In keeping with the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, I’ve repurposed a post (previously titled: “I’m Black and I Don’t Like Black History Month”). I have excerpted the Tulsa portion and updated the cartoons to underscore the spiritual connection I’ve found between the White Evangelical churches and the rise of the KKK who were deeply entrenched in their churches as preachers, deacons, choir members, Sunday school teachers, and racial haters. After much research—as a Black Born-Again believer in Jesus—I hold the White Evangelical churches, especially in the South, solely responsible for the Tulsa Massacre.
I wish Black history would simply be American History–told with searing honesty in our schools and religious houses so that profound conversations could ensue and an even deeper understanding could emerge to confront what is needed to really see how much damage the stain of slavery and the subsequent Jim Crow Laws did to our collective American souls, and how that stain still runs painfully deep. White people need to be healed from the damage of all that immoral racial DNA as much as Black folks do who were the victims of it. Instead, many White people hope and declare that racism is over (“After all, I voted for Obama—twice!” or they declare, “Obama is the spawn of Satan”), and most Black people limp along—permanently scarred—robbed of generational wealth and talent.
I attended mostly White churches for most of my “born again” years and I never, ever, ever heard the leaders speak of the responsibility their churches had in purging the sin of racism of their fathers in order to bring about racial healing. (It was the covert racism against President Obama masked in politics that caused me to flee the movement all together.) Just recently I saw a picture which broke my heart and caused me to research the White Evangelicals’ complicity with racism in America.
Do you know what I discovered? This evil shit is in White Evangelicals spiritual DNA! Jesus plus the Ku Klux Klan?! Hello?! The deep discussions we need to have about race can’t be had until we recognize how much systemic racism is ingrained in and through White Christianity and how that coupling has made so much of the hateful antics against African-Americans “okay” in such a way that its tentacles are intertwined with the Gospel of Christ.
The picture above was taken in 1920. It is thought to be in a church in Portland, Oregon. Six years before this picture was taken a White Methodist minister (William Joseph Simmons), resurrected the Ku Klux Klan that Ulysses S. Grant had earlier disbanded. On the top of Stone Mountain in Georgia, Minister Simmons declared himself the Imperial Wizard and proclaimed: “The angels that have anxiously watched the reformation from its beginnings must have hovered about Stone Mountain and shouted hosannas to the highest heavens.” Rev. Simmons selected white robes to signify the “purity of Christ,” used the burning of the cross to denote the “light of Christ,” and used selective Bible verses to underscore the White man’s superiority.
By the time the photo was taken of the local Klan in a church in Oregon, 5 million White men belonged to the KKK and had infiltrated churches all across America—some being so bold as to wear their “uniforms of terror” while they sang in church choirs or sat in church pews. Many Protestant ministers (strictly Protestant because the KKK hated Catholics and Jews as much as Black people) were either sympathetic toward the KKK or were members. If men running around in hooded sheets and burning crosses had been the extent of the Klan’s evil, we could have chalked it up to insanity and might have been able to racially heal in America. But their deeds, which were sanctioned and led by many White Christian church members, were demonic and murderous across the nation (there are two dozen recorded massacres of thousands of Black Americans since that “Jesus Saves” photo was taken)—the most notable one which happened in Tusla, Oklahoma.
In 1921 approximately 3,200 Klansmen lived in Oklahoma (2,000 of them in Tulsa) which became the backdrop of the worst massacre of African-Americans in our history. This brutal terrorist act happened in a city that boasted of copious White Christian churches as part of its reputation and stability.
On May 31, 1921, 35 blocks of an all-Black residential and business area, known as “the Negro Wall Street” because it was so prosperous, was burned to the ground by the jealous White citizens of Tulsa. Approximately 10,000 Blacks had settled in the area due to the land rush at the time and established very vibrant and strong middle and upper class existences on valuable oil-rich land. It was a model community. They had doctors, lawyers, teachers, and bankers. They owned fine jewels and fur coats, pianos, beautiful houses, and delicately carved furniture. Greenwood, as it was called, had everything a thriving town would want, including Dr. A.C. Jackson, “the most able Negro surgeon in America” as cited by the Mayo brothers.
