Native History In Greenwood And Elsewhere Ignored
As Tulsa and Greenwood begin the process of coming together and recognize the history of what happened to the old black Wall Street 100 years ago, they would be remiss to leave out the story of Native Americans. There is the story of what we think we know and there is the story we know is true. Both may well be wrong, and it is a good time to tell the truth.
From the outside eye or the colonial perspective Greenwood was a thriving neighborhood that created wealth unheard of in Jim Crow America. How could this be where the story was told of a deliberate jealous assault on a black community for economic reasons? Or was it a racial incident that mushroomed into a riot that resulted in the destruction of the Greenwood district? Or did the story start at the beginning of statehood when Creek Freedmen were settled in old Tulsey town and resulting oil riches sparked the economic boom that was Greenwood.
There is no denying that there was a healthy business district that stood in sharp contrast to many American cities in 1921. But was it Black Wall Street? Is that a moniker that is desirable or accurate? Wall Street at its early beginnings was a literal wall to keep Native Americans out and during Jim Crow days did not welcome black participation. There were other cities in the east who also claim the title of Black Wall Street. Where did black wealth come from?
Certainly, some wise and sound black businessmen did a good job of operating a wide variety of shops and services in the Greenwood area. However, a significant infusion of cash came from Creek Freedmen through their allotments in and around Greenwood. They hit oil and were wealthy by 1921 standards and they wisely invested their money in Greenwood. This fact should not be forgotten or diminished.
Getting Native history wrong is nothing new as this nation wrestles with its horrible past regarding race. Just last week, Senator Rick Santorum and CNN analyst said America was built on Christian Judeo principles and this land was a blank slate. He said there is no current evidence of Native culture. Those horrible and historically incorrect comments have created severe backlash against Santorum and CNN. There are calls from all over Indian Country for CNN to cut ties with Santorum.
The Osage Reign of Terror will reveal the widespread murders within the Osage Nation during the same days as the 1921 Race Massacre. Neither historical event is covered in Oklahoma history books and most people know little of either event. A $200 million dollar movie is being shot based on David Grann’s bestselling book The Killers of the Flower Moon.
Making sure these events are never forgotten will be the focus of the Center for Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation at OSU-Tulsa community-based initiative by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. This new effort will discuss the historical effects of racism in this nation. Native and black issues will be researched as well as ways to not only study the past but to look for solutions to form a more diverse and inclusive society.
Russell Westbrook’s new film Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre will air on Sunday, May 30 to kick off recognition of the 100-year anniversary. The actual massacre took place on May 31 and June 1, 1921. Westbrook an NBA star who once played for the OKC Thunder was shocked he knew nothing about the horrible event.
And what about the Greenwood district? Despite a renewed interest and what many describe as a gentrification of the area, the survivors of the massacre are desperately trying to hang on. The Greenwood Chamber of Commerce has been asking for assistance to repair the district buildings and to rebuild the district. However, the area appears to be slowly deteriorating and neglected while large investments encroach ever closer. The city of Tulsa is not only ignoring Greenwood, but they are also bending over backwards to help white investors.
To Native Americans, this is not unlike the celebration of the Land Runs, where little boys and girls can pretend to stake claim to already inhabited land. The beat goes on. It is so easy to disregard Native History, it seems like a non-issue. Ever felt that way about your own history? Insidious, isn’t it?
Racial Justice Still In Flux
The hopeful glow of the George Floyd decision has all but disappeared as equal justice is still a dream on a hill. Case in point; in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, Andrew Brown Jr., was killed as police tried to arrest him. Details are still a bit unclear, but there is enough there to raise some serious questions about the nature of his death. His family is certain he was executed as he died of multiple gun shot wounds to his arm and one in the back of his head. He reportedly was driving away and accused of trying to hit one of the officers. But no one knows because police cam videos are not being released.
The family even went to court and the judge ruled against the release and only allowed for one family member to view all the videos from all the officers. Why the limited release is unclear and has only triggered suspicion. If the police want to back up their claims complete transparency is the way to clear the air.
Arbery, a 25-year-old, was out for a jog near Brunswick, Georgia, on February 23, 2020, when he was chased down in a truck by three men and fatally shot. Two of the three men — Gregory and Travis McMichael — claimed to be conducting a citizen’s arrest and claimed he acted in self-defense.
A third man, William “Roddie” Bryan Jr., who recorded the video of Arbery’s death, allegedly hit Arbery with his truck after he joined the McMichaels in the chase. One must speculate that under President Joe Biden’s justice department this decision was reached-after President Donald J. Trump had sat on the decision.
The wheels of justice grind slowly but hopefully surely as America struggles with its original sin of a wildly unequal system of racial abuses.