entirely after the massacre, and Rowland may have skipped town and died on the East Coast some time after the charges were dropped at Page’s request. That came after the Tulsa Tribune printed an article that raised tensions to their breaking point.
The rumors spread, both of the allegations against Rowland and of a possible lynching that night, between both of the highly segregated communities following the article, which was released on the day the massacre began. Rowland was initially held in the city jail, which was reported to have been an inadequate place to house detainees but was moved to the county jail on the top floor of the courthouse following a threatening phone call received by police.
In the evening, a wave of 25 armed Black men came to stand guard in front of the courthouse against a mob of angry white people, but they were ushered away by the sheriff, according to the book Riot and Remembrance: The Tulsa Race War and Its Legacy. Later on, a second wave of 75 armed Black men showed up for the same purpose. At this point, according to Tulsa World, Rowland had been barricaded in the jail and was being protected by the police. That second wave of local guardsmen was met by a force of over 1,500 angry whites, some of whom were armed.
A struggle ensued when a member of the mob tried to disarm one of the Black men protecting Rowland. The gun went off into the air like the starting pistol of a race, and all hell broke loose. The armed Black group that had been protecting Rowland were severely outnumbered by the white mob that had gathered. After the first shot rang, they were pushed back, retreating to Greenwood. The mob followed, and more joined them.
The violence brought by the white marauders was among the worst in history. They set fire to Greenwood in a fury of radical white supremacy and burned the district to the ground. The ashes of 35 city blocks covered the ground where houses, businesses, and other institutions used to be. The buildings that weren’t burned were looted. Black citizens of Tulsa were slaughtered, many of whom were trying to find refuge as they watched their property set ablaze. The numbers are staggering: Around 10,000 Black people were left homeless, between 100 and 300 were murdered, and at least 800 were injured, according to Tulsa History.
As events unfolded during the Tulsa Race Massacre, reports say that the city deputized many white citizens to help to control the out-of-control situation, but any official city sources would find it in their best interest to make themselves look helpful. Make of that what you will. Regardless, many of those deputized citizens didn’t help control the mob but, instead, went in the other direction.
According to The New York Times, hundreds of white people were deputized by city officials who went out of their way to arm them, commandeering weapons from gun shops and putting them into the hands of people who would join the violence. There’s no way to know if the intent was to arm the mob or if, in a moment of absolute stupidity, the city made a judgment call that would backfire and add to the atrocities in Greenwood.
An account by the NAACP assistant secretary who arrived in Tulsa after the massacre had begun backs up this claim, according to Riot and Remembrance. The book states that the assistant secretary (who had blond hair and blue eyes) was offered deputization although the officials knew nothing about the out-of-towner. It goes on to state that the National Guard reported that 500 men were deputized in total and that the police chief had no clue that these angry white people would join the angry white mob.
The massacre officially ended on June 1, after the governor deployed the National Guard to Tulsa, but the Guard wasn’t as helpful as they could’ve been. Sure, the massacre ended with their help, but they also arrested and detained 6,000 of the city’s Black citizens, according to the Zinn Education Project. A news report from the time also stated that the National Guard fired a machine gun from the top of a grain elevator into a large group of Black Tulsans, killing around 50. Of course, the National Guard denied this.
The official reason for detaining all the Black citizens the Guard could get their hands on and packing them into the Tulsa Convention Hall amounted to safety concerns, and the conditions for their release were appalling. According to Tulsa World, the only way the detainees could be released was if a credible white person — an employer or the like — vouched for them. The Convention Hall quickly became filled beyond its capacity, and secondary locations were needed to house the detained population. All but 1,000 or so of the detained Black Tulsans were released by June 2. The rest would be released by the end of the month. Once released, they were required to wear identification cards to avoid being arrested a second time.
When firefighters came to put out what flames they could, people in the mob pointed guns at them and threatened them until they packed up their hoses, according to reports – anything to prevent them from saving what was left of Black homes and businesses. The once-great district of Black Wall Street would never again prosper the way it had before the attacks.
The article portrays the charges brought against Rowland and a story of the events that would rile up anyone, claiming that the young man had been “looking up and down the hallway” to make sure the coast was clear. It goes into further detail of the alleged assault itself in a way that made Rowland look like a violent offender. The story was reported in the local newspaper, providing cannon fodder to the forces determined on causing the total annihilation of Greenwood and transforming the lives of the good residents there, forever.
Further to the election of President Joseph Biden and on the commemoration of the centennial of the massacre, on May 2021, 107-year-old Viola Fletcher testified before Congress about the events of May 31, 1921: “I went to bed in my family’s home in Greenwood,” she recounted. “The neighborhood I fell asleep in that night was rich, not just in terms of wealth, but in culture…and heritage. My family had a beautiful home. We had great neighbours. I had friends to play with. I felt safe. I had everything a child could need. I had a bright future.” Then, she said, came the rampage, still vivid in her mind 100 years later: “I still see Black men being shot, Black bodies lying in the street. I still smell smoke and see fire. I still see Black businesses being burned. I still hear airplanes flying overhead. I hear the screams.”
