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Today marks the 99th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre.
Tulsa Race Massacre
From May 31 - June 1, 1921, a white mob—deputized by Tulsa police and enabled by the Oklahoma National Guard—raided Tulsa’s Greenwood district, home to one of the country's wealthiest black communities. The mob looted black businesses, killed 300 black people, and bombed and burned the entire community to the ground.
In 2000, Variety magazine reviewed a new documentary on the massacre, The Tulsa Lynching of 1921: A Hidden Story:
In 1921, Tulsa was considered the “Oil Capital of the World,” and the black community was among the most prosperous in the nation. The Greenwood section of town was known both as “Little Africa” and as “The Black Wall Street.” The film does an excellent job of concisely laying out the various conditions that set the stage for the riot, from the return of unemployed (and heavily armed) veterans from WWI to the popularity of the film “Birth of a Nation” and the growth of the Ku Klux Klan… This is a film that could certainly become a staple of history classes.
The documentary never became a staple of history classes. Nearly 100 years later, the Tulsa massacre remains one of the most overlooked and obviated episodes in American history.
8 minutes, 46 seconds
Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) reports “man dies after a medical incident during police interaction.”
A video goes viral, showing a white police officer kneeling on a black man’s neck while the man repeatedly pleads that he can’t breathe. The man is in handcuffs. Three other officers stand by. The man eventually goes limp.
The black man in the video is identified as 46-year-old George Floyd.
The viral video contradicts the press report by MPD where there is no mention of the police officer kneeling on George Floyd’s neck.
All four officers involved in the death of George Floyd are terminated.
MPD releases the names of the officers involved in the death of George Floyd: Derek Chauvin, Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J Alexander Kueng.
Derek Chauvin is identified as the officer with his knee on Floyd’s neck.
Governor Tim Walz activates the National Guard and deploys 500 soldiers to Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Minneapolis Police’s Third Precinct headquarters is set on fire.
Chauvin is charged with 3rd degree murder and second degree manslaughter. This is the fastest Hennepin County has ever prosecuted a case against an officer.
Governor Walz orders the full mobilization of the Minnesota National Guard, the first full mobilization since World War II.
Governor Walz appoints Attorney General Kieth Ellison to lead the prosecution of any cases that arise from the murder of George Floyd.
The spark that lit the fire
Mass demonstrations spread across the country—some peaceful, some violent.
The black bloc anarchists are out in full force, responsible for much of the violence and destruction of property being broadcast nationally.
25 cities across 16 states have imposed curfews.
Major retailers, some of which have stores that have been vandalized and looted, are closing stores or curtailing hours. Amazon suspended package delivery in some cities.
As of May 31, 62,000 National Guard members have been mobilized in 24 states and the District of Columbia in response to “civil unrest.”
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms was joined at a press conference on Friday by musical artists turned businessmen T.I. and Killer Mike calling for peaceful protests. More specifically, Killer Mike reasoned with those seeking to take a stand by telling them “not to burn down their own house out of anger for an enemy.” His impassioned plea has since gone viral.
michaelharriot @michaelharriotKeisha Lance Bottoms really outchea telling black protesters to register to vote. One day, y’all gon stop acting like black folks in the South don’t OUTREGISTER & OUTVOTE white folks. https://t.co/JPnb7irfgu
Mayor Lance Bottoms issued a 9pm curfew on Saturday in an effort to deter demonstrators to no avail; riots on Saturday night resulted in significant property damage and approximately 70 arrests.
“The shooting starts.”
On Twitter, Donald Trump invoked a phrase used by police chiefs who were legendary for terrorizing black people in the 1960s. The phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” has been attributed to long-time Miami Police Chief Walter Headley who, in 1967, proudly declared “we don’t mind being accused of police brutality.”
According to NPR, the phrase was later taken up by segregationist presidential candidate George Wallace, and might have actually been originated by the notorious Eugene “Bull” Conner.
Twitter flagged Trump’s tweet—only the latest of several interventions the company made this week concerning the President’s posts.
During the “long, hot summer of 1967”, President Lyndon Johnson appointed the Commission on Civil Disorders to investigate the source of the riots sweeping across the country. The Kerner Commission’s conclusion and recommendations were something the President could not abide:
Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white--separate and unequal…It is time now to turn with all the purpose at our command to the major unfinished business of this nation. It is time to adopt strategies for action that will produce quick and visible progress. It is time to make good the promises of American democracy to all citizens-urban and rural, white and black, Spanish-surname, American Indian, and every minority group.
In his introduction to a 2018 panel discussion commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Kerner Commission Report, Peniel Joseph, Professor of Public Affairs and Barbara Jordan Chair in Ethics and Political Values at The University of Texas at Austin, cited the report’s continued relevance for our time:
The Kerner Report provides a snapshot for a different period in time that connects with our current social, political, racial and economic crises. And that snapshot shows there are always groups of people—in this case both public servants, elected officials and civil rights activists—who are willing to organize and speak truth to power to try to rectify inequalities.
What’s so important about this is that even though we have tremendous challenges, what the Kerner Commission decided was that we could win these challenges, but we needed to have an all out effort—which would echo the New Deal and the run-up to the Second World War—to defeat and eradicate these inequalities.
So this report is optimistic. It’s brutally honest in its assessment of inequality. It’s brutally honest in its assessment of residential segregation. It’s brutally honest in its assessment of the relationship between criminal justice and poor black communities. But it was also optimistic because it said we didn’t need to give up, we could actually achieve what James Baldwin called ‘our nation.’ What Baldwin meant by that was a nation and a country that had eradicated the last vestiges of racial slavery, gender discrimination, and any and all kinds of inequality.
We can do it.
One of the more notable songs on the album was 1960 What? In a 2016 interview, Porter discussed the backstory to this hauntingly timeless protest song:
If we’re true to ourselves as artists, we write about conditions that are around us. If things aren’t right, that’s something we have to talk about. My mother had just passed and I was reconnecting with her story growing up in the South.
I was listening to lots of Nina Simone, lots of soul music, deep blues and thinking about the LA riots, which had happened a few years before, and this recurring story of injustice.
Similar things have happened at different points in our history. Whether it’s Martin Luther King, Rodney King or the shooting of any young person, it’s that feeling of injustice that sparks emotion – when people feel their rights aren’t being respected.
I don’t say ‘1970, what?’ or ‘1980, what?’ but the timelessness of the song is implied, for when it happens in the next ten years. I hope it doesn’t, but it probably will.
It’s a recurring story if we don’t learn from history.
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