Today June 19 is Juneteenth, that commemorates the day in 1865 when Union general Gordon Granger gave the news to the last outpost of slavery in east Texas in Galveston that the civil war had ended and that all slaves were now free. Note that
the Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 formally ending slavery, and confederate general Robert E. Lee had formally surrendered in April of 1865. Why it took more than two years for the Emancipation Proclamation to take effect in Texas was possibly because the federal government had such a weak presence in much of the country that it could not enforce its laws and edicts.
This was the day that Trump originally planned to host his first rally after the pandemic shutdown and the sight of his supporters whooping it up to his racist rhetoric on this particular day was a little much even for him and so they shifted it to tomorrow. The site he has chosen of Tulsa, OK is also problematic because of its history as the site of one of the worst racist massacres in US history, carried out as part of white supremacists’ attempts to crush any attempt by the black community to achieve any kind of economic independence, measures that continued later in the form of Jim Crow, redlining, and a host of other things that continued under the cover of legality what was done in Tulsa by sheer brutal force.
Gabriel H. Sanchez has compiled a gallery of photographs taken after the massacre that show the scale of the death and destruction wreaked on the black community in Tulsa. Here is his short introduction to the gallery, describing what happened.
Following World War I, the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was a mecca for Black entrepreneurship and home to a vibrant community of upper- and middle-class Black families who embodied the optimism of the American dream. With the city of Tulsa thoroughly segregated, the central hub of the Greenwood District became known as “Black Wall Street” for its economic strength and influence. Black-owned businesses, banks, and schools ensured that the local economy was not only thriving, but was also reflective of the community in which they served. Similar to the Harlem Renaissance concurrently unfolding on the East Coast, Tulsa’s Black Wall Street brought forth the promise of a brighter tomorrow and offered a roadmap for what success could look like for Black communities in the 20th century.
In the early hours of June 1, 1921, white rioters set fire to the Greenwood District, looting businesses and killing as many as 300 Black residents, leaving thousands more without shelter. Days earlier, a 19-year-old Black shoeshine named Dick Rowland was accused by a white store clerk of sexually assaulting a white, 17-year-old elevator operator named Sarah Page. In only a matter of hours, the promise and glory of Black Wall Street had been reduced to ashes. It was later determined by police that Rowland had accidentally stumbled into the elevator and had only grabbed the attendant’s arm to avoid falling.
But the damage had already been done. News of the alleged assault spread across white communities in Tulsa, inciting racially motivated violence across the city. According to a 2001 report by Tulsa officials titled Race Riot Commission Report, “At the eruption of violence, civil officials selected many men, all of them white and some of them participants in that violence, and made those men their agents as deputies.” Under the watch of these newly ordained police officers, white mobs proceeded to torch the Greenwood District, stealing valuables and killing all those who resisted. The report goes on, “Not one of these criminal acts was then or ever has been prosecuted or punished by government at any level: municipal, county, state, or federal.”
The photographs are heartbreaking. When you see things like this, you begin to really appreciate what writer Kimberly Jones means when she says at the end of this clip that those who are complaining about the way that some businesses were damaged during these days of protest should consider themselves lucky that what black people are demanding is equality and not revenge.