“The Death of Black Wallstreet”: The 1921 race attacks in Tulsa Oklahoma

 

A Privately owned bus line

2 movie theaters

2 newspapers 

21 churches

21 restaurants

30 grocery stores

a hospital

6 private planes

                     Looking at that list, its impressive for a modern town to boast these types of amenities, let alone a community in the early 1900s, and what makes it even more impressive it was a black community. You may be wondering where this was and why haven’t you heard of it before. All this splendor was encompassed within a 35 block radius of Tulsa Oklahoma that was nicknamed “Little Africa” or “Black Wall Street.” The main thoroughfare was Greenwood Ave, and Archer and Pine Streets intersected it. From the First letters in each of those names you get G.A.P., and that’s where the renowned R&B music group the GAP Band got its name . There have been other cities that carried the moniker of “black wall street” (parts of Durham North Carolina) but what made this area more impressive was the high level of prosperity and pride that each person of the community carried.

  

The mainstay of the community was to educate every child. Nepotism was the one word they believed in.

Today education has been reduced to being viewed as an afterthought or nuisance  in the journey of  becoming an instant celebrity or professional athlete.  Creating a place setting at the corporate table for those who look like you is almost non-existence due to the “crabs in a barrel” mentality and fear of losing your piece of the pie by helping someone else obtain theirs.

The dollar circulated 36 to 100 times, sometimes taking a year for currency to leave the community

Compare this to the fact that the dollar now leaves the black community in 15 minutes. While the spending power of current Black America is far larger than it was during that era, the monetary influence in the community pales in comparison.

In doing my research, I  began to wonder blacks in this community were able to acquire the wealth to build this type of paradise in the midst of racial bigotry. Its was one thing to own land, but blacks having ownership of six private planes when the state of Oklahoma only had two airports at the time was very impressive. The state of Oklahoma was initially designated as being a black and Native American state and there were 28 black townships in the area and  through  the inter-marrying of the Native Americans, some blacks were able to acquire their “fabled” 40 acres and a mule and many times that included oil. Because of Jim Crow laws, these growing communities were forced to pass the dollar from one hand to another which was the jump-start of creating independent wealth and word spread nationally that this was the place to be for blacks.This area also served as a hub for blacks in neighboring towns who had been forced to travel great distances for shopping and entertainment due to segregation laws in their own area.

However this all began to change on May 31st when a black male by the name of Dick Rowland was accused of sexually attacking a woman after he stumbled into her while entering an elevator. The primary instigator in fueling the rage of the racist whites in the community was the local newspaper, the Tulsa Tribune. The nicknamed the accused “Diamond Dick” and portrayed the victim as an orphan that had visible wounds and clothes were torn, when actuality she had deserted her husband in Kansas City and didn’t have a scratch on her. In addition to this article there is a reported editorial that encouraged the whites of the community to come together and lynch the young 19-year-old black male.

(I guess this was the beginning of lack of media integrity)

While he was taken into custody he was never formally charged with a crime but during that era of thick racial hate, a black person didn’t have to commit a crime for him to be considered next on the lynch mob’s list.

– It was not against the law for a white man to kill a black man.

– Groups of white men could take a black male out of police custody with the intention of killing him. 

– Just months earlier a man had been lynched and the crowd was given a police escort during the act.

– Two black people a week were being lynched in AMERICA during this period.

With the black community realizing that Rowland stood no chance of surviving the plot of the vigilante mob, they developed their own protection group and headed towards the courthouse where he was being held. In the subsequent confrontation between the whites and blacks at the courthouse and a stray gunshot was fired thus triggering one of the most heinous events to take place in America that has never been really discussed.

In order to “protect” themselves the city deputized over 500 white men, many of which were members of the Klu Klux Klan, and gave them the right to shoot any “nigger” on sight. Another part of the strategy involved them deploying airplanes to drop turpentine bombs while the blacks slept and upon fleeing their homes, the on looking white army would meet them with a barrage of bullets from various locations. Communication to the outside was cut off; phone and telegraph lines destroyed and even the railroad was blockaded so that no one could leave the area nor get in to find  out what was really going on in the city at the time. Now if this wasn’t systematic race eradication I don’t know what is.

