How the Tulsa Massacre spent most of the last century without remembering – NBC Bay Area
When the smoke cleared in June 1921, the death toll in the Tulsa, Oklahoma massacre was catastrophic: dozens of lives were lost, homes and businesses burned, a thriving black community ravaged by mobs. white.
The nightmare drew attention, as something to study and commemorate, with speeches, statues, and anniversary commemorations.
But the horror and violence inflicted on Tulsa’s black community is not part of American history. Instead, he was pushed down, with no memory and no education until efforts decades later began to bring him to light. And even this year, with the recognition of the 100th anniversary of the massacre, it’s still an unknown story to many – what historians say has wider repercussions.
“The consequences of this are kind of a lie that we collectively tell ourselves about who we are as a society, who we have been historically, it erects some of these things as aberrations, as exceptions to what we mean more by the society. as endemic or intrinsic parts of American history, ”said Joshua Guild, associate professor of history and African American studies at Princeton University.
Indeed, the history of the United States is filled with dark events – often involving racism and racial violence – that have not been incorporated into the national fabric. Many involved black Americans, whose massacre of the Tulsa race is considered one of the most egregious in its absolute destruction, but other racial and ethnic communities were also affected.
Americans who are unaware of these events or do not recognize the full significance of the history of the conflict-ridden country have impacts that continue to reverberate, Guild said.
The 1921 Tulsa Running Massacre Centennial Commission on Friday inaugurated a new history center honoring Black Wall Street and those killed in the 1921 massacre.
“If we don’t understand the nature of the harm… we can’t really have a clear idea of the possibility of any form of reparation,” he said.
Manisha Sinha, professor of American history at the University of Connecticut, agreed.
“It’s really important for Americans to learn from the past because you can’t even understand some of our current political divisions and ideas unless you realize that this conversation about the nature and parameters of American democracy is a long, ”she said.
Terrible events that many Americans don’t know include ancient history, such as the attack on Snake River in Oregon in 1887, where up to 34 Chinese gold miners were killed, and the 1864 Sand Creek massacre. of about 230 Cheyenne and Arapaho. people by US soldiers in Colorado. Others are in the lives of many Americans living today, such as the 1985 Philadelphia police bombing the house that housed the black organization MOVE, killing 11 people.
Strange as it may sound, the mere fact that something happened is not enough to be remembered, said Robin Wagner-Pacifici, professor of sociology at the New School for Social Research, who wrote on the MOVE bombing.
“You can never assume, whatever the magnitude of an event in terms of literal impact on a number of people, that it will be framed and recognized and move forward in time, in memory, by future audiences. or state or political apparatus. forces, ”she said.
In Oklahoma, the massacre was largely not discussed until a commission was formed in 1997 to investigate the violence. For decades, public schools across the state have referred to it as the Tulsa Race Riot, when it was discussed. Students are now invited to consider the differences between calling it a “massacre” or a “riot”.
The way an event is presented can make a difference, said Wagner-Pacifici. This could include whether it is related to other historical moments and which parts are emphasized or downplayed.
“All kinds of political forces and actors will sort of intervene, to try to name it and claim it, either in order to reduce its impact or to broaden it in its impact,” she said.
She cited a current example: the murderous January 6 insurgency by a predominantly white mob at the United States Capitol. Some Republicans have tried to downplay or even deny the violence, and GOP senators on Friday blocked the creation of a bipartisan group to investigate the attack.
In Tulsa, a news of unrest that began on May 31, 1921 and lasted all night and the next was broadcast in the media. Front page articles and Associated Press stories spoke of “racial clash” and “armed conflict”. But the aftermath – of a broken community – was relegated to the inside pages at best before being swept under the carpet.
In one example, a story weeks later, well within the pages of the New York Times, incidentally reported that an Oklahoma grand jury had determined that the disaster was due to the actions of armed blacks and that the whites who were are involved were not at fault. .
It just shows that remembering isn’t just about remembering, Wagner-Pacifici said.
“It’s always motivated,” she said. “Who remembers the past, who can remember a past, bring it back to life and in what ways … this is absolutely fundamental for who you decide you want to be the present.”