tv Blood on Black Wall Street The Legacy of the Tulsa Massacre MSNBC July 4, 2021 5:00pm-6:00pm PDT
racial violence is some far-off memory, a grainy bloc and white past long forgotten, but in tulsa, oklahoma, that distance between the past and the present begins to shrink. 100 years ago, this community experienced a race massacre. >> 18 hours of sheer destruction! 18 hours men fleeing for their lives! >> but for black tulsans the story didn't end for the masser k.it continued for 100 years, a trauma felt by each generation in its own way through segregation, through urban renewal, through gentrification. this story is about the people of greenwood, what was taken from them and their fight to be made whole. >> imagine where we would be had it not happened, had our
families not been destroyed. >> because the american story can't be contained in a snapshot. it's an epic poem. oral history passed from one generation to the next. >> you didn't read it in a book. you didn't see it in a movie. you witnessed it yourself in reality. >> history doesn't make your heart bleed. >> it wasn't always a story about loss and bloodshed. before that streak of white violence undid this place, the booker t. washington coined the greenwood neighborhood black wall street, a nod to its thriving black business community and the name stuck. >> black wall street is really a reference to the economic and strufl character of the business district and the greenwood
community. these were mom and pop type of operations, sole proprietorships, grocery stores, salons, haberdasheries, pharmacies. >> on the eve of the massacre, greenwood was a district of 10,000 people and one of the wealthiest mac communities in the united states, but grownwood was an island of black prosperity in a sea of racism. situated in the heart of a strictly segregated city in a segregated state in a segregated country and 100 years ago for 18 hours over the course of one weekend, greenwood became a tinder box, lit up by the rage of a white ruling class. >> telephone poles were burning and falling and my sister who is two years younger than i am. kenny is the world on fire? i don't think so but we're in deep trouble, huh?
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so the catalytic event for the event in tulsa in 1921 began on may 30th, 1921. >> dick roland 19 years old and black crossed paths in an elevator with a 17-year-old white girl named sarah page. history books offer us one version of events. >> something happened on the elevator. we don't know exactly what, but it's likely that dick either bumped into, brushed up against or stepped on the foot of sarah page. she overreacted. she began to scream and he was frightened and ran from the elevator. >> family lore. >> the man was not a black man attacking a woman. what he saw was two people kissing. sarah page and dick roland were lovers. he was accused of attacking her and sarah from what we understand tried to tell him no, no, no. we're in love. we're getting married. >> she refused to cooperate with
prosecutors after they arrested dick roland and charged him with assault. though that might have been the end of the story, it wasn't because of the role of the "tulsa tribune. "it published a story nab knee grow for attacking girl in an elevator? what happened next should have been shocking but it's. >> the a group of white man amassed on the lawn of the courthouse numbering ultimately in the thousand. a um inform black men, several dozen, some of them were world war i veteran, marched down to the courthouse vowing to protect dick roland from what they thought might be a certain death by lynching. >> he heard that they were trying to lynch a black boy down there down at the courthouse. >> a white man tried to take a black man's gun and in the words of a number of survivors of the massacre, all hell broke loose after that. >> in less than 24 hours, that
mob turned 35 square blocks of unparalleled black economic prosperity into smouldering ashes. >> we saw coming up the wall four men with torches in their hand. when my mother saw them coming, she said you get up under the bed, get up under the bed. they set our house to the fire and went straight to the curtains and set the curtains on fire. >> we saw over 10,000 people be made homeless. in 18 hours we saw 1,256 homes destroyed. >> today that land would have been valued at $25 million to $35 million. the official death toll was 37, a number almost too low to believe. >> most experts believe that between 100 and 300 people were killed, most of them black. a mum of folks in the greenwood
community were interned during the massacre and what did this d was leave the greenwood community defenseless. >> thousands tried to flee greenwood. >> where are you going? he used the "n" word, and my grandpa said we're headed out. we're going out of town. and he said not this day you're not going out of town. bam! >> you saw your grandfather get shot. >> i saw him get shot, bam. >> the first aerial terrorist attack in american history was not done by al qaeda, was not done by the japanese, but the first time we were attacked by air in this country was done by white men, and they flew planes that were owned by privately held corporations. >> when i was awakened by my mother, i was real frightened because she told me what was happening and she says we have
to go out and get out. she says the white people are killing the colored people. >> farther north on the train tracks out of town, the nightmare was just beginning. eldora mcconaughey, just 9 years old at the time, was running for her life. >> the track was just full of people and all i could see was black rolling smoke down south and the people going north. it was just the sound of these bricks, stones, buildings blowing up. you just -- just a war-torn place. >> her granddaughter joy can only imagine the horrors of her grandmother's escape. >> so the bullets are bouncing off of the train tracks and stinging their feet. she's already scared to death, but now they realize, oh, they are shooting at us. they are dropping bombs on us.