When martial law was declared on June 01st, 1921 to end the fighting, journalists, residents and others began gathering accounts of what exactly happened over those fateful 18 hours in the Greenwood District. Historians are still assessing the viability of witness reports of low-flying airplanes, some raining bullets or incendiaries, that became an enduring theme in the reconstruction of the events. Is was documented that only about 15 planes were known to have been stored at local air fields in 1921, and it remains a mystery who owned the ones used in the Tulsa attack, and how exactly they were mobilized, as part of one of the most heinous domestic terrorist attacks in American history.
As devastating as the Tulsa Race Massacre was, subsequent generations of people, including those born and raised in Oklahoma, had never heard of the event until the 1990s. Several newspapers immediately covered the devastation, including the Tulsa World, the New York Times and The Times of London. But the massacre’s victims were hastily buried in unmarked graves and a culture of silence soon became the norm.
Following a series of events which drew reporters to Oklahoma, local legislators created a commission to investigate the massacre. Eventually the story broke in 1998 that there were potential mass graves in Greenwood. The Tulsa massacre resulted in between 100 and 300 deaths, the decimation of more than 1,200 homes and the burning of churches, schools, businesses, a hospital and library, according to a 2001 Tulsa Race Riot Commission report, the most comprehensive review of the massacre. For its part, the Red Cross reported that the attack left more than 10,000 Tulsa residents homeless. Calculated in today’s dollars, property damage would be assessed in the tens of millions of dollars. “I am able to state,” said Walter White, who visited Tulsa for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People shortly after the riots, “that the Tulsa riot, in sheer brutality and willful destruction of life and property, stands without parallel in America.”
“There is no question that there were planes flying over Greenwood during the massacre,” historian Scott Ellsworth, a professor of African American studies at the University of Michigan who has studied the Tulsa massacre in depth, said in an interview. “There is evidence of this from both the African American and white communities. But Greenwood was destroyed on the ground by a white mob. It was not destroyed from the air,” says Ellsworth, author of two books on the Tulsa massacre—Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 and The Groundbreaking: An American City and Its Search for Justice.
There were concerted attempts at an official coverup. The reason why most people are unaware about the Tulsa Race Massacre: Officials did not want them to. It was not like the government tried to make it disappear a decade later, either. It started at the beginning. There were initial news reports from the area, and the statements regarding the violence put the death toll at around 36, according to Britannica, which we now know only accounts for a fraction of the victims. Funerals for the dead were denied, the government blocked all lawsuits filed by victims of the attack, the news and officials blamed Greenwood residents for the massacre, and so on. They purposefully muddled the history and essentially wiped it from the books for decades, according to the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties of the House of Representatives in 2007.
The city refused to investigate the massacre at all. According to Human Rights Watch, the only person to ever be charged for the massacre was the police chief, and the charges were for negligence. He lost his job and had to pay a fine. There was a media blackout over the event, and soon, nobody talked about it anymore. According to Tucson Weekly, this isn’t new. Cover-ups of atrocities committed against people of color have happened for as long as white people have been committing them. For example, you’ve probably never heard of the 1898 Wilmington Massacre or the 1968 Orangeburg Massacre.
Most of the information about the Tulsa Race Massacre was discovered by the Tulsa Race Riot Commission after it was established in 1997. The commission was brought through a law passed in Oklahoma designed to give the committee the authority needed to investigate the massacre, you know, because it had been covered up until that point. It took 76 years for the massacre in Tulsa to be investigated.
According to The New York Times, the commission managed to discover thousands of documents. The documents and investigation proved that the massacre occurred, that the city of Tulsa was responsible for it as well as the subsequent hurdles to rebuilding efforts through negligence or malice, and that they had purposefully made it disappear from history, according to Justia US Law.
After the commission released its official report in 2001, it called for $33 million in reparations to be paid, citing the fact that lesser incidents had been sufficient cause for reparations in the past. It was dismissed in 2005, but the fight for reparations was picked up this year by Human Rights Watch.
Though the investigation into the Tulsa Race Massacre was thought to have closed following the commission’s report in 2001, it was rejuvenated in 2018 when Tulsa’s mayor, G.T. Bynum, ordered a new investigation into potential mass grave sites with connections to the massacre. As disturbing as it is, the unidentified victims of the massacre were said to have been buried in mass graves, and oral traditions passed down from the event hinted at where these graves might be located, according to NPR. As reported by The New York Times, archaeologists from the University of Oklahoma had gathered enough evidence in 2019 to confirm two mass grave sites that might indeed hold the previously erased deceased. Using ground-penetrating radar, soil samples, and other archaeological magic, these scientists were able to build a strong enough case for potential mass graves along the Arkansas River and within the Oaklawn Cemetery to have excavation approved after they jump a few more procedural hurdles. The archaeologists felt it was better to wait on the excavation so that the disinterred bodies of the deceased were not just stored while the scientists figured out their next steps.
