This past week marked 100 years since the Tulsa Race Massacre. On May 31, 1921, an armed mob attacked the Greenwood District of Tulsa, which was known as “Black Wall Street” because it was a renowned center of black entrepreneurs and business professionals.
The mob destroyed 40 square blocks of Greenwood, including churches, schools, a hospital and hundreds of family homes. An estimated 300 black Tulsans were killed in the attack, and thousands more were left homeless. Despite these enormous crimes, none of the white perpetrators were ever prosecuted or held accountable.
In our commemoration of this terrible event, we mourn the tragic loss of so many lives and livelihoods. We show respect for the accomplishments of those who built and rebuilt Black Wall Street despite the violence and discrimination directed against them. We also recognize that there is much more work to do to end racial discrimination and inequality in America.
This commemoration is an opportunity for people of good faith, of all races and cultures, to reach a deeper understanding of that tragic day. We must not be afraid to speak the truth about this racist-fueled violence, even though the history of the massacre was suppressed for decades. We must say with optimism that we can make progress on racial justice in our communities and our country.
The remembrance of this event has added importance to me because most of the historic Greenwood District lies within the boundaries of the Cherokee Nation reservation. Part of the story of Black Wall Street was the development of land held as allotments by Cherokee Freedmen. The Greenwood District remains an important community in our reservation.
I am proud to have started the Cherokee Freedmen History Project to provide a better understanding of how those voices are part of the Cherokee story. The CN is a better nation for having recognized full and equal citizenship of Freedmen descendants. This year the project will help all of our citizens develop a fuller understanding of Cherokee history and celebrate equality.
Last November I signed an executive order on equality. Among the provisions of that order was a directive to our government departments to step up outreach efforts in historically excluded communities within our tribe, which certainly includes Cherokee citizens of Freedmen descent. The Greenwood District itself is in a legislative district represented by Councilor Joe Deere, who has helped the CN increase its local engagement with citizens and nonprofits. We take our presence in that part of our reservation seriously and recognize that all of our reservation must be included in the great progress we are making at the CN.
No nation can truly prosper when any of its citizens are victims of discrimination. As Native people, we know this all too well. We have experienced too many similar painful chapters – from the Trail of Tears to governmental policies designed to terminate our political existence and destroy our culture. We must have difficult conversations about these injustices, and the accountability, reconciliation and restitution that must follow, because they still shape the world that we live in today.
We should also recognize that these are not only stories of suffering and loss. They are also stories of survival and resilience. Thanks to the perseverance of these ancestors, I have confidence that even though we have lost so much, the best days of Black Wall Street and CN are ahead of us.
This week the CN remembers the dark chapter on our soil a century ago and offers hope, love and light for all those honoring the victims of the Tulsa Race Massacre and their descendants. May we never give up in the face of violence and oppression. May we not only acknowledge the legal principle of equality, but seek to embrace the spirit of equality each day.