As we approach the 100th anniversary of the worst race riot in America’s history, it seems we have learned nothing.
Removing racism begins with restoration. Instead, what we see is rehearsing and re-enforcing of the past.
Racism: have we learned anything?
Tulsa, Oklahoma was once home to the most prosperous African-American community in America, the Greenwood District. Dubbed by Booker T. Washington as “Negro Wall Street,” it was later renamed “Black Wall Street.”
According to History.com, it was comprised of luxury shops, restaurants, grocery stores, hotels, jewelry and clothing stores, movie theaters, barbershops/salons, a library, pool halls, night clubs, and offices for doctors, lawyers and dentists.
Less affluent African-Americans lived there as well and worked as janitors, dishwashers and domestics. It had its own school system, post office, bank and hospital. Money earned outside of Greenwood was spent within the district, where every dollar changed hands approximately nineteen times before it left the community.
But on May 31, 1921, everything changed.
According to Tulsa author Janice Ponds, “Greenwood was ravaged by a white mob. A black teen shoe shiner was accused of sexually assaulting a white female elevator operator. The story spread quickly and almost immediately escalated to violence.
The shoe shiner was jailed. As word circulated of plans to lynch him, a crowd showed up at the courthouse. A confrontation between the white community and black community quickly spread to the Greenwood District. In a mere eighteen hours, virtually every building in a forty-two-square-block area of the community was destroyed.
Homes, schools, churches and businesses were burned to the ground. Thousands were left homeless.
Over 1,200 homes were destroyed. Reports estimated 300 black Tulsans were killed and approximately 8,000 left homeless and penniless.”
Initially called the Tulsa Race Riot, the name was changed to the Tulsa Race Massacre in 2018.
At that time, Tulsa’s mayor, G.T. Bynum hired a task force to search for mass graves. To date, no mass graves have been found. But even if they were, how would it help?
There is no denying the tragedy of what happened. But is the discovery of mass graves going to help?
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Wouldn’t that money be better spent rebuilding and restoring what was stolen?
Tulsa historian Hannibal Johnson said in an interview regarding the horrific tragedy, “We can never reconcile unless we acknowledge our true history.”
Our history reveals that the prosperous Black Wall Street was decimated and never restored. Without insurance money, Greenwood became destitute.
Thousands of displaced families spent the winter of 1921-1922 living in tents. In the end, no charges were filed against the African-American teen. Although reports vary, it is believed he tripped and bumped into the female elevator operator, causing her to scream, leading to a sexual assault allegation.
The resulting news story sparked hysteria and a rampage for “justice.” The senseless assault that destroyed Black Wall Street was based upon a lie.
Two years ago, Tulsa mayor, G.T. Bynum, initiated a restoration process. Two large tracts of land in North Tulsa, where Black Wall Street was, were set aside for “Opportunity Zones,” created under the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
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An Opportunity Zone is “an economically-distressed community where private investments, under certain conditions, may be eligible for capital-gains tax incentives, with the goal to stimulate economic development and job creation, by incentivizing long-term investments in low-income neighborhoods.”
This perfectly describes the area previously known as Black Wall Street.
I think it is important for investors to recognize that while there are plenty of investment opportunities, what makes this unique is it plays a part in righting a historical wrong. Few of us get that kind of opportunity in a lifetime.Tulsa Mayor, G.T. Bynum
Over the last three years, Bynum has also focused economic development efforts to bring employers to North Tulsa, fostering growth in investment, quality jobs and job training. To date over a billion dollars in private money has been poured into the area.
“One of the great tragedies, if you look at the historic Greenwood area today, is that there are very few African-American-owned businesses. Our goal is to create the infrastructure that promotes a new generation of black entrepreneurship to occur,” Bynum concluded.
It is with these type efforts of restoration and rebuilding that we can begin to heal.
Rehearsing the past, reinforces offense. I’m not saying we ignore the 100th anniversary at all. However, intelligence reports reveal that the Black Panthers/Antifa/BLM plan to come to Tulsa the weekend of the anniversary. We have seen what their efforts in others cities have produced.
It doesn’t uproot racism, it reinforces it.
We also now have the push for critical race theory to be taught in our schools. It does the same. At its root it teaches children to judge one another based on skin color and shames those who are white.
How is this any different than the fear and prejudice of a hundred years ago which shamed black children for being black and created fear? The program doesn’t remove racism. It simply fuels it with the same spirit of hate and offense.
Racism is being redressed, relived and reformatted. But it needs to be uprooted.
As we acknowledge our history, may we begin a long overdue process to bring reconciliation and healing not only to Tulsa, but to our nation, as what was destroyed is given a chance to be restored.
Note: There are more than 8,760 designated Qualified Opportunity Zones located in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and five United States territories. Investors can defer tax on any prior gains invested in a Qualified Opportunity Fund (QOF) until the earlier of the date on which the investment in a QOF is sold or exchanged or until December 31, 2026.