As the US celebrates 100th anniversary of the Tulsa massacre, African Americans still feel left out

At the base of modern buildings on an anonymous street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a pair of discreet metal plates catch the eye. ‘Grier shoemaker’, ‘Earl real estate’ – grounded, they bear the names of black companies that once stood before they were destroyed in one of the worst racial massacres in the United States, in 1921.

A rare remnant of such an affluent neighborhood as it was called Black Wall Street, the plaques prove that the history of Greenwood – a historically black neighborhood of Tulsa – is understood not by the monuments that now stand, but by the monuments that are no longer there. to be. Over there.

On the eve of a visit by President Joe Biden, popular with African-American voters, who will attend the 100th anniversary of the massacre on Tuesday, and after a year marked by the Black Lives Matter movement, the murders resonate with the current events more than ever.

Destroyed neighborhood

“They came over and destroyed Greenwood and flattened everything,” said Bobby Eaton, 86, a local resident and former civil rights activist.

A century ago, the arrest of a young black man accused of assaulting a white woman in the southern United States sparked one of the worst outbreaks of racist violence ever in the country.

On May 31, 1921, after Dick Rowland’s arrest, hundreds of enraged whites gathered outside the Tulsa courthouse to signal to black residents that lynching – a common practice at the time and until recently in the 1960s – was imminent . .

A group of African-American World War I veterans, some of them armed, mobilized in an effort to protect Rowland.

Tensions rose and gunfire took place. Less in number, the African American residents retreated to Greenwood, which was known at the time for its economic prosperity and many businesses.

The next day, at daybreak, white men looted and burned the buildings, chasing and beating black people who lived there. All day long, they plundered Black Wall Street – not only did the police intervene, but also took part in the destruction – until nothing was left but ruins and ashes, killing up to 300 people. The destruction has left about 10,000 people homeless.

How the media reported on the Tulsa Race massacre that killed 300 black Americans. A complete removal of black people.

“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will make you hate the people who are being oppressed and that you love the people who are doing the oppression.” – Malcolm X

– Qasim Rashid, Esq. (@QasimRashid) May 31, 2021

With a blue cap on his head and a T-shirt commemorating the centenary of the massacre pulled over his shirt, Eaton feels marked by this event he never saw as a child in his father’s barber shop. but what he has heard so much about.

“I learned a lot about the riots as a very young person, it has never been etched from my memory,” he said.

‘Don’t own the land’

In his opinion, as with many others in the neighborhood, it was African-American prosperity that led to the destruction. That caused a lot of jealousy, and it still does.

“Much of that mindset that destroyed Greenwood still exists here in Tulsa,” said Eaton.

>> Inside the Americas: 1921 Tulsa Massacre – Reminiscent of a dark chapter in American history

Even 100 years after the massacre, racial tensions remain high.

In the Black Wall Street Liquid Lounge – a coffee shop named, like many Greenwood businesses, in homage to the neighborhood’s golden age – Kode Ransom, a 32-year-old African American man, sports long dreadlocks and a big smile like he greets customers.

Scenes from the Greenwood District of downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma – where people commemorate the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre

– philip lewis (@Phil_Lewis_) May 30, 2021

As a happy co-manager of the company, he has one regret: not owning the walls around him.

“People hear ‘Black Wall Street’, they think it’s completely controlled by black people. It’s actually not,” he said.

Ransom estimates that there are about 20 African American businesses in Greenwood, all of which pay rent.

“We don’t own the land,” he said.

An urban development policy called urban renewal, implemented by the Tulsa City Council since the 1960s, has resulted in African-American owners whose homes or businesses, considered dilapidated, were demolished to make way for new buildings.

The construction of a seven-lane highway through the center of the main street disfigured the neighborhood.

“When Greenwood was Greenwood, you had 40 blocks, and now it’s all condensed to half a street … and even in that half of a street it’s still not just Black Wall Street,” Ransom said, sighing. .


A few meters from the cafe, in the Greenwood Art Gallery, manager Queen Alexander, 31, arranges the paintings on display, celebrating African-American culture.

She’s also paying rent – and it’s about to go up 30 percent. The opening of a major museum dedicated to the history of the neighborhood, the Greenwood Rising History Center, which will officially open on Wednesday, has seen rents for surrounding businesses increase.

One of her acquaintances, who had run a beauty salon in Greenwood for over 40 years, was evicted. “She couldn’t pay the rent,” Alexander said.

Sending love to the people of Tulsa as they commemorate the massacre of 100 years ago. Although we will not be together tomorrow, I look forward to visiting you in the near future, and especially to a real settlement and reparations for the survivors and their descendants.

– John Legend (@johnlegend) May 30, 2021

Outside the bay windows of her gallery, Alexander observes gentrification at work.

“You now see white people walking and cycling their dogs in neighborhoods where you would never have seen them before,” she said, noting the opening of a baseball field, a Starbucks, and “a university I probably wouldn’t be able to. see. can’t afford. “

To her, without its African-American owners and historic buildings, Greenwood is no longer really Black Wall Street, but “Greenwood district with some black corporate leases.”

And “if we’re all evicted tomorrow, this will be white Wall Street.”

( Jowharwith AFP)

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