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Educate Yourself About the Black Massacres in Tulsa and Rosewood

Unfortunately, these aren't things you learn in school.

Oren Cohen
Oren Cohen
a sign at a protest in Atlanta
Photo by Maria Oswalt / Unsplash

With everything going on in America right now, Twitter is full of hate, racism, anger, and a lot of nonsense. But, if you look hard enough, you will find a tweet that will educate you on something new. Like this one from Trevor Noah:

Kimberly, the speaker, taught me about two places in America that massive massacres of black people happened in and were partially covered up over the years: Rosewood and Tulsa.

Now, full disclosure: I don’t live in America. I’m not even an American citizen. But, many of my readers are based in America, and I also think that racism is not exclusive to the United States.

Everywhere where black people are not considered equal is a place where people need to educate themselves about these injustices.

My best friend, Brennan lee Mulligan, retweeted the above tweet, and that’s how I found it. I’m paying that forward by writing this article and sharing it with the world. Let’s use Social Media for good. Even if you made sure one person knows something valuable they didn’t know before, you did your job.

How will you pay it forward? What will you do not to let this message die out? Think about that as we go through this article and educate ourselves about the black lives that were lost.

The Massacre of Rosewood

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

“Before the massacre, the town of Rosewood had been a quiet, primarily black, self-sufficient whistle stop on the Seaboard Air Line Railway. Trouble began when white men from several nearby towns lynched a black Rosewood resident because of accusations that a white woman in nearby Sumner had been assaulted by a black drifter.” — Wikipedia

The Wikipedia page for Rosewood describes the town as a place with no enemies. A quiet town of people who just want to live in peace. As you’ll see later on, though, the story of ‘a white woman being assaulted by a black man’ has been a useful card for white people to enact extreme violence against black people.

“No arrests were made for what happened in Rosewood. The town was abandoned by its former black and white residents; none ever moved back, and the town ceased to exist.” — Wikipedia

Back in the 1920s, they didn’t have the internet. They didn’t have extensive media coverage. I’m wondering if things like Rosewood happened and were largely ignored, what about the things that the media back then couldn’t cover? What happened that was censored? Will we ever know how deep are the roots of this infuriating injustice?

But I guess that back in the 1920s when you made a mistake, you covered it up. At least that’s what the article says:

“Although the rioting was widely reported around the United States at the time, few official records documented the event. Survivors, their descendants, and the perpetrators remained silent about Rosewood for decades.” — Wikipedia

People were either afraid to speak up or maybe just too traumatized. By the time someone was even willing to investigate the matter, people were already too elderly or died. What they did recount when they were alive is quite disturbing.

“Several eyewitnesses claim to have seen a mass grave filled with black people; one remembers a plow brought from Cedar Key that covered 26 bodies. However, by the time authorities investigated these claims, most of the witnesses were dead or too elderly and infirm to lead them to a site to confirm the stories.” — Wikipedia

My grandfather lived and survived in world war 2. The words “mass grave” is a massive trigger for someone like me. I recite the names of Ghettos and death camps every year in the holocaust remembrance day. There is no reason that America will not honor these people’s deaths as well.

It starts with education. To this day, Rosewood has a deep wound that needs to be closed.

There is a pattern of denial with the residents and their relatives about what took place, and in fact they said to us on several occasions they don’t want to talk about it, they don’t want to identify anyone involved, and there’s also a tendency to say that those who were involved were from elsewhere.”[46]
In 1993, a black couple retired to Rosewood from Washington D.C. They told The Washington Post, “When we used to have black friends down from Chiefland, they always wanted to leave before it got dark. They didn’t want to be in Rosewood after dark. We always asked, but folks wouldn’t say why.”[52] — Wikipedia

The Massacre of Rosewood is not a part of the curriculum of high schools in Florida. But there is still hope as the Rosewood Foundation keeps the story of the town alive.

It has been a struggle telling this story over the years, because a lot of people don’t want to hear about this kind of history. People don’t relate to it, or just don’t want to hear about it. But Mama told me to keep it alive, so I keep telling it … It’s a sad story, but it’s one I think everyone needs to hear.[76] — Wikipedia

The Massacre of Tulsa

Photo: Wikipedia

Photo: Wikipedia

The Tulsa race massacre (also called the Tulsa race riot, the Greenwood Massacre, or the Black Wall Street Massacre) of 1921[9][10][11][12][13][14] took place on May 31 and June 1, 1921, when mobs of white residents attacked black residents and businesses of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma.[1] It has been called “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history.”[15] The attack, carried out on the ground and from private aircraft, destroyed more than 35 square blocks of the district — at that time the wealthiest black community in the United States, known as “Black Wall Street”. — Wikipedia

I was thrilled to read on the Wikipedia page that there was a place called “Black Wall Street” in America and devastated at the same time to know it was destroyed in a racist attack.

Like in Rosewood, the hook to the attack was similar:

“The massacre began over Memorial Day weekend after 19-year-old Dick Rowland, a black shoeshiner, was accused of assaulting Sarah Page, the 17-year-old white elevator operator of the nearby Drexel Building.” — Wikipedia

In what lawful world is it okay to kill people and raze their town over the assault (unjustified or otherwise) of another human being?

Would something like this ever have happened if a white guy would have assaulted a white girl? Deploying private aircraft to bomb the area from the sky?! It’s mind-boggling.

The amount of damage caused by this attack was enormous, unjustified, and staggering:

“About 10,000 black people were left homeless, and property damage amounted to more than $1.5 million in real estate and $750,000 in personal property (equivalent to $32.25 million in 2019).” — Wikipedia

And you know what? They were silent about this one too. Not only did people not speak of it, but it was also actively omitted from the media.

“Many survivors left Tulsa. Black and white residents who stayed in the city were silent for decades about the terror, violence, and losses of this event. The massacre was largely omitted from local, state, and national histories.” — Wikipedia

I won’t stand for the erasure of people’s histories. Years later, an investigation into the matter was commissioned.

“The Commission’s final report, published in 2001, said that the city had conspired with the mob of white citizens against black citizens; it recommended a program of reparations to survivors and their descendants.[1]” — Wikipedia

At least with Tulsa, the state of Oklahoma added the event to the school curriculum so students can learn about what happened.

How do you even explain to young minds such an outrageous crime? That’s a topic for a different article, I think.

It’s our job to make sure Tulsa’s story lives on.

Educate Yourselves And Pass it Along

These are only two events in the outrageously ill-documented history of the black people of America. Like Kimberly cries out in the video, “we don’t own anything!

I would love to see a renewed Black Wall Street rise in the United States. I would love to visit museums of Black art — creations by Black artists. I want black people to not feel like slaves or survivors.

Perhaps, all I want is for them to play monopoly fair and square.

You can help make that happen by listening, educating yourself about what happened in places like Tulsa, Rosewood, and many others that remain buried in the dusty tomes (or Wikipedia pages) of history.

They are our equals, and they face a grave injustice every day. Always remember that their lives always mattered. We chose not to see it.

Let’s fix it.