The Stream

Will there ever be justice for the Tulsa Race Massacre?

On Tuesday, June 1 at 19:30 GMT:
Families forever devastated by the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre are reflecting on its centenary while continuing to call for justice so far denied.

A series of events will be held in Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 31 and June 1, exactly 100 years since white mobs attacked Black residents of the city’s Greenwood district. The assault began soon after the Tulsa Tribune newspaper published a racially-charged report that a Black teenager had been arrested for allegedly assaulting a 17-year-old white woman in an elevator – despite no formal complaint being made against him by the woman.

The white attackers – some of whom were deputised by civil officials and given weapons – laid siege to Greenwood, home to a thriving stretch of businesses known as Black Wall Street. They indiscriminately attacked Black residents while ransacking and torching homes and businesses. White assailants strafed Greenwood with machine-gun fire from overlooks. The slaughter was even waged from the sky, as aircraft pilots dropped dynamite and turpentine bombs on the district.

Hundreds of Black residents of Greenwood were killed in the 18-hour orgy of violence directed against them. While the true number of people killed remains unknown (mass graves are still being discovered) some contemporary estimates put the death toll as high as 300. Thirty-five blocks of Greenwood were razed to the ground, leaving an estimated 10,000 people homeless. In the immediate aftermath of the massacre, the state imposed martial law. Authorities arrested thousands of Black Tulsans and put them in internment camps.

No one was held responsible for the massacre and survivors and families of those who were killed were cut adrift. Insurance companies refused to pay claims for the loss of homes and businesses, citing that the attack was a ‘riot’ rather than a co-ordinated onslaught against Black people in Greenwood. Many Black residents who were left destitute after the attack on Greenwood departed Tulsa and never returned.

While parts of Greenwood were rebuilt, by the 1970s all but a tiny part the district had again been torn down – this time to make way for a highway under the guise of ‘urban renewal’.

The fight for justice for the 1921 massacre has continued down the generations, against the efforts of state and Tulsa city officials over the years to first cover up and later minimise what happened. Descendants of those killed, injured and dispossessed by the attack on Greenwood point to a legacy of trauma and the loss of generational wealth, and are leading calls for reparations. They are backed by members of US Congress.

As the centenary of the massacre nears, three lone survivors of the massacre are again speaking out. All testified on May 19 before a House Judiciary Subcommittee that recently advanced a bill to create a commission to study the lasting effects of slavery. Viola Davis told those assembled at the hearing: “I am 107 years old and I have never … seen justice. I pray that one day I will.”

In this episode of The Stream, we’ll reflect on one of the darkest chapters in US history, the lasting effect of the Tulsa Race Massacre, and the endeavour by survivors and descendants to get true reparatory justice.

In this episode of The Stream, we will be joined by:
Anneliese Bruner, @AnnelieseMaria
Great-granddaughter of Tulsa Race Massacre survivor Mary Parrish, and author’s representative for ‘The Nation Must Awake

Laura Pitter, @LauraPitter
Deputy Director, US Program at Human Rights Watch

Carlos Moreno, @cmoreno237
Author, ‘The Victory of Greenwood