President Donald Trump is organizing his first political rally since the pandemic began in Tulsa, Oklahoma, this weekend. Its choice of location and date have heightened tensions in a city struggling to come to terms with its history of violent racism.
On June 1, 1921, a white mob ransacked the most prosperous black district of Greenwood, killing approximately 300 people and burning 35 blocks of businesses and businesses on the ground.
The bodies of the victims were buried in mass graves and, for decades, the memories of those fearful first days of June have been buried with them.
“Following the massacre, both blacks and whites swept under the carpet,” says Mechelle Brun, program coordinator at the Greenwood Cultural Center, which preserves the history of the neighborhood.
“They had to focus on survival. They said talking about it meant reliving it, and it was too painful to relive it. ”
The massacre began after a young black man was accused of assaulting a white girl in a downtown elevator office.
The man, Bite Rowland, was arrested and there was concern that he would be lynched. A group of African Americans who went to prison to protect him and were confronted by a large group of white men. The gunfire and the resulting violence lasted several days.
Thousands of white men, some of them deputized by the police, descended on Greenwood. Ten thousand people have been forced to leave their homes. Others have been murdered. Eyewitnesses reported general surrounded planes dropping turpentine or charcoal oil, while the buildings were set on fire from the ground.
It remains the deadliest single act of racial violence in American history.
No one has ever been charged with looting and destruction, and city officials who rose by – or took part in – have never been held responsible for not protecting their black residents of the region.
But as the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Course Massacre approaches, the city began to reckon with its past.
- Three generations on what America needs to change
- Four reasons why it’s a bad week for Trumpet
A commission has been set up to locate the graves and identify the victims – despite a search test at one of the sites was postponed due to the pandemic coronavirus. Emphasis has been placed on education, with plans to teach the history of Greenwood, Oklahoma state schools. And the district is promoted as a cultural and tourist destination.
Oklahoma Republican Governor Kevin Stitt invited Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to Greenwood in advance of Saturday’s rally – a move that angered many residents.
The President has been widely charged with inflammatory speeches and the fueling of racial divisions during protests after George Floyd, an unarmed black man, was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer, the last month. He called for a law and order of repression that critics say did not take into account the concerns of peaceful protesters.
Some Tulsa residents say the president’s visit to Greenwood would be disrespectful and increase the risk of spreading the coronavirus to a vulnerable community. Statistics show that the number of deaths among African Americans is proportionately higher than among Caucasians.
- Why are African-Americans hit hard by the virus?
- “My son was killed by the Minneapolis police”
“We are very concerned about all of these people coming to our state as well as being escorted to our community to visit the Greenwood Cultural Center. It’s like bringing them right to our house, “said Thérèse Adunis, whose grandparents survived the Tulsa Course Massacre and whose father was born a few months later.
“Because we are coming on the 100th anniversary of the massacre, Greenwood is a hot tourist to stop. Our city and our state want to do it but it’s like, you want to make money and you want to be recognized for our misery, but you don’t worry about our lives, “she said.
She is also angry that despite repeated promises of no reparations have ever been paid for the survivors of the massacre and little has been done to reduce social and economic disparities within the city.
Before the massacre, Greenwood was known as the Black Wall Street, the wealthiest African-American neighborhood in America, with some 300 blacks owned by companies.
It was a center for jazz and blues, which deeply influenced the music legend, Count Basie. Outside of a handful of historic brands, there is little evidence that today’s prosperity. The north side of the city of Tulsa, with a population of 65,000 African-Americans, remains separated by predominantly white and richer railway tracks on the south side of the city.
“They want to take the credit for talking about it instead of taking possession and correcting it,” says Damario Salomon Simmons, a lawyer and activist in Tulsa who represented some of the survivors.
He will participate in a rally with Reverend Al Sharpton on June 19, a date also known as Juneteenth, a national commemoration of the abolition of slavery in the United States.
President Trump had planned to hold his rally campaign on the Juneteenth, but it was postponed due to local protests.
“This is an opportunity to take advantage of Greenwood’s history and the slaughter of its own sake,” said Mr. Salomon Simmons. “This is what we see all over the city – powerful people who use history to push their agenda and to cover the gentrification of efforts. ”
After the massacre in 1921, Greenwood residents rebuilt their community without help or money from the state. For a while it flourished, but never fully recovered and eventually declined.
Mr. Salomon Simmons said the death of George Floyd, sparked a new awareness of the course of inequality and injustice faced by African-Americans.
“We who campaign for legislation must redouble our efforts. The time is now. I can’t imagine a better time with everyone watching, ”he says.