>> bullets were just raining down over us. the airplanes were up just raining down the bullets, and i was so frightened i pulled away from my parents and ran into this chicken coop with all the other people. >> 100 to 300 dead, thousands more missing. in 2001 the oklahoma commission to study the race riot of 1921 released a report naming three locations where mass graves from the massacre may be buried, but at the time the city administration decided that it wasn't worth the expense to dig up the past. in 2020, the city's current mayor authorized the excavations to commence. >> i think one of the things that caused previous public officials to avoid it was this year that there would be this giant backlash against it, that there would be this steep political price to pay. >> the republican mayor first proposed looking for victims in
2018, a challenge for the predominantly conservative city of tulsa where over 60% of residents are white and just 15% are black. >> someone was not happy with me pursuing this investigation, and she came up to me when i was out at breakfast with my wife and kids and said you're just trying to make all the white people who lived in the 1920s look bad and i said my family were white people in the 1920s and i'm not trying to make them bad but everybody who lives here deserves to know what happened. >> the mayor appointed local historian kevin ross to chair a public oversight committee investigating the mass graves. so far 12 caskets have been exhumed, and the process of identifying them has begun. how are you actually finding some of these grave sites? >> we've got the power of radar, but most that have is basically just good old-fashioned oral history. those people who kept the story alive. we knew of two tombstones of
those who were victims from 1921, but we had never known that they would be in a trench stacked like dominoes. i'm hoping that for the 12 or so bodies that's underneath this ground we'll have some kind of justice. it's been a hole literally in the heart of tulsans because there are loved ones out there unknown to us. we're just at the beginning on truth. to us. we're just at the beginning on truth. with relapsing forms of ms... there's a lot to deal with. not just unpredictable relapses.
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vernon a & e church was the oldest building on the avenue. its facade was one of the few structures to survive the massacre. >> there are moments in life when we examine excruciating evidence of man's inhumanity to man. some seem to wonder is god just? we heard the same sentiment in communities of color after trayvon martin, after tamir rice and eric garner and breonna taylor and ahmaud arbery and we heard it even in my parent's generation after the killing of emmett till and included in that number is the place we stand today, the 1921 tulsa race massacre. >> parishioners huddled in the basement as the city burned around them. >> these are the original bricks.
this is the wall that shows a lot of the fire that spread because there's a wall that stretched from here all the way over there so this wall right here is what saved this church. >> that's right. >> saved the people who came in from this window. >> that's right. >> that's right, the bombs, the bullets and would have taken refuge in this space. >> in this very space. >> it is something i could never get used to, because i know that their pride and the prayers that they prayed still reverberates. >> can you imagine losing an entire community? yet people still came back to this church, some with the same question in 1921 that we have in 2021. is god just? >> how do you as a leader of this church try to respond to
those prayers? >> it is knowing that i'm fighting for what they pray for. we rebuild and if it were not for what god blessed them to do. vernon would not be here today, and at the centennial we wouldn't have anything on historic greenwood avenue, but because of what they did we have something. . three days after the end of the massacre "the tribe uni"push lishd an editorial titled is must not be began. it began this assault in nigge are town must never happen again. no white person was ever held accountable in terms of going to jail time for the devastation of the greenwood community and the murder of the african-americans
who populated the greenwood community. the ultimate irony is that several dozen black men were indicted for inciting the riot. >> despite being blamed for the massacre and even though they received no financial assistance, the black people of greenwood began rebuilding. >> i don't know how we built back so quick. quick might have been eight, nine years, but then we built back really better than it is today i think, and segregation stayed on, segregation was on in those days. >> by the early 1940s there were well over 200 black-owned and operated businesses in the greenwood community, so there was a renaissance of black wall street that came back actually bigger and better than ever post-massacre. >> black wall street was a community twice born out of necessity and in an era when intense segregation prohibited
black people from white-owned establishments, they had to create their own economic oasis. >> how are y'all doing? >> doing good. >> how are you? >> i don't know yet. too early in the day for me. >> bobby eaton sr. is an 58-year-old lifelong tulsans. he grew up hearing stories about the massacre in his father's barber nd they would talk about the riot as long all of them knew each other. if you came in as a stranger, everything shut down. there's a reason that kind of secrecy existed. >> by the time he was a young man, bobby sr. turned his father's barber shop into the meeting place for a local chapter of the congress of racial equality, the seeds of a movement were born. >> that is what started the
civil rights movement in tulsa. my dad allowed us to take his barber shop, and he was -- had some reservations. knowing what white folks had done and that that was going to happen to us. we knew somebody needed to do something. we discussed all the short falls. one of the things that just got through happening. george floyd. things like that happened in our community. am i militant? am i hot-headed? yes, i am. i don't choose to be uncomfortable. reality has made me uncomfortable.
