The Conversation - 27 East

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Southampton Press / Opinion / Letters / 1705862

The Conversation

We are at a pivotal place in this country: In order to heal, the truth must be revealed. And this is not the time to case blame or to hide in shame. As I’ve said many times in the past: It’s time for The Conversation.

A lot has been said about the looters and rioters over the last few months. I’ve heard and read very strong statements criticizing how senseless and horrific looters and rioters destroyed the city. I just want us to look again. This is a part of our history that appears to have been left out.

Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1921. A wave of racial violence destroys an affluent African American community seen as a threat to white-dominated American capitalism. Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street” flourished as a self-contained hub in the early 1900s. Greenwood Avenue featured luxury shops, restaurants, movie theaters, a library, pool halls and nightclubs — all owned by blacks.

Before the Tulsa Race Massacre — when the city’s black district of Greenwood was attacked by a white mob, resulting in two days of bloodshed and destruction — the area had been considered one of the most affluent African American communities in the United States. It has been called “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history.”

Accounts vary on what happened between Sarah Page and Dick Rowland in the elevator of the Drexel Building. Yet, as a result of the Tulsa Tribune’s racially inflammatory report, black and white armed mobs arrived at the courthouse. Scuffles broke out, and shots were fired.

Since the blacks were outnumbered, they headed back to Greenwood. But the enraged whites were not far behind, looting and burning businesses, and 9,000 people were left homeless.

This “modern, majestic, sophisticated and unapologetically black” community boasted of “banks, hotels, cafés, clothiers, movie theaters, and contemporary homes.” Not to mention luxuries such as “indoor plumbing and a remarkable school system that superiorly educated black children.”

Undoubtedly, less fortunate white neighbors resented their upper-class lifestyle. As a result of a jealous desire “to put progressive, high-achieving African Americans in their place,” a wave of domestic white terrorism caused black dispossession. Black Wall Street did not fit into the negative stereotype proclaimed.

The owners of Black Wall Street had indeed “pulled themselves up by the boot straps.” They were not on welfare milking the government. They were definitely not drug dealers and gang bangers.

So let’s move forward in the truth revealed to heal our nation. To heal our souls. Listening, learning, accepting and applying.

It’s time for The Conversation.

Brenda Simmons

Executive Director

Southampton African American Museum

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