In 1921, private planes bombed Greenwood from the air with turpentine balls while hundreds of White men gunned down anyone who tried to escape their homes and businesses, including Dr. A.C. Jackson as he ascended his office steps with his hands up in surrender. Although the exact number of deaths is not known, at least 300 people died, 1,200 homes were looted and subsequently burned to the ground while thousands of Greenwood’s citizens were imprisoned without recourse—while a number of the WWI vets were lynched. It was reported (although never proven) that witnesses saw hundreds of bodies thrown into the river and mass graves. For years afterwards, Black Greenwood citizens would see their jewelry around the necks of White residents in and about town (I wonder if any of that stolen jewelry was worn to church with their Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes when they “worshipped Jesus”?) while the Klan distributed postcards across the country with pictures of the destruction as proof of their ability to maintain White rule and dominance. The loss was the equivalent of $30 million in damage in today’s currency according to Brandon Weber of The Progressive.
No White person was ever charged or held responsible for the Tulsa massacre. Many of the bodies were never found. Until recently, Oklahoma buried the story and refused to acknowledge it.
The excuse for the terrorist attack: A shoe shine boy (Dick Rowland) who was stationed outside a Tulsa department store on the White side of town—well-known and liked by the White residents—needed to use the only restroom available for Blacks which was on the top floor of the store. He ran into the elevator which was operated by a White woman (Sara Page). For some reason Ms. Page screamed (Rowland stepped on her toe or he stumbled and grabbed her arm—some even say they might have been lovers, but no one ever knew the reason for the scream except that it wasn’t rape as was later accused). Page’s scream frightened Rowland and he fled. A White person heard the scream, saw Rowland running away, and assumed the worst. The shoeshine boy was later exonerated and Ms. Page maintained from the beginning that nothing untoward had happened, but the destruction and massacre perpetrated by the White citizens were blamed on the Black citizens of Greenwood and they were never compensated.
Of all my research of this horrific moment in Black history, which as I said is still considered the worst massacre of African-Americans, I have never, ever read that the White Evangelical churches in Oklahoma took responsibility for the bedfellows they made with the Ku Klux Klan which undergirded their participation in Greenwood’s demise. I have found no record of any White Tulsa citizens coming to the aid of their African-American neighbors when they and their livelihood were being destroyed. I would like to think that at least one White “Christian” citizen did what Jesus would have done.
ELEANOR’S SELAH (“AHA” MOMENT) ON WHITE EVANGELICALISM AND RACISM
I am discovering of late that until we comprehend how much of America’s racism has been fostered and cloaked in the Gospel of Christ, it will be impossible to get to the root of our national sin and systemically kill this tree, because it is in the bloodstream of White Christian America. Racism is a spiritual entity in our midst which permeates everything in our country from the church pew to the college campus to Wall Street to Congress, and it was born out of the sin of slavery. Let’s not stop at patting ourselves on the back because we elected a Black president (twice)—let’s move on down the road and deeper into the forests of our Evangelical churches’ histories, and really rid ourselves of our national sin of racism.
On that note, we are not totally without hope. In April 2018, Pastor Jim Wallis (President of Sojourners) and the National Council of Churches led a rally marking the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Its major focus was to “Confess to Confront Racism: Confessing the Church’s Complicity in Practicing, Promoting, and Profiting from White Privilege and Racial Division.” As Pastor Wallis said in Sojourners blog commentary:
“Let me say this as clearly as I can: Our original sin of white racism and the way it not just lingers but continues to evolve is literally throwing away imago dei — the image of God — and it happens over and over again each and every day. Let me quote a colleague, Professor Fr. Bryan Massingale from Fordham University, who says, ‘When I ask my white students if they have ever heard racism named or preached as a sin from their pulpits growing up in their churches — their answer is almost always NO.’ That says it all and that’s what we have to change. If we do, the changes could be enormous, with the fruits of repentance literally undergirding the substance of social change.”
“Without confession to the sin of white racism, white supremacy, white privilege, people who call themselves white Christians will never be free.” — @jimwallis
Cartoon used by permission: 252082_RGB_1290 (1).jpg 2nd Tulsa Race Massacre 1921 by Bruce Plante PoliticalCartoons com
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