There are surprising parallels between the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and today’s race riots. Both were triggered by a single transgression, both were immediately generalized to an issue of race, and both escalated to murders of innocent people targeted for the color of their skin.
As President Donald Trump held a rally in Tulsa, OK, critics speculated on the timing and choice of the city. Some were deeply offended on behalf of blacks in America because Tulsa is the site of the largest race massacre in U.S. history.
Greenwood, a property in Tulsa purchased by a wealthy black man, was envisioned as a community for and by blacks. It became one of the most affluent black communities in America in the early 20th century, teeming with economic activity, and Greenwood Avenue was known as Black Wall Street.
One day in 1921, a 19-year-old man who shined shoes for a living by the name of Dick Rowland was accused of assaulting a 17-year-old white elevator operator, Sarah Page. Rumors spread in town that Rowland would be lynched. Hundreds of white men gathered outside the jail where he was held. Around 75 black men showed up to protect him from the lynch mob. A shot was fired, and mayhem erupted.
By the time the dust settled, hundreds of blacks had been killed, and more than 1,000 homes in Greenwood had been torched to the ground by angry mobs while law enforcement stood by doing nothing.
The Racist Mindset
Although this happened nearly a century ago, the ingredients are eerily familiar. We don’t know if Rowland was guilty, but hundreds of white men immediately rendered it an issue of race: A black man did something to a white woman, and that was the only relevant fact.
The destruction and killing that ensued were purely collective punishment. The mob did not see individuals, only group members.
The Race Riots
The reaction is similar to what happened in the George Floyd case. The protesters and rioters who observed the video of Officer Derek Chauvin’s knee on Floyd’s neck could see only race: a white man killing a black man.
Just like in the Tulsa race massacre, innocent people, business owners, and their stores were attacked and destroyed in collective revenge based on racial logic. Although most blacks don’t approve, they tore down statues of white men. It didn’t matter to them that the statues were of unionists that opposed slavery. They depicted white people from a racist era and therefore were legitimate targets.
And just like in 1920s Tulsa, law enforcement stood by and did nothing.
The purpose of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was to create a legal platform of national healing and integration of blacks as equal participants in public life. If the same kind of racial tribalism that led to the Tulsa massacre is what came of it, it can only be judged as a resounding failure. Replacing racism against one group with racism against another is no victory for civil rights.
One of the reasons the country ended up with increased racial conflicts may be that radical leftist college professors injected in too many students a hatred-of-America philosophy. Those who supported the civil rights movement didn’t expect that far-left ideologues depended on its failure to flourish.
Undoing their damage will take time, but the fundamentals are in place for a V-shaped recovery of civility. Underneath the thin layer of riots and racial animosity is a system that is so benevolent for all races that people from every continent stand in line to get into America.
According to The New York Times, far more Africans have immigrated voluntarily to America since 1990 than were brought here as slaves. If modern-day Africans can see the virtues of America, then surely the African-American descendants of slaves should be able to do the same.
Read more from Onar Åm.