“History is written by the victors and framed according to the prejudices and bias existing on their side.” — Sen. George Graham Vest (D-Mo.), 1891
“They was killing black people and running them out of the city,” said Vanessa Hall-Harper, quoting her grandmother.
“I didn’t even know about the massacre until I was grown,” Hall-Harper said. “And I was raised here.”
Vanessa Hall-Harper is a member of the Tulsa city council. Her district includes Greenwood, called the Black Wall Street by many, but called Little Africa by white Tulsans in 1921 when a 40-square-block area was burned to the ground by rampaging whites. Over 1,200 residences and businesses were destroyed. Between 100 and 300 Black citizens were killed.
Yet Councilwoman Hall-Harper says she never learned about it, not even in school. Other Tulsans, white and Black, say the same thing.
How is it possible that someone cannot know that their hometown was the site of one of the worst incidents of racial violence in U.S. history?
Can an atrocity simply be deleted from our nation’s story? Yes, it can. It happened in Tulsa.
A story in the Tulsa Tribune about an alleged attack on a white woman by a Black man sparked the two-day spree of violence. Afterward, the newspaper removed the front-page story from its bound volumes. Researchers found that police and state militia materials about the riot were missing as well. The Tulsa race riot was rarely mentioned in history books or taught in schools.
You could grow up in Tulsa and never hear about it.
Eighty years after the massacre — in 2001 — the Tulsa Race Riot Commission began the first governmental investigation of the violence.
It happened. And groundwork is being laid for it to happen again, right before our eyes.
Republicans are carrying out a campaign that, if successful, would change the way the history we have witnessed is remembered and written.
If Republicans have their way, future generations of children will be taught that the presidency was stolen from Donald Trump and that the presidency of Joe Biden was illegitimate.
If they have their way, our children’s children will be taught that on Jan. 6, 2021, a demonstration of “peaceful patriots” was infiltrated by left-wing thugs pretending to be supporters of the defeated former president and violence ensued.
If Republicans have their way, history books will record that it was necessary in 2021 to tighten rules for voting in order to prevent future elections from being stolen, the way Trump’s election was stolen.
None of these is supported by facts. State and federal courts rejected the Big Lie in 61 of 62 cases. No credible evidence has been presented that support the Trumpian effort to “Stop the Steal.”
Yet these conspiracy theories have become doctrine for grassroots Republicans and litmus tests for would-be Republican office-seekers.
According to a May 17-19 Reuters/Ipsos poll, 56% of Republicans believe the 2020 election was tainted by “illegal voting or election rigging;” 53% of Republicans believe that Donald Trump is the “true president.” Almost half (48%) of Republicans strongly or somewhat agree that “the people who gathered at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 were mostly peaceful, law-abiding Americans.” A slightly higher percentage (54%) of Republicans strongly or somewhat agree that “the January 6 riot at the Capitol was led by violent left-wing protesters trying to make Trump look bad.”
If the Republicans are successful in taking control of the House and Senate in 2022 and the presidency in 2024, the myth of the stolen presidency and the fantasy of “nonviolent peaceful Americans” taking a stroll through the Capitol on Jan. 6 will become the quasi-official narrative of the federal government.
Who will stand in the way of this radical revision of the history of our time?
Historians and political scientists.
And you and me. Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) can compare the rampage of the rioters to a “normal tourist visit” to the Capitol, but with our own eyes we saw him help barricade the House gallery doors against the invaders.
We saw Old Glory used as a weapon against police officers who put their lives on the line protecting the Capitol.
We saw what we never thought we would see: the Confederate flag carried proudly in the halls of Congress.
The horrific sounds and images of Jan. 6 are seared into our memories. We will never forget. Ever.
The next time someone says that history can’t be rewritten — that the ugly parts of our story can’t simply be deleted — remember Tulsa.
Richard Groves is a former minister and educator.