A brief look at Tulsa’s history, and it’s not at all a good one.
The black neighborhood in Tulsa was known as “Greenwood” because Greenwood Avenue ran through it. Approximately 10,000 African Americans lived there. While there were large numbers of black people who lived in poverty in the area, the business district was its own complete city. There were dozens of black-owned businesses. Every kind of small business — grocery stores, beauty shops, jewelry stores, photography studios, tailor shops, and much more — a large number of restaurants, and a 750-seat theatre, the Dreamland Theater “that offered live musical and theatrical revues as well as silent movies accompanied by a piano player.” There were two black-owned newspapers. There were 15 African American physicians’ offices. A hospital. A large number of churches. A library. And a 54-room hotel, the Stradford Hotel.
During the night and the following day, the white mob invaded Greenwood. They pulled residents out of their homes and beat and killed them, including old people and children. They torched every building. Black people escaping Greenwood were arrested by the Oklahoma National Guard, who locked masses of them up in holding centers and only released them when white people stepped forward and vouched for individual black people.
The best estimates are that 300 people died during the riot, and 1256 structures were torched. While the Red Cross provided relief efforts for those thousands of people who had been burnt out of their homes, for which the city and county paid into the Red Cross relief fund, no compensation was paid to the victims of the violence. In addition, not a single white person was held accountable for any of the crimes committed May 31-June 1.
I had never heard of this before, and it’s unconscionable that to this day, it’s barely acknowledged, and no restitution or compensation was ever offered. Tulsa’s history with people of colour is a dark and shameful one. It’s time to bring it all out into the light in the spirit of change, and one of those should be a vow to stop murdering people of colour. It’s been going on much too long, as the recent murder of Terence Crutcher demonstrates all too well.