The Swamp logo

Why the Tulsa Race Massacre Matters

A better history curriculum could have fixed many of the racial problems we face today

By Teralyn PilgrimPublished 3 years ago Updated 3 years ago 5 min read
Why the Tulsa Race Massacre Matters
Photo by Sushil Nash on Unsplash

I had a hard time with Black Lives Matter when the movement first started. All my life, I was taught to trust cops. I had no reason not to trust cops. Suddenly, people were telling me that they gun down innocent people just because they’re black?

No way, I thought.

Then videos of police brutality surfaced, and my feelings began to waver. I saw a black man with his hands behind his head get kicked in the back by a cop and tackled. I saw a six-year-old black girl get handcuffed because the police mistakenly thought her mother stole a car. I saw a teenage black girl get her face rubbed into the cement because a party of kids were using a swimming pool they shouldn’t. I saw a nine-year-old black girl get pepper sprayed because she ran from the cops after her mom attacked her.

Finally, we all saw the moment that convinced even the most skeptical of us that police brutality is a problem. Officer Chauvin kneeled on George Floyd’s neck and, with people screaming at him to stop, looked right into the camera, killed George, and thought he could get away with it.

Why was police brutality so difficult for Americans to accept?

It’s because of how we’re taught history. From what our textbooks tell us, racism ended with the Civil Right’s Movement. Back then, black people couldn’t use the same water fountains as us without getting attacked, and…well, that’s it. Martin Luther King Jr. fixed everything and now we live happily ever after.

Because of the limited history we’ve been taught, there are numerous other cultural issues besides BLM that don’t make sense to white people.

Take poverty, for example. Black Americans are 1.8 times more likely to live in poverty. We all know this, but not all of us understand why.

The American dream states that everyone has equal opportunity to build wealth and become successful. That equal opportunity started after Civil Rights Movement, according to our high school history class. If people don’t use our country’s opportunities to better their lives, some might think the person is foolish and lazy. If an entire race of people doesn’t use these opportunities to better their lives…

You can see the problems that stem from that way of thinking.

We think of a “racist” person as being pure evil. They’ll sit in the same circle of hell as the murderers and rapists. For that reason, white people sometimes think of racism as obsolete. We aren’t evil. Ergo, we can’t be racist. Ergo, every problem black people have must be from racist people in the past, which means they’re dwelling in the past instead of moving on.

But the reasons black people live in poverty today aren’t their fault.

Take redlining, for instance. Banks would refuse loans to people who live in areas they deemed financially risky. That seems logical. Think, however, of the areas banks might deem risky. They aren’t the white suburbs.

So much for equal opportunity.

Owning a house builds wealth. If people of color are unable to own property because banks won’t give them loans, they can’t build the same wealth and pass it down to their children. Those children could use that money for college and to own their own properties, which will build even more wealth. Meanwhile, the communities that are deemed “at risk” crumble because banks do not give them the funding they need to grow.

If people of color want to follow the American dream, they have to leave the communities they grew up in to live with white people. Not only is that unfair, but it requires financial resources many people don’t have.

We don’t learn about redlining in school. We learn about slavery, and we’re left to wonder why black people can’t just “get over” something that happened centuries ago. Slavery is not what we need to focus on.

We need to talk about the Tulsa Race Massacre.

In 1921, ten thousand black residents lived in a neighborhood of Tulsa called Greenwood. It was such a prosperous area that it was nicknamed “Black Wall Street.” Tensions were high between the residents and their white neighbors, who were resentful of Greenwood’s success.

When a black man was accused of assaulting a white woman (the judge later said he only stepped on her foot), escalating tensions finally hit their peak.

Thousands of white citizens attacked Greenwood. They burned homes and looted businesses. They threatened firemen with guns to keep them away. Planes dropped bombs. Churches, hotels, stores, a library, a school: all were destroyed.

Here’s the part that disturbed me the most: no one was prosecuted for the massacre. No one. They all got away with it.

If I had known this story, Black Lives Matter wouldn’t have been so difficult for me. I would have recognized that the criminal justice system has been historically against the black race, and that it’s possible some of the same injustices still exist.

Imagine how much smoother the BLM movement would have been if every white American knew about the Tulsa Race Massacre. Maybe the nine-year-old girl wouldn’t have been pepper sprayed and George Floyd wouldn’t have been killed.

Paying reparations for slavery is insurmountably complicated. You can’t put a price tag on how much money the black community would have today if slavery never happened. Reparations for Tulsa, on the other hand, becomes much simpler. The loss of real estate and property is estimated to be $33 million, and none of the insurance companies paid a dime of that. White people might be irritated that we’re still talking about slavery, but no one can blame a child who lived through the Tulsa massacre for being bitter over lost wealth.

Imagine how a thriving Greenwood community could have changed black culture today. The residents who lived there would have passed that money on to their children, who would have built more wealth. We don’t have any black neighborhoods or black cities that are rich enough to be equated with Wall Street. What would America be like if we did? Maybe redlining would be less of a problem because banks wouldn’t equate people of color with poverty. A lot of things could be different.

We could be more understanding of why black Americans are often in bad situations, living in poor communities with fewer resources for growth. Perhaps we would recognize our part in it and take more action to help them. Perhaps, when we hear about injustices today, it would be easier to stomach because we’ve seen injustices before.

Let’s teach history better from now on. We’ll see what the next generation does.


About the Creator

Teralyn Pilgrim

Teralyn Pilgrim has an MFA in Creative Writing from Western New England University and a BA in English from Brigham Young University. Her work has been published in the Copperfield Review.

Reader insights

Be the first to share your insights about this piece.

How does it work?

Add your insights


There are no comments for this story

Be the first to respond and start the conversation.

Sign in to comment

    Find us on social media

    Miscellaneous links

    • Explore
    • Contact
    • Privacy Policy
    • Terms of Use
    • Support

    © 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.