(clockwise from top left) The white mob carrying the dying body of a black male, the initial burning of the city, the aftermath 

In the aftermath of the bombing and shooting, the whites ransacked these once luxurious homes taking anything they could find of value, with many being becoming enraged at the fact that “niggers” had nicer things than they did. The estimated property loss reached above $2.3 million. The estimated death tolls of African-Americans were in the hundreds. White vigilantes arrested thousands of African-Americans and held them for no apparent reasons and  approximately 4,300 African-Americans were left homeless and robbed of all their valuables. There were a few who escaped capturing by running for the hills or hiding under the beds in homes that had survived the air attack and the firebombs from the mobs who raided the neighborhoods on foot. Ironically some of the blacks, who worked as servants and maids, had their lives spared out of the goodness (sarcasm) of their white employers heart by having them hide in the attics or basements. God forbid that all the blacks would be killed in the community and they would have to do their own housework.

Just like word spread of the financial growth in this area, I can only imagine the reaction across the nation to find out about the destruction and the realization that even this piece of black prosperity was not above being attacked by destructive mindset called Racism. After the riots destroyed Greenwood, businesses were rebuilt, churches and schools reestablished and homes reconstructed; however, Greenwood never regained its prominence as a Black Wall Street.

While it was frustrating doing the research for this blog, I knew it was something that had to be discussed. I first have to thank my dad for even talking about what happened for if it weren’t for my father talking about it while he was in town for the 4th of July, I would have never known about the good nor the bad of the Greenwood community in Tulsa Oklahoma. I know there are plenty others like me who aren’t aware of this part of American history, not just black history, so I figured why not bring more awareness to what we had and hopefully it sparks a debate of what we are capable of having if we just come together.

Please feel free to share this blog with anyone you know and be sure to do your own research because this is only a piece of the story, and this is a story that needs to be known understood and told by all.

If you would like to watch the documentary,  where I got a lot of my information from, please  watch the video below and it is broken down into 12 parts.

Also here is the link to the Greenwood Cultural Center in Tulsa Oklahoma

http://www.greenwoodculturalcenter.com/

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Land of the Free… Home of the silent.

The early settlers came to “America” out of the need to escape Puritan England in order to gain freedom (religious), and even recently has always boasted that its citizens are awarded many freedoms, one being freedom of speech. What many have forgotten is just as with the freedom sail from England, our present day freedoms come at a price.

mendenhall
Rashard Mendenhall, a running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers is finding that out the hard way now. For those who don’t know Mendenhall has caught MAJOR flack for expressing a right that many of us take for granted; FREEDOM of SPEECH. While I understand there still are things that cannot be protected under this right (like yelling fire in a crowded room, public defamation of the President of the country and a couple of others) what Mendenhall said should have easily fallen under that protection. Below is a copy of the is the copy the statement made by Mendenhall on his personal twitter account

“What kind of person celebrating death? It’s amazing how people can hate a man whom they had never heard speak. We have only heard one side.”
“We’ll never know what really happened. I just have a hard time believing a plane could take a skyscraper down demolition style.”

celebration of death (were reactions like this really necessary… NO)

What many people failed to do, was break the comments down into two separate parts (they were tweeted as such.) The first part in which he questions people who celebrate death is spot on… It’s ironic that a country that was established on Christian beliefs would be so contradictory of said beliefs. Matthew 22:39 states that we should love our neighbor as ourselves. No where in the verse is there a conditional clause, saying if he does this you don’t have to and your neighor extends to other countries. While we (myself included) take great issue with what Osama Bin Ladin did, he still was a human in which God commanded us to love. I personally take issue with how the country celebrates a vigilante murder, evil or not, this man was not given the opportunity to stand trial. Now there may be some who feel that due to the fact of his actions he didn’t deserve a trial, well that’s strictly opinion based. But in this country even Charles Manson and Ted Bundy, who were viewed as heinous, were given the right to have a trial, and I am willing to bet the family of their victims would have loved to get swift justice for their lost loved ones. It seems as if America is good for having rules but being able to amend them based on need, and wasnt this the SAME man who allegedly had ties to the CIA back in the 80s (for the truth, you sometimes have to go outside of US media outlets)

In the second part of the tweet in which he brings questioning to the true source of destruction during September 11th bombings, while it is very hard to prove that, he has not been the only person that has questioned the truth in this story. I will just say that the incident was so unfortunate and I pray that there was no involvement by our own government.

After reading the tweets I expected uber-patriotic Americans to voice their displeasure of the comments made by Mendenhall. What I did not expect to hear were news reports in which team president Art Rooney II from the Pittsburgh Steelers (the team which he plays for) say this

“I have not spoken with Rashard so it is hard to explain or even comprehend what he meant with his recent Twitter comments,” Rooney said. “The entire Steelers’ organization is very proud of the job our military personnel have done and we can only hope this leads to our troops coming home soon.”

