Burning Black Wall Street: Images from the Tulsa Race Massacre
They dropped a bomb on us. They literally dropped a bomb on us. Racist, White Oklahomans used airplanes, guns, rope, and fire to eliminate a wealthy Black neighborhood and its families — Black Wall Street — in Tulsa, Oklahoma. That’s how survivors described it. That’s how their grandchildren described it, and their great-grandchildren. And what’s remarkable is that despite the hell that hundreds of racists put Black (and Native American) families through between May 31 and June 1, 1921, some people made it out. They told the story; now we can share.
There are people alive today whose families know exactly what happened then. After all, those rich homes and businesses were looted by the police-deputized mob before being burned, and at least one of the photographers present scratched a message into their images: “Runing the negros out.” [sic] The papers called the tragedy a riot as if to lay blame on “the Blacks.” When actually, “the Blacks” were killed, and images of the murders were sold on postcards and even hung in living rooms as fun, fantastic art. The leftover bodies were unceremoniously dropped in the Arkansas River or into mass graves; I imagine that many little White children were told to never speak of what they saw their parents do.
The images below show Greenwood Street — Black Wall Street — in 1920s America. These brown-skinned folks had oil. Buildings. Cars. Money. Success. Pride. And their White neighbors got mad after trying to lynch Dick Rowland, a Black man who was wrongfully accused of attacking a young White woman in an elevator. Black World War I veterans came to Rowland’s aid. Hours later, a White mob launched the mass murder of at least 300 in a situation that still isn’t mentioned in many school history books. And if many Republicans had their way, this story would not be considered part of U.S. history at all. I wouldn’t be surprised if — in the comments below — some people try to say this event didn’t occur. But it did. And 100 years later, we remember the slain and honor their memory — in images.