Wayne State hosted a virtual two-part discussion on the origins and impact of the Tulsa Race Massacre on Wednesday.

According to the New York Times, a white mob attacked the predominantly Black Greenwood District from May 31 to June 1, 1921. Dozens of businesses and over 1,000 homes were looted or burned, as many as 300 residents were killed, hundreds were injured and thousands displaced.

Attorney Hannibal Johnson said the event is significant in the Black community. 

"Fundamentally, the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre is emblematic of the trauma that occurred across the United States for centuries," Johnson said.

Johnson said Tulsa, which featured small Black-owned businesses ranging from movie theaters to doctors' offices, had a rapidly growing population of 100,000 in 1921. 

Reasons behind the massacre included national context, land lust, cognitive dissonance, the Ku Klux Klan and The Tulsa Tribune, Johnson said.

Johnson said 1921 was a "period that historians call the low point of race relations in America for the proliferation of race riots throughout the United States. Domestic terrorism in the form of lynching was aimed primarily at African Americans."

On June 4, 1921, The Tulsa Tribune ran an editorial called "It Must Not Be Again," which used racist language to criticize the Greenwood District. 

Johnson said the editorial represented a negative view of the situation.

"People are suffering and homeless," Johnson said. "You are a leading newspaper in the community, and you publish an editorial like that? It is amazing. Truly amazing."

Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights Director Peter Hammer moderated a panel that related the experiences of Tulsa to those of Detroit. 

Past events have an impact on contemporary life, said Jamon Jordan, founder and director of the Black Scroll Network.

"We're all connected to this history," Jordan said. "Where we are right now is directly connected to what happened in all of these incidents that happened historically and on some level still happening right now."

Founder of the Institute for AfroUrbanism Lauren Hood said she appreciated Hammer allowing her to bring her experience into the conversation. 

"I feel like Black folks aren't allowed to feel because we make the white folks uncomfortable," Hood said. 

June Manning Thomas, University of Michigan centennial professor emerita of Urban and Regional Planning, said a 1943 race riot in Detroit involved "white people running wild in the streets, just outraged over the presence, the physicality of Black people, and killing indiscriminately."

According to the Detroit Historical Society, the riot began on June 20, 1943 at Belle Isle. Nine white and 25 Black individuals were killed, 700 people were injured and $2 million in damages were caused.

"The race riot was deeply rooted in racism, poor living conditions, and unequal access to goods and services," the Detroit Historical Society said.

Jordan said this was one of several such incidents in Detroit history. 

"There is a long period of violent battles over housing in the city of Detroit," Jordan said. "The most well-known is the case in 1925."

Ossian Sweet, a Black physician, faced racist mob violence after moving his family into an all-white neighborhood in Detroit in September 1925, according to the Detroit Historical Society

Shots fired at the mob from inside the Sweet home on Sept. 9, 1925 caused one death and one injury. All those inside were charged with first-degree murder, though they were eventually acquitted.

According to the Michigan Supreme Court Learning Center, "The Sweet Trials, murder cases from Detroit in 1925 and 1926, offer a glimpse into Michigan’s urban life and racial tensions during the mid-1920s."

Jordan said city planning changes in Detroit were motivated by racism.

"Violence is at the bottom of urban renewal," Jordan said. "Urban renewal is attached to haves. Until Detroit, after the 1943 race riot, he [former Detroit Mayor Edward Jeffries] came and discussed destroying the area of the district next to downtown where Black people live."

It’s important to demonstrate kindness to create a better future, Johnson said.

"We have to accept some frustrations. I have to do a better job of understanding the concept that is grace," Johnson said. "Especially when you're talking about race reconciliation, it is easy as a Black person to get upset with microaggressions and people being ignorant, but if we want to move people along, we have to show grace and indulge people and help them."


Jessica Taylor is a contributing writer for The South End. She can be reached at gp5272@wayne.edu.