What was the Tulsa race massacre?

TODAY marks the 100th year since the Tulsa Race Massacre that reportedly changed the black community of the Oklahoman city. 

This event will be remembered today throughout a whole month of events including a reconciliation symposium, revealing the Greenwood Art Project, and a candlelight vigil that will be held in memory of those who died in the massacre, according to NBC News.

What was the Tulsa Race Massacre?

Mobs of white people went on Greenwood Avenue in Tulsa, Oklahoma to destroy Black-owned homes and shops and killed dozens of black people in 1921. 

Many structures of Greenwood were demolished in what became historically known as the Tusla Race Massacre.

“People was getting killed and seemed like they were breaking in people's homes and taking … some of their valuables,” Viola Fletcher, one of the massacre’s survivors told NBC News this week. “But just ransacking the neighborhood, you know, damaging most everything that the Black people had.”

Why did the Tulsa Race Massacre Happen?

It is reportedly believed that the massacre happened for a number of reasons.

Factors that contributed to this incident included racism, jealousy over successful black-owned businesses, and the urge of railroads and industrialists to seize more land in which the community resided, NBC News reported.

Other reasons included the expansion of the Ku Klux Klan and the former newspaper the Tulsa Tribune which published racist stories and headlines. 

What was destroyed during the Tulsa Race Massacre?

Greenwood was a place that represented a successful Black economy and progress. 

It included Black-owned groceries, shoe shiners, tailors, theaters, medical and accounting offices, schools, and a 35-square-black district that Booker T-Washington called “The Negro Wall Street of America.”

Those features of economic prosperity that Greenwood was famous for were destroyed during the massacre as white rioters looted and set fires to stores and businesses and destroyed at least 1,250 black homes.

The massacre left 35 city blocks in ruins and over 800 people injured, according to a post by the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum.

Around $1.5million to $2million (which is equal to $25million today) worth of damages were incurred due to the massacre, historian Hannibal B. Johnson told NBC News. Johnson wrote four books about the Greenwood Avenue district.

How many people died in the Tulsa Massacre? 

Official records stated that 37 people were killed during the massacre.

But many historians and Black people in Tulsa reportedly estimated that the massacre took away around 300 lives as the missing bodies were thrown in the Arkansas River, a previous report by NBC News revealed.

Where are some of the survivors now?

There are three Tulsa Race Massacre survivors who are alive today including Fletcher who is now 107 and her brother Hughes Van Ellis who is now 100 years old.

“It sticks in my mind. I wake up about four times a night, you know. Some nights, I’ll stay woke, say, 30, 40 minutes till I can lay back down,” Van Ellis told NBC News. 

Fletcher who was seven at the time said that she heard people saying that everyone needs to leave town because white rioters are “killing all the Black people.”

Fletcher and her family escaped the violence and chaos that took the streets of Greenwood in Tulsa and reportedly ended up living in a tent in the woods.

I will never forget the violence of the white mob when we left our home. I still see Black men being shot and bodies in the street. I still see Black businesses being burned. I hear the screams. Our country may forget this history, but I cannot. I will not,” ” Fletcher told NBC News. 

“I have never made much money in my country. The state (and) city took a lot from me. Most of my life I was a domestic server serving white families. To this day, I can barely afford my everyday needs,” she added.

In 2020, a reparations lawsuit was filed alleging that the state of Oklahoma and Tulsa are held accountable for this incident, Tulsa County District Court records revealed.

The lawsuits represent one of the last survivors Lessie Benningfield Randle, and others.

Fletcher addressed Capitol Hill lawmakers for the first time earlier in May about the trauma and damage caused by the massacre, NPR reported.

President Joe Biden is expected to visit Tulsa on June 1 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the massacre.

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