Juneteenth and Tulsa
Until recently for most of us, Tulsa, Oklahoma, was just a place on the map, Juneteenth was an unknown, the Civil War was not fought over slavery but over secession--and slavery ended with the Emancipation Proclamation. In high school history class slavery was mentioned in the lead-up to the Civil War, while the War itself was presented as a series of battles and campaigns. Reconstruction and Jim Crow were glossed over on the way to World War I. High school history as I remember it was taught as a series of wars--with scant attention to why we fought them.
A clearer, broader understanding of the truths of our sordid history of slavery and race-based suppression of human rights is breaking through in a flood--and it is high time for a reckoning. Last weekend, from June 19th until late Saturday night feels like a turning point in our re-education.
Juneteenth. Dates and holidays are markers, symbols of some varying level of collective consciousness. "Juneteenth commemorates the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation in Galveston by General Gordon Granger, almost two and a half years after the original announcement." The Civil War nominally ended with the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse on April 9, but Texas descended into anarchy, in part, because of resistance by white Southerners who had moved to Texas hoping to keep their human "property" even after the surrender of the Confederacy. General Granger's declaration on June 19 is a useful marker in a process with a complex social/cultural history (For detail read: "The Hidden History Of Juneteenth")
Juneteenth was thrust into the national consciousness this year by the Minneapolis Police' murder of George Floyd, the protests that followed, and Trump's original dogwhistle announcement he would hold his first political rally on June 19 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Trump was the man who said the white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville were "good people," seized on the Juneteenth date. Whether he and his handlers chose the date out of abysmal ignorance or with the intention of signaling to the racists, on whose support Trump's re-election depends, that he is happy to stick his thumb in the eye of black community. (Or whether the whole thing was contrived to take news attention away from Barr/Trump trying to rid themselves of the U.S. Attorney of the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York, a court pursuing multiple cases involving Trump.)
But beyond the Juneteenth Trump campaign dogwhistle, why is Tulsa significant? "In Tulsa, 99 years ago, on May 31st and June 1st, 1921, mobs of white residents attacked black residents and businesses of the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma. It has been called 'the single worst incident of racial violence in American history.' The attack, carried out on the ground and from private aircraft, destroyed more than 35 square blocks of the district—at that time the wealthiest black community in the United States, known as 'Black Wall Street'." The official death toll was 36, but modern estimates run as high as 300 dead. Archeologists had planned this year to investigate a local cemetery where accounts from the time suggest mass burials were made, but the effort is delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 was left out of the Amercan history texts and left out of the American conscience until only the last few years. We Americans are grappling once again with our shameful history of slavery, a history that did not cease with American Civil War, a history that is alive and thriving in events like the Charlottesville march, in parts of the local Spokane Republican Party (Cecily Wright and Northwest Grassroots), a history that lingers in both obvious and insidious way people of color have been treated in this country for all of the 155 years since the close of the American Civil War.
If you aren't acquainted with this history--and many of us still are not as familiar with it as we should be--multiple resources are listed below.
Keep to the high ground,
The opening scenes in the first episode of the 9 episode HBO Series Watchmen depicts the Tulsa Race Massacre. This TV series seems to be the way many young people first learn about the event. (The episodes that follow are NOT historical, but rather a dystopian, disturbing alternative history--food for thought.)
The death toll of the Los Angeles riots in 1992 in response to the acquittal of the L.A. Police officers recorded on video tape savagely beating Rodney King was likely a third of the death toll in Tulsa. The L.A. riots of 1992 are thoroughly reviewed in a documentary available on Netflix, LA 92. There are many parallels between the Rodney King and George Floyd stories. Contemplate how many similar events occurred but never reached public awareness before the era of videotape and cell phone video.
If you ever get the chance to visit Washington, D.C., plan to spend a day or more at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, https://nmaahc.si.edu/ It will change how you see the world.