Reconstructing the Dreamland: The Tulsa Riot of 1921 : Race, Reparations, and Reconcilation

Reconstructing the Dreamland: The Tulsa Riot of 1921 : Race, Reparations, and Reconcilation

Reconstructing the Dreamland: The Tulsa Riot of 1921 : Race, Reparations, and Reconcilation

Reconstructing the Dreamland: The Tulsa Riot of 1921 : Race, Reparations, and Reconcilation

Synopsis

The 1921 Tulsa Race Riot was the country's bloodiest civil disturbance of the century. Leaving perhaps 150 dead, 30 city blocks burned to the ground, and more than a thousand families homeless, the riot represented an unprecedented breakdown of the rule of law. It reduced the prosperous black community of Greenwood, Oklahoma, to rubble.
InReconstructing the Dreamland, Alfred Brophy draws on his own extensive research into contemporary accounts and court documents to chronicle this devastating riot, showing how and why the rule of law quickly eroded. Brophy offers a gut-wrenching portrait of mob violence and racism run amok, both on the night of the riot and the morning after, when a coordinated sunrise attack, accompanied by airplanes, stormed through Greenwood, torching and looting the community. Equally important, he shows how the city government and police not only permitted the looting, shootings, and burning of Greenwood, but actively participated in it. The police department, fearing that Greenwood was erupting into a "negro uprising" (which Brophy shows was not the case), deputized white citizens haphazardly, gave out guns and badges with little background check, or sent men to hardware stores to arm themselves. Likewise, the Tulsa-based units of the National Guard acted unconstitutionally, arresting every black resident they could find, leaving Greenwood property vulnerable to the white mob, special deputies, and police that followed behind and burned it.
Brophy's revelations and stark narrative of the events of 1921 bring to life an incidence of racial violence that until recently lay mostly forgotten. Reconstructing the Dreamlandconcludes with a discussion of reparations for victims of the riot. That case has implications for other reparations movements, including reparations for slavery.

Excerpt

On June 1, 1921, white mobs, abetted by state and local law enforcement authorities, destroyed the Greenwood section of Tulsa, Oklahoma, a vibrant African American community whose entrepreneurial verve led some to call its main thoroughfare “the black Wall Street.” Resentful of the evident ambitiousness and affluence of Greenwood’s upper class, fearful of the assertiveness displayed by black veterans of World War I who insistently demanded for themselves the democracy for which they had risked their lives abroad in the Great War, animated by the idea that Negroes must be made to stay in their “place” at the bottom of the social totem pole, habituated to the use of vigilante violence, and angered by (false) news reports and rumors about the rape of a white woman by a black man, white Tulsans killed at least twenty-five of their black neighbors—and probably dozens more—and torched thirty-five city blocks, rendering more than a thousand families homeless.

Brophy reveals fascinating facts about the Tulsa riot, its antecedents, and its aftermath that will enlighten specialists as well as novices in the study of race relations. He details the initial acknowledgment by some prominent whites that white Tulsa had committed a terrible crime against black Tulsa, the superseding effort (largely successful) to blame the riot on the victimized black community, and the layers of deceit, prejudice, and indifference that have, until recently, enshrouded this baleful episode.

Reconstructing the Dreamland is a timely contribution to a variety of important and contentious discussions involving American history African American culture, and the problems encountered in attempting to right past wrongs. Professor Brophy’s study rightly emphasizes the centrality of racially motivated violence to the American experience. Nowadays when Americans use the term “race riot,” many . . .

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