Of America’s many instances of violence against Black people, one of the more pointed examples of this took place during the summer of 1921 in Tulsa, Okla. The new HBO series Watchmen depicted the incidents of the 1921 Black Wall Street Massacre, also known as the Tulsa Race Riot, and many on Twitter are learning about the atrocity for the first time.
In 1916, Tulsa passed a city ordinance that enforced a rule that Black and white people could not live within one block of each other. As a result, the Greenwood neighborhood was formed and became a haven for Black business owners and thriving Black families.
Tensions flared in 1921 after an unconfirmed report of an assault of a white female 17-year-old elevator operator by a 19-year-old Black man began to spread. Although the young woman did not press charges, a local newspaper accused the man of the assault which led to his arrest. White residents demanded that the sheriff release the man for a lynching. Black citizens who lived in Greenwood were alerted of the lynching plan and went to the Tulsa courthouse armed and ready to defend the man.
While it has been debated heavily on who fired the first shot, it was widely reported that a Black man issued a skyward blast after he was ordered to hand over his weapon. A melee ensued with left several dead and the armed white mob, crazed with rage, stormed into the Greenwood district and chased down Black residents regardless of gender or age while also looting and firebombing homes.
The riots went on until June 1, this after the Oklahoma National Guard was called in to quell the clashes. The battle left many Greenwood residents homeless with official state numbers citing just 36 casualties although historians, combing through poorly kept or destroyed records and second-hand accounts estimated that close to 300 people perished.
In the Watchmen reenactment, planes are shown bombing Black Wall Street, which mirrors the chatter of the time that an aerial assault of the neighborhood took place, although like much else surrounding the riots, that too was unconfirmed.
The hashtag #BlackWallStreet has begun trending on Twitter in the wake of the Watchmen debut and we’ve got some of those reactions below.