Sean Yoes

By Sean Yoes
AFRO Senior Reporter
syoes@afro.com

One hundred years ago this week thousands of White terrorists descended upon the wildly prosperous Black community of Tulsa Oklahoma known as “Black Wall Street” and murdered hundreds of Black men, women and children. They displaced about 10 thousand Black residents when they burned (and bombed) 35 square blocks to the ground. And in the process the massive White terrorist mob destroyed hundreds of Black businesses within the wealthiest Black community in America.

Yet, the White terrorist attack was not relegated to the ground. Private planes conducted an aerial attack against the people of Black Wall Street, including gunfire and firebombs. Several accounts indicate some of those planes were occupied by members of law enforcement. Photos capturing the physical damage wrought by the onslaught at Tulsa are reminiscent of the aftermath of the atomic bomb blasts at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan at the end of World War II. 

And there had been an organized effort for decades to keep this abomination against the Black community of Tulsa from being more broadly acknowledged within the national and global arenas. No U.S. president had ever traveled to Tulsa and officially acknowledged the massacre at Black Wall Street.

Finally, after 100 years that changed this week.

This week, President Joe Biden traveled to Tulsa, the site of perhaps the most heinous singular act (it lasted for two days May 31 to June 1) of deadly White terrorism aimed against Black Americans in the country’s bloody history of such attacks and unambiguously declared, “It wasn’t a riot it was a massacre.”

“For much too long, the history of what took place here was told in silence…White darkness can hide much, it erases nothing,” said Biden to the crowd that gathered at the Greenwood Cultural Center in Tulsa, which included survivors of the 1921 attack and descendants of many who were murdered during the massacre.

“We do ourselves no favors by pretending none of this ever happened,” Biden added. “We should know the good, the bad, everything. That’s what great nations do. They come to terms with their dark sides.”

The truth is although the Tulsa Massacre had been shrouded in darkness for 100 years, the Black Press poured light on that evil act from the beginning.

From June of 1921, the American Black Press and of course the AFRO reported on that White terror attack, the many that preceded it and the myriad that followed. In fact, decades after the Tulsa Massacre, the AFRO mounted an enormous reproduction of the newspaper’s front page coverage of the attack on Black Wall Street on a wall in the stairwell leading to the executive suites at the old offices located at 2519 N. Charles Street. That’s when I learned about the Tulsa Massacre decades ago and the fact that agents of law enforcement bombed Black American citizens from the air. And of course that wouldn’t be the last time. Remember the “bombing of the bunker” by the Philadelphia police and the murder of members of the Black nationalist group Move, in 1980?

The Tulsa Massacre may have been hidden from much of the country and the world, but it was never hidden in the pages of the AFRO. It’s important to affirm that and the ongoing role of the Black American Press.

It is also important to report that the Black community was not docile when confronted with this attack of White terrorists; many Black men fought back valiantly and of course Black women courageously resisted as well. But, ultimately they were massively outnumbered and outgunned. 

 And we must also acknowledge those White terrorists were allegedly driven by the flimsy assertion that a White woman was sexually assaulted by a Black man, an assertion that was completely debunked almost from the beginning. The reality was it was only a ruse, an excuse for White men in Tulsa to do what they had probably wanted to do for years, lay waste to empirical evidence in the form of a wealthy, self sufficient Black community that White supremacy is a fallacy.

There have been innumerable White terror attacks upon Black Americans since our official arrival in 1619. But, most frequently those attacks have been rooted in racist policies crafted to demolish dozens of thriving Black communities like in Tulsa and Chicago and Detroit and Pittsburgh and New York and of course, right here in Baltimore.

Our perilous plight in America continues.

Sean Yoes is the AFRO’s Senior Reporter and the author of Baltimore After Freddie Gray: Real Stories of One of America’s Great Imperiled Cities.

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Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor