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Ninety Nine Years Ago Today

Updated: Aug 14, 2020

On the ninety ninth anniversary of the Tulsa Oklahoma race riot, I reflect on how issues of racism and violence remain alive and well in the United States of America. It seems we are still on this racially charged merry-go-round without any hope of an end. I lived through the civil rights movement in the sixties hoping the worst was over and for a few years it seemed to be. Recently, I heard someone say that at best, racism is a simmering pot in the USA. It never goes away but is constantly simmering and when some tragic incident occurs to bring the temperature up, it starts to boil. At worst it boils over. Sadly the temperature has gone up a lot in the past years with these heartbreaking killings of blacks. What makes it more alarming is most of the murders are happening at the hands of those paid by our taxes to be law enforcement officers. Some of these victims have been killed in their own homes. It seems that nowhere is safe. These men and women are not raging criminals but mostly innocent citizens losing their lives for no good reason. A couple of them did have some minor legal situations but nothing warranting deadly force or violence of any kind. For years now African Americans have endured the profiling police mentality and its consequential violence. The pot began to boil.

As we wade through the stress of the Covid-19 pandemic, simultaneously, we must deal with multiple shootings of innocent citizens causing the pot to boil over. I do not approve or condone the rioting and looting. It is counterproductive, accomplishing nothing but giving troublemakers and thieves an excuse to steal and destroy property. I too am outraged but looting and destroying property is not the solution or even an intelligent bid for justice and change. Most importantly, it is just plain wrong. Yet, I understand the overwhelming anger and frustration that ignites these frays of vandalism. It is no surprise things have come to this chaotic social juncture. Historically race riots have happened on both sides of the fence. As I read, listen and watch the news about peaceful protests, civil unrest and riots breaking out in my city and others, for me it is a tragic replay. I saw the decimation in certain areas resulting from riots in my city during the 1960s. Racial violence being nothing new has victimized different minorities like Native Americans, Jews and the Chinese to name a few. Long before I was born bigotry raged against African Americans was a normal way of life. Since the post reconstruction days, blacks were abused and they were not doing the rioting, burning and killing back then, they were the victims of white rioting mobs.

May 31, 1921, Tulsa Oklahoma's prosperous all-black Greenwood District suffered a massacre of innocent citizens leaving over ten thousand people injured and/or homeless, and approximately three hundred people dead although the death toll has been debated because of deliberate erroneous documentation in the aftermath. The number may be inaccurate since some bodies were burned to ashes among heaps of rubble and never found. Others were found but unidentifiable. It is thought some people were taken elsewhere, killed and disposed of outside Greenwood District. The incendiary incident for this horror was the supposed attack of a young white woman by a young black man; an accusation that was highly doubtful.

This tragedy is a major part of my two novels, Son of a Preacherman and its sequel, Greenwood and Archer. The story includes factual details of the 1921 Tulsa race riot woven among the fictional and a few factual characters. The research I did on this subject left me with a clinging indignation and sorrow that resurfaces when I hear about the killings and racial strife happening now. I'm praying for change but not with the politicians or for new laws and amended police department protocol. I pray for the power of God to fall on this nation and for the hearts of its people to be changed. Only when the hearts of men change will racial strife really be conquered and that ever-present racial pot will stop simmering.

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