As part of my journey to be a better ally I’ve been educating myself on America’s systemic oppression of Black people. It’s no surprise that a lot of our (white people’s) wrong doings were white washed or downplayed in History class in an effort to coddle us into thinking we lived in a post-racist society (of course this was total bs). Black history was hidden in plain sight from us.
Taking Black History Education into Our Own Hands
Since I don’t think I’m alone in my ignorance on those issues, Brenton and I decided it would be an excellent use of our podcast But Really Tho to dig into things that were conveniently glossed over. I went down a COINTELPRO rabbit hole and he dug into the Tulsa Race Massacre. I’ve included our research (with some personal commentary peppered in) below and I hope you will take the time to educate yourself. Sources will be included at the bottom of each section.
If you are an auditory learner you can stream the podcast via the link below or on any major podcast player.
COINTELPRO, the Black Panther Party and Fred Hampton (Emily’s share)
Black Panther Party
To truly dig into this we need to start with a base level knowledge of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defence. As a child, I was told that the Black Panthers were part of the Black Power movement. Images of men with guns in leather jackets and black berets were juxtaposed with photos of MLK’s “peaceful protests”. This was not only a disservice to my and my peers’ educations but it’s also a disservice to the Black community and lacks historical accuracy.
I’m going to confess a major piece of ignorance here. The way I was taught about the Black Panther Party in history class I assumed Malcom X was the founder – this is inaccurate. The Panthers started the party in the wake of Malcom X’s assisination and after a teenager named Matthew Johnson was murdered by the SF PD in 1966.
The Black Panther Party was a political party that wanted to end police brutality. Formed by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale they organized social programs (such as a children’s breakfast program and healthcare clinics) and presented a 10 point program for ending police brutality, assisting with housing, employment opportunities and justice for all.
The Black Panther Party organized armed neighborhood watches to protect their communities. At their peak they were about 2000 members strong across the US. They had chapters in major cities such as LA, NYC, CHI and Philadelphia.
MIsconceptions and the FBI’s Lie
Media and history often portrays the Black Panthers as a gang or a communist organization but they were neither. The first FBI director J. Edgar Hoover called the Black Panther Party “one of the greatest threats to the nations internal security” in 1968. By 1969 the Panthers had been declared a communist party and an enemy of the United States by the FBI. Because of this declaration the FBI began investigating the Black Panther Party through their CounterIntelligence Program – COINTELPRO.
The FBI weakened the Black Panther Party by exploiting existing rivalries within the Black Power movement, trying to undermine and dismantle the free breakfast for children program (absolute monsters for trying to take food away from kids), and did this by planting a spy named William O’Neal. This work ultimately led to the assisination of the Chicago Black Panther leader Fred Hampton in 1969.
Fred Hampton went to school to study law because he wanted to do something about police brutality. He was a leader with the NAACP youth council and after hearing about the Black Panthers he moved to downtown Chicago to join them.
Fred Hampton was smart and charismatic. He brokered non-aggression pacts between Chicago street gangs. He quickly grew to be the leader of the Chicago Black Panther Chapter. As leader, he organized social programs such as the breakfast for Children Program and the Peoples Clinic. The FBI became interested in him because of his leadership role.
William O’Neal was a criminal that the FBI convinced to infiltrate the Black Panther Party to get close to Fred Hampton. The FBI paid him to rise the ranks of the party and slip them information. Under the guidance of the FBI O’Neal executed plans to cause rift between the Panther Party members and build mistrust within the group.
On the evening of 12/3/1969 O’Neal slipped a sleeping pill in Fred’s drink before leaving the Panther Party headquarters – Fred’s house. Officers were then dispatched to Fred’s house where they shot 100 times into the home. Fred’s bodyguard Mark Clark was killed instantly and one round was fired from his gun AFTER he had been shot in the heart.
The police shot Fred in his bed while injuring his pregnant fiance and other Panther Party members. His fiance survived and had a boy, now called Fred Hampton Jr. The remaining Panther Party members at the house were charged with attempted murder, armed violence and a barrage of misinformation. In the end the charges against them were dropped due to a DOJ investigation.
The Chicago PD referred to the incident as a “fierce gun battle” but the DOJ investigation proved that 99 out of 100 shots were fired from the Chicago PD – making this a one sided battle and assisination.
Since the police, not the FBI, shot and killed Fred this seems like it would be an easy cover up, right? Well, a short time after the murder there was an FBI break in at the Philidelphia office. These documents revealed COINTELPRO information including the FBI’s possession of a floor plan to Fred’s house marked with his room and an outline of a deal to cover up FBI involvement in the assasination.
Charges and Settlements
In 1970 the survivors of the raid and relatives of Hampton sued the government for $47.7 million dollars over their civil rights being violated. The case was dismissed. After it was determined that the government withheld documents the case was reopened in 1979. In 1982 Cook County and the federal government agreed to pay a settlement of $1.85 million.
