Today marks the 102nd anniversary of the Tulsa massacre — a shameful event that had been erased from American history until recently.
This was a heinous slaughter by a white mob of up to 300 African Americans, the permanent displacement of 6,000 Black Tulsans and the destruction of Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street.” At least 35 city blocks in the Greenwood district were arsoned and destroyed on May 31, 1921, including 1,250 homes and at least 70 vibrant businesses that Black entrepreneurs owned. In today’s terms this involved property worth $27 million— a massive multigenerational loss of wealth and security. The history of this racial massacre was deliberately suppressed and only became generally known following a 2001 state commission report.
It is the kind of history that white Christian nationalist opponents of “critical race theory” are working relentlessly to remove from our public schools, textbooks and libraries. The United States is unfortunately seeing a new era of book bans, one-person heckler vetoes and radical, so-called “parents rights” legislation sweeping much of the nation.
Likewise, a legislative milestone, passed last Thursday in Connecticut, shows the power of acknowledging historic wrongs. Connecticut senators voted 33-1 to exonerate the nine women and two men who were convicted and executed more than 370 years ago of witchcraft in the Connecticut Colony over a 15-year period in the 17th century. The resolution further exonerated a woman who was convicted but then reprieved.
“We cannot go back in time and prevent the banishment, tarnishing or execution of the innocent women and men who were accused of witchcraft, but we can acknowledge the wronghoods they faced and the pain they felt, pain still recognized by their survivors today,” said the bill’s Senate sponsor Saud Anwar. “Today, the Senate took an important step to own our state’s history and provide relief to the memories of the deceased and their descendants who still struggle with their ancestors’ wrongful treatment.”
The resolution, which previously passed the state House of Representatives, was initiated by the CT Witch Trial Exoneration Project, comprised of history buffs plus descendants, including some who only recently learned that they are related to the accused witches and sought to clear the names of their ancestors. Connecticut put to death in 1647 the first person on record to be executed in the American colonies for witchcraft.
The Connecticut legislative action follows the passage of a law in Massachusetts last year to exonerate the last convicted “witch” in the Massachusetts Colony, Elizabeth Johnson Jr., who was sentenced to death, but reprieved by the governor. Others had been previously exonerated, but Johnson had no heirs to clear her name. Instead, eighth grade civics teacher Carrie LaPierre of North Andover Middle School proposed the legislation as part of her lesson to students about how bills become law, and the students lobbied lawmakers. The better-known Salem witch trial convicted 30 individuals, most women, of witchcraft, with 19 executed — all of whom had pleaded not guilty.
Oct. 12, 1692, was the seminal date when Massachusetts Gov. William Phips halted the infamous Salem Witch Trials by barring spectral evidence and requiring that evidence admitted in court must be observable by the ordinary senses, measurable and replicable. The Freedom From Religion Foundation created Freethought Week to observe this anniversary, which traces “the history of human enlightenment and the adoption of the scientific method.” FFRF noted that “there have been many holidays for saints and superstition, but never one commemorating reason, freethought and state/church separation.”
Rob Sampson, the lone senator who voted against the Connecticut exoneration, claimed the resolution was childish because it suggested “somehow we have a right to dictate what was right or wrong about periods in the past that we have no knowledge of.” To the contrary. The knowledge exists, despite the latter-day witch-hunters and book banners who are attempting to stifle free inquiry and historic facts that run counter to white Christian nationalist propaganda.
In the case of the horrific Tulsa slaughter, there has been no justice. No one was ever prosecuted for any of the criminal acts. There have been no reparations, just as the United States has never offered reparations for slavery, which would include the relief of acknowledgment of wrongful treatment.
Freethinker and philosopher George Santayana noted, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” In the case of white Christian nationalists, they do not want the past honestly remembered because they are determined to rewrite it.