It is sad to note and a serious indictment on Americans that the Tulsa Race Massacre was not recognised as such, until the 21st Century, according to the SMU Central University Libraries. In fact, according to Tulsa History, the massacre is believed to have only been designated as a “riot” in the first place so that insurance companies didn’t have to pay out for the destruction, injuries, and death in Greenwood. Unfortunately, “riot” was the more common term up until recent years.
Following the disbanding of the Tulsa Race Riot Commission after their report, a new commission was formed in 2017, the Tulsa Race Riot Centennial Commission. This commission changed its name to the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission after receiving community feedback, believing that “riot” was purposefully used to downplay the tragedy. Oklahoma State Senator Kevin Matthews, head of the commission, said about the name change, “They named it a riot. We did not name it a riot. People in my community started to tell me if we were going to tell the history, we needed to tell it from our perspective.” And that was that. What was once a “riot” had been properly renamed a massacre.
According to Alvin C. Krupnick Company, The Tulsa Race Massacre was not required to be taught in public school curricula throughout the majority of the country, and difficult to find it in any textbooks outside of Oklahoma. That being said, you would learn all about if you were sitting in an Oklahoma high school history class, thanks to a legal mandate requiring it.
Obviously, because of attempts to sweep the massacre under the rug, it was not taught in schools until recently. In 2000, according to Tulsa World, it became a state Department of Education requirement for all high school Oklahoma History classes and for all US History classes in 2004. It was added to the Oklahoma history books in 2009. The state senate then passed a bill mandating all of this, things that were already happening, in 2012. Unfortunately, as of May 2019, only Tulsa educators had been trained to teach the subject, but the Tulsa Race Massacre Commission was working on incorporating the rest of Oklahoma’s educators.
Why require it at all? Well, most of the atrocities committed by white people in the US, especially those that implicate any level of government negligence or participation, are commonly avoided in the school system. It’s important to know about these sorts of crimes against humanity for a slew of reasons, most of which you already know, for example: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana
According to the Library of Congress/Wikimedia Commons, the immediate aftermath following the massacre could be summed up by saying, “The Black community was forced to fend for themselves,” but that doesn’t really cover it. Black Tulsans would snap immediately into action, working to rebuild the community of Greenwood with little help, climbing over hurdles put in place to actively hinder the process. The city wanted to relocate the segregated community, but Greenwood was home to the Black citizens who’d been displaced. According to the Zinn Education Project, thousands of Black Tulsans had to endure the winter living in tents.
The fight for Greenwood was intense. The city had put a fire ordinance in place to prevent rebuilding, but Black lawyers fought it and eventually won, according to the Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. Insurance never paid claims for damaged homes, and most relief efforts were blocked or didn’t come at all, with the exception of the American Red Cross, which sprang into action while fires were still burning. According to Tulsa World, the Ku Klux Klan capitalized on the aftermath, marching through the streets the following year and winning political offices within the city.
Most of Greenwood would be torn down in the 1950s in favor of “urban renewal,” according to The Black Wall Street Times. Today, urbanisation and gentrification continue to erase much of old Greenwood and the Black history associated with it.
“More than what was said, was what was left out,” said Assistant Professor Rosemary Avance, of Oklahoma State University’s School of Media and Strategic Communications. “What was consciously not covered, what pages that might’ve been removed from the archives, and how the media documented history as it unfolded are why 100 years later we’re still seeking answers.”
The bottom line is what has changed from Black Wall Street to George Floyd? 100 years after Black Wall Street burned, Greenwood continues rebuilding from Tulsa massacre? Professor Avance stated that the university is well aware of the importance of recognising the whole truth about the tragedy. Especially considering where the Tulsa campus sits. “We’re located on Standpipe Hill,” she said. “The same hill where a white mob turned machine guns on Black residents.” “What’s missing from the historical record is what’s always missing,” she said. “Uncomfortable truth the powers that be aren’t ready to face.”
In Part 2 of this report, the author will outline the Sharpeville Massacre and draw on the analogies of these two massacres, on two separate continents, the common element being White Endogenous Racism and bias against Black and brown people
Professor G. Hoosen M. Vawda (Bsc; MBChB; PhD.Wits):
Director: Glastonbury Medical Research Centre; Community Health and Indigent Programme Services; Body Donor Foundation SA.
Principal Investigator: Multinational Clinical Trials
Consultant: Medical and General Research Ethics; Internal Medicine and Clinical Psychiatry:UKZN, Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine
Executive Member: Inter Religious Council KZN SA
Public Liaison: Medical Misadventures
Activism: Justice for All
Tags: Anglo America, Black America, Black Wall Street, History, KKK, Racism, Tulsa Massacre 1921, USA, White Supremacy
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 14 Jun 2021.
Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: Endogenous Racism against People of African Origins–Tulsa and Sharpeville: Parallels in History (Part 1), is included. Thank you.
This work is licensed under a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.
Click here to go to the current weekly digest or pick another article: