As this country becomes more involved with the one-hundredth year of the destruction of Black Wall Street by over 7500 white cowards who invaded that section of Tulsa, I am concerned that the emphasis will be poorly placed. It all evolves around the new narrative being used to bring attention to what happened that fateful day on June 1, 1921, Over the past few years, the designation has moved from Race Riot to Massacre. It certainly was not a race riot, but I feel emphasizing massacre is also misplaced. Let me make it clear that I am very much aware of the damage done by that cowardly crowd of vicious white Tulsans race haters. After ten years of research and having written a novel and a screenplay on the killing of over 300 men, women and children, and the burning of businesses and homes within at 33 block area, I am far from naïve as to the damage done. However, isn’t there something important that happened the day before the invasion? That something is the defense that the Black citizens of Greenwood mounted against the first attack by the cowards during the evening of May 31, and the brave Black veterans who crossed the Frisco Railroad Tracks and stood between the cowardly mob insisting that Dick Rowland be handed over to them and the courthouse where he was locked up.
My point is that I do not want for us to tolerate a bunch of white liberals, who finally have a conscience, to use what happened to Black Wall Street as a means to separate themselves from the cowards who carried out this dastardly act, by stressing the massacre as what is important. I am pretty much fed-up with the “oh those poor Negroes look what happened to them,” crowd who tend to dominate the narrative in these kinds of cases. I am tired of movies depicting blacks running scared of the evil white man. Instead, I am looking forward to stories and movies that show Black men, standing up and fighting back. In the movie Harriet, there are numerous scenes that show Blacks running scared, trying to escape the white slave hunters. That was appropriate for that particular movie, but not for any film that creates on screen what happened in Tulsa. We have an alternative to stressing the destruction, and that is to highlight the fighting Black men like O.B. Mann and the World War I Veterans, with John Williams and J.B. Stradford, who repelled the attack on the night of May 31, and were only finally defeated when the cowards used airplanes and over 7500 whites to attack them. A film that can also bring to life the many successful black men and women who built that vibrant, independent black community from 1906 to the destruction in 1921. Black women like Mabel Little who built a very successful hair salon and a restaurant and also Loula Williams, who managed the Williams Confectionery and the Dreamland Theater. There was also Andrew Smitherman, owner of the Tulsa Star, whose motto, printed on the front page of all his newspapers was, “You Push Me and I’ll Push You,” who wrote just how he felt and that was to challenge the bigotry and ugliness of the white Tulsans. And the few just named were the tip of the iceberg in the number of successful businesses owned by Blacks along Black Wall Street (originally titled Negro Wall Street by Booker T. Washington, but later changed to use the word Black when Negro no longer was in vogue).
Let us take a page out of white America and Hollywood’s treatment of the Alamo. Even though Davey Crockett, Jim Bowie and over 150 men were killed in that battle, you have never heard it referred to as the Alamo Massacre. What you have seen on screen depicting that defeat are creations of the perceived heroes. White America, after seeing the movies on the Alamo, could come out of the theater feeling good about their people. How about the defeat of General Custer? It was a massacre but is always referred to as “Custer’s Last Stand,” as a brave soldier fighting the evil Native Americans who attacked his troops. If that can be accomplished for the sake of young white children who want to feel proud of their history, why can’t we do the same for the millions of young black Americans. Let’s give them something to believe in, and not something to increase the anger they feel about being Black in America. If for the next ten months, leading up to the commemoration of those two days, all they read and hear is massacre, then we have done them a disservice. The term will dictate the narrative.
In the June 1941 issue of Crisis Magazine, and writing a review of Richard Wright’s, Native Son, Langston Hughes asked the question, “Where are the Black heroes in literature?” One of the greatest of all our cultural icons was alluding to the failure of Black writers to create heroes in their works. Hughes went on in that article to elaborate. “Where, in all our books is that compelling flame of spirit and passion that makes a man say, “I too am a hero because my race has produced heroes.” Substitute literature for movies and the same question can be asked of us today. Where are all those heroes that our young can see and come out of the movie wanting to be like them. We, as Black Americans, have a great opportunity to accomplish that by taking control of the narrative as it pertains to the destruction of Black Wall Street. But we must be willing to step forward and let those, who now are so anxious to control that narrative, know that we will have nothing to do with an emphasis on the negative. We want to accentuate the positive, which is to highlight the heroes who stood up and protected their families, businesses and homes until the airplanes came.