The Tulsa Race Massacre 100 Years Later: The North Star's Special Coverage

The team at The North Star commemorates the 100-year mark of the Tulsa Race Massacre and its impact on American history through commentary, verse, music and podcast.

Avoiding reparations for the Tulsa Race Massacre reveals the rotten heart of America by Shaun King


Being heard is not reparations.

For the past 10 years, I’ve advised Black student leaders at over 100 different high schools and colleges on how to fight for change on their campus and the very first principle I’ve taught them is to never allow their administration to convince them that being heard is all they are looking for. I’ve seen it over and over again. Students will have serious grievances about inequities and injustices that they’ve experienced. They will have plans and demands for change - sometimes in the form of masterful proposals - but presidents and principals alike routinely try to lowball them by inviting them to private discussions and listening sessions where the beginning, middle, and end of what people in power were offering students wasn’t policy change, but simply being heard.

And what’s painful is that for people who’ve sometimes gone their whole lives without being truly seen, heard, and acknowledged - such a thing can feel like medicine for your soul in the absence of long-term institutional ignorance, but what it truly is, is something far more nefarious - a type of warm, kind nothingness. Being heard is not reparations. At best it may be step zero or step one, but if you are suffering from a gunshot wound and go to the hospital and describe that wound to the front desk, and they hear you, then to the nurses, and they hear you, and again to the doctors, and they hear you too - if somebody doesn’t eventually do more than listening, that’s called medical malfeasance. Critical wounds aren’t healed by having qualified people listen to you describe how you got it. They require surgery. They require a complex care plan. They require prescriptions. But somehow, over and over again, when the United States does African Americans wrong, and literally and figuratively causes the worst wounds imaginable, this nation thinks listening to the survivors is enough. It isn’t.

100 years ago today, the local government of Tulsa, Oklahoma conspired together with hundreds of white supremacists to destroy the single wealthiest Black community in America, Greenwood, or Black Wall Street. More than 35 blocks of homes and businesses were completely destroyed. Over 10,000 African Americans were left homeless. Nearly 300 Black men, women, and children were murdered and thousands more were seriously injured. Hundreds of thriving Black businesses were wiped out when white terrorists ransacked them, set them on fire, and even dropped bombs on them from airplanes.

The damage is almost incalculable. The estimates I’ve seen are all way off. It’s not enough to simply add up the total home values and give that as some BS estimate for the damage that was done. Families were decimated. Children were orphaned. Spouses were widowed. The damage was in the billions, trillions maybe. Generational wealth was interrupted. It changed the entire direction and future of Black America. And instead of earnestly making an attempt at righting this wrong, at truly repairing the damage, this nation, from the local government in Tulsa, to the state government of Oklahoma, to the federal government of the United States, continues to deflect and dodge. I can think of no clearer illustration or metaphor for this place's rotten heart and soul than this.

Living, breathing survivors, like Viola Fletcher and Hugh Ellis, now 107 and 100 years old, respectively, are still demanding reparations. That this nation has made them wait like this is beyond the pale. They weren’t in hiding 90 years ago or 50 years ago or 30 years ago or 10 years ago. But here they are 100 years later, in the twilight of their lives, close to heaven, and this nation still simply wants to listen to their pain, but not do the hard work of repairing the damage.

For most of my life, one of the chief replies to demands for reparations for slavery has been that nobody who endured it is still alive. That excuse is poisonous, of course, because reparations were demanded the day after slavery ended, the month after, the decade after - when every single person who experienced it was still living. But this nation likes to wait its worst problems out, then ask you to your face, without cracking a smile, why you didn’t demand change sooner. But even when survivors of a massacre such as this are still hanging on, this nation does nothing.

Racism and bigotry continue to bring this country to its knees - and instead of doing the hard work necessary to make this nation a truly fair, just, and equitable land - white people and white power continue with business as usual.

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Memorial Day By Another Name: An Ode to 1921 Greenwood by Donney Rose

The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.
~ Ida B. Wells

There are bodies buried beneath Tulsa soil that cultivated its bloom…

A boneyard of business owners. Neighbors. Families. A century’s worth of possibility lying in decay…

America is well versed in the art of the white lie. Is expert in translating rumors into war cries. Has converted generations of Black bodies into apparitions of their best selves at the behest of its imagination...