>> i grew up in a black word. it was wonderful because we went to all black schools and all black churches and everything was black, so that's all i knew. integration as a kid, as a kid it shattered my world. >> you all have never witnessed integration. you witnessed desegregation where they allow you to come into now what they used to keep you out of. >> so greenwood, even when you were coming up, long after the massacre, had black businesses. when did it start to change? >> when negro removal came in and right before that when they built an expressway right through the heart of greenwood business district. ♪♪
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i'm yorkia johnson. crews in surfside, florida are securing the area around the collapsed condo building ahead of its demolition. the demolition should begin between 10:00 tonight and 3:00 in the morning and today president biden hosted a fourth of july party on the white house south lawn that included a barbecue for military families and first responders. now back to the tulita massacre. if you were to visit the greenwood district today, the first thing you would notice is a massive overpass that cuts right through the heart of the neighborhood. it's a scar left over from tulsa's push for so-called urban renewal in the 1960s. policies that were promoted as tools for revitalizing urban districts resulted in people being pushed out of their black communities. >> this freeway didn't come into the powers of urban renewal back
in the '70s and basically severing this whole community and so like i always say to many people, this freeway is still upon my inheritance. who is to say that my great grandfather will not have left this to me, a business owned in greenwood. >> by the 1970s urban renewal gobbled up and demolished more than 1,000 businesses and homes. many of them in greenwood. and the highway for black tulsans to move north, west and east rather than the typically more prosperous neighborhoods south of the railroad tracks. >> urban renewal which is what i call urban removal came in and knocked down all the housing and all the old buildings and really destroyed our community. >> bobby eaton jr. and his son trey continue to carry on the eaton legacy. the barber shop is closed, but
the family founded eaton media and started a community radio station in the same nearly 100-year-old building. >> joey right here, this is the man that made it all possible right here and he and louie, my grandmother, we miss them dearly. they said he was about 22 years old when the massacre took place and he was shining shoes down there on black wall street. a lot of memories here in this old house. if we weren't able to hold on to that, i wouldn't be here right now and i wouldn't have a radio station and we would be like the other families who lost all their properties. >> man, if the walls could talk, but being that it's here and not many of my peers are able to have family property that's over 100 years, you know, over 100 years old. not too many of us have buildings with our names on it.
this is buty salon. it's been almost a little bit of everything. >> i wonder when you were coming up, when did you first hear about the massacre? >> i didn't hear about the massacre until i got grown. >> why. >> they didn't talk about it. it was not discussed in the school systems, in the community, in the neighborhoods. tulsa, black tulsa has been traumatized and with that trauma and urban renewal moving out the history, the young youth grow up never knowing the history. they don't know the history of what existed over here. all they see is empty lots and things like that, so i don't think it's been a good thing for us at all. >> all throughout our childhood we heard the chicken coop story, you know. your grandmother hid in the chicken coop. you know, momma hid in the
chicken coop but never the connection. just the chicken coop story until 1999. i live in los angeles. i'm working for the government and i'm at work, and there she is on the front page of the "los angeles times." a city's buried shame. >> up until that moment joy had never known about the trauma her grandmother had lived through. she picked up her baby and took the first flight back home to tulsa. >> he didn't tell us. you should have told us, grandma, and she looked at us, she looked at me and she said because i wanted you and the baby and she said -- had they spoke of this by any means pretty much they would be labeled as trouble-maker and their lives would have been in
danger and they would have been killed with no repercussions from it, and, therefore, they never would have been able to have children, grandchildren, and that's what she meant. >> so the root word of reparations is repair. this situation has not been repaired. repair me. repair me has a person. repair me as a citizen. whatever that takes, whatever it looks like so we can have true rest trace. >> eloise cochran price is the cousin of dick roland. she and other descendants and living survivors of the massacre are suing the city of tulsa for what happened to their families. >> let's bring justice to people who have been harmed, who continue to be traumatized. generation after generation. we're talking about going on four generation of tragedy.
