On June 1, 1921, a white mob–enraged by a Tulsa newspaper report that a young Black teenager had attacked a white woman on an elevator–ruthlessly destroyed a thriving Black business community, killing up to 300 people, injuring thousands and unmercifully demolished homes and churches. In truth, the teen had stumbled while entering the elevator to go to a restroom for Blacks, because the restroom where he worked was forbidden for Black people to use. After the inflammatory Tulsa Tribune report that polce had arrested Dick Rowland for sexually assaulting the elevator operator, the armed mob gathered with the intention of lynching the Black teenager.
This horrific, widespread racial violence came to a peak more than 60 tumultuous years after the legal end of centuries-long slavery. It was a whithateful, resentful white response to Black aspirations and the unprecedented migration of millions of Black people away from the crushing racism and hopeless grinding poverty of the South.
In response to the current, more frank cycle of discussion about race relations, injustice and inequity, there has been a nationwide push back against the idea that some of these conversations are taking place in many of our nation’s classrooms. Of course the Texas Legislature and others across the country say they want to talk about history but insist it must be taught in a way that preserves the system and emphasizes “the founding principles that have made Americans so special”. In other words, it must be white washed history if it is to proceed.
With the historic Biden presidential visit to commemorate the centennial Tulsa Race Massacre, more of the country is finally learning more about this country’s long history of inhumane racist actions, particularly from the 1870s to the 1920s. The list is long, and there is an excellent book on the subject, The War of the Races: How a Hateful Ideology Echoes Through American History.
In fact, it was the Washington Post along with the police that helped stir up anger over an alleged “Negro fiend” attacking white women, according to Gillian Brockell, a staff writer for the Washington Post history blog, Retropolis. She has been at the Post since 2013, and wrote that things boiled over in Washington DC on July 19, 1919 with white police hunting Black men. The violence lasted for nearly a week before it was extinguished by a long summer rain. This was one of the few race riots in which more white people may have been killed by Blacks defending themselves (many were soldiers returning home from World War l) than Blacks murdered by white mobs.
This effort to ban critical race theory discussions has been embraced by conservatives who are concerned about how America has turned more attention to racial injustice and inequities in the past year. Of course, our ignoramus, White Nationalist past-President Donald J. Trump was ahead of the herd in 2020, when he directed the federal government to stop diversity and inclusion training that supported more honest discussions, calling them “propaganda.”
This attack on truth telling about America’s history is very much like the unmitigated attack on access to voting that is both brazen, undemocratic and uncompromising. History professor Trinidad Gonzalez rightly says, “The present and past are interconnected. That is history.”
If this country retreats from a true reckoning on race, that would be shortsighted and ultimately a possible existential threat to the country in a rapidly-changing global world. The country’s adversaries and economic competitors could not be more pleased than to see this de facto multi racial nation tear itself apart because it thinks it can turn the clock back to our past status quo.
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