“I hear the cries”: the massacre of the Tulsa race remembers | Black Lives Matter news
Viola Fletcher can still hear the screams.
She was seven years old when white mobs stormed the streets of Greenwood, a thriving black community in the American city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, on May 31, 1921, killing dozens of people, torching homes and businesses and forcing black families to come forward. their lives.
“I still see black men being shot, black bodies lying in the street, I still smell smoke and I see fire. I still see black businesses burned down. I still hear planes flying overhead. I hear the screams, ”said Fletcher, one of the last three known survivors of what’s known as the Tulsa Racial Massacre.
“I experienced the massacre every day,” the 107-year-old told a US Congressional subcommittee earlier this month. “Our country can forget this story, but I cannot. I won’t, and the other survivors won’t – and our descendants won’t.
As Tulsa marks the centenary of Monday’s attacks – and as an account with the United States’ long history of anti-black racism, slavery and state violence continues across the country – the survivors of the massacre de Tulsa and their descendants are still asking for recognition and reparations.
“I think of the terror and horror inflicted on black people in this country every day,” Fletcher said. “I ask my country to recognize what happened to me – the trauma, the pain and the loss.”
An Oklahoma commission released a report (PDF) in 2001, detailing the deadly violence that ravaged the Greenwood neighborhood from May 31, 1921 – as well as the racism that led to the hour-long assault on the neighborhood, also known as “Black Wall Street “.
Dozens of people have been killed in the violence – estimates vary, but some say the death toll has reached 300, most of them black – and more than 1,200 homes have been deliberately burned down and destroyed. Black businesses, including hotels, newspapers, cafes, grocery stores, churches and even a hospital, were set on fire.
The attacks began hours after a black teenager was accused of sexually assaulting a 17-year-old white girl. The 2001 report said it was very likely that Dick Rowland fell into the elevator where Sarah Page worked as an operator, and stepped on her foot, causing her to scream. Someone nearby then alerted the police to an alleged assault.
The Tulsa Tribune, a local newspaper, ran an article titled “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in Elevator”. Hours later, a white mob had formed outside the city courthouse, calling for a lynching. A gunshot rang out and the riot had begun; Whites armed with rifles patrolled the city streets, killing black Tulsans and torching shops and homes.
Jovan Scott Lewis, associate professor of geography at UC-Berkeley, told Al Jazeera that during this time across the United States, white mob violence in many cases was fueled by what is now a “Almost cliché trope … where there is an injury complaint.” or prejudice or sexual assault against a white woman by an African American man ”.
“At that time, after World War I, there was certainly a heightened sense of racial tension in the United States. What we saw was also just a heightened sense of just generalized violence, organized violence… It was mob violence, and the Greenwood district suffered a lot, ”he said.
Police did not stop the attacks in Tulsa and some officers reportedly joined the white crowd. Police also sworn in nearly 500 white men and boys as “special deputies,” according to the 2001 report. “According to Laurel G Buck, a sworn white mason, police ordered new recruits to” take a gun and take a **** r, ”he said.
Many black Tulsans fought back, but they were outnumbered and unable to stop the violence. While some black residents fled into the countryside, police and National Guard soldiers rounded up and detained many more, according to the report. At around 11:30 am on June 1, martial law was declared. Burials were ordered and the bodies were thrown in unmarked graves.
“History has been actively silenced” for so many years, said Scott Lewis, which is part of what makes the centenary of the Tulsa race massacre so important. The massacre “marks a significant example of the scale of violence inflicted on black communities,” he said, adding that what Greenwood really stands for is “the fact that black people have been very capable in the United States – despite racism, despite segregation – to, on their own terms, develop healthy communities ”.
“That’s what Greenwood was: it was a healthy black community.”
‘The time has come’
One hundred years later, long-standing calls for recognition of the massacre and for concrete reparations for the victims and survivors, and their descendants, are once again stronger. Rights activists have also denounced a commission tasked with organizing centenary events in Tulsa, saying the body is not seeking input from survivors or their descendants in its plans.
City and state have a responsibility “to right the wrong and right the damage done,” said Laura Pitter, deputy director of the US program at Human Rights Watch. “They have to take action, but the action they take is not an action that incorporates the views, recommendations or comments of survivors.”
The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centenary Commission said on its website that its mission is to educate people about the massacre and its impact, to remember the victims and survivors, and to “create an environment conducive to the promotion of sustainable entrepreneurship and heritage tourism” at Greenwood and North Tulsa through events and other activities to mark the 100 Year Anniversary.
His efforts, which include the creation of a center of history about the massacre and its aftermath, come amid the ongoing excavation work in Tulsa. In October of last year, at least 12 coffins were find in a mass grave in a local cemetery; researchers said they were working to determine if they were associated with the events of 1921.
The city has budgeted for the continuation of the exhumation process, with the next round of excavations set at to start in June. “The only way forward in our work to achieve reconciliation in Tulsa is to honestly seek the truth,” Tulsa Mayor GT Bynum said on the city’s website.
But survivors and their descendants have questioned how the historic center of Greenwood Rising would benefit them, and the Black Tulsans have also said the revitalization of the Greenwood neighborhood has so far benefited white business owners greatly, not their community. The commission did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on the review prior to publication.
The last survivors and some descendants too for follow-up the city of Tulsa and other authorities for denying them economic opportunities and access to adequate housing and health care, among other things, following the massacre. They accused the city of “appropriating the trauma and terror suffered by the survivors and descendants of the Tulsa massacre for their economic benefit”.
“The survivors and the many descendants I have spoken to feel neglected, ignored, disappointed and frustrated,” HRW’s Pitter told Al Jazeera, adding that reparations can take many forms, from direct payments for survivors to provision of land and health care.
“Yes, it happened 100 years ago, but doing nothing for 100 years made it worse and worse. This is what they have to reckon with, yet… the city or state still does not offer real reparations, even for the survivors who are still alive, ”she said.
“Once the centenary is over, the money will dry up and the light will go out, and there is a real danger that – [or] certainly less likely that – something will be done. If there’s ever been a time for Tulsa, Oklahoma to do something, now is the time to do it.