Monday, May 31, 2021

A Most Bizarre Memorial Day

 I've long had a jaundiced view of Memorial Day, a day which is supposed to be marked by solemnity, but in actuality is a time for trips to the beach and boozy cookouts... which is perfectly natural, given the paucity of paid holidays in the American calendar.

This particular Memorial Day is particularly strange, it being the one-hundredth anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre.  This horrific event saw Black Americans attacked by a racist mob which eventually killed perhaps as many as three-hundred persons and destroyed Greenwood, the most prosperous African American neighborhood in the United States, a neighborhood which was characterized as 'Black Wall Street'.  Ironically, much of Greenwood's prosperity was rooted in racial segregation- since African-Americans were not allowed to shop in White neighborhoods, Black entrepreneurs were able to grow large businesses by catering to Black customers.  

As is typical of many of these incidents, the Tulsa Massacre kicked off when a White woman, Sarah Page, accused a Black man, Dick Rowland of sexual impropriety.  A White mob sought to lynch Rowland,  prompting Black supporters gather around the courthouse in his defense, an armed conflict ensued, and then the indiscriminate attacks on African-American persons, and their businesses, began.  In the course of the attack, the first aerial firebombing of a city, and the only firebombing of an American city, occurred... an aerial firebombing committed by White Americans on African-American civilians.  By the next day, the prosperous Greenwood community was destroyed.

This event was scrubbed from local White newspapers (the offices of the two Black newspapers were burned to the ground) and hidden from the public eye.  Two African-American women documented the massacre and preserved the narrative which had been suppressed by the White establishment.  Oddly enough, the massacre first received widespread attention when it was depicted in an HBO drama based on a comic book.  Personally, I don't remember studying it in high school history, but became aware of it when a commission to study it was formed in the 1990s.

It's impossible not to conclude that the Tulsa Massacre, though supposedly predicated on an accusation of sexual assault, was really inspired by White outrage that there was a thriving Black community on their doorstep.  These Blacks were living above their station, so a backlash had to be organized, no matter how flimsy the evidence of a crime was.  The wounds resulting from the massacre linger a century later, with memories of slain relatives and the destruction of generational wealth.

Right wing pundits like to blame intergenerational poverty in the Aftican-American community on Black pathologies, but the reality is that intergenerational poverty in the Aftican-American community is a product of White pathologies.  On this Memorial Day, memorialize those slain in Tulsa, and weep for the fact that, a century later, the same forces of white supremacy and racism are still prevalent in These Here United States.


The Sophist said...

this is fascinating:
"His arrest sparked the Tulsa Race Massacre. Then Dick Rowland disappeared."

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Thanks for the link. I would have disappeared, too, the survivor's guilt must have been unbearable.