On Monday, May 31st CNN Films premiered the showing of DREAMLAND: The Burning of Black Wall Street. This cinematic documentary executive produced by LeBron James, celebrates, and shares the rich cultural history that existed in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma at that time one of the wealthiest Black communities in the United States, earning it the name, “Black Wall Street.” Founded in 1906, Greenwood was developed on Indian Territory, the vast area where Native American tribes had been forced to relocate. Oklahoma at the time was being promoted as a safe haven for African Americans. Michelle Place, Executive Director of the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum states, “the largest number of Black townships after the Civil War were in Oklahoma and between 1865 and 1920, African Americans founded more than 50 Black townships in the state. O.W. Gurley, a wealthy Black landowner, purchased 40 acres of land in Tulsa, naming it Greenwood after the town in Mississippi. The film investigates the 100-year-old racial massacre that resulted in two days of bloodshed and destruction.
The incident began on the morning of May 30, 1921, after a young Black man named Dick Rowland was accused of an alleged sexual assault against a white woman. He was arrested, leading to an armed confrontation outside the courthouse between an increasing large white crowd and Black men hoping to defend Rowland from being lynched. Historians have refused to call it a massacre and the reason why, is because of money? By designating it a riot rather than a race massacre prevented insurance companies from having to pay benefits to the people of Greenwood whose homes and businesses were destroyed.
As Americans we are familiar and reminded of the horrible atrocities of the Holocaust and Apartheid and its devastating consequences to Jews and Black South Africans. Yet most Americans do not know the story of how white racist vigilantes, many deputized by local police, looted and burned down businesses, homes, schools, churches, a hospital, hotel, public library, newspaper offices and murdered Black men, women, and children in an American city. While the official death toll of the Tulsa race massacre was 36, historians estimate it may have been as high as 300. As many as 10,000 people were left homeless. This horrific act of violence has literally been swept under the rug of American history. America has conveniently forgotten and refuses to remember. How could the country ignore one of the most gruesome mass murders in its history? Even with the recent senseless killings of innocent black men and women by white police officers, the burning of Black Wall Street stands as one of the most dreadful acts of racial violence, and domestic terrorism, ever committed on American streets.
Is America the land of the free and the home of the brave, also the land where history goes to die? America does not have the moral high-ground to excuse its selective memory when it comes to forgetting part of its past that it is not proud of. While America may want to forget about the damaging effects of slavery and even have the audacity to blame the victims for the lack of racial equality, we must always remember our proud history and memorialize the memorable and historic contributions Black people have made to this country.
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