On Sunday, HBO debuted its highly anticipated series, Watchmen, set in a alternate contemporary reality within the United States where superheroes and masked vigilantes are outlawed for the use of their violent methods, but still gather to start a revolutions while others work to stop them. But that is not what this post is about. This post is centered around the first ten minutes of this episode, so if you are looking for a review of this show or this episode, this ain’t it fam.
The show opens with “TULSA, 1921” in big bold lettering. For those who are educated on the subject, you, like myself, were stunned to see the Tulsa Race Riot set the stage for the direction of this episode, let alone the show. Never in my days have I ever seen this event depicted with what I assume to be such accuracy. And as I watched black bodies targeted, from land and air, I became overwhelmed and concerned by the fact that there were people who were watching this fully unaware that this was not fictionalized moment on television. I stayed there stunned, truly trying to grip what that reality was for those who lived it. My timeline shared the same sentiments. That ten minutes was hands-down, one of the single most important pieces of American history captured for the screen. I am shocked it was not prefaced with “Based on true events”.
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The morning after was flooded with articles reminding people that the events they witnessed on Watchmen, which were never included in any of my history books, was indeed real. Peep the title of this headass article HERE. And now, almost 100 years later, America is reminded of a history that was meant to be forgotten. Articles poured in educating the masses of what the Tulsa Race Riot was, how it started, and why. They shared information regarding the importance, and threat, this area in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, also known as “Black Wall Street” , posed to whites and how the US government was complicit in erasing this travesty from the history books through its silence and inaction.
What was missing from almost every piece I read was how what happened in Tulsa on May 30, 1921 was not the exception…it was the rule. America has a deep ugly history of erasing black prosperity, and people from existence, to the point that not only are people not aware these black spaces were annihilated, but they aren’t aware they existed in the first place.
So, please buckle in for this history lesson as we go over America’s history with race riots and its treatment of blacks throughout history. Please note, this list is not comprehensive, which should tell you something. I would also like to note that in most cases, the white perpetrators were either not charged or not found guilty of any crime related to their immediate role in said riots. In addition, many Blacks fled these places after being attacked which assisted with its erasure.
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1829 – Cincinnati Race Riots (No deaths reported *insert side eye*)
This riot was triggered by competition between Irish immigrants and Blacks looking for jobs in Cincinnati, resulting from the influx of free blacks coming to the area. Wanting to push Blacks out of the city, after attempting to enforce rules meant to discourage and/or outright push out Black people, approx. 200-300 whites (led by Irish immigrants) attacked the Black areas of the First Ward aka “Bucktown” from August 15-August 22, 1829. Town officials did little to stop these attacks which resulted in most of the property of Black Cincinnati’s population being destroyed. By the end of August, between 1100-1500 Blacks had left the city, more than half of the city’s Black population. Many relocated to Canada.
1863 – Detroit Race Riots (two reportedly killed)
This is noted as the city’s first race riot. It started on March 6, 1863 when a white mob attacked Detroit’s Black population. This attack began after two black men were falsely accused of raping two 9-year old girls but the racial tension had been brewing for sometime. Keep in mind, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued and many newly freed Blacks wanted to get the hell out of the South to move up North where it was supposed to be less hostile to Blacks. Little did they know…. The Detroit Free Press frequently ran articles blaming the influx of Black people for the city’s crime and issues that impacted working-class whites. The paper also stated that Blacks were the cause of the Civil War and that they couldn’t be trusted. This was in the NORTH…the “safe space”. The riot started after a white man was shot during a mob attack against the black man falsely accused of rape. This led this angry mob of white people on a path of destruction towards any Black residence and/or business they could find. The white mob (aka terrorists) would set their buildings on fire and then would beat the black people who came running out. These free black people who had just fled slavery had to now flee the place they thought they could call home. At the time, Detroit was 97% white. It wasn’t until the terrorist burned down a white home that the violence was quelled.
From this point on I will be using ‘white terrorists’ instead of ‘white mob/vigilante’ because that is exactly what TF they are.
1863 – New York Draft Riots (100-200 reportedly killed. Real number is approx 1,200)
As progressive as you believe New York to be now, it was against the Union’s involvement in the Civil War and almost seceded from the Union as it was huge trading partner with the South. New York fought to preserve the Union, not abolish slavery #NeverForget. In addition, many of the city’s white immigrant population opposed the migration of Blacks due to fears that they would lose their jobs to Black people. That coupled with a new draft law, making enlistment mandatory but allowing a “buy-out” option of $300 to hire a substitute, sent these terrorists into a fury. This $300 was nothing for the rich who could buy their way out the Draft (Hi, President Pumpkin Spice), but to the working class white, it was almost their yearly salary. Thousands of mostly Irish-immigrant terrorists attacked government buildings on July 13, 1863. Not satisfied with the anarchy they started, these Irish immigrant terrorists moved on to Black citizens, their homes, and their businesses. Fam, Black people were legit minding our own business when these angry white terrorists came venting their bull shit on us. In the end, thousands were injured and over 100 were killed, though the REAL estimates were as high as 1,200. From July 13-July 16, Black bodies were beaten and lynched until order was restored. This is America.
