One hundred years after the Tulsa massacre, it is finally receiving some media attention. Sixty Minutes just did a segment on the massacre. While it is good that United States citizens are finally being exposed to their true history, much of this coverage makes it seems as if Tulsa was an isolated event rather than a part of a string of black massacres that has continued to this day. Far from being an anomaly, Tulsa represents one of many black massacres that show a pattern of systemic racism in the United States.
President Trump liked to say “Make America Great Again” and President Biden says we must “Restore the soul of America.” History shows that there is no great era of the past, only genocide and oppression. It was the soul of the United States that created the conditions leading to these racial massacres. Rather than using this fascistic call to return to the past, we should be moving forward and creating a future that does not ignore the dark realities of United States history. The soul of America does not need to be restored but replaced with one that provides for all people, regardless of race, class, or creed. No doubt Biden will have nice words to say in commemoration of Tulsa, but his past is full of racism. Nice words and empty promises will not fix this deeply systemic issue of which Biden is a part.
The following list is incomplete. It only lists race massacres that specifically targeted black populations. It does not include all the massacres of indigenous people such as the Bear River and Wounded Knee massacres. It does not include class-based massacres such as Bogalusa and Ludlow. And it does not address racial capitalism, which has led to more deaths than all of these massacres combined.
Also known as the New York draft riots, this massacre began when poor whites rebelled against the Conscription Act of 1863. This act allowed people to avoid the draft by paying $300 which is the equivalent of over $5,500 today. Those who could not afford this hefty sum were drafted into the Union Army. Upset with this class-based legislation, when recruitment began in July, “a mob in New York wrecked the main recruiting station. Then, for three days, crowds of white workers marched through the city, destroying buildings, factories, streetcar lines, homes.” This mob was primarily comprised of Irish immigrants who were many of the poorest citizens. The Zinn Education Project continues, “From an assault on draft headquarters, the rioters went on to attacks on wealthy homes, then to the murder of African Americans. They marched through the streets, forcing factories to close, recruiting more members of the mob. They set the city’s colored orphan asylum on fire. They shot, burned, and hanged African Americans they found in the streets. Many people were thrown into the rivers to drown.” Over 400 people were killed, with the majority being black. The rioting only stopped when Union troops showed up. As Black Past explains, “The anti-black violence was driven by the resentment that the Irish would have to compete with freedpeople for jobs in the city now that the Union had embraced emancipation.” This would be an interesting case study for the intersectionality between class and race and how the ruling class uses them to create divisions in the lower classes.
A white police officer attempted to arrest a black ex-Union soldier and a massacre ensued. As Black Past describes, “The victims initially were only black soldiers, but the violence quickly spread to other blacks living just south of Memphis who were attacked while their homes, schools, and churches were destroyed.” Forty-six blacks were killed and “There were five rapes and 285 people were injured. Over one hundred houses and buildings burned down as a result of the riot and the neglect of the firemen. No arrests were made.”
During the Louisiana Constitutional Convention, black delegates were attacked by whites including the New Orleans police force. As Black Past describes, “African Americans were shot on the street or pulled off of streetcars to be summarily beaten or killed. By the end of the massacre, at least 200 black Union war veterans were killed, including forty delegates at the Convention. Altogether 238 people were killed and 46 were wounded.”
In 1868, 33 black men were elected to the Georgia State Assembly and then expelled due to their race. These men organized a political rally which marched into Camila where they were met with gunfire. According to Black Past, “As the marchers entered the square, they were fired upon from all directions. The participants retreated into the swamps outside the town, but at least fifteen were killed and another forty were wounded.” The Camila Massacre was not officially recognized by the town until 1998.
Estimates on the number of blacks killed in this massacre range from 30 to over 150. This started as a battle between black Republicans and white Democrats and ended as a massacre of the vastly outnumbered blacks. As Black Past describes in the article linked above, “Twelve leaders of the black Republicans who surrendered were executed the next day on the edge of town. Those executions seemed to encourage a wave of anti-black violence that spread throughout the parish. No one will ever know how many people were killed but the best estimate is that the number was at least 150 and may have exceeded that total.”
Just before the presidential election, white mobs gathered to intimidate black voters. As the Zinn Education Project describes, “Freedpeople were dragged from their homes and murdered in cold blood. The reported numbers of those killed varies from 35 to over 100. Many who escaped death did so by fleeing to the cane fields, where they hid for days.” The massacre prevented freed blacks from voting in the election, as Grant only received one vote in the parish. A white Spanish immigrant, Pablo San Feliu, was killed in the fighting and 60 blacks were arrested for this. No whites were arrested for their part in the massacre.
Three whites and an estimated 150 blacks died in this race massacre when a white militia attacked the black militia in the Colfax Parish Courthouse following a Republican victory in the Louisiana governor’s race.
