The first of these incidents occurred in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921. The Tulsa Race Riot was a large-scale racially motivated conflict on May 31 and June 1, 1921, between the white and black communities of Tulsa, Oklahoma, in which the wealthiest African-American community in the United States, the Greenwood District also known as ‘the Negro Wall Street’ was burned to the ground. During the 16 hours of the assault, over 800 people were admitted to local hospitals with injuries, more than 6,000 Greenwood residents were arrested and detained at three local facilities. An estimated 10,000 were left homeless, and 35 city blocks composed of 1,256 residences were destroyed by fire. The official count of the dead by the Oklahoma Department of Vital Statistics was 39, but other estimates of black fatalities have been up to about 300.
Numerous accounts described airplanes carrying white assailants firing rifles and dropping firebombs on buildings, homes, and fleeing families. The planes, six biplane two-seater trainers left over fromWorld War I, were dispatched from the nearby Curtiss-Southwest Field (now defunct) outside of Tulsa. White law enforcement officials later claimed the planes were to provide reconnaissance and protect whites against what they described as a “Negro uprising.” But, eyewitness accounts and testimony from the survivors confirmed that on the morning of June 1, the planes dropped incendiary bombs and fired rifles at black residents on the ground.
The events of the riot were omitted from local and state history; “The Tulsa race riot of 1921 was rarely mentioned in history books, classrooms or even in private. Blacks and whites alike grew into middle age unaware of what had taken place.” In 1996, the state legislature commissioned a report, completed in 2001, to establish the historical record. It has approved some compensatory actions, such as scholarships for descendants of survivors, economic development of Greenwood, and a memorial park, dedicated in 2010, to the victims in Tulsa.
Because of the painful and unresolved memories of our past, many African Americans who continue to encourage their sisters and brothers to remember the struggles of their ancestors are frequently told by others to ‘get over slavery and forget the past.’ We must be ever mindful that there has never been a culture that achieved greatness by separating itself from its past.
History has shown that wherever culturally-centered people traveled throughout the world, they knew that the retention of their language, culture, philosophy, laws, and god concepts were essential to their survival….No sane people turn their backs on the past. It is only by facing your past that you can accurately perceive reality and determine your destiny. Reality is a pathway to the future, but if that pathway becomes blocked or is partially obscured, then one is destined to wonder aimlessly until the old pathway is found or a new one is forged. African Americans cannot expect to have a sustainable future if we believe we are something that never existed.