Many Americans may never have heard of “Black Wall Street” or the Tulsa race massacre until this month.
In 1921, a mob attacked an African American neighborhood in the Oklahoma city. By the time the violence ended, hundreds of buildings had been destroyed and dozens of people were dead. The exact number of deaths is unknown, but historians believe the total is close to 300.
A rally planned by President Donald Trump in the city — originally scheduled for June 19, or Juneteenth, a date that commemorates the end of slavery — has sparked renewed interest in the massacre.
An expert from the Florida State University Department of History is available to provide historical context.
Meghan Martinez, Teaching Assistant Professor
Martinez received her doctorate in African American history, specializing in racial violence and lynching in the early 20th century. She primarily researches the history of racial violence and racial inequality in the U.S. and its legacies. Her current work focuses on racial violence, race riots and historical memory in northern Florida in the 1920s.
“It is important for us to honestly confront the realities of so-called ‘race riots’ in American history. We have to look at who coined the phrase and why they did so. The victims of these violent events were not consulted after the fact and they had no hand in naming these. White newspapers, especially in the early 20th century did what white newspapers did — they used inflammatory language to write headlines about ‘race wars’ and ‘race riots’ with little concern for the facts. They painted black people as the aggressors no matter what the truth of the matter was. They did the same thing to justify lynchings.
“A ‘race riot’ allows us to imagine a scenario where those two groups are equally responsible for the conflict and equitably armed. The reality is that most, if not all, of these events were acts of aggression perpetrated by one group against another. In American history, the aggressor has most often been white mobs who attack either neighboring black communities or black people within their own communities.
“To call something like the destruction of Black Wall Street the ‘Tulsa Race Riot’ is a complete misnomer. The black community who lived there were wholly outmatched, invaded, violently attacked and even bombed by a violent white mob.”