The Falsehood Behind New Tulsa’s Black Wall Street Narrative

By Dr. Eric M. Wallace

As everyone probably knows June 1st, 2021, marked the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Oklahoma riots of 1921. A new documentary, “Tulsa burning: The 1921 Race Massacre,” a little over two hours long, has been published to remember this horrific event in the history of our great country. I write “riots” here because it used to be called a riot; however, it is now more often referred to as a “massacre.”

I don’t know about you but I’m leery of people who bring up Black History these days with all the rewriting of history from the 1619 project to the more recent push to teach Critical Race Theory (CRT) in our schools. Frankly, these things make new documentaries suspect to me, especially since CRT in many cases lacks fundamental truths and facts. According to them truth is subjective and narrative is more important than actual historical fact.

That being said, I decided to watch another documentary first, entitled Black Wall Street: Full Documentary which happened to be another History Channel documentary included as part of the “In Search of History Series.” The posted date on YouTube says July 13th, 2016. I don’t know when it was filmed but clearly it was before the obfuscation of truth by CRT, BLM and the 1619 project. Therefore, I felt I might get a more honest telling of the Tulsa story.

I then watched the newer documentary by the History Channel produced by Russell Westbrook. The basic story leading up to the riot/massacre was the same. The flourishing of Greenwood and testimony to what Black people can achieve even under difficult circumstances. The evidence that Capitalism can work for Black people when laws of justice are equally applied. The doctors, lawyers, dentists, shoe sales man, hotel and theater owners and more prove that even in 1920, some 57 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, Black people were advancing in education, business, and industry. This was evident in both documentaries.

Also evident was the inhumanity, white supremacy, death, and destruction, which was described and depicted in each of the documentaries. The riot lit by the match of a falsehood of a sexual assault would take the lives of men and women black and white and change the course of history for many. It was heartbreaking.

The notably differences that emerged were that the older documentary accounted for 50 whites who were killed in the fighting. Another difference is that the older version mentioned that Greenwood, despite the riot and without help from the city or state, was rebuilt by the Black residence who persevered in order to rebuild their businesses, schools, churches, and homes. One of the main lessons we all can take away from this tragedy is the resilience of the people who strived to not only get an education; but also to ensure they had a thriving community for both themselves and their families. They would not be seen as victims but victors. The old documentary mentioned that the new Greenwood was more prosperous than the old Greenwood. A recent article entitled 100 years: The Rebuild of Black Wall Street says the same thing. The article, that also includes a video, states that by 1925 Greenwood was rebuilt. The Greenwood cultural center noted that by 1942 that the district had “250 businesses, exceeding the number of businesses before the Massacre.” This information is, not surprisingly, absent from the account given in the Black Lives Matter version of the documentary.

In order for liberal progressives to have leverage they must continue to paint Black people as victims who are helpless to defend themselves or capable of rebuilding their own communities. This became clear in the 2021 documentary’s scene at the radio station. Here they wrongly suggest that Black Wall Street never recovered. Then you have a lawyer, who I guess is representing the reparations case, mentioning the same thing and showing the ruins of what was left of the once thriving Hotel.

The problem is the story they tell is simply not true. As noted earlier Greenwood was rebuilt and continued to prosper until the 1960s when segregation was abolished and Urban Renewal (a government program) kicked in. The truth is the hotel was never rebuilt; however, that was only one business.

The story of Black Wall Street is a Story of Black resilience and fortitude that is, too often, lacking in our communities today. We face a fraction of the racism that Blacks faced in the early 20th century. Yet, they became educated, started families and businesses grasping life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for themselves. They even took up arms when necessary to defend themselves from an eminent threat.

When I look at Greenwood I see heroes not victims. Their story represents a group of proud Black Americans, a generation after slavery, who overcame the racial hatred surrounding them. Rejected from white society, they determined to build their own community to live life on their terms, to be fully free. Nothing would stop them, not even a riot that would destroy much of their community. So from the ashes they rebuilt.

Racism could not destroy their dream, hopes, and aspirations.

Conversely, the new documentary in many respects ignores this part of their story in an attempt to revise a new narrative. A false narrative that says nothing has changed since 1921. That all Blacks are still victims of white supremacy. Case in point, the new narrative connects the 2016 police shooting of Terence Crutcher to prove that absolutely nothing has changed—more importantly, that Black lives just don’t matter.

However, this attempt does a disservice to the memory of those who lost their lives and those who survived the 1921 riot in Greenwood. The people in Greenwood did nothing wrong. They were pursuing  their dreams lawfully and righteously. Terence Crutcher, on the other hand, was shot by police as he refused to follow orders to stop walking to his car with his hands up. After arriving at his car (SUV) he reached into the vehicle, and was then shot. The officer believed Terence was reaching for a weapon. The officer was later acquitted and Terence was found to have PCP and another drug in his system. Nothing about the Terence Crutcher story is remotely related to or similar to the Black Wall Street riot.

It’s an attempt to rewrite the narrative—to spread a different falsehood to the general public. The new documentary says it wants justice. I contend that you can’t ask for justice based on a lie. Lying is inherently unjust. “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16; Duet. 5:20). “You shall not spread a false report; You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness.” (Exodus 23:1) Unfortunately, this new documentary follows in the footsteps of BLM, CRT, and the 1619 project with a narrative that bears false witness (lies) to an event we should collectively remember and learn from—both the good and the bad.

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