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Former Washington Journalist
Contributor on The Bipartisan Press
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As the nation observes, with the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, the solemn centennial of the worst race massacre in US history, a prominent American historian worries that when confronted with just dark or grim events, many American people move in the opposite direction of what is constructive.
The Tulsa Race Massacre took place over several days at the end of May and the very start of June, 1921, in which mobs of angry white residents — many of them deputized and handed weapons by the local government — rampaged through the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, then known for its thriving Black community called “Black Wall Street.”
The massacre began after rumors that a 19-year-old Black shoeshine, Dick Rowland, had attacked the white 17-year-old elevator operator of a local building, Sarah Page.
In truth, it was likely that Rowland had merely stepped on Page’s foot by accident.
However, racism set into motion murders of at least 300 Black Tulsans, leaving thousands homeless.
There were even reports those days of early aircraft passing over the Greenwood neighborhood and dropping primitive bombs on the residents’ homes.
President Biden was among the dignitaries from around the country who went to Tulsa to observe the centennial with survivors of the massacre, their families and the Black community as a whole.
Famed author and historian Michael Beschloss worries, however, about an American tendency to turn away from crises.
“And here’s the problem. Many Americans think that if something terrible happens, the best way to be patriotic is to try to forget about it as soon as possible,” he said. “And this is something I’m even worried about in a totally different category: Our pandemic with COVID. In 1920, after the influenza pandemic that killed 675,000 Americans, tens of millions of others around the world, Americans, the second the pandemic seemed to be over, they wanted to forget about it as soon as possible. And I would bet you also that a little bit more than a year ago, most Americans had never heard of this terrible influenza pandemic of 1918 to 1920 because people were so eager to forget.
“My point is that we are more patriotic to remember and try to make this a better country where things like this never happen again. Think of all the lynchings,” Beschloss added.
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