Tulsa Race Massacre

Teaching Tulsa


When I was a kid, I was really good at history. It came naturally to me and was extremely easy. I didn’t even have to try.

I missed two weeks in high school from an illness and when I came back, my history teacher threw a surprise test for the entire class. But he said I was excused since I had missed two weeks. I didn’t care and said, “Give it to me.” I made a 100 on that test. In fact, I was the only kid in class to make a perfect score and our teacher came down hard on everyone else because they hadn’t missed two weeks. That didn’t make me popular, and all my classmates who had me in math asked, “How’d the stupid kid get 100?”

You see, history for me was like breathing. Everything else was a huge challenge, especially math. Math couldn’t have been more difficult for me if they taught it in Greek. I was OK in other subjects, especially with book assignments, but I was NOT a good student except in history. When kids in history class would ask what I did to become so smart, I’d say, “Obviously this is the only class we share.”

But I was good at history. History was always fascinating to me. It was never homework. Even during summers, I was checking out history books at the public library. I majored in history in college. I was a total geek with history and was capable of boring you for hours with historic details. Yet, I didn’t learn about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre until several years after I left school. Why is that?

I was mostly educated in the deep south but I did start in a Chicago suburb. I was taught about Harriet Tubman, Crispus Attucks, Frederick Douglas, George Washington Carver and Eli Whitney (that last one’s a test). I may have been told something about the Tuskegee Airmen but I know schools didn’t teach me about the Tuskegee Experiment. There was an emphasis on history from the white perspective.

Other than the one year I was forced to attend a Baptist private school (no black kids), my entire education was in desegregated public schools in Illinois, Louisiana, Georgia, and for a brief moment, California. I went to college in Mississippi. Not only was I never taught about the Tulsa Race Massacre, neither were my black classmates.

In college, there are courses on black history and of course, that’s something you choose to study. There was no black history before college.

I posted this cartoon on social media a few hours ago and asked if my readers had ever heard of the Tulsa Race Massacre when they were in school. I’ve received dozens of replies and only two have said yes, and one of them is a liar.

The Tulsa Race Massacre happened on May 31-June 1, 1921 when mobs of white residents attacked black residents and businesses in the Greenwood district. The district had the nickname “Black Wall Street” because it was the most prosperous black community in the nation at that time. Records are not exact because nobody wanted to tell the truth and hey, the same people who kept records are the same people writing history books. But over 800 black residents were hospitalized. Perhaps as many as 300 were murdered. Burned were homes, businesses, schools, churches, and municipal buildings. 10,000 black people were left homeless.

It started when a young man, black, Dick Rowland, was arrested for assaulting a young white girl. The details are murky, but witnesses said Rowland entered the elevator, tripped, and grabbed the arm of the girl who screamed. Rowland ran away and another white person called the police and reported it as an assault. Rowland was arrested the next day and the headline in the Tulsa Tribune said, “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in Elevator.” Later, the girl didn’t prosecute and the charges were dropped.

While Rowland was in jail, there was a rumor he was to be lynched and that hundreds of white men had surrounded the jail. A group of about 75 black men, some armed, went to the jail to protect him. The sheriff asked them to leave and assured them everything was under control. They were complying and leaving the area when a white man tried to take a gun away from a black man. A riot ensued, killing ten black men and two white. As word spread about that riot, a mob formed and made a bigger riot…and they took that bigger riot to Greenwood. It took the National Guard to declare martial law to end it.

For years, the city of Tulsa and state of Oklahoma worked to cover it up. In 1996, 75 years later, the state legislature authorized formation of the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. The commission discovered that the city conspired with the white mob.

Now, did you read about that in school or did you first hear of it when Donald Trump held a hate rally in Tulsa last year? There are black people in Tulsa who had never heard of the Tulsa Race Massacre until Donald Trump brought another angry white mob to Tulsa. And guess what. They killed Herman Cain.

Today I had lunch with my best friend who is about four years younger than I am. I asked him, another product of public schools, if he learned about the Tulsa Race Massacre in school. His reply was, “Hell no.” He first heard about it when Trump held his hate rally in Tulsa. My friend, by the way, is black. Our education system didn’t think it was important for either of us to learn about the Tulsa Race Massacre.

When you were taught about George Washington crossing the Potomac, you were being taught history. You weren’t being taught white history. But a lot of history was excluded because it was black history…or it made white people look bad. We need to teach Americans American history, no matter who the subjects are and no matter how much some people don’t want it told. We need to teach about the Trail of Tears, the internment of Japanese Americans, and the Tulsa Race Massacre.

Now, states are writing laws that teaching any history implying America is a racist country, is to be illegal. So, is teaching the Tulsa Race Riot to be considered teaching that America is a racist country, or just that it was a racist country? Is it illegal to teach the Tulsa Race Massacre in places like Tennessee?

Republicans across the country are claiming Critical Race Theory is racist, but what’s more racist than not teaching racist history? What’s more racist by not teaching about the racist massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921?

Racists covered up the Tulsa massacre for generations. They’re still covering it up. Yesterday, Republicans in Congress refused to create a commission to investigate an attack by another racist white mob. Some of them are describing the mob of white nationalist terrorists as tourists. Did we learn anything other than white conservatives are a bunch of racist fucks?

We need to thank Republicans for teaching us during the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre, that they’re still the same. And this is why we need to teach Critical Race Theory. Republicans are keeping this a racist country. Outlawing black history or anything that calls you a racist makes you more racist.

America was a racist country and it still is. We still have the electoral college system because we’re a racist country. Republicans can control Congress, even when fewer people vote for them than Democrats, because we’re a racist country. We have Mitch McConnell because we’re a racist country. A racist like Marjorie Taylor Greene has not been expelled from Congress because we’re a racist country. The Donald Trump presidency was only possible because we’re a racist country. There are white people feeling good about themselves for watching Green Book because we’re a racist country.

When I first heard of the massacre at Greenwood, and after I dived into it, I thought, “How could I, the smartest kid in my high school history class, go for so long without even hearing about this?”

The answer is: Because America is a racist country.

Correction: Lois Greene corrected me on Facebook, that Washington crossed the Delaware, NOT the Potomac. And I said I was good with history. That’s one of those things I did know but confused because he supposedly threw the dollar across the Potomac, though people here in Fredericksburg argue that was the Rappahannock. OK. I quit.

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