Do you remember Tiananmen Square?
Let me remind you of the 1989 incident. Chinese students became frustrated by inflation, corruption and political restrictions so they started protesting and conducting a hunger strike in Tiananmen Square.
In response, the government declared martial law. They sent the military to Beijing—soldiers with machine guns and assault rifles. They attempted to clear the crowds, but protesters responded with shouts and projectiles. Violence from both sides escalated until the army opened fire and began killing both protestors and bystanders.
The government expelled foreign journalists and sought to control coverage of the event in domestic newspapers. As a result the true death count is unknown, but according to estimates from various sources, the figure could be anywhere from a few hundred to several thousand.
I remember when it happened and my first thought was that something like that could never happen here.
But it did.
Last Monday, scientists and forensic anthropologist started searching for mass graves in Tulsa, a result of a race riot that occurred almost 100 years ago. I didn’t remember learning about this episode in US history, so I did some reading.
According to Wikipedia, it happened like this…
Dick Rowland, a black shoeshiner, was accused of assaulting a 17 year old white elevator operator. No written account of her statement has been found. She did not press charges and the police did not feel it was an actual assault. However…
A local sensationalist newspaper released a story titled “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in an Elevator” and they implied that Rowland may be lynched (killed, usually by hanging).
White people showed up at the courthouse. The sheriff organized his staff and took steps to keep Rowland safe. Three white men entered the courthouse and demanded that the police turn over Rowland. The sheriff refused.
The black community were worried about Rowland’s safety. They took up rifles and shotguns and also went to the courthouse. Seeing the armed black people, more whites went home for their weapons. The police and local ministers tried to de-escalate the crowd but they failed. A gunfight took place killing several white and black men.
Gunfights continued through the night. Fires were set in the Greenwood district, also known as “Black Wall Street”. Privately owned aircraft, possibly carrying law enforcement, dropped firebombs on buildings and fleeing residents.
The National Guard declared martial law and were successful in stopping the violence.
Here’s where the details get fuzzy. Newspapers covering the event had wildly different accounts of the casualties. Typically both whites and black deaths were listed between 10-25. The Red Cross mentioned up to 300 dead but some now believe thousands of blacks died.
Also lost were almost 200 businesses, several churches, and over a thousand houses which left 10,000 black people homeless.
Six thousand black people were arrested but no whites were prosecuted for their actions during the riot and decades went by with no acknowledgement of the incident. As late as 1970’s, local newspapers were still refusing to publish articles regarding the riots.
Maybe that’s why I’d never heard of this before....
You can watch a short clip about it here.
The Avett Brother's said it well...
I've been to every state and seen shore to shore
The still open wounds of the Civil War
Watched blind hatred bounce back and forth
Seen vile prejudice both in the south and the north
And accountability is hard to impose
On ghosts of ancestors haunting the halls of our conscience
But the path of grace and goodwill is still here
For those of us who may be considered among the living
from the Avett Brother’s album: “Closer Than Together”