money is. never real just because the person is not coming back but it's the closest that we can get. all we ask for in this country is give us what everyone else wants. we want equality and equity. or replace it. give us the profit back or the fair market value. that's all we're asking for. >> this man first heard about the massacre when he was a college student at the university of oklahoma. today he leads the legal fight against the city on behalf of the victims of 1921. what do you say to the folks who say it's 100 years later, i didn't commit atrocities and you're not a victim. >> i would say you was never there, but the city was an entity and the city is a liar. literally the city is the same city it was in -- massacre and 100 years of continuing harm, when you think about right after the masser can, the first thing the city of tulsa did was create
a new law that we couldn't properly rebuild because they wanted to take our land. you think of them building the largest kkk meeting hall in greenwood right next to between 23. you talk about them bringing in the highwood right -- >> when it pushes us further vote. they intentionally never wanted to allow greenwood tocchet build up and have the mother that it had pre-1921 so, yes, this is more than that. we're talking about the harm right to this date. >> in 192 is, the city of tulsa refused to pay reparations. the city of tulsa said they are not culpable for the city massacre so we come here because we know as a black poem in this
nation that we've got to continue to march on on. let us march on and march on. >> the reverend turner and the vernon amy church have joined the reparations lawsuit. every wednesday since september 12 of 2018 the pastor has led a protest in front of city hall demanding reparations from the city. >> the real civil rights movement. let's do reparations, not tomorrow! not next week. not next year. but let's do reparations now. if we can put a pan on the move, we can do that here in tulsa. >> i support direct payment to the folks who are the survivors and. criminal charges being filed
against those individuals and they were actually a part of the 1921 tulsa race massacre. >> i will work for justice as long as there's blood in my veins. >> i'll go up. can you make sure they come in the folks who are outside? oh, thank you. >> as crazy as this may sound, i know i wasn't here but i feel a remnant of their pain and wanted them to receive justice in death even though they may now receive it in life and what keeps me going is because i really still do believe in this country. i really believe that america
can be even greater than what she is. god drives me in my call for remembering those who suffered and the institutions who suffered like this church and god calls me to love even this nation that i live in, even though she doesn't always love me. ♪♪ me ♪ for people living with h-i-v, keep being you.
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attention to is where it says reopened because a lot of the markers will say not reopened. >> flags line the sidewalks of greenwood serving as a reminder of the businesses that burned on these streets, most of which were never rebuilt. >> see like that one, says not reopened. construction company not reopen. >> at the height of black wall street, there were over 300 black-owned businesses on 12 miles of greenwood avenue. today there are just 23. tory tyson's salon was one of them. it had been in herfully for three generations. >> i started out on greenwood as a shampoo assistant in the '90s so i was totally down there for over 20 years, you know, and then owning it for 14 years. >> one day she notice that had other black business owners in the area were moving out. >> the reason i'm going live is to tell y'all what's going on on greenwood. this was a mipe mart.
greenwood is supposed to be affordable. i'm going to try to do this video without crying, y'all. >> i just noticed a lot of leadership changing. i noticed that the building was deteriorating and everything around us was building up, and i just couldn't be quiet about it, and i was like what's going on? and they raised my rent and i can't pay it. >> so this really is the last remaining footprint of what greenwood was? >> it is. it is the last remaining footprint. >> in 2017, the greenwood chamber of commerce raised tori's rent. they threatened to raise it three more times over the next three years from $750 to $11,550 a month. in december of 2020 she received an eviction notice, and the next month she went to court. >> kind of emotional when i'm trying to keep a straight face today. part of me knew that i was going to end up having to leave at the end of the day, but part of me
was like oh, i'm going to win this case because i literally have stacks of envelopes, like i knew i was right and i still follow like i was right. >> today is the day that -- in march, tori lost her case and was forced from the space that show's called home for 14 years. >> it was really hard, you know. i've been there for so long and i knew i wasn't wrong. i knew what greenwood was capable, and so that was my goal. that is what i wanted and so i knew -- i just cried on my clients, my family. >> i'm not going to regret anything. i never will regret anything. >> when you hear the stories of the elders and even the ones in
your family, how do you think your family was affected? >> my grandmother was 10, so i can just imagine the age -- my kids are that age. i think it's probably trickled down, you know, to my family, and -- and i can see where the change in the generations could happen, because you know a lot of people lost their dads, their family and they never talked about it. a lot of them disappeared. and everybody -- they never recovered. houses destroyed, businesses destroyed, yeah, we'll rebuild. we'll rebuild. makes it seem like it was easy for me to move my business within a month and i felt like i was destroyed, you know, so i can just imagine how they felt. >> in april tori began the process of opening a new salon,
this time in far north tulsa. >> it's a busy area. i'm surprised that there's a lot of sk tra. i love the traffic though. that's another thing. i'm excited about moving forward. >> the more i get my equipment in and get my newer salon together it feels better. feels more like home now. he had me move this stuff over first. we are all excited about my new location. my customers are really, really excited. you missed me? >> i missed you, too. >> how have you been? once i have walked around and i just kind of pass by different
little areas well, i didn't take it lightly and i'm still pretty much hurt about it. i follow better now. i still miss it. >> why can't black tulsa get a break? why do they keep targeting black tulsa? every time it seems plaque tulsa takes a step forward they beat it back. why? >> racism, pure, unadulterated racism. >> that never changed? >> what you refer to as black tulsa is not so black today. >> most of greenwood at the time of the massacre was about 44 blocks. now we're down to half a block that's black ownership.
