After surviving a (hopefully) once in a lifetime pandemic, one of the places I most wanted to visit was the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. I almost lived there during the opening weekend, September, 2016. We used every device in the house to secure access tickets, which remained one of the hardest tickets in town for a couple years. It is a place that I/the world needed, which serves as a unique repository of world history and how African Americans art an instrumental part of it. It shows the world how we were created through no actions of our own, but we have crafted an amazing people.
And, while forcibly brought here, as human beings, from the Middle Passage, to Dred Scott, to today, factions attempt to treat us as less than. Most all of our stories — magnificent, challenging & horrific — are meticulously chronicled in the “Blacksonian”.
One of those most horrific stories happened in Tulsa, Oklahoma, from May 31-June 1, 1921. If you’re a student or parent/guardian, see how that story is captured in an available American/world history book. You will likely see more about the heinous acts of other nations than the ones committed here.
It has been a century since the horrific, American genocide in Tulsa happened. Some call it a “massacre” or “race war”, but it was, by definition, genocide. It matters to call a thing a thing, because words matter. Germany recently started a restorative journey (arguably, not reparations) for its slaughter of Herero and Nama tribespeople African nation, now called Namibia, over a century ago.
In more genocidal news, Canada is going to have to answer to a recent discovery of the bodies of over 200 First Nations children, who were at a “Christian” school for forced assimilation. Even Canada, a North Star for enslaved Africans, is not above reproach. Genocide is global.
“The Ugly Things That Happened”
That’s what a friend called it, when we talked about Tulsa and how/when we learned about the Tulsa Genocide. She attended an HBCU, where a more complete telling of American history is more common — the magnificent, challenging & horrific. Talk of these atrocities are, often, relegated to “special studies” at other, predominantly white institutions — if taught at all. Denial doesn’t mean it didn’t happen-again, and again.
The incomplete teaching of American history has created a distorted perception of America. A truth vacuum. Sadly, we are seeing, real-time, just how some Americans aren’t wedded to truth or even our Constitution (January 6th ring a bell?).
The pillaging & partial destruction of the U.S. Capitol was first done during the War of 1812. There should be condemnation aplenty for the culprits, and all co-conspirators, before, during and after the fact. Unfortunately, some like to gloss over guilt. History books may (or may not) recall the blatant disregard for the U.S. Constitution, even by those who have sworn to defend it and it is in their job description.
So, as we remember the Tulsa genocide, with somber music, impassioned speeches and unforgettable images, those survivors are still left with those memories. Imagine having to live with an unimaginable tauma, for 100 years, and your government takes 100 years to hear your story. That’s what happened when siblings Hughes Vann Ellis, age 100, and Viola Fletcher, age 107, testified before members of Congress. And, remember, these Tulsa Genocide survivors are survivors of the last U.S. medical pandemic, which was cured, and the sustained racism pandemic, which predates their birth and the formation of this country.
But, an event, featuring John Legend & Stacy Abrams was rightfully cancelled, due to a compensation dispute. Survivors and descendants of the Tulsa Genocide, have yet to be compensated for their continued pain and suffering and loss. Yet, others in Tulsa (AND BEYOND) created a spectacle around this tragedy without being respectful of those who still suffer. A city/state/nation has reluctantly admitted the atrocity or atoned for the loss. Greenwood/Black Wall St. was evidence that the formerly enslaved was quite capable of rising up and achieving greatness. The former enslaver class lacked the ability to rise above their vile acts. And today, the descendants of the genocidal, who dominate the state house, are moving swiftly to remove education about the very actions that inspire genocide. COVER-UP 2.0.
Tulsa and America = still racially broken & divided. When former Oklahoma Black Republican Congressman, J.C Watts, spoke out about racism in his party, he didn’t get a parade in his honor. OK Gov. Kevin Stitt is towing the party line of banning truth — that’s their American way. Genocides don’t need a showcase. There needs to be a show of legislative commitment that those acts won’t be repeated in this land. It’s not just about the money, but a permanent, public declaration that the words that framed this nation will command respect all people in America — as a guide for other nations. Defending human rights and human dignity should not have an asterisk.
More than Remembrance
NBC created Blood on Black Wall Street, Time Magazine and others will memorialize this atrocity. As a nation, we remember December 7th/Pearl Harbor and 9/11 every year since the first year. The Zinn Education Project captures other dates of American infamy that most schools won’t teach. And, Zinn didn’t even mention the 1906 Atlanta Massacre. What other massacres are lost in our history because nobody survived OR no one has courage to talk about? Worse than these acts, themselves, is that there are people who rather bury these histories and not admit the NATIONAL guilt that demands restitution. There are still descendants on both sides (victim or victimizers) of the genocidal lynchings & bombings & assaults.
Author & educator, Jelani Cobb, whose new book, The Essential Kerner Commission, will certainly shed new light on the 50+ year old reparative guidance, found in the Kerner Commission report, which gave solutions for previous racial unrest. But, remedies don’t work if they are not implemented.
Each Memorial Day we remember the soldiers who fight for liberty, but forget that liberty was for ALL Americans, not just white ones. We tell tales about the American soldiers who survived “hell ships” of WWII, but won’t remember the hell of the enslaved, who were forced to come here in much worse conditions. We don’t remember those the original inhabitants of these lands that were colonized/stolen and the hell those victims of theft were subjected to — the young and old. Many of their descendants are still suffering. And, politicians remain in denial, or, worse, blatant disregard.
During the Covid19 pandemic, America retold the stories about the Spanish Flu. During this long racism pandemic (named such, by the American Psychological Association), who discussed the Red Summer epidemic and its lingering impact on America? We disregard the Post- and Present- TSD that Black, Brown, Native & immigrant bodies & minds grapple with across the country & globe. We need to do more than talk about these genocidal incidents. Creating a commemorative plaque & have a ceremony won’t solve the systemic problems. The response to genocide — like with any pandemic — is taking definitive steps to stop reoccurrence.
If America was a person, s/he could be indicted as a serial killer. We must admit these self-evident truths. Facts are facts, no matter how some legislators, educators & voters attempt to say otherwise. As a nation, there must be atonement to right our past wrongs in the world and, on its shores. That will be the only way we hasten the path for America to be great.
We have grown immune to the pain caused by gun violence in America. Unless it is a mass casualty event, or there’s a popular victim, shootings are as American as apple pie. Similarly, we ignore the American genocide against Black people, which is happening across the nation, daily. But, no national, daily tabulation is compiled, so the atrocity occurs in a trickle, not the flood of Red Summer. The damage is cumulative, though. It happens with one Black business closure or loan denial, here and there. State-sanctioned genocide is very present, with deaths happening in different cities, but not measured in the aggregate. Before you know it, the gap widens.
If truth makes us free, why aren’t more of us seeking it? We must demand accountability and legislative repair for the losses caused by people of our past present. It shouldn’t have taken 100 years for Viola Fletcher’s story to be heard on the global stage. It shouldn’t take 100 years, from now, for the people & the politicians to realize the damage that has been done today. Each year that restitution is delayed, it raises the emotional and financial stakes needed to make the wrongs right.
Repair America, today, for tomorrow’s sake. If you don’t know where to start, ASK somebody. The past has some good tools, too.
Free lessons can be found at the NMAAHC, local museums and Google. Unless we tell the truths of America, we will remain incomplete and, as Frederick Douglass once said, when finding no reason for enslaved or free Africans in America to celebrate July 4th, “America is false to the past, false to the present and, solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.”