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Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Remember the Black Wall Street

For this I give a hat-tip to My Urban Report. I had blogged a little about this moment in black history sometime last year. But Urban Report found a little bit more about this story in the Chicago Defender. There was more to that story that I was able to pull last year.

Almost like a similar story the town of Rosewood in Florida it seemed to start in this fashion...
It was Memorial Day - Monday, May 30 -in 1921. Dick Rowland, 19, was a shoeshiner employed at a Main Street shine parlor. He left his station and went to the elevator in the rear at another building to use the "colored" washroom upstairs.

"I shined shoes with Dick Rowland. He was an orphan and had quit school to take care of himself," said Robert Fairchild Sr., a survivor. "The Drexel Building was the only place downtown where we were allowed to use the restroom.

"Dick was a quiet kind of fella. Never in no trouble. He was just going over there to use the bathroom. That's all. He was just going to use the bathroom."

Rowland summoned the elevator and stood waiting for it to stop on the ground floor. When the elevator door opened, a 17-year-old elevator operator by the name of Sarah Page was on duty.

When she saw that Rowland was Black, she pushed the button to close the door before he could get all the way in - not uncommon treatment for whites toward Black customers.

But Rowland hurriedly dived into the elevator before the door closed on him and in the process either bumped her or stepped on her foot accidentally. She screamed. And when the doors opened, Rowland hurried from the building as Page recounted how he had raped her.

Such an accusation, false or not, in those days was enough to provoke certain whites to forego due process and lynch the "perpetrator."


The morning after the incident, Rowland was detained on Greenwood Avenue. He was booked and taken to the top floor of the Tulsa County Courthouse for his personal safety.

Many attorneys who were patrons of Rowland's shoeshine business began defending him to whites inflamed by the report. Also, it was noted that Page did not enjoy the highest reputation of virtue.

An afternoon editorial in the Tulsa Tribune was entitled: "Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in Elevator," and described the alleged incident. A second editorial was titled: "To Lynch Negro Tonight." That paper hit the streets just after 3 p.m., and news of this fictitious lynching soon spread.

These are one of those situations that I will never get a handle on. Lynching and race riots. We basically know what happened in Chicago in 1919 and perhaps other northern cities, it was most certainly economic in nature with blacks competing for jobs (perhaps I should do more research into that). But Tulsa, Oklahoma just had to be a case of mindless hate.

Here's the important part that you should know. Many of you may not have heard about it right...
So shameful was that reign of terror in Tulsa's history that the state's history books reduced it to a mere footnote in early 20th-century race relations.

"I was born and raised here, and I had never heard of the riot," said Tulsa District Attorney Bill LaFortune.

For the past 75 years, the riot had remained Tulsa's shameful, unspeakable secret. But June 1 of last year, on the slaughter's 75th anniversary, the city held its first commemorative service and erected a memorial.

I suggest you read this piece. It's unlikely something like this will ever happen again and it's a good thing to remember that things like this does happen. We should never forget.

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