1866 – Memphis Massacre (48 reported dead)
From May 1-2, 1866, Memphis experience its worst race riot in history. The end results left 48 dead (though we know how they like to fudge the numbers when it comes to Black deaths), “seventy-five persons injured, one hundred persons robbed, five women raped, ninety-one homes burned, four churches and eight schools burned and destroyed, and seventeen thousand dollars in federal property destroyed”. The riots began when it was reported that Black soldiers killed several white policeman when they tried to arrest a Black solider. The Black soldiers were disarmed and thrown in barracks, leaving the settlements of freed-black people vulnerable to attack. And that is just what happened. But the tension began way before this took place. Many whites in the area, especially Irish white immigrants (yup the Irish again), supported the Confederacy and were feeling some kind of way about its defeat and the fact that skilled, and unskilled, Black labor were impacting their access to jobs and their upward mobility within their communities. They used this opportunity as revenge, against Black prosperity and the Union. “For two days, white mobs, which included policemen, firemen, and some businessmen, attacked the freedmen’s camps and neighborhoods.” But this was just the beginning because three months later in New Orleans…..
1866 – New Orleans Massacre (50 reportedly killed)
On July 30, 1866, Black Republicans marched to the Mechanics Institute in New Orleans, where the Louisiana Constitutional Convention was reconvening, to oppose the Black Codes, which had been passed as well as the refusal to allow Black men the right to vote. Marching behind a US flag, these people were met by a mob of white terrorists, organized by the city’s Mayor, John T. Monroe who was an active supporter of the Confederacy. This Mayor organized ex-Confederates, white supremacist, and members of the New Orleans Police Force to block the marchers’ entry in to the convention. Shots were fired and the mob of white, racist terrorists begin attacking and shooting the marchers. The attack spread from the Mechanics Institutes and Black people, again minding their own business, were attacked, shot, or killed for simply being in and/or around the vicinity of the melee. The violence enacted against these black people was described as sadistic.
1868 – Pulaski Riot (seven reportedly killed)
1868 – Opelousas Massacre (200-300 killed)
In September 1868, there was tension in the South due to the designation of rights given to newly freed Blacks, which upset the Confederacy-loving South. The shift of political power was taking place. Blacks from Opelousas, LA attempted to join the Democratic Party, which was the home of the ex-confederates and other white supremacist orgs. The Seymour Knights, a white supremacist group, attacked Blacks and drove them out the party. An 18 year old white school teacher wrote about this incident in one of the city’s Republican newspapers, in an attempt to persuade Blacks to remain loyal to the Republicans… for this very reason. Bentley was subsequently beaten because of the article and skipped town because he knew what smoke was to follow. Rumors spread that Bentley was killed, which enraged Black Republicans in the area. Word spread around town that Blacks were planning a rebellion so of course that paved the way for thousands of white men to arm themselves. On September 28, 1868 a small group of armed Blacks were met by white terrorist on horseback. They arrested 29 of them. Twenty-seven were executed. For two weeks, Black families and businesses were terrorized, killed in their homes, shot in public, and chased down and beaten by these armed terrorists. Black businesses, including all Republican newspapers were burned to the ground. The remaining Democratic newspapers downplayed the violence. Barely a month later in St. Bernard Parish…
1868 – St. Bernard Parish massacre (35-100 reported dead)
In October of 1868, armed white Democrats mobilized to suppress the votes of newly freed Black people, in fear that they (whites) would lose their majority. They wanted to “Make America Great Again” and return it to the way of life prior to the Civil War. On October 25, 1868 was when the first casualty took place against freed Blacks. For three days, Black residents were terrorized by these White terrorists. Those who did escape death managed to do so by hiding in sugar cane fields. The only physical reminder of this massacre is the tombstone of Pablo San Feliu, a store owner who was killed by Blacks who he pulled a gun out on and shot at, and it reads:
Pablo San Feliu
Assassinated by Slaves
Incited by Carpetbag Rule
Died Oct. 1869
1870 – Eutaw Massacre (4 reportedly killed)
1871 – Meridian Race Riot (Over 30 reportedly killed)
Meridian. Mississippi experienced three days of terror after the Ku Klu Klan (KKK) organized a mob of white terrorist to kill nearly 30 black people after a white republican disguised himself as a member of the KKK and beat a white man who had been intimidating and harassing Black workers. He was the first person to be arrested under a law that was supposed to protect Blacks from the KKK. The boiling over of Black frustration with the lack of prosecutions of white violence against blacks bled into the courtroom on March 6, 1871, resulting in a white republican judge being shot along with other black leaders who were on trial for an arson incident that took place a few days earlier. For two days, White terrorists, led by the KKK, terrorized and killed the Black residents of Meridian. Fearing for their own safety, hundreds of blacks left the area.
