May 31: The Tulsa, OK Massacre of 1921 Begins in City’s Thriving Black Greenwood District

0 Posted by - May 31, 2021 - On This Date

Photo credits: The Oklahoma Historical Society

One of the most violent episodes of dispossession in U.S. history began on May 31, 1921, in Greenwood, a thriving Black neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

From May 31 through June 1, deputized whites killed more than 300 African Americans. They looted and burned to the ground 40 square blocks of 1,265 African American homes, including hospitals, schools, and churches, and destroyed 150 businesses. White deputies and members of the National Guard arrested and detained 6,000 Black Tulsans.

They were released only upon being vouched for by a white employer or other white citizens. Nine thousand African Americans were left homeless and lived in tents well into the winter of 1921. This assault was met by a brave but unsuccessful armed defense of their community by some Black World War I veterans and others.

This description is by Linda Christensen of Rethinking Schools in the introduction to her lesson, “Burning Tulsa: The Legacy of Black Dispossession.” She goes on to describe why and how she and her colleagues teach about the Tulsa Massacre, which is often falsely described in textbooks as a race riot:

We didn’t want students to get lost in the history of Tulsa, though it needs to be remembered; we wanted them to recognize the historical patterns of stolen wealth in Black, brown, and poor communities. We wanted them to connect the current economic struggles of people of color by staying alert to these dynamics from the past. We wanted them to see that in many ways Tulsa and other Black communities are still burning, still being looted.

This is sadly one of the countless massacres in the history of the United States (Zinn Education Project, 2021).

Most of these massacres were designed to suppress voting rights, land ownership, economic advancement, education, freedom of the press, religion for the black race. While often referred to as “race riots,” these acts of extreme violence were actually brutal massacres. They have been unleashed against blacks to keep them dehumanized and in total fear.

In order to maintain white domination in the U.S., the dehumanization of blacks has continued to exist in some shape or form.

Reference: Editors of The Zinn Education Project’s website. (2021, May 31) May 31, 1921: Tulsa Massacre. ZinnEd.org https://www.zinnedproject.org/news/tdih/tulsa-race-riot/

*BlackThen.com writer/historian Victor Trammell edited and contributed to this report.

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