This was called an election riot but was actually a deliberate attack by whites on blacks on election day. Seven blacks were killed and 70 injured when members of The White League assaulted them. As the Zinn Education Project describes, “Republican politicians and officials were thrown out of office, the league didn’t count the votes cast for Republican candidates, and the Democrats were declared as winners of the 1874 elections.”
Between 75 and 300 blacks were killed after the local black sheriff, Peter Crosby, was forced to resign by white supremacists. Blacks marched on Vicksburg to reinstate Crosby and were fired upon by whites. This turned into a general hunting of blacks by local white youth.
This massacre began at a Republican political rally, attended by 1,500 blacks and 75-100 whites. Some of the whites in the crowd began firing and in the ensuing violence, five blacks (two children), and three whites were killed. This incident was used as an excuse for white mobs to terrorize the community during the following days and 30-50 blacks were murdered.
The Thibodaux massacre was both a labor dispute and a race massacre. Black sugarcane workers, who were being paid in company scrip, not in cash, went on strike. The labor conditions for these workers were essentially slavery – they were paid as little as 42 cents a day for a 12-hour shift. After the bosses refused the union demands for better pay and began firing union workers, they went on strike. The bosses called on the governor for assistance and former Confederate General P. G. T. Beauregard arrived with the militia. As described by the Smithsonian article linked above, “An eyewitness told a newspaper that ‘no less than thirty-five negroes were killed outright,’ including old and young, men and women. ‘The negroes offered no resistance; they could not, as the killing was unexpected.’” This massacre was a crushing blow to organized labor in the south; farmers would not attempt to unionize again for over 40 years.
This was not only a massacre but a coup when white supremacists seized the local government. A group of 800 white citizens created their own declaration of independence, which proclaimed, “We, the undersigned citizens… do hereby declare that we will no longer be ruled and will never again be ruled by men of African origin.” The next day they proceeded to burn down the offices of the local newspaper and kill and imprison blacks. At least 14 blacks were murdered on the first day, possibly up to 250 total in the massacre. The Republican city council and mayor were forced to resign and replaced with white supremacists. As History.com puts it, “After the coup, for which no one was ever prosecuted or punished, more than 100,000 registered Black voters fled the city. No Black citizen would again serve in public office for three-quarters of a century.”
A case of alleged attacks by black men on white women led to a mob of 10,000 whites terrorizing Atlanta. According to Black Past, “The mob surged through black Atlanta neighborhoods destroying businesses and assaulting hundreds of black men. The violence became so dangerous that the state militia was called in to take control of the city.” An estimated 25-40 blacks were killed in the massacre and hundreds more injured.
Eight blacks were killed and 2,000 were driven from their homes when white mobs roamed the streets of Springfield, Illinois. These mobs were lynch mobs that formed after two blacks were accused of assault and arrested. After lynching two innocent black bystanders, the mobs began destroying black homes throughout the town. As Black Past describes, “Mob leaders carefully directed the participants to destroy only homes and businesses either owned by blacks or which served black patrons, thus leaving nearby white homes and businesses untouched.”
White mobs attacked the unincorporated black community of Slocum, Texas, taking potshots at anyone they found. Official numbers place the deaths between eight and 22 blacks killed, though according to the Zinn Education project (article linked above), “evidence suggests casualties were 10 times these amounts.” The local county sheriff gave the following account, “Men were going about killing Negroes as fast as they could find them. These Negroes have done no wrong that I can discover. I don’t know how many were in the mob, but there may have been 200 or 300. They hunted the Negroes down like sheep.”
This is an interesting event as it happened in part because blacks were hired as strike breakers. As Black Past describes, “470 African American workers were hired to replace white workers who had gone on strike against the Aluminum Ore Company.” Rather than blaming the bosses, the white workers blamed the blacks and appealed to the mayor to stop black migration to the city. On May 28, after a rumor of an attempted robbery, white mobs “rampaged through downtown, beating all African Americans who were found. The mobs also stopped trolleys and streetcars, pulling black passengers out and beating them on the streets and sidewalks.” The national guard was deployed to disperse the mobs. It remained in the city until June 10. Violence resumed on July 2, when “Around six o’ clock that evening, white mobs began to set fire to the homes of black residents. Residents had to choose between burning alive in their homes, or run out of the burning houses, only to be met by gunfire. In other parts of the city, white mobs began to lynch African Americans against the backdrop of burning buildings.” According to the Smithsonian, “By the end of the three-day crisis, the official death toll was 39 black individuals and nine whites, but many believe that more than 100 African-Americans were killed.”
During the summer of 1919, race riots happened in three dozen cities across the United States. These became collectively known as the Red Summer. The race massacre in Washington was started based on a rumor of a black man sexually assaulting a white woman. White veterans recently returned from World War I, upon hearing this rumor in a bar, proceeded to terrorize poor black communities. As illustrated by Black Past, “The veterans brutally beat all African Americans they encountered. African Americans were seized from their cars and from sidewalks and beaten without reason or mercy by white veterans, still in uniform, drawing little to no police attention.” The Blacks fought back and over the next four days, “Over one hundred and fifty men, women, and children were beaten, clubbed, and shot by both African American and white rioters.” Heavy rain and the arrival of troops ended the riots.
The Chicago Race Riots of 1919 were really a massacre. They began when seventeen-year-old Eugene Williams was drowned by whites for swimming in a white section of the lake. Police refused to make any arrests following this murder. According to Chicago History, “After seven days of shootings, arson, and beatings, the Race Riot resulted in the deaths of 15 whites and 23 blacks with an additional 537 injured (195 white, 342 black).” The Chicago Tribune describes the massacre, “The riots, Jones and numerous other historians have long since noted, were perpetrated by young white gangs and ‘athletic clubs’ pushing back against what they saw as black intrusion.”
This was a labor dispute turned into race massacre. Black sharecroppers gathered in the church at Elaine, Arkansas to organize against low wages. Whites responded by attacking the church and one of the attackers was killed in the firefight. The Arkansas governor sent in 500 troops with orders to “to shoot to kill any negro who refused to surrender immediately.” These troops indiscriminately massacred over 200 blacks, including women and children. Five whites were killed during the fighting and dozens of blacks were arrested subsequently for these deaths. A total of 12 black men were sentenced to death – though a Supreme Court ruling would eventually save their lives.
The Ku Klux Klan blocked the black population of Ocoee from voting. When some of the blacks attempted to legally challenge this suppression, they were met with violence from the Klan. Over 50 people were massacred in the ensuing violence. As Jason Byrne describes one victim in Ocoee on Fire, “The crowd strung up the by now near-dead victim to a telephone pole along the highway. His hanging body was riddled with bullets, which may have been the actual cause of death. This gruesome scene was left there as a warning both to Cheney and area blacks, with an accompanying note saying, ‘This is what we do to niggers who try to vote.’” The entire black population was driven out of town.
Over 300 people were killed, and 1,200 black owned homes and businesses were destroyed when white mobs attacked the Greenwood district of Tulsa, known as Black Wall Street. Like so many other massacres, it began with false allegations of sexual assault by a black man on a white woman. During the massacre, airplanes were used to drop kerosene. Eyewitness, Viola Fletcher, described it, “I still see Black men being shot, Black bodies lying in the street. I still smell smoke and see fire. I still see Black businesses being burned. I still hear airplanes flying overhead. I hear the screams.” The survivors were corralled into internment camps. No one has been held accountable for the massacre and no reparations have ever been made.
The massacre at Rosewood, Florida was instigated by a lynch mob acting on the allegations that a black man had assaulted a white woman. This quickly escalated, as Black Past describes, “As night descended the mob attacked the town, slaughtering animals and burning buildings. An official report claims six blacks and two whites were killed. Other accounts suggest a larger total. At the end of the carnage, only two buildings remained standing, a house and the town general store.” No one was charged in the murders.
Black migrants from the south moving into Detroit led to a lack of housing and increased racial tensions. The year before, white mobs had “attempted to keep the black residents from moving into their new homes.” In June, a fist fight between a black man and a white man led to racial violence throughout the city. According to Black Past’s description, “Blacks dragged whites out of cars and looted white-owned stores in Paradise Valley while whites overturned and burned black-owned vehicles and attacked African Americans on streetcars along Woodward Avenue and other major streets. The Detroit police did little in the rioting, often siding with the white rioters in the violence.” The police actually shot 17 of the 25 blacks who died in the massacre.
A peaceful anti-war demonstration was assaulted by the police with the result of three dead and 28 injured. As the Zinn Education Project describes the state response to the demonstration, “By the late evening of Feb. 8, army tanks and over 100 heavily armed law enforcement officers had cordoned off the campus; 450 more had been stationed downtown.” The demonstrators were unarmed but the press reported there having been gunfire on both sides, however most of the injuries were sustained in the back or the side, the students were fleeing and gunned down as they ran. This was a state sponsored massacre of primarily black students.
Five people were killed at an anti-Klan rally when Nazis and the KKK opened fire on them. According to Teen Vogue, “police had intentionally been missing, despite knowing about the potential for violence that day.” The police were complicit in the massacre.
This was the infamous MOVE bombing, where the police leveled two city blocks dropping C4 onto black activists killing 11, including five children. These black activists were faced with “Nearly five hundred officers in SWAT gear, backed by heavy artillery and an anti-tank machine gun, surrounded the block.” Nothing illustrates a fascist police state better than this.
Nine blacks were massacred during bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by a white shooter. The victims were: Clementa C. Pinckney, Cynthia Graham Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel L. Simmons, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, and Myra Thompson. The shooter later confessed that he had wished to incite a race war.