An advertisement for a trip to Yellowstone National Park

It felt as though God was weeping over the unearthing of history as the rain fell on Oaklawn Cemetery in Tulsa, Oklahoma, last week.

In 1921, unfounded allegations were leveled against Dick Rowland, a young African American man. The claim accused Rowland of assaulting a young white female elevator worker at a local department store.

The allegations were never verified and remain suspect even today. However, the claim was enough to spark a response from white citizens.

The Tulsa Tribune released a story on the afternoon of May 30, indicating that police arrested Rowland for the assault. Moments later, a white lynch mob armed with weapons descended on the county jail looking for Rowland.

They were met by armed Black World War I veterans looking to protect Rowland. Eventually, a shot was fired from the crowd; chaos, death and destruction followed.

Over the next 18 hours, the white mob swelled, overcoming the veterans.

White citizens began shooting African American men, women and children. They set fire to buildings and homes, burning over 12 miles within Greenwood.

As the violence and terror grew, crop dusting planes began dropping bombs from the air, causing further death and destruction.

By the end of the day on June 1, over 300 Black citizens were killed, and Greenwood, also known as Black Wall Street, was burnt to the ground.

Many now know of this terrifying and evil story because of the 100-year anniversary of the events. However, what many people do not realize is that the terror and evil did not stop on June 1.

Black Tulsans continued to be marginalized and oppressed by the very city that was supposed to protect them.

Photo: Mitch Randall

After the massacre, the dead were buried in Oaklawn Cemetery in unmarked graves.

Only after demands from survivors and activists 100 years after the fact did the city finally make efforts to discover the remains of victims. At the time of this publication, crews have uncovered 27 graves covered up and forgotten by those with power.

In addition to covering up murder, white Tulsans also made certain Black Wall Street would never prosper again. Burning business and homes to the ground was only the start of the terror they inflicted on their Black neighbors.

Insurance companies denied claims, citing the incident as a race riot started by Black citizens. When Black citizens wanted to rebuild, oftentimes banks would not approve construction loans.

Eventually, the city decided to run a new highway straight through Greenwood, assuring that any new business construction would be halted even if the capital was available.

Through the 18 hours of terror and the decades of systemic racism that followed, the city of Tulsa made certain Black wealth and prosperity were quashed.

Any hope of building generational wealth in the Black community was gone forever, as a system of white supremacy reigned and ruled.

As I stood in the rain watching crews prepare to unearth history, my heart broke and my anger burned.

Knowing that innocent lives were ended and hidden forced me to think about Jesus when he approached the tomb near Bethany.

His dear friend, Lazarus, died prematurely. Jesus decided he would right his unjust death, calling out to the grave, “Lazarus, come forth!” (John 11).

As the story of Black Wall Street comes to life, I can hear the words of Jesus echoing down the streets of Tulsa, “Greenwood, come forth!”

If there were ever a case when reparations were due to a community, this would be it.

The evidence is glaringly obvious that a white city killed and burned a Black community, and then made certain that those citizens would remain silenced and impoverished for generations to come.

In the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19), the corrupt tax collector repents of his sins when Jesus confronts him. However, Zacchaeus does not stop there.

True and genuine repentance does not stop at confession; it seeks to make reparations. In Zacchaeus’ case, he gave to the poor and repaid victims four times what he had taken.

At some point, the United States needs to make reparations to the people groups whose lands were stolen, whose lives were enslaved, and whose communities were shattered in order for white citizens to prosper.

Repentance and reconciliation can never truly come to full fruition without reparations and justice.

The unearthing of Greenwood could be the moment when, not only the city of Tulsa, but also the entire nation, acknowledges the injustices in its history and enacts right and just policies.

The American Dream remains one of the greatest dreams ever considered by humanity, but for generations that dream was a nightmare for people of color as their white counterparts benefited from being in charge.

Now is the time to do the right thing. For reparations to be made. For true repentance and reconciliation to occur.

We cannot let the dead remain silent in their graves any longer. We must give them a voice. We must give them our ears. We must give them our hearts.

The message of Greenwood is clear and powerful: When people – regardless of race – are left free to be creative and productive, they most often rise up to achieve great heights.

We must make certain today that the emerging generations are empowered with the resources to create and produce just as their ancestors on Black Wall Street 100 years ago.

Share This