Today is the 99th anniversary the 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma, race massacre (which came to some people’s attention due to the HBO series Watchmen).
In May of 1921, a 17-year-old white girl accused a Black teenager of assault in downtown Tulsa and white terrorism ensued. There have been countless reports, including from TulsaHistory.org, that 300 or more people were murdered in an act of bloody white terrorism. The media of the time downplayed the destruction of the successful Black area known as “Black Wall Street.”
The death toll was originally reported as 36. However, you don’t have to be a forensic archaeologist to surmise that more than 36 people were killed.
In December, The Washington Post reported, ”A team of forensic archaeologists who spent weeks using ground-penetrating radar at three sites in the city announced Monday night they found ‘anomalies’ consistent with mass graves that warrant further testing.”
The brutal massacre of 1921 and Black Wall Street was just one of many. Race massacres were commonplace and are blatantly (and purposefully) ignored in history books.
Here are five race massacres you should be aware of.
Despite some people claiming America was “great” for Black people seven years after the Civil War, Black men and women were being massacred in plain sight during Reconstruction. One of the most horrific incidents -- that we know of -- was April of 1873 in Colfax, Louisiana. Approximately 150 Black men were murdered by white men with guns and cannons for trying to freely assemble at a courthouse.
Sadly, the exact number of deaths is unknown because many Black bodies were thrown into what was called the Red River.
Watch the video below:
By 1898, Wilmington, North Carolina, was a thriving area with a majority Black population. There were also several Black elected public officials, forcing whites to share power. Of course, “the threat of Negro rule” created illogical white racial resentment.
The media frequently reported, erroneously, that "white womanhood" was threatened by Black men. A white Wilmington newspaper printed a speech by a Georgia feminist that read, "If it requires lynching to protect woman's dearest possession from ravening, drunken human beasts, then I say lynch a thousand negroes a week ... if it is necessary."
By the election of 1898, Black men were prevented from voting to push out the Black elected officials. However, white supremacists could not stop the economic power that Blacks had already created. Therefore, they destroyed Black Wilmington with terrorism.
The day after the 1898 election, whites announced the “white declaration of independence.” They overthrew the Wilmington government, destroyed the printing press, forced out the mayor, and a mob of white men attacked Black residents.
There were reportedly 60 to 300 Black people killed by this act of domestic terrorism. For over 100 years, the powers that be in Wilmington tried to erase the massacre from its history. Until 2000, when “the General Assembly established the 1898 Wilmington Race Riot Commission to develop a historical record of the event and to assess the economic impact of the riot on African Americans locally and across the region and state,” according to the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
The massacre is now in the state’s historical record.
Like many race massacres, the violence in Atlanta at the turn of the century began with white women accusing Black men of rape. On September 22, 1906, Atlanta newspapers reported that four white women alleged they were assaulted by Black men — a claim that was completely unfounded.
In reality, whites were threatened by upwardly mobile Black communities in Atlanta, which they believed were taking away their jobs. This bogus report of sexual assault drove as many as 2,000 white men to the streets. The terrorists went into Black communities to beat, stab and shoot any Black people in sight. PBS reports “a disabled man was chased down and beaten to death.”
Communities were destroyed and the unofficial death toll was up to 100.
The Encyclopedia of Arkansas calls the Elaine Massacre “by far the deadliest racial confrontation in Arkansas history and possibly the bloodiest racial conflict in the history of the United States.”
Blacks outnumbered whites 10 to 1 and were demanding economic justice, as many of them were forced into sharecropping. A union was created to protect sharecroppers and whites were outraged at even the smallest move toward equality.
In September of 1919, there was a union meeting among Black workers, and whites showed up to riot. As a result, one white man was shot and killed. Whites convinced themselves there was a threat of a "Black insurrection” and, as usual, reacted with violence.
Hundreds of white men attacked Black residents but many fought back -- including Black veterans. Sadly, there were reports of over 200 Black people, including children, were killed.
Many who weren’t killed were arrested and tortured while in custody. They were forced to “confess” about an insurrection with 12 men receiving the death penalty. They eventually became known as the Elaine 12. With the help of the NAACP, their case went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1923, and they were exonerated.
This was one of the first times the NAACP won a case in front of the Supreme Court.
Similar to the massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921, a Black community was burned to the ground two years later after a white woman named Fannie Taylor claimed she was assaulted by a Black man on January 1, 1923. The first person killed was Sam Carter, a local blacksmith. He was tortured and his mutilated body was hung from a tree.
Sam Carter was one of many. There are reports that up to 150 Black people were killed in Rosewood, Florida.
After Rosewood was destroyed, a grand jury and special prosecutor decided there was not enough evidence for prosecution of the white men who killed innocent American citizens.
In 1997, the late, great filmmaker John Singleton famously made the film Rosewood, starring Ving Rhames, based on the massacre.
See a clip of a documentary on Rosewood below:
Based on the various examples of violence perpetuated in Black communities, Tulsa wasn’t a rarity. History reminds us that although not popularly discussed, communities in Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina, and so many others were victims of racist violence based on economic anxiety and threats to “white womanhood.”
These massacres are chilling reminders of how white terrorism of Black lives is consistently minimized in history.
(Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)