Jaylen Minefield

For decades, the United States of America and its citizens have embraced and adopted the idea of American exceptionalism as an irrefutable fact. Why would we as a country not accept that as truth? The United States played a vital role in stopping the spread of evil time and time again across the course of history.

While this may be true, America also shares a dark and disturbing history of mistreatment, exploitation and inequality of racial and ethnic minorities that contradicts any positive connotation of the word “exceptional.”

America’s educational curriculum purposely excludes or manipulates the truth of historical events of abuse against minorities in order to maintain the nation’s identity as a pillar of light unto the rest of the world.

This column aims to raise awareness of the United States’ lengthy history of inequality, in an effort to acknowledge the country’s past failures and improve its future.

On the days of May 31 and June 1, 1921, the single worst act of racial violence and white supremacy in our nation’s history swept through the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, leaving destruction and fear in its wake. Sparked by an alleged assault of a 17-year-old white female Sarah Page by a 19-year-old black male Dick Rowland a lynch mob formed outside of the courthouse holding Rowland.

The news of a possible lynching quickly sent shockwaves through the town alarming the black community. In response to the rumors of a lynching, African Americans in Tulsa took up arms in preparation of self-defense. Coupled with the already growing tensions and envy of the affluent black population in Tulsa’s business district known as Black Wall Street, this caused a wave of violence against black citizens to explode.

Gunfire soon rang out between the two opposing groups, causing chaos throughout the town. During 18 horrendous hours spanning the two days, women were raped and killed in front of their husbands and children, an estimated 300 deaths occurred, (mostly African Americans), 800 patients were admitted to hospitals, 10,000 African Americans were left homeless after their homes and businesses were destroyed, 6,000 African Americans were detained by authorities and there was a loss of approximately 2.25 million dollars in property (about 32.5 million dollars adjusted for inflation).

Despite the staggering data, the Tulsa Race Riot remains unknown and unfamiliar to the majority of the United States population. Most schools do not make an attempt to educate and inform students of one of the greatest tragedies in America’s history.

In fact, until the popular HBO show “Watchmen” depicted the riot in its series premiere on October 20, 2019, even I was unaware of the existence of this massacre. The popularity of the show as well as the controversial depiction of the events of Tulsa 1921 led to the discovery of a mass grave in Tulsa from the massacre.

The question becomes, how and why is the single deadliest act of racial violence in America not common knowledge to the majority?

When news of the riot becomes omitted from local, state and national media and newspapers, the answer to this question shines bright. It was not until 75 years later, when a bipartisan collective formed a committee to investigate the nearly forgotten riot. After concluding the study in 2001, the committee ruled that the local government had also colluded with the mob of white citizens against black citizens.

The reason this isn’t widespread knowledge to most Americans hinges on the devotion to thinking of our country as morally elite compared to the rest of the world. Many white American citizens did not at the time — and do not currently — want to face the stripping of our nation’s innocence since it contradicts every value the country’s identity rests on. However, until this is done, I am afraid that the mistakes of the past will evolve into the mistakes of the future.

Jaylen Minefield is a junior majoring in sociology. He can be reached at jminefie@vols.utk.edu.

Columns and letters of The Daily Beacon are the views of the individual and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Beacon or the Beacon's editorial staff.

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