A century ago the United States was finally free from the Great War and dealing with day-to-day waves from a flu pandemic.
The country was also tested by unresolved questions about racism and violence.
Tested and largely failed.
This week marks the 99th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre.
This is Trahant Reports.
The headlines from summer of 1919 almost seem familiar today. Riots in Washington, D.C.; Knoxville, Tennessee; Longview, Texas; Phillips County, Arkansas; Omaha, Nebraska and – most dramatically – Chicago. The spark was racial strife.
Even the pandemic, the flu, had a racial framework because hospitals were segregated and African Americans had to seek care at black-owned institutions.
That era was known as the “Red Summer. There were public murders and lynchings carried out on streets across the country, dismissed as riots. That story conflicted with the story that America was telling the world that the post-World War I-era notion that America was making the world safe for democracy.
And, if the Red Summer was not enough … on May 31, 1921, stirred by a resurgent Ku Klux Klan, the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, known as the Black Wall Street, was attacked and demolished.
“A mob destroyed 35 square blocks of the African American Community during the evening of May 31, through the afternoon of June 1, 1921,” said a report on the event by the state of Oklahoma in 2001.
Hundreds of whites were deputized and participated in the violence, even providing firearms and ammunition to people, all of them white, who looted, killed and destroyed property. Officials may have blamed African Americans for the “race riot.” But the community and the Red Cross labeled it a massacre from the start.
No one was ever prosecuted or punished for the violent criminal acts.
Human Rights Watch published a report Friday that called for reparations. Finally.
“The Tulsa Race Massacre and surrounding events led directly to the loss of hundreds of lives, loss of liberty, substantial personal and business property loss, and damage to objects of cultural significance. Compounding inequalities stemming from the massacre led to lower life expectancy, increased need for mental health services, loss of economic opportunity, and other harms to community members over decades … Yet the victims of the massacre have yet to receive an effective remedy.”
I am Mark Trahant.