Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Anniversary - worst race riot in history

Now, this is .something that I did not know. Tuesday, May 31, 1921, community of Greenwood, Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the worst race riot in US history was underway.
It is an event that hardly anyone commemorates on Memorial Day weekend, because its existence has been all but erased.

More than 1,000 homes and businesses were destroyed in less than a week, and at least 300 people were killed, and then buried, possibly in unmarked mass graves, according to a 2001 report on the incident by an Oklahoma state commission.

The official death toll surpassed the totals of the 1965 Watts riot, the 1967 Detroit riot, the 1968 Washington riot and the 1992 Los Angeles riot combined. Some historians estimated that the toll reached 1,000, based on photos of trucks full of bodies as they rolled out of town, according to a member of the commission.
Olivia Hooker, now 90 years old, tells this story;
She heard tapping on the roof of her home in Tulsa, and in her young mind Olivia Hooker thought it was hail from a Midwest storm. Her mother grabbed her hand, crept to a small window and explained, to the 6-year-old's horror, that it was actually raining bullets.

"Up on the hill was a machine gun with an American flag on it," Hooker, now 90, said in testimony at a recent hearing in the House before members of the Congressional Black Caucus. "My mother said, 'They are shooting at you.'"
This is a shocker. The story reports that the blacks in Greenwood were descendants of slaves owned by the Seminoles, Cherokees, and other Indian tribes. I sure as hell did not know that American Indians owned African slaves. I have never before heard such a thing.
Over time, black hotels, restaurants, grocery stores and law offices sprang up. In those days, according to the Greenwood Cultural Center's Web site, the neighborhood featured "what may have been the first black airline in the nation." "We had everything the whites had, and I suspect more," said Otis Clark of Tulsa, a 105-year-old riot survivor who testified at the hearing.
The riot started when a bunch of good ol' boys (10,000) descended on the community to uphold the honor of a white woman (what else?) supposedly accosted in an elevator by a black delivery boy. No matter, of course, to the outraged Bubbas and Billy Bobs that the boy was released with no charges filed. And it didn't matter to the local ragsheet, the Tulsa Tribune, which ran a story with the headline "Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in Elevator."
"The first thing they did was burn my doll clothes," Hooker, who now lives in White Plains, N.Y., recalled in her testimony. "Then they came in the house. My mother put us under the table. We had not fled because my mother was trying to save the house."

Hooker's home was spared (that was mighty white of them, wasn't it?), but her family ultimately moved to Topeka, Kan. "We didn't stay because they had blown up the schools, and my parents couldn't stand the idea of having five children and no schools," she said.
This is a sickening story but it did occur 84 years ago. The part of this story that is most disturbing to me is what has happened only recently.
A quest for reparations by surviving victims ended two weeks ago. The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed without comment a class-action suit against the city of Tulsa, its police department and the state of Oklahoma.

The rejection left in place a lower court's ruling that a two-year statute of limitations on claims had expired in 1923. According to law, the judges ruled, it mattered little that segregated courts in which Ku Klux Klan members held judgeships refused to hear claims of black victims immediately after the riot, or that evidence of its devastation was erased or hidden until the 2001 report.
Huh? KKK judges refused to hear claims until the statute of limitations had run out and this has no bearing on claimants rights under the law? Evidence of mass murder and devastation had been hidden or erased for 80 years and this has no bearing on claimants rights under the law? What law are they referring to? It is law with which I am not familiar. But this is even more disturbing, if true.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, based in Denver, said that legal avenues had opened to black complainants over time, citing the 1960s as an era when claims could have been brought, or perhaps the 1980s.
This is a very interesting thing to know. I am aware of cases where courts have struck down long established law as being unconstitutional, but I have never heard of a court saying that one might have received justice during one era or another, but not today. The court said, in so many words, "Justice depends on the which way the wind is blowing during any given decade. In the 60's or 80's, you might have received justice, but, sorry, not today." I cannot believe that this article is giving us all the facts. This can't be accurate, can it?

Unlike this slave reparation business that is in and out of the news, this case is not about a group of people deciding suddenly that they are entitled to money because of things that happened to their forefathers 400, 300, 200 years ago. Slavery was not only legal during those times, it was, in fact, accepted all over the world and had been accepted, even considered normal, for millennia. The people of Greenwood, Tulsa, Oklahoma were American citizens supposedly protected by the full force of American law and what happened to them was perpetrated by public representatives, supposedly representing that law, who then hid what they did for 80 years. This is justice?

Another point. Kudos to the state of Oklahoma for the investigation and report made in 2001. So, what are you going to do about it? "Yup, we done it," is not exactly a mea culpa and doesn't replace the lady's doll clothes. She ought to get her doll clothes replaced, if she wants them. And to the city of Tulsa I might ask, "Where are you in this? Justice for all of the citizens of Tulsa is not, apparently, part of your program for greater metropolitan Tulsa."

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