United States history is marked and checkered with grievous race massacres dating back to the end of slavery. These race “riots,” as they are benignly referred to in some quarters, occurred infamously in Tulsa, Elaine, Rosewood, Chicago, Detroit, and so many other lesser remembered cities. The starkest period of race massacres in the United States, including each of those just mentioned, occurred in the early 1900s, between 1919 and 1923 when Black Americans, newly empowered by service in a world war and having gained available land grants in territories where indigenous peoples were forced to abandon, began finding economic and political footholds. When in 1919 and 1921, African American citizens were becoming successful and independent economically, race massacres annihilated these fledgling successes. At a time when economic independence was becoming a light at the end of a long, dark tunnel for Black Americans, white supremacy and racial capitalism worked to ensure that this light and hope was quashed. This quashing of early African American economic success, particularly on Tulsa’s Black Wall Street and in the fields of Elaine, Arkansas, sent shock-waves of oppression that still reverberate today. This article will examine the role of racial capitalism in the race massacres of Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921 and Elaine, Arkansas in 1919.
This piece begins with an introduction to racial capitalism. Next, it describes the race massacres in the Greenwood District of Tulsa and the evisceration of Black Wall Street before examining the race massacre in Elaine and the destruction of the lives and fortunes of Black sharecroppers there. Thereafter, the article describes the role that racial capitalism and the economic exploitation of Black Americans played in carrying out that massive destruction of Black human capital. Finally, the article describes how the echoes of these race massacres continues to sound today in a white supremacist refrain that is quintessentially the song that accompanies the founding and growth of the American economy.
andré douglas pond cummings & Kalvin Graham, Racial Capitalism and Race Massacres: Tulsa's Black Wall Street and Elaine's Sharecroppers, 57 Tulsa L. Rev. 39 (2022).