White men and women, with their children in tow, gathered around the outskirts of the blazing Black neighborhood as if attending a Friday evening picnic. The burning buildings and bombs served as the lynching rope that would strangle the life and wealth out of a prosperous community. In less than 12 hours the Greenwood community had suffocated.
There was a time in Tulsa, Okla., when the Black dollar circulated in Greenwood 36 to 100 times. It would circulate almost a year before it left. This town nurtured Black attorneys, doctors and Black-owned medical schools. There were also pawn shops, brothels, jewelry stores, churches, restaurants, movie theaters and airports—all Black-owned. During the early 1900s, this African-American infrastructure was flourishing in a community most commonly referred to as Black Wall Street. It was likened to the glamour and richness of Beverly Hills by journalists. The typical family could afford five kids or more. The entire area held more than 600 businesses and a population of 15,000 African-Americans.
New York State Assemblyman and former member of the Black Panther Party, Charles Barron, expressed his knowledge and passion concerning Tulsa 1921.
“Someone still needs to pay money and reparations,” he said. “There needs to be consequence. Envious racist white terrorist decided that they were going to destroy a Black town. This happened in 1921, 95 years ago and still nothing.”
Greenwood flourished until June 1, 1921. On that day, thousands of whites stormed into the community and killed its residents. Businesses and homes were looted and burned and some witnesses had even claimed that at some points the police had helped the mob. Surviving residents also claimed that machine guns were fired into crowds of people, and sticks of dynamite were dropped from airplanes.
Barron said, “We were flourishing and the white community was not. The state was responsible for that and gave white terrorist the right to murder over 3,000 Blacks. They dropped bombs on Tulsa and there are still killers that need to be brought to justice and we need to know about Tulsa to show Black people how we came together and how we need to stay together.”
The Ku Klux Klan as well as their supporters and city politicians organized the destruction of Greenwood. More than 3,000 African-Americans died and many businesses were lost beyond repair. Homes were burned, as well as schools and hospitals. However, for some reason Blacks were arrested by the police on site and more than 4,000 blacks were detained for several days. Thirty-five blocks of the community were left in ruin.
When Greenwood tried to rebuild, it received no support from the city. There was approximately $1.5 million in damage. Some reports say that the violence had erupted allegedly because a Black youth had touched a white woman. Other reports said it was done out of jealousy or because of the discovery of oil within the community. However, the point being, on June 1, 1921, Americans were massacred on U.S. soil and Tulsa, Okla. had forgotten to mention it.
Barron explained the importance of this Black community’s success.
“We need to know first that integration hurt us,” he said. “We had Black basketball teams, the Apollo was booming, we had a form of Black nationalism. Black people got together because of segregation and built some of the best and affluent towns they ever had.”