One hundred years ago, on June 1, 1921, a mob of white people engaged in one of the worst acts of terrorism in United States history. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, ten thousand black Americans were left homeless, and as many as 300 were killed. Not only did the white mob attack and destroy black-owned businesses and churches, but they set fires to complete the destruction. Some even made firebombs out of turpentine-filled bottles and dropped them from airplanes. Today we remember the anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre in Greenwood.
I am amazed that I never heard of the Tulsa Massacre in all my years of formal education until recently. That is even though I grew up as the only white kid in my elementary school and had a father who taught in an all-black college in Talladega, Alabama. It is also despite the fact that I saw and experienced racial hatred and prejudice in person after I left Talladega and moved to Illinois. It has only been since the murder of George Floyd that I learned of this terrible blot on America.
As a Christian, I look for explanations of how such a thing could happen in a Christian nation. As an educator, I have to search for lessons to draw from this horrible tragedy. Here are some lessons I see from the Tulsa Massacre in Greenwood:
1-Mob violence is irrational. It was mob violence that killed Jesus Christ. How could people have seen the miracles of Christ and comprehended the practical applications of His teachings, and still nail Him to a cross? When a “mob” of atheists attended my lectureships over the years, I have experienced violence. I learned that you can’t get a mob of people to think and reason logically when they are shaking their fists in rage.
2-Ignorance produces irrational violence. Those who attacked Greenwood and started shooting people and setting fire to their homes, businesses, and churches had been convinced that blacks were less than human. If you can write off people who threaten your ego as less evolved than you, killing them is no worst than shooting an animal. The teachings of Jesus are very clear that love and openness are crucial parts of the Christian system.
3-Another facet of ignorance is not taking the Bible literally. It will lead people who claim to be religious to do things that contradict the Bible. I would assume that people in Oklahoma in 1921 would have claimed to be Christians, but they did not apply the message of Matthew 5-7. Emotional contagion is a term sociologists use to describe people who allow themselves to do something that violates common sense, and it was a major part of the Greenwood massacre.
4-History books are sanitized to promote a worldview desired by the ones who publish the books. I took U.S. History classes in high school and college. How can I be over 80 years old before I knew about the Greenwood massacre? I find that atheist books do not record the Liberal, Missouri, experiment in which a town was established that did not allow churches. The reason is that it was a failure, but atheists, like Christians, do not want to admit their failures.
5-Humans fail to learn from the history of failures. Jesus said, “By their fruits you will know them.” What has been the result of men and women following religious systems outside of Christianity? Has Hinduism produced a higher standard of living? Has Islam elevated the status of women?
Have we learned anything from the Tulsa Massacre in Greenwood? Do we believe that “black lives matter,” which those who attacked Greenwood in 1921 did not? Can atheism stamp out Christianity, knowing that it promotes equal rights for all humans and espouses a moral code that values all life? This ministry promotes evidence, but ignoring evidence leads to a repeat of history.
— John N. Clayton © 2021