By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
The United States of America does not have a long history, at least compared to other countries. Nevertheless, this relatively young country has a past riddled with triumph and success as well as pain and suffering. It is important to acknowledge both the good parts and the bad parts; to continue building a country that is resilient, not ignorant.
For many years, one particular event in this country’s history was ignored and overlooked. This event being the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. Recently, however, people across the nation are making sure that the Tulsa Race Massacre, and the horrific trauma it inflicted, are finally being acknowledged.
During the 20th century, the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma was a thriving Black community. According to CNBC, the neighborhood was brimming with Black entrepreneurial businesses and was considered a haven for African Americans living under Jim Crow. The community was named Black Wall Street and on May 31, 1921, it was burned to the ground.
A white mob descended upon Black Wall Street on May 31, 1921. Over 300 Black people were killed, as the mob burned and looted homes and businesses across 35 blocks. On June 1, 1921, Black Wall Street, the community and people were gone.
It is one of the deadliest massacres in recent history, but for years no one talked about it. In fact, Tulsa officials tried to cover it up, CNBC reported.
Today, three survivors remain; their names are Viola Fletcher, Hughes Van Ellis and Lessie Benningfield Randle.
Fletcher, 107, testified in front of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties on Wednesday, May 19. She detailed what happened that night.
“The neighborhood I feel asleep in that night was rich – not just in terms of wealth, but in culture, community and heritage,” she said.” My family has a beautiful home. We had great neighbors and I had friends to play with. I felt safe…Within a few hours, all of that was gone.”
Fletcher and her family lost everything. For Fletcher, leaving meant losing out an education and an opportunity for a better life.
“I am 107 years old and have never seen justice,” Fletcher said. “I pray that one day I will…The subcommittee has the power to lead us down a better path. I am asking that my country acknowledge what has happened to me. The trauma, the pain, the loss. And I ask that survivors and descendants be given a chance to seek justice.”
On Tuesday, June 1, President Joe Biden addressed Fletcher, Van Ellis and Benningfield Randle and the nation while marking the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre.
“For much to long, the history of what took place here was told in silence cloaked in darkness,” Biden said. “But just because history is silent, it doesn’t mean that it did not take place. And while darkness can hide much, it erases nothing. Some injustices are so heinous, so horrific, so grievous they can’t be buried no matter how hard people try.”
During his speech, Biden talked about the spark that fueled the flame for the massacre. A Black male teenager was sitting in jail awaiting his trial, he had been accused of attacking a white female teenager. This was an allegation perpetuated by the local newspaper.
A white mob approached the courthouse intending to lynch the young man, while a group of Black men went to protect him. It was there that the white mob was unleashed. They brutally murdered countless Black people, Biden recounted, and destroyed thousands of businesses and homes.
It’s only in recent years that this massacre is being taught in schools and written about in history books.
“We do ourselves no favors by pretending none of this every happened or doesn’t impact us today,” Biden said. “Because it does still impact us today. We can’t just choose to learn what we want to know and not what we should know. We should know the good, the bad, everything. That’s what great nations do.”
He continued, “And we’re a great nation. The only way to build a common ground is to truly repair and to rebuild. I come here to help fill the silence, because in silence, wounds deepen. As painful as this is, only in remembrance do wounds heal.”