It was a century ago that the Tulsa race riot destroyed a city and took the lives of hundreds of innocent residents. Let’s hope that history does not repeat itself this week in Kenosha, Wisconsin, as America waits on pins and needles for the Kyle Rittenhouse verdict to come in. Yet, in important and tragic respects, history has already repeated itself. In both cases, an innocent male teenager was falsely accused by the media of crimes which he did not commit. You already know the Rittenhouse story. This excerpt from The Washington Post will get you up to speed on Tulsa. The accused teenager in Tulsa was a black man named Dick Rowland, accused of attacking a woman on an elevator:
On May 30, 1921, Rowland took a break from his shoe stand inside a pool hall and walked to the Drexel Building to use the only public restroom for Black people in segregated Tulsa.
Rowland passed Renberg’s, a department store that occupied the first two floors of the Drexel Building, and stepped into an open wire-caged elevator operated by a 17-year-old White girl named Sarah Page.
What happened next remains murky, according to historians and reports about one of the worst episodes of racial violence in U.S. history. Rowland may have accidentally stepped on Page’s foot, prompting her to shriek. Or tripped and bumped into her.
When the elevator doors reopened, Dick Rowland ran, and a clerk in Renberg’s called police.
Rowland was arrested and accused of assaulting a White girl. Though the charges were eventually dropped and Page later wrote a letter exonerating him, the accusation was enough to infuriate White Tulsa.
Three hours after the Tulsa Tribune hit the street with the headline “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in Elevator,” hundreds of White men gathered at the Tulsa courthouse, where Rowland was being held.
Black World War I veterans who wanted to protect Rowland from being lynched rushed to the courthouse to defend him. A shot was fired and “all hell broke loose,” a massacre survivor recalled later.
Lesson: Some of the Worst Episodes in History Can Be Blamed on an Intolerant and Libelous Press
Thus, according to the WaPo story, even though the girl cleared Rowland, and even though charges were dropped, the media went ahead with a reckless and libelous story. And as a result, hundreds of innocent people were massacred. A century later, the media has not learned its lesson. They falsely accused Nick Sandmann (see below). They falsely accused the McCloskeys. They falsely accused Brett Kavanaugh. And now they are falsely accusing Rittenhouse. All of these innocent people have had their lives ruined by an intolerant press that seeks to “cancel,” punish—and even destroy—people with whom they disagree politically. For the sake of civil society, the media must be held more accountable for their crimes.
How It Ended in Tulsa
Here’s more from WaPo about the Tulsa massacre. Take a hard look at all the destruction wrought by a hateful and intolerant press:
“As the whites moved north, they set fire to practically every building in the African American community, including a dozen churches, five hotels, 31 restaurants, four drug stores, eight doctor’s offices, more than two dozen grocery stores, and the Black public library,” according to a 2001 report by the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. “By the time the violence ended, the city had been placed under martial law, thousands of Tulsans were being held under armed guard, and the state’s second-largest African American community had been burned to the ground.”
As many as 300 people were killed, 10,000 were left homeless and 35 square blocks of Greenwood, one of the country’s most prosperous Black communities, were destroyed. Witnesses reported seeing bodies tossed into the muddy Arkansas River or dumped into mass graves, making it impossible to count the dead.
Let’s pray that things turn out better for Kyle Rittenhouse. If things manage to remain peaceful, we won’t have the media to thank for it, that’s for sure.