Before Greenwood was hallowed into two blocks of revisionist history...it sprawled for 40 blocks designed by the sons & daughters of the formerly enslaved. Descendants of property that owned property. Nightmares to white supremacy...

Before an accusation of assault; a lie that enhanced the fear of white virtue deflowered, Greenwood...Northeast Tulsa...Black Wall Street stood as a clapback to servitude. A witness to the ingenuity of displaced Africans. As evidence of a future actualized through blood-stained eyes…

Twin days of terror brought hell’s fire to an oasis. Bombed best intentions. Shot down, shop owners. Reduced brick & mortar to ash and memory…

Tulsa was not the first genocide within U.S. borders, but perhaps the grandest lie it’s ever told. America said race riot; conflict; economic anxiety. Sounded more palatable than state-sponsored slaughter; massacre; carnage of countrymen. A century of suppressed truth can trick the most devout patriot into believing their country is incapable of collapsing a community of its citizens. But…

When was a white lie ever rooted in anything other than...an attempt to deceive? Hoodwink? Frame Blackness as something besides worthy?...

Still...

The 300 bodies entombed within Tulsa’s red dirt are actually seeds. The torched salons are actually the embers from whence Black Girl Magic grew. The damaged house of worship is actually the baptismal site of a new revolution. The shards of 1921 Greenwood have actually reassembled as monuments to Black constancy.

And that truth that can never be buried.

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Acknowledgment vs. Action: The 100th Anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre by Kendi King

This morning, I googled “Black News” into the search bar of Google as I do nearly every morning in an attempt to see what the media is reporting on as it relates to Black peoples. 

Usually, it’s a slew of everything I’ve already seen on social media: reports of new cases of police violence, new studies showing the lasting effects of coronavirus on POC communities, and sparingly, a good news story of a new Black-owned business opening in an underprivileged community. There is little nuance in what is written about or how it is written. When it comes to Black news, unless it’s Black people doing the reporting, the result is bland, two-dimensional, and extremely underwhelming coverage of the Black American experience. 

But this morning, the search result was different. 

Today is the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, when a mob of white supremacists descended on the affluent Black neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma, murdering many of its inhabitants and flattening at least 35 blocks of the flourishing Black community. It was an event so heinous it is often considered one of the most gruesome hate crimes in the history of the United States.

Yet, for the past 100 years, it has been largely forgotten. 

I was never taught about it in school. In fact, I’d never even heard about the historic event until the HBO miniseries “Watchmen” was released, an adaption of the graphic novel with the same name, but with groundbreaking differences that bring elements of race, police presence, and American values into play. At the time of its release, it introduced millions of people like myself to a major event in our nation’s history that had been swept under the rug.

This brilliant piece of art made it impossible for the masses to ignore the massacre any longer.

When I put “Black news” into that search bar this morning, all that surfaced was article after article giving historical briefings on the destruction of what many called “Black Wall Street”. 

All of this coverage is important. It ensures that the tragic event is documented properly, something America does not often do with its worst moments. Yet the danger of all this coverage is growing more apparent - while many are willing to recognize the massacre as the tragedy it was, few are willing to draw the connections between how it affects Black communities to this day, and the fact that this event is far from isolated. 

White supremacist attacks against growing Black communities can be found throughout history leading up to today. Though the means of destruction may have changed, such as passing restrictive zoning policies or introducing blatantly racist voting laws, the mission of the Tulsa Race Massacre is still alive and well - to keep Black communities from thriving. 

Acknowledgment is important. It is the first step in healing the deeply rooted wounds of this country and moving forward. But if not paired with action, with a plan for how to prevent such an event from ever taking place again, acknowledgment is virtually useless. 

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The Momentum Advisors Show:
“The Tulsa Massacre & Your Generation”

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre that destroyed “Black Wall Street” in 1921. It was a horrible tragedy that is a major cause for today's wealth gap in the Black community. In this episode, we highlight how to approach building generational wealth despite all the systemic setbacks and obstacles, like the Tulsa Massacre. We are breaking down strategies for building wealth in your family no matter how much you're starting with. LISTEN HERE ON APPLE | LISTEN HERE ON SPOTIFY

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These Songs of Freedom- Tulsa 100 by The North Star Curated by Willis Polk

The North Star recognizes the 100-year mark of the Tulsa Race Massacre with songs of resistance, resilience and hope. LISTEN HERE ON APPLE | LISTEN HERE ON SPOTIFY