My legs are shaking. I am in Tulsa this week, trying to find my footing on the ground that has held a story, held down for far too long. It is hard to find the words too. Though the truth is not a surprise, it is no less difficult to comprehend.
Who would do such a thing and why would anyone think that this was or is acceptable behavior? What lie, what belief system enables someone to act in such a way? What gets in the way of one seeing that this is wrong on so many levels? Race.
America’s chosen people, race says to socially colored white people, “I am better than you. I can do whatever I want to do—to anyone, at any time and in any place.” We have yet to make race a liar in Tulsa and in too many other places. It is the place where Terence Crutcher was killed by police officer Betty Jo Shelby. On September 16, 2016, he is shot with his hands up. He is unarmed and though she is charged with first- degree manslaughter, she is found not guilty.
Kept out of history books and off the books of justice, no one has ever been arrested or charge for the crimes committed on May 31st through June 1st in the Greenwood District, known as “Black Wall Street” in 1921. Eighteen hours of murder, riotous looting and terrorism empowered by city officials, who gave European American Tulsans weapons, the fear, panic and utter disbelief is unconscionable.
Some politicians say, “We are a nation of laws” but the United States of America was founded on lawlessness. Recreating human beings as colored people and divinizing whiteness, European settlers kidnapped and enslaved African people. European colonizers murdered and forced the migration of those sacred First People, indigenous to what is now the United States. The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 is just one case in too many.
This is why we must tell the story. Testify, “This is what happened here.” Say their names. Don’t let the story die.
Because we should never forget those who lost their lives. Some estimate 300 people died. Countless businesses were destroyed and churches burned to the ground. Bombs even dropped from the sky.
It all started with an accusation of an attempted sexual assault in an elevator. A nineteen- year- old teenager, Dick Rowland, got on an elevator with Sarah Page, an elevator operator at the Drexel Building. She screamed and he ran. It has been suggested that he merely tripped upon entering the elevator and grabbed her arm to prevent himself for falling.
But that was enough for an arrest and for a mob of European American Tulsans to demand his release into their custody. Armed African American Tulsans gathered to protect Rowland and gunfire was exchanged with the African American Tulsans fleeing to Greenwood. You know the rest of the story. Or, maybe you don’t. If not, it is time to learn this history and to tell these stories. Because it happened in America and is a part of our history.
We must remember. We must remember the Tulsa Race Massacre.