By Darryl James
In America, many of the most ignorant citizens pretend that African Americans came here as slaves and never contributed anything to the nation.
Even as slaves, Africans contributed by literally building the new nation.
This racist view leaves way for the lie that African descendants left slavery and became a burden on America, languishing in poverty and becoming the largest pool of welfare recipients.
But when we take a look at historical documents and historical accounts of Blacks who told the tales of their lives before passing on to the next life, we begin to understand a broader spectrum of life for African descendants in America after slavery.
From historical research, we come to realize that many Blacks did well after slavery and that there was Black commerce and even flourishing Black towns.
We come to realize that there were wealthy Blacks and that welfare was established for white citizens and that even today, whites make up the majority of welfare recipients.
Discussing the true history of African descendants in America changes the perspective of race and racism in this nation.
For example, we know that there were slave revolts organized by Africans who fought for their freedom before the Civil War and that many Blacks took up arms during that war to further fight for their freedom and the future of Africans in America.
And we know that Africans also fought to remain free and to become full participants in America’s economy.
Africans became full citizens, and as Americans, began to work, invent, pay taxes and move the nation forward.
But racism persisted viciously after slavery ended and there was a great need for Blacks to protect themselves and their right to participate in the nation as Americans.
Segregation was the order of the day following slavery, and frankly, it was working far better than integration is working today.
Africans were entrepreneurs and entire Black towns or areas were established with African descendants socializing and thriving.
Two such towns/areas of particular notoriety were The Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Rosewood, Florida.
Racist whites were jealous of the Black areas that were thriving and took violent action against the Blacks they formerly controlled.
That hatred lead to violent and bloody clashed between the races.
One of the bloodiest, and perhaps most significant race riots of this nation’s history was the Tulsa, Race Riot of 1921 in Oklahoma. Its importance stems not from its resultant death toll, but from its shroud of mystery. Shortly after the bloody massacre, history closed its mouth and attempted to erase memory of the ugly event.
The Tulsa Race Riot was also significant because it represented white backlash against Blacks who were attempting to enjoy the promises of capitalism and democracy with their own communities and their own commerce.
In Tulsa, the Black area called the “Greenwood District” was nationally recognized as an area of high entrepreneurial activity, dubbed the “Black Wall Street of America.”
Blacks came from all over the nation, hearing of the economic opportunities available on The Black Wall Street, where the concept of recycling Black dollars was thriving in the face of segregation which gave Blacks no other option but to conduct commerce amongst themselves.
The community grew and flourished economically, but whites in the remainder of Tulsa were not only jealous, but afraid of what Black prosperity meant for their own growth potential.
In the same fashion as the Wilmington Race Riot of 1898, the Tulsa Race Riot erupted based on the assumption of Black sexual assault against a white woman named Sarah Page.
The white woman in question was actually having an affair with the Black man, named Dick Rowland. A hotly debated incident in a local elevator lead the white citizens to believe that the white woman, who was also married, had been attacked by Rowland.
Rowland was arrested and the white mob that came to the jail looking for their own brand of justice, commonly referred to as lynching, were met by an armed group of Blacks, preparing to defend Rowland. One of the white men tried to disarm one of the Black men and the gun discharged, setting off mass confusion and an all-out race war, complete with burning and looting.
While the Blacks were outnumbered, the majority were former soldiers and began to battle military style. Unfortunately, they and the Tulsa police were outnumbered by the swelling mob of hatred, which chased even the firefighters away. Before the National Guard arrived, the Greenwood District was burned to its foundation.
Official estimates placed the death count at ten whites and twenty-six Blacks, however, later reports place the total at more than three hundred dead, with property damage in the millions.
Even though the entire area was leveled, eventually, the residents returned to their community and rebuilt it from the ground up.
The Greenwood Riots have been shrouded in mystery. Residents of Tulsa who were children during the riots, rarely, if ever, heard mention of the events in public. The event was glossed over in history books, particularly in the Oklahoma area.
Toward the end of the twentieth century, survivors of the horrible event began to speak.
In 1997, The Tulsa Race Riot Commission was formed to investigate the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921.
Two years after the “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa, Oklahoma was burned to the ground, the prospering Black community in Rosewood, Florida was also burned to the ground.
Similar in origin to Tulsa, Rosewood’s rioting was begun by murderous whites who assumed that a white woman had been sexually assaulted by a Black man.
The Rosewood Riots of 1923 are significant in that they were not only based on friction between the races and the white effort to “protect” the chastity of white womanhood from the sexual advances of the Black race, but also based on white hatred of any Black advancement.
Rosewood, like the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was a very prosperous Black community.
Rosewood was a small community with a majority of Black citizens who owned their homes and their land. It was named for the red cedar that grew nearby.
That cedar was cut and shipped to New York to become pencils, which made the community prosperous. When the cedar ran out, so did the majority of the white citizens. Of the mostly Black population that remained, the men went to work at a sawmill in a nearby town and the women mostly did domestic work. Some Blacks even worked for Goins & Brothers, a Black-owned Naval store in Rosewood, whose owners also owned or leased most of the land in a section called “Goin’s Quarters.”
The town also had a general store owned by a Black family, a Black-operated sugar mill, and a private school of their own. Rosewood even had its own train station.
The difficulties between the races that led to a major race war in Rosewood, Florida had been brewing for at least three years.
In the summer of 1920, smaller incidents included the lynching of four Black men who were removed from jail after being arrested for the alleged rape of a white woman.
In November of that same year, to whites and five Blacks were killed following a dispute over voting rights. Ococee, a Black community, is destroyed, including twenty-five homes, two churches and a Masonic lodge.
In 1921 and 1922, several Black men are lynched or burned at the stake for alleged assaults or murder of white women.
In January of 1923, a white woman reports an attack by a Black man she can’t identify, but the sheriff apprehends one Black man and a posse of white vigilantes apprehend and kill another.
Descendants of Blacks in Rosewood recall that the man who assaulted the white woman was actually her white lover. They also say that the woman, who was married and having an adulterous affair, protected her reputation by creating the Black assailant.
The next day more than two hundred whites gathered and converged on Rosewood, murdering two Black men. Many of the Black citizens escape Rosewood to Gainesville by train.
Two days later, the white mob returned to Rosewood and burned every building in sight.
All told, eight people lost their lives—six Black and two white.
A grand jury was convened to investigate the riot, but claimed to find “insufficient evidence,” and did not prosecute anyone.
These two riots were significant in America because they showed that Blacks were clearly pursuing their own version of the American dream and that they were more than willing to protect it, even though white racist terrorists were invading their areas.
Next Week: From Klan to Clandestine
Darryl James is an award-winning author of the powerful new anthology “Notes From The Edge.” James’ stage play, “Love In A Day,” opened in Los Angeles this Spring and will be running throughout 2011. View previous installments of this column at www.bridgecolumn.proboards36.com. Reach James at firstname.lastname@example.org.