Tulsa Massacre Survivors Remember Greenwood Before White mob “Tore it All Down”
The Tulsa massacre took place 100 years ago, but it’s still clearly ingrained in the minds of survivors Viola Fletcher, 107 (age 7 at the time) and Lessie Benningfield Randle, 106.
A once-prosperous section of Tulsa that became the site of one of the worst race riots in American history is attempting to remake itself again after decades of neglect. Black leaders want to bring 100 new companies to the former Black Wall Street in north Tulsa by 2021, the 100th anniversary of its fall. The centenarians described to CBS News the affluent neighborhood of Greenwood, known at the time as “Black Wall Street,” before it was destroyed by a White mob in a two-day attack that resulted in about 300 deaths.
“We had friends and played outside and visited with neighbors and was happy there with our parents. Just loved being there,” Fletcher, 107, told “CBS This Morning” co-host Gayle King.
Benningfield Randle, 106, recalled: “It was getting to be a pretty nice place,” she recalled. “They had theater and they had other places of recreation, and they had churches.”
But between May 31 and June 1, 1921, “They came in and tore it all down,” Benningfield Randle said.
Greenwood: 100 Years Later.
Black People Press On
Founding CEO, Atlas Strategy Group
The Greenwood community in Tulsa, Mississippi, the most well-known of the “Black Wall Streets” across the nation, is a community where Black excellence resonated throughout the streets. Black people built their own businesses and invested in their neighbor’s success so that everyone would rise together. This united success led to one of the most prosperous Black communities in the United States in the 1910s and early 1920s.
Then came the greatest single-day massacre leading to 300 dead and thousands of lives damaged forever.
Yes, you can read the history of Greenwood, but, this massacre’s full details and impact has largely gone untold in our classrooms, our country, and even within Tulsa itself.
On May 31st 1921, one hundred years ago, Black Wall Street was set on fire, bombed by airplanes, and decimated by a white local mob with the backing of Tulsa leadership. The impetus for this attack was rooted in the ALLEGATION that a Black man assaulted a white woman, later proven to be untrue.
Not only was this the first attack of American citizens on U.S. soil, but, it was one of the worst episodes of racial violence in U.S. History. For two days, more than 300 Black people were killed, 40 blocks of businesses and homes were burned to the ground, and the bodies of the dead were tossed into a river or into mass graves. Their actual location for most is still not known today.
This devastating tragedy is a part of America’s long history of attacks on Black people. Last week, the survivors, Ms. Lessie Benningfield Randle, a 106-year-old woman, Ms. Viola Fletcher, a 107-year-old woman, and Mr. Hughes Van Ellis, a 100-year-old man, testified to Congress about what they saw and what they survived.
Viola Ford Fletcher, 107, who was 7 at the time said, “I have lived through the massacre every day. Our country may forget this history, but I cannot.”
Lessie Benningfield Randle, 106, said, “People in positions of power, many just like you, have told us to wait. Others have told us it’s too late. It seems that justice in America is always so slow, or not possible for Black people. And we are made to feel crazy just for asking for things to be made right.”
It is time for us all to make this right. This history cannot be buried, and, we won’t let it be ignored. It is still the story of countless Black citizens today, and, the memories of Black citizens murdered must be more than hashtags. This violence against Black people must end.
It is Memorial Day, and, we honor those members of the armed service who have fallen protecting our nation. Let us equally take this time to learn the origin of the holiday.
The extraordinary Attorney Ben Crump pointed out: “Newly liberated Black people in Charleston created Memorial Day to honor Black soldiers for their courage and tenacity after they fought on the frontlines of the Civil War.”
From lives lost at war to lives taken in the streets, let us honor the memories of all of those who have fallen, by committing to breaking all racist, discriminatory, supremacist and divisive behavior, policies, and actions.
On this 100th Anniversary of the Greenwood Massacre and on this annual Memorial Day, I encourage you to learn more about what happened in Tulsa and also to support three transformational causes to help Black people:
- The Black Wall Street app and project, led by actor and philanthropist Hill Harper
- The Black Bank Fund, led by St. Louis, Mo. Mayor Tishaura Jones.
Both are exemplary efforts dedicated to generating Black wealth and empowering the Black community.