Not only is it a disservice to Fred Hampton and the Black Panther Party that this was not taught in school BUT it is also infuriating to hear that society itself has brushed this story under the rug. Black history is often white washed by our education system and this is no exception. It’s important to highlight the major mistakes our government has made to avoid repeating them. If you think I missed anything or mis-spoke on the topic at all feel free to leave a comment or send me an email. I am happy to issue any corrections. email@example.com
Now to the Tulsa Race Massacre (Brenton’s Share)
Aka Tulsa Race Riot, Black Wall Street Massacre, Greenwood Massacre
Referred to as the single worst incident of racial violence in American History
Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma (1906-1921)
Black people came to the area during the westward expansion and Native American removal. Many Black people lived with Native Americans for a variety of reasons. Some were slaves to the tribes, but many tribes had differing rules on slaves so some Black people live among them as free people.
There was a great land rush within Oklahoma between 1889 – 1907, when Oklahoma became a state. JB Stratford, a wealthy educated attorney, came to Tulsa in 1898. He purchased land within the area to set aside and sell directly to Black people. He believed Black people could have a better chance of economic progress if they pooled their resources. OW Gurley followed, a wealthy Black land owner who bought 40 acres of land from JB Stratford. He was considered one of the wealthiest Black men in America and owned numerous properties in Greenwood. The two led to the foundation of a wealthy Black district within Tulsa, what eventually became recognized as Greenwood in 1906. Booker T. Washington was impressed by the area when he visited in 1905 and coined it “Black Wall Street.”
America and White Supremacy
Greenwood’s success led to white residents of Tulsa to feel resentful. As the years went on, Greenwood continued to increase in economic, population, and land size. Post WWI, white supremacy was also on the rise. The KKK was resurgent and there were 31 lynchings in Oklahoma from 1906-1921. There was also the “Red Summer” in 1919, where cities in the Midwest and Northeast experienced severe race riots. During these riots, white people attacked Black communities often with the aid of police.
Tulsa Race Massacre: Monday May 30
4pm: 19 year old Dick Rowland, a Black shoe shiner, entered the elevator of the Drexel Building to go use the Black only restroom at the top floor. 17 year old Sarah Page was the white elevator operator on duty. A clerk at Renberg’s clothing store in the 1st floor heard what sounded like a scream and then saw a young Black man race from the elevator. He assumed she was assaulted and summoned the police. Current thought is that Dick probably tripped into the elevator and braced on Sarah’s arm to steady himself rather than committing assault. This was not the popular theory even though Sarah did not press charges.
Tulsa Race Massacre: Tuesday May 31
Morning: two officers arrest Dick Rowland for assault. Moved to a jail cell at the top of the Tulsa courthouse station. The sheriff was worried about a lynching as a murder suspect was grabbed the year before.
3pm: Tulsa Tribune runs a story in the afternoon with the headline “Nab N-word for Attacking Girl in an Elevator.” The paper, which was known for its sensationalist headlines, also warned of a lynching. An hour after the paper hits, white residents begin gathering around the courthouse.
8pm: The outside crowd grows to several hundred. At 9:30pm, 50-60 armed Black men show up to back up the sheriff but are turned away. Attorney James Luther later said the sheriff had summoned them by speaking to OW Gurley. The sheriff denied this claim. The armed Black men cause white people to begin arming themselves as the crowd grows to between 1000-2000.
10pm: 75 armed Black men arrive for back up, but are turned away again. Supposedly a white man asked one of them to surrender their pistol and they declined. A shot was then fired starting a gunfight immediately. The Black men retreat back to Greenwood, while the white people follow them to Greenwood. White rioters began to attack Greenwood businesses and noted KKK member W. Tate Brady was part of the riot.
Tulsa Race Massacre: Wednesday June 1
1am: The white mob begins setting fires to Black businesses. By 4pm, over two dozens of businesses were set ablaze. At 5am: a train whistle is heard and the white attackers mistook it for a signal for an all out assault. They begin to attack Black residences and shooting fleeing Black families. There are also reports of planes attacking and dropping firebombs on Black people and businesses.
9:00am: National Guard is deployed to stop the violence. By then, an estimated 4000 Black residents had been rounded up and detained. By 12pm, martial law is declared and riots are suppressed.
Two different reports estimate the dead to either be between 75-100 or 150-300. 10,000 Greenwood residents lost their homes, with an estimated $1.5 million in real estate destroyed. Many Black people had to sleep in tents after the riots when they started to rebuild the area.
The riot was largely omitted from local, state and national histories. Many survivors were also silent because they worried it could happen again. The white massacre therefore was kept relatively quiet, until 1996 when Oklahoma commissioned an investigation into the historical account. The team delivered their report in 2001. Despite a list of items to rectify were given (including reparations), Oklahoma only acknowledged the events in history books via the “1921 Tulsa Race Riot Reconciliation Act.” There is still an ongoing search for the mass graves from the event. In February 2020, Oklahoma announced plans to roll out an extensive education curriculum. The target date was April 2020, but there has been no news since COVID-19 disrupted schools.