The Lesson of Tulsa

The Workers’ Council/June 15, 1921

Sixty-five to seventy dead Negroes and ten to fifteen dead whites! A square mile of Negro habitations demolished! Whatever the investigation in Tulsa, Okla. may find concerning the causes of this latest negro pogrom, these simple facts prove that this was no struggle between blacks and whites, but a butchery of helpless Negroes by a band of white terrorists. That a few white men also lost their lives proves nothing. Was it not proven in the Chicago race riots that more than one white man was killed by bullets from the pistols of his own wildly shooting fellows?

There seems to be a great deal of confusion still as to the immediate incident that precipitated this horrible outbreak. According to one report it followed upon an attempt to liberate a young Negro from prison who had been accused of attacking a white woman.

Another version states that there has been a great deal of dangerous unrest among the Negro inhabitants of Oklahoma since the peonage scandal in Georgia and other southern states forcibly attracted their attention to the same conditions in their own state.

The Negro of the southern states today, fifty years after the civil war, is still virtually the slave of the rich white employing class. His lot is even worse than that of the “po’ white trash” of the south. For over a century he has borne his slavery blindly, too ignorant to know that the nation guarantees him rights he has never been strong enough to defend.

The war which drafted thousands of young Negroes into the army, and the scarcity of labor in the North which led other thousands to better paid jobs in the large cities, gave him the self-confidence that he hitherto lacked. He has had a taste of life, has learned from his own experience, or from the experience of others, that the black man, too, has human rights. He was quick to see that the planters of the South were beginning to feel the curtailment in their labor supply, and his self-confidence rose to the point where he resented oppression that he had hitherto borne with patient resignation. In his pamphlet on Georgia and the Negro, Governor Dorsey mentions that cases of Negro insubordination are becoming more and more frequent, a thing that was unheard of only a few years ago.

He states that on a number of occasions Negroes were liberated from prison before lynching parties could bet arranged. So, he adds laconically, “a number of innocent victims were saved from an unjust death.”

The Negro of the South is waking up. But he will continue to be the victim of lynch murders and pogroms until he learns that he must defend himself. The number of lynch murders is increasing from year to year. And comparatively few of their victims are accused of rape. “Peonage”— slavery— exists in every state with a large Negro population. The government periodically “investigates,” but the Negro’s lot is unchanged.

Political equality for the Negro is a hollow mockery; economically, politically and socially, the Negro is still the pariah of society.

It lies in the hands of the black man to change it. He need but show his determination to resent every unjustified attack by the whites, with the same weapons that the whites are using against him. Then, and not until then, this butchery of black men will cease. Let the Negro once become conscious of his own manhood, and he will force the white man to see in the black neighbor a human being.