1873 – Colfax Massacre (Over 150 reportedly killed)
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The White League(TWL), also known as the “White Man’s League, was founded in 1874 as a white paramilitary organization, affiliated with the Democratic Party and it has a lot of blood on its hands. Members of TWL are tied to the Colfax Massacre where on Easter Sunday in 1873, a White Militia armed with rifles and a small cannon (yes a cannon), overpowered Republican Freedmen and Black Militia members who were trying to protect the Grant Parish courthouse. The white militia did not attack white republicans however they did kill over 150 Black People.
1874 – Coushatta Massacre (26 reportedly killed)
1876 – Hamburg Massacre (7 reportedly killed)
1887 – Thibodaux Massacre (60-100 reportedly killed)
On November 23, 1887, a mass shooting of Black farm workers took place, killing 60 though the numbers are said to be higher. Their bodies were dumped in unmarked graves. This massacre took place because Black sugar cane workers attempted to unionize, tired of working for meals and/or $.42 a day for 10 hours of work and decided to stage a strike during the pivotal harvest season. White terrorists locked down Thibodaux in attempt to identify strikers and demanded passes from Blacks going in and out of the town. Then the reports came in of shots being fired in a cornfield, injuring two white guards. Louisiana’s white, democratic governor set out all-white militias (see: terrorists) who were armed, shooting “suspected” strikers and/or Blacks unlucky enough to cross their path. Statues were put up of those who were involved in these unlawful killings. Black farm workers did not attempt to unionize again until the 1930s.
1906 – Atlanta Riots (25-100 reportedly killed)
With the Black population in Atlanta soaring from 9,000 in 1880 to over 35,000 in 1900s, it put pressure on “municipal services, increased job competition among black and white workers, heightened class distinctions, and led the city’s white leadership to respond with restrictions intended to control the daily behavior of the growing working class, with mixed success.” It also upset whites at the thought of integrating spaces with the influx of new Black people coming to the city. On September 22, 1906, after the newspapers (y’all better listen to what Malcolm X said about the media) trumped up false stories about white women being attacked by black men, a mob of over a thousand white terrorist gathered in the downtown Atlanta and did what any irrational terrorist group would do…..attack black-owned businesses and any Black people who crossed their path. Blacks secretly armed themselves while whites had the protection of the militia. After a meeting of heavily armed Blacks was learned, the police feared a counterattack and stormed the group who were located in Brownsville. A shoot out ensued and over 250 Blacks were arrested. Estimates of Blacks killed range between 25 and 40 however the coroner only issued 10 death certificates. Go figure.
1910 – Slocum Massacre (8-200 reportedly killed)
This largely Black town, located in Slocum, Texas, was invaded by white terrorist upset about a Black man was put in charge by a regional construction foreman to help round up help for local road improvements. The terrorists were also pissed when a well-off black man disputed a debt he was being told needed to be collected. Nestled deep in their insecure feelings, these terrorists were motivated by the exaggerations of these incidents and took to the town of Slocum, killing Black people indiscriminately. Most of the victims were shot in the back.
“Men were going about killing Negroes as fast as they could find them,” Sheriff Black told the New York Times. “These Negroes have done no wrong that I can discover,” Black continued. “I don’t know how many were in the mob, but there may have been 200 or 300. They hunted the Negroes down like sheep.”
1919 – Red Summer (1000s reportedly killed)
“Red Summer refers to a series of approximately 25 “anti-black riots” that erupted in major cities throughout the nation in 1919, including Houston, Texas; East St. Louis and Chicago, Illinois; Washington, D.C.; Omaha, Nebraska; Elaine, Arkansas; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Charleston, South Carolina.” These riots were a result of white serviceman coming back from war to find their old jobs had been filled by Black veterans. The Elaine Massacre in Arkansas had the greatest number of causalities, numbering around 230+ and is still considered one of the deadliest racial conflicts in all of United States history. Other Race Riots that took place that year (YES JUST ONE YEAR!!!) are as follows:
April 13, 1919 – Jenkins County Riot – seven reportedly killed
May 10, 1919 – Charleston Race Riot – Six reportedly killed
June 7, 1919 – Macon Mississippi Race Riot – no reported deaths *insert side eye*
July 12, 1919 – Longview Race Riot – one reported death
July 19-24, 1919 – Washington DC Race Riot – 40 reportedly killed
July 27, 1919 – Chicago Race Riot – 38 reportedly killed
August 30-31, 1919 – Knoxville Race Riot – 2-30 reportedly killed
September 28-29, 1919 – Omaha Race Riot – Three reportedly killed
In May of 1921, Black Wall Street was burned to the ground. Approximately 100-300 people were killed. Countless, and I do mean countless, of Black bodies were injured and/or disappeared entirely. Two years later, a racially motivated massacre of blacks took place in Rosewood, leaving the destruction of a black town and an unknown number of deaths. And the hits just keep on coming. So while most are surprised to find out about what happened in Tusla, thanks to the Watchmen, the real surprise is finding out just how common the extermination of Black people has been and will continue to be in this country. This is America.