Professor Alaina E. Roberts’ new book, “I’ve been here forever: Black freedom on Indigenous landsExplores reconstruction, identity and race through narrative threads that follow the history of his family and America.
“I tell this story, a unification of black, native and white narratives, not only as a historian but also as a descendant of the four peoples: the white settlers, the freed Indians, the African Americans of the United States and indigenous members of tribal nations. On the one hand, it fills me with pride to think about the resilience of my ancestors Chickasaw and Choctaw, who forced their way into a new land and made it an opportunity to create politically strategic and economically prosperous nations. And I feel honored to own the rare legacy of historic black land ownership on the Roberts side of my family, ”she wrote in the book’s introduction.
As one can imagine, this land ownership was heavy. After their emancipation, his father’s family created Robertsville, a Métis community of blacks and aboriginals in the southern Oklahoma region that would later become the town of Ardmore. The family had an informal arrangement with their native neighbors so that they could travel freely in the area. There they took root and built a church, but they could not escape racial violence.
“The unrest at Ardmore, too small to be even a footnote in Oklahoma history, and the 1921 Tulsa race massacre that followed shortly thereafter, as well as the changes in the Economic and political opportunities available to black and indigenous peoples during this period were signals that times in this corner of the West had radically changed for the worse, ”writes Roberts.
Ahead of the centenary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, Pittwire offers this book excerpt, which describes the preparations and aftermath of this brutal event.
Although the KKK was active in the West and served as a living and breathing representation of the export of white racism from the south to Indian territory, Oklahoma escaped the red summer of 1919 (a year that saw lynchings and massive destruction of black property by whites in places like Chicago, Atlanta, Omaha and Montgomery) without a major incident of racial violence.
But as the 20th century progressed, Oklahoma became a hotbed of white racial resentment, primarily around the economic gains of blacks and Indians from natural resources found on their land allotments. In 1921, the concurring claims made to Oklahoma land by whites, Indians and people of African descent were a powder keg that exploded in a brutal episode of mass racial terrorism in Tulsa.
First a hunting ground in Osage, then a town in Creek, before the Civil War, Tulsa’s oil production had been a source of inconvenience to native settlers, infiltrating water holes and land agricultural. But once the technology for exploiting the resource was created, Tulsa became a place where oil speculators bought large plots of land from the citizens of Creek, and the population grew exponentially, from one town to the next. from less than 1,000 to a city of 35,000 after WWI. Businesses owned by whites, people of African descent, and Native Americans provided oil workers with mining supplies, laborers, and scientists. A part of Tulsa defined by its all-black businesses, called the Greenwood District, became colloquially known as “Black Wall Street” due to the financial success of rooming houses, movies, grocery stores, repair shops. automotive and dentists. offices that lined its avenues. It is these very accomplishments that have long aroused the envy of whites in the community. These white settlers retaliated by using the pretext of the alleged assault of an African-American man against a white woman – a common excuse for violence – to slaughter more than a hundred black women and men.
On May 30, 1921, an African-American teenager named Dick Rowland had some sort of interaction with a white teenage elevator operator, which caused the operator to scream. While it is doubtful that elevator operator Sarah Page was sexually assaulted, it was the story that quickly spread to Tulsa, making its way into the afternoon newspaper of the next day.
On May 31, whites reacted, inciting friends and family to violence under the guise of revenge from white women; The Black Tulsans rushed to protect their property and the now imprisoned Dick Rowland. This prison rush was seen as an “attack” by whites and, in fact, as an unacceptable assertion of their rights by African Americans. In return, the Whites of Tulsa razed a thousand different black homes and businesses, while murdering indiscriminate women, men and children; they fired enthusiastically, screaming as if they were at a carnival or some other place of entertainment.
As blacks ran, fleeing fires, gunfire and beatings by civilians, police and national guards, they encountered atrocious acts of violence. BC Franklin described seeing a woman running down the street in a hail of bullets in search of her lost child; she survived to tell the story. A group of three black men were not so lucky; as they tried to cross the street, all three were shot down by more than a dozen bullets.