So in the quote he says that he hadn’t talked to Rashad, which he can’t due to the NFL lockout, so why would he go as far to think that he was taking issue with the job that the military had done in regards to this situation (if he truly knew his player he would know that Mendenhall spent time at a football camp in Germany with US troops.) But it goes to show how “speak first, then think later our society is.” Ironically the most important part of the comment that isn’t related to the story is that he hopes it leads our troops home soon, and that is right there is the BIGGEST MISCONCEPTION many americans have. They think now that the big bad wolf is dead, little red riding hood can come home. If you pay attention to American government they have been giving us MANY excuses as to why our Armed Servicemen are overseas;
weapons of mass destruction none there, Saddam Hussein handled him, Osama Bin Ladin- killed him. I wonder what the next threat to american safety will be to keep our troops away from home, because unless there is a significant amount of troops sent home before the holidays, I call BULLSHIT on the american government.

But back to the subject so now we see that Mendenhall doesn’t have the support of his employer we also find out a company who he was paid to endorse, Champion Sports Apparel has now “fired” him. Here is the press release made by a spokesperson for champion

“Champion is a strong supporter of the government’s efforts to fight terrorism and is very appreciative of the dedication and commitment of the U.S. Armed Forces. Earlier this week, Rashard Mendenhall(notes), who endorses Champion products, expressed personal comments and opinions regarding Osama bin Laden and the September 11 terrorist attacks that were inconsistent with the values of the Champion brand and with which we strongly disagreed. In light of these comments, Champion was obliged to conduct a business assessment to determine whether Mr. Mendenhall could continue to effectively communicate on behalf of and represent Champion with consumers. While we respect Mr. Mendenhall’s right to express sincere thoughts regarding potentially controversial topics, we no longer believe that Mr. Mendenhall can appropriately represent Champion and we have notified Mr. Mendenhall that we are ending our business relationship. Champion has appreciated its association with Mr. Mendenhall during his early professional football career and found him to be a dedicated and conscientious young athlete. We sincerely wish him all the best.”

So essentially what I got from the release is that:
1. Champion blindly supports the actions of the US government right or wrong
2. Anyone who questions the actions of the government is unpatriotic
3. Forget a contract, we can do what we want (I wonder if there was a character clause in his contract that forbade him to have any counter-governmental outburst… probably not)

Truthfully when was the last time Champion was relevant as an apparel company when it comes to athletes marketing, so in the grand scheme of things they became relevant for 2.5 seconds only to go back into the sea of forgotten after the next Nike or Under Armor commercial airs.

While I think Mendenhall bounces back, like all things in the american media, it will take time to blow over (or bigger news story.) He has even gone as far as to blog a clarification statement in which he breaks down what he truly was trying to convey (only having 160 characters can get you in trouble if someone misinterprets your tweet) And while I always thought he was a good football player, he has earned more respect from me as a man because; he felt a certain kind a way about something, spoke on it, saw the error in how it was conveyed, brought clarity to what he said, but never backed down from his stance. How you feel may not always be received nicely but if that’s how you feel MAN UP and stand by your statement… This is the type of athlete that should be endeared not vilified.

But this whole situation speaks of a bigger social issue… are we essentially telling people and specifically the youth that your beliefs views and ideas are insignificant, subject to scrutiny, and could get you fired if they are contrary to that of popular belief. We already have athletes who refuse to stand up for social/civil/spiritual injustices out of fear of losing their cash cow, but now they can’t even voice their opinions on social networking websites. There are many who are against athletes/entertainers being on twitter and many collegiate coaches have gone as far as banning it for their players due to some of the foolishness being said, but I do believe under the right context, twitter can be a positive outlet that endears fans to an athlete. Case in point Jalen Rose is establishing a charter school in my hometown of Detroit and he took to twitter to spread awareness of the opportunity for the youth of Detroit to enroll.

What I suggest is that EVERYONE even us common folk before you hit that send button on your respective twitter app think of the potential ramifications of having your words hit cyberspace, because while John Doe may not lose millions due to an inappropriate tweet, he could lose something more important to him like his job/wife/friends…

Even in writing this, I know I am subjecting myself to scrutiny, judgement and hate, but I DONT CARE… I am tired of people abiding by the status quo because its safe or easy. It is time for someone to shake the masses so why not me… I’ll be the blog Bad Guy, but know this if you have made it this far in reading, i know I have challenged you to rethink some things in life and if so, my job is done.

-God Bless