Riots, terror tactics began with whites against blacks.
by Chuck Ramsay
Over the last year, following the death of Michael Brown and many other mostly-unarmed African American men and women, and continued use of excessive force by many police officers, we have heard what is becoming a chant from many others charging it is the fault of those in the African American community because they make “bad choices,” “should just go and get a job instead of rioting and burning down their neighborhoods and hurting businesses.” These sentiments are not only far from the truth in most cases, but contribute to the revisionist history of race relations in the United States.
There is good evidence that the rioting that occurred after Michael Brown’s death last year was not committed by the protesters, but rather others taking advantage of the demonstrations to profit from theft and let out their anger in a destructive, criminal way. While no one condones those actions, they can often be understandable given how black men, women and children have been treated by white America since the earliest colonial days.
As slaves, African Americans were chattel property. They could be sold on a whim to another owner, often hundreds of miles away. Families were often and intentionally separated – children from parents, husbands from wives – to accommodate a profitable sale. They were regularly beaten and punished in awful ways to set fear in other slaves, as an example of how not to behave, and often just for the heck of it. If they did not increase their productivity after 18-hour days, they were often whipped to the bone as motivation to work harder. Frequently, the beatings took their toll and slaves died as a result, on the spot. And women and girls were subject to being raped at will by their slave owners. This was their life, or what they could expect out of their life.
Militias, private armies, were organized and hired by planters to make sure slaves did not escape, and if they did, the militias hunted them down to kill or bring them back for more torture. Knowing the risk, many slaves sought their freedom because they were people just like you and me who wanted their life to have meaning, to have “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
After the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, the freed slaves, not having land or any property other than the clothes on their back, were made into share croppers who per paid so little for their labor by the former slave owners that their “freedom” amounted to that only in name. What money they could earn quickly disappeared in order to purchase goods from the “company store” – usually their only source of supplies.
If an African American was able to subsist beyond being a share cropper, the local whites in power often arrested them on trumped up charges and put them into work gangs instead of jail, where they once again reverted to being in a form of slavery.
Later on, some progress was made, but African Americans, up through today have been expected to live under various forms of prejudice, white-imposed violence, restrictions on where they could live, work or receive education. This is Jim Crow.
In the 20th century in Tulsa, Oklahoma, segregation existed pretty much as it did throughout the country. But, something there was different. The black community came together to develop their own neighborhood and business district by working together to seek a better life than they would have otherwise. It was called Greenwood. What happened though in 1921 was a national memory that has been all but wiped out, torn literally out of history books and newspaper accounts. The Tulsa Riots.
We’ve included a short version and a longer version here today for those who are not familiar with the Tulsa Riots, where whites burned down the entire Greenwood area and killed scores of black Americans out of sheer hatred.