Jun 22, 2011

 
 
 

TULSA, Okla. — With their guns firing, a mob of white men charged across the train tracks that cut a racial border through this city. A 4-year-old boy named Wess Young fled into the darkness with his mother and sister in search of safety, returning the next day to discover that their once-thriving black community had burned to the ground.

Ninety years later, Mr. Young lives not far from where he lost his home that day. He is part of the dwindling ranks of the living who can recollect what may be the deadliest occurrence of racial violence in United States history — an episode so brutal that this city, in a bout of collective amnesia that extended more than a half-century, simply chose to forget it ever happened.

The Tulsa race riot of 1921 was rarely mentioned in history books, classrooms or even in private. Blacks and whites alike grew into middle age unaware of what had taken place.

Ever since the story was unearthed by historians and revealed in uncompromising detail in a state government report a decade ago — it estimated that up to 300 people were killed and more than 8,000 left homeless — the black men and women who lived through the events have watched with renewed hope as others worked for some type of justice on their behalf.

But even as the city observed the 90th anniversary this month, the efforts to secure recognition and compensation have produced a mixed record of success.

The riot will be taught for the first time in Tulsa public schools next year but remains absent in many history textbooks across the United States. Civic leaders built monuments to acknowledge the riot, including a new Reconciliation Park, but in the wake of failed legislative and legal attempts, no payments were ever delivered for what was lost.

Before becoming president, Barack Obama once met with some who lived through the riot "to thank the survivors for surviving." But fewer are surviving each year; today the number is about 40. And before they die, some of their most dedicated advocates continue to fight for greater awareness and compensation, even as they lament that they no longer believe the effort has sufficient momentum.

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1 comment:

  1. I had no idea about this historical event until I heard Charles Ogletree talk about it during his keynote address at a conference I attended. I really hope and pray that justice will be served.

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