Oldest victim BC said, [a trunk he was holding] and cried out and fell sprawling onto the cobblestone street. Blood gushed out of every wound and flowed down the street. I turned my head away from the stage. BC and other witnesses also saw buildings catch fire from above, betraying the use of planes to rain burning ruins from above, showing the power and influence of the Whites involved in this organized terrorism. British Columbia barely escaped his life.
By June 1, the white mob had destroyed millions of dollars in property, the majority of which would never be fully recovered, and killed an estimated 100 to 300 African Americans. Many survivors were left homeless, and the city and various insurance companies denied their property claims, leaving them without restitution.
In the process, postcards depicting the carnage circulated in the white community, celebrating the desolation caused by white supremacy and settler colonialism.
The word “riot,” used to describe many historical incidents like the one in Tulsa, suggests that blacks and whites were also involved in the destruction and belies the fact that this was a very deliberate targeting of black success. .
Skewed accounts of the violence emerged almost immediately. The June 5 edition of the New York Times featured an article about the African Blood Brotherhood, an organization in Tulsa dedicated to black empowerment and self-defense. Perhaps by deliberately choosing an organization known for its assertive stance in response to white violence, The Times asked why the group “does not encourage its members to go to court to correct their grievances.” Brotherhood chief executive Cyril V. Briggs replied, “The Negro has long since lost faith in the ‘white man’s justice to the Negro’.”
The June 2 edition of [Arkansas’] Prescott Daily News reported that 85 had died after a race riot in “the Negro Quarter”. While the article mentioned that “many negroes had been burned alive in their homes” and that “the black refugees [had] fled to the country surrounding Tulsa [after] attacked by armed bands (sic) of whites ”, the newspaper still attributed“ the riot ”to the“ 200 armed negroes ”. [who] stormed the courthouse to free Dick Rowland ”; the caption of the story read: “Troops recover from appalling racial clashes – black agitators accused of disastrous riots.” The document did not clarify that he was, in fact, the entity accusing African Americans.
Always resilient, the people of Black Tulsa have rebuilt themselves, though the city has tried to smother them by imposing new laws requiring buildings to be taller and made of fire-retardant materials. After lawyers, including BC Franklin, succeeded in having this law struck down, nearly 800 new structures were erected, and in 1925 the district’s rebirth was baptized when it hosted the annual conference of the National Negro Business. League. But the capital needed for reconstruction after the effects of destruction of property and the emotional and social trauma transmitted by the incidences of racial terror are two major causes, often overlooked by the mainstream media, of the retarded economic development of so many black communities. . Money, lives, and opportunities that were lost can never be reclaimed, and this is one of the ways the colonial state of the settlers undermines non-white peoples, rendering them unable to compete with the settlers. white people on an equal footing.
This 1921 event became known as the Tulsa Race Riot. The word “riot,” used to describe many historical incidents like the one in Tulsa, suggests that blacks and whites were also involved in the destruction and belies the fact that this was a very deliberate targeting of black success. . The people of Tulsa called it a massacre rather than a riot.
The Tulsa Race Massacre destroyed not only black (literal) wealth, but also Oklahoma’s black memory of self-sufficiency, economic success, and racial coalition. The massacre was not taught in Oklahoma schools, nor was the awe-inspiring reality of Black Wall Street. It was neither the first nor the last act of racial violence committed by whites against black women and men living in the ancient space of Indian territory. But as the greatest destruction of black wealth in the region (and, according to economic historians, the country) and the deadliest in American history, the massacre of the Tulsa race represents the end of the biggest portrayal. of what blacks have been able to build economically and socially in indigenous spaces and under tribal jurisdiction within their extensive reconstruction. The attributions of the freed Indians, hard earned as a result of a life of slavery, but also thanks to the participation in the colonial process of the settlers, gave them economic autonomy and, for some, incredible wealth thanks to natural resources. Angry that land ownership hampered some of Jim Crow’s effects, whites decimated black businesses, homes, and dreams in Tulsa’s Greenwood district.
While this might be a cliché, it is truly blood, sweat and tears that the Roberts family carved out for themselves after emancipation. This space was a rare piece of land belonging to a black family who would retain possession of it over the generations and to this day. It enabled a community to provide itself with food and infrastructure for institutions, such as a church and a cemetery. It is reminiscent of black self-determination, just like the many black towns dotted around Oklahoma.