Washington: The United States must pay reparations for the 1921 massacre of 300 Black Americans in Tulsa, Oklahoma in order to deliver justice and avoid reducing the tragedy to mere symbolism, civil rights advocates told Sputnik.
On May 31 and June 1, 1921, white mobs attacked a Black section of Tulsa, Oklahoma, leaving around 300 dead and 10,000 homeless, in one of the worst massacres in American history. The massacre occurred in Tulsa’s Greenwood District, also known as the Black Wall Street, then home to a prosperous African American community.
“I think it’s a good thing, that after 100 years, attention is being given to the massacre [but]… we must not make this symbolism,” civil rights activist Rev. Benjamin Chavis said. “We need substantive justice and the repatriation of property to descendants of those who were killed, victimized and lost property and land in 1921. There must also be financial repair and emotional repair.”
On Tuesday, US President Joe Biden in a speech marking the centenary of the tragic event, called it “an act of hate and domestic terrorism with a through-line to today,” citing the white nationalists who marched in Charlottesville in 2017 and the January 6 Capitol Hill riots.
Monique Gamble, an assistant political science professor at the University of the District of Columbia, said those who oppose reparations, such as Tulsa’s mayor G.T. Bynum, have not grappled with the history of racism against Black people.
“Outside of Native Americans, there has been no other racial group that has experienced the mob mentality and systematic attempts to destroy them than Black people have,” Gamble said. “Tulsa is the greatest example of what racism looks like. It is also the perfect example of why you’d pay reparations.”
Gamble said Black success in Tulsa illustrated the excellence, independence and self-sufficiency of African Americans when allowed to flourish unfettered.
“It also shows the rabid nature of white supremacy and racism and their role in destroying multiple Black communities,” Gamble said.
Edith Lee Payne, a Detroit resident and longtime social justice and civil rights activist, said watching a program about the massacre over the weekend angered her but stiffened her resolve to keep working and advocating for change.
“When you look at what happened then, it’s not much different today. Clearly, it shouldn’t happened. Taking a tally of what Black America has endured for 400 years, it’s an ongoing travesty,” Payne said. “The same thing happened in Paradise Valley, called ‘The Bottoms.’ They built a freeway through the community. It makes me very angry but reminds me of how strong we are. If all of that anger was ever unleashed, it would be the most horrifying event in this country’s history. But that hasn’t happened because we’re rooted and grounded in spiritual strength.”
Payne said these are “really perilous times” for America recounting militias storming the statehouse in Michigan and plotting to kill the governor and white nationalists and domestic terrorists overrunning and ransacking the US Capital on Jan 6.
“I see us moving into a more dangerous situation. We had people who don’t look like us storm the government and people in the halls of government protecting them,” she said. “We saw a preview in Michigan with the storming of the government here. This showed that there’s something wrong with America. Those who voted to not certify the election shouldn’t be allowed to work there [in Congress]. We have to regain control of our country. Conversations are over.”
Also on Tuesday, Biden met privately with three surviving members of the Tulsa massacre: Viola Fletcher, Hughes Van Ellis, and Lessie Benningfield, whose ages range from 101 to 107.