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How a racist white mob ruined ‘Black Wall Street’ 100 years ago

In Tulsa, Oklahoma, calls for reparations and recognition marked the 100th anniversary of the race massacre in the city's Greenwood district — once known as "Black Wall Street" until white mobs killed many residents and left the neighborhood in smoldering ruins. We look at the massacre's history as detailed in a special PBS documentary "Tulsa: The Fire and the Forgotten."

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Residents, community officials and civil rights leaders spent this day in Tulsa, Oklahoma, marking the 100th anniversary of the race massacre in the city's Greenwood district.

    That neighborhood, once among the most prosperous for Black Americans, was known as Black Wall Street. White mobs killed many Black residents and left the neighborhood in smoldering ruins.

    Today, there was a soil dedication attended by the last remaining survivors to remember those who were killed. And throughout the weekend, there have been parades, calls for reparations, celebrations and special church services.

    For many years, the massacre was less recognized in Oklahoma and nationally. But that has changed.

    We're going to look at the legacy tonight, beginning with a look at a special documentary airing on PBS. And then Yamiche Alcindor has a conversation with an activist.

    Let's start with the history detailed in "Tulsa: The Fire and the Forgotten," narrated by Michel Martin.

  • Michel Martin:

    Throughout the mayhem, thousands of Black Tulsans were rounded up and confined to fairgrounds and ball fields. The National Guard imposed martial law on June 1. Thereafter, Black citizens were required to carry identity cards.

    The rampage lasted an estimated 16 hours. It ended on the evening of June 1 with more than 35 square blocks of the district destroyed; 10,000 Black people were left homeless and destitute. Hundreds were injured. The precise number of dead is unknown. Estimates range from 39 to 300.

  • Eric Stover:

    , Human Rights Investigator: After the massacre, hundreds fled to towns around Tulsa or to other states. We also know that there were those who were murdered and buried in mass graves. The third group were those who were taken and put into internment camps.

    So, this is what happened to the Black community. And one has to stop and think what that means, the devastation of losing your home, your business, family members, and then to walk out of these internment camps and have to rebuild.

  • Hannibal B. Johnson:

    , Author, "Black Wall Street 100": It's unclear as to whether or not we'll ever know the identities of the perpetrators, but let's remember, when we talk about the direct perpetrators, we're talking about thousands of folks, a large segment of the white male population in the community.

    We know through ancillary evidence that parts of the leadership of the community were at least complicit in what happened. We know, for example, that The Tulsa Tribune, the daily afternoon newspaper, published a series of incendiary articles and editorials that really fomented hostility in the white community against the Black community.

  • Michel Martin:

    Despite the unprecedented horrors of May 31 and June 1, no perpetrators were charged or tried. Indeed, the victimized community was blamed.

  • Eric Stover:

    After the massacre, a grand jury made of 12 white men appointed by the governor indicted a number of Black citizens for the massacre, the riot, they called it, and some whites as well.

    But, in the end, the grand jury effectively blamed it on the Black community of Greenwood.

  • Michel Martin:

    The Tulsa City Commission issued a report two weeks after the massacre.

    In it, Mayor T.D. Evans was unequivocal: "Let the blame for this Negro uprising lie right where it belongs, on those armed Negroes and their followers who started this trouble and who instigated it."

    G.T. BYNUM (R), Mayor of Tulsa, Oklahoma: We've since unearthed the City Commission meeting minutes from that era, as well as the meeting minutes from the Chamber of Commerce from that era.

    What you see in both is almost immediate recognition after the event happened of shame and embarrassment and a desire to try and cover it up, believing, I think accurately, that it did not reflect well on Tulsa.

  • Narrator:

    This is Tulsa, one of the richest cities in the country and oil capital of the world.

    Tulsa's civic and business leaders succeeded in suppressing the truth of the carnage, and the city resumed business as usual. The white community continued to prosper. The Black community did not.

    For decades, massacre survivors and their descendants sought compensation for their losses from city government and insurance companies, to no avail.

  • Yamiche Alcindor:

    You can watch the full documentary, "Tulsa: The Fire and the Forgotten," tonight on your PBS station.

  • Photos provided by:

    Tulsa Historical Society & Museum

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