Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
— George Santayana (1863-1952)
I was deeply saddened, angry and proud all at once as I learned of yet another incident of man’s inhumanity to man. I was proud because I saw the pictures of many survivors. They were African Americans who persevered through Jim Crow laws and other humiliations yet still managed to build a community that thrived economically while other communities around them were failing. This was the community of Greenwood in Tulsa Oklahoma, 1921. It was also known as the Black Wall Street.
As I experienced my private walking tour of Greenwood of today, I was angry that I had never heard of this historical event. (There was not much Black history taught when I was in school. Back then there was only Black History Week, and my teachers asked me, a 15 year old, to bring something to class and teach “my” history.) History is written by the victors and the “victors” did not want people to know about Greenwood. In fact, I was told by a daughter of a survivor that neither Black people nor White people spoke about Greenwood until decades later. African Americans said nothing for fear of retribution; Caucasians were silent due to embarrassment or shame. It was not until 2001 or so that conversations began in earnest in an effort to determine what actually happened.
I hope you will be compelled to make the time to explore some of the links provided here, to learn about this part of American history. Yes, it is sad, but the good news is there are many people striving to uncover and preserve the facts, and work toward a stronger more inclusive future.
By the way, you may be wondering why I placed quotes around “riots.” When references were made to this massacre, the word riot was used intentionally, even though it was not technically a riot. The legal records indicate that the homes destroyed did not have riot insurance, but a massacre could have required insurance companies to pay for losses.
I am grateful to Mana Tahaie, Director of Racial Justice at the Tulsa YWCA for the amazing tour of Greenwood. It was not a tour of despair as it left me with feelings of hope and determination. Hope for the future as Tulsa works toward inclusion in all senses of the word. Their ROI Summit (Return on Inclusion) had the largest attendance ever, including CEOs of major businesses, attendees from multiple states, and leaders from dozens of not-for-profit organizations. All were there to learn how to build a stronger, more united community. Thank you, Justice Waider-Smith, Ph.D. for your efforts to bring me to Tulsa to speak to this amazing group of leaders.
I invite you to share your comments on this blog and join me in efforts to stop man’s inhumanity to man.