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A BLACK WALL STREET LIVING MEMORIAL

Apr 25th, 2010 by James Breedlove | 0

On April 19, 2010 hundreds of survivors and family members of the victims gathered at the Oklahoma City National Memorial to mark the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing.  The bombing, a devastating act of domestic terrorism killed 168 people, including 19 children, and injured more than 600 others.  Television coverage burned images of the catastrophe into the nation’s psyche with chilling photos of bodies being removed from the ruble.

As in previous years, the fifteenth anniversary memorial service began at 09:02 a.m., marking the moment the bomb went off.  The somber service included speeches by local, state and federal dignitaries.

Perhaps the most touching and poignant part of the service was the roll call reading by relatives of the names of each person who died in the blast.

Following the ceremony, many of the family members passed in a solemn procession by the memorial’s 168 empty memorial chairs.  They paused near a large American elm dubbed “The Survivor Tree” because it withstood the blast 15 years ago. Under a state law signed this month, the bombing and its aftermath will become a regular part of history classes in Oklahoma’s schools.  Most of the media reported the Oklahoma City bombing as the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil at that time.

However, another terrorist attack goes virtually unnoticed and unmemorialized.  Approximately 106 miles northeast of Oklahoma City during the course of some 18 hours on May 31-June 1, 1921, the city of Tulsa erupted, fueled by a firestorm of terrorism and violence perpetrated by a white mob hell bent on ethnic cleansing.  Entire Black neighborhoods were destroyed; an estimated 300 blacks were killed, more than one thousand homes were burned to the ground, leaving over 9,000 people homeless.

In all, some 40 square blocks were laid to waste including the city’s thriving Black commercial Greenwood district.  Dubbed the “Negro Wall Street,” Greenwood was an economic powerhouse.

The rigid segregation of the time forced Tulsa’s Blacks to create their own business district.  However, the white Tulsa business owners began to feel resentment.  White residents of Tulsa referred to the area north of the Frisco railroad tracks as “Little Africa” and other derogatory names. They were threatened by the success of the African American community and worried that the community might continue to grow.

The thriving “Negro Wall Street” that was giving blacks a sense of independence and self-determination was a festering keg of dynamite.  The match that ignited the riot was an alleged assault of a white woman by an African American man that was published in the Tulsa Tribune.

The Greenwood businesses destroyed were some of the finest in the country;  21 restaurants, 30 grocery stores, 21 churches, two theaters, banquet halls, recreation facilities, a hospital, two newspapers, a black bus line, schools, libraries, hotels, and professional buildings that housed doctors, lawyers, dentists and realtors.  Over 600 businesses destroyed making a surreal wasteland.  The total property loss was estimated at 1.5 million dollars; a staggering amount in 1921.

One observer who visited Tulsa following the conflagration wrote, “in terms of sheer brutality and willful destruction of life and property, this orgy of mayhem and murder stands without parallel in America.” Not one white person was ever arrested or charged for the Tulsa Massacre.

The president of the Tulsa chamber of commerce furnished news associations across the country with a press release stating, “…as quickly as possible rehabilitation will take place and reparations made.”

But the reality of rehabilitation and restitution never materialized.  Tulsa’s white leaders secretly plotted to do precisely the opposite of their promises. A conspiracy of silence evolved, key documents disappeared, and white business and political leaders at the state and federal levels worked feverishly to sweep the massacre beneath the carpet of history.

The Black community of Tulsa attempted to revive Greenwood during the ‘30s and ‘40s without the promised help.  They were partially successful, but, less than a decade later, dissected by highways, emptied by suburban drift, and rebuffed by officials at every turn, the revival efforts finally succumbed.

All that remains of the magnificent vision and entrepreneurial determination that created “the Negro Wall Street” is a single gentrified block of Greenwood Avenue, surrounded by new urban-renewal projects, a new university complex, and a new cultural center that houses a jazz museum.

As an historical foot note, some historians feel that Adolf Hitler and the Germans based their plan for their “final solution” to the Jewish problem on America’s treatment of Blacks between 1914 and 1935.

A fitting monument to honor Black America and its heroic Black martyrs would be to create working replicas of Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street” in urban communities across the nation.  These dynamic memorials, rising like a phoenix from the ashes, would be a living testament to the African-American men and women who in spite of the blatant inequalities of a separate but equal nation accomplished the unimaginable; transforming their dreams into reality.

Black America it is time to do it again.  In fact, it is past time.

James W. Breedlove

Comments or opinions may be sent to the writer at: www.truthclinic.com

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