it's just -- it's land that owned by the massacre or through other government programs like urban removal. we call it negro removal down here. >> on the corner of archery and greenwood avenues, the corner of black wall street, tulsa is building a museum that will tell the story of greenwood. some are skeptical. >> this museum. >> yeah. >> offia. greenwood rising. >> i think recall if the content in the walls is irrelevant recall. depicts american history and said black history because all of the things that the black people have indoors is done right here in america. it should be american history taught in all the schools all of
the time. >> do you think like the white business community sees an opportunity, right, i'm going to take advantage of this moment? >> i do in a lot of ways and some of them and you can see how they can gain economic wealth off of it. the right here it's wealth, you know. i don't want to see the -- the descendants of greenwood have long moved beyond the conspiracy of silence. today they aim to pass on their histories, tulsa's history to the next generation. >> what can we talk about, black wall street? >> no. >> huh snvp. >> we got what i call a juice radio show and those young people get in there and talk that talk and i even learned something of what's going on. what's going on in 2021?
>> someone got shot by a cop and i'm -- that was tryinged me to he will the groups. >> you know your stuff and what's you know, everybody make mistakes, but that's a fatal mistake. that's a mistake you can't just have going on. >> the more information we can get through our youth and to our kids, then they can transfer that on to their generations, you know? that's one thing i think that the older elders need to start doing is transferring that information. >> before it's too late. >> yeah, before it's too late. get with a young person and share that information. talk to them. give them the history so they'll know. they'll know not just unpredictable relapses. all these other things too.
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>> to the young people of today, knowing that you don't know what you got today, you got so much to be thankful for, but you got a long way to go to be free. >> the call to pass on the history of black wall street has been taken up by many in the greenwood community. >> greenwood was not a street. greenwood was a whole entire 3.5-square-mile district. you have to ask yourself, where did all this money come from? how did these people become so wealthy in greenwood, and why don't we have it today? >> i have an obligation to give
to young folk their history. i don't want to take it to the grave. you're in greenwood, right? >> right. >> do you know about the history of greenwood? i'm talking to both of you, now. >> they had the tulsa race and they burned everything down, burned down the black businesses. >> you know more about it than most young folk your age. i want them to understand these systems they're dealing with, but they have to listen. you have to understand one thing. you are an african-american. it has been that way for 400 years, and it will be that way for another 400 years regardless of the progress you make.
>> 100 years to live. that's why we're out here. this is one of the few things left, to tell the story, tell the story right. >> tell it right. >> tell it right, tell it right. >> this year, joy wakonda is hosting a sensory walk, an invitation to walk in her grandmother's shoes, to feel the pain they went through and feel the resilience. her son and granddaughter will join her on the walks. >> just to think a nine-year-old girl did that. >> as for whether he'll share the story with his own daughter? >> i think i will. i think her being here now, she's five years old. this is little maria. >> i'm not little. >> she's not little, but she's five years old, and like i said, my great-grandmother was only nine, and i want to teach her that our family is strong, and
our family not only continues the history, but they make their own. >> we're in a relay. it's like a relay race. the torch has to be passed. my great-grandparents who built black wall street, that legacy of the race is gone. that's why it's important for me to teach my son and train him well and tell him the story, so when it's time for me to lay it down like the rest of them, and i can't run no more, i can pass the baton and he can run the race for us. >> walking into the future. >> walking into the future. >> say it out loud. >> walking into the future. >> walking into the future. >> i like that. >> i like it, too, man. >> twelve days before the centennial commemoration, the three remaining survivors of the tulsa race massacre, joined by
toerp -- attorney simmons, was told by the survivor. >> we are like black pictures on a screen. i was there when it happened. i'm still here. >> i am asking you today to give us some peace. please give me my family and my justice. thank you. >> as black people in this country, there is a deep sense of togetherness, and in some way or another, each of us has inherited a little piece of the trauma passed down from those who came before us, but we also inherited strength and resilience. i saw that blend of tragedy and