The end of this month is the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre.
Be honest, how many of you have ever heard of it? I only learned about it from a friend’s social media post during last summer’s racial unrest.
For those of you who are unaware, the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Okla., was known as Black Wall Street. It was a place where the children and grandchildren of slaves had carved out a place to open their own businesses and create a thriving economic climate for themselves despite the rampant racism they faced when trying to do business with white people.
On May 31, 1921, a Black shoeshiner, Dick Rowland, was accused of assaulting a 17-year-old female elevator operator. It was determined that he simply tripped in her elevator while on his way to a segregated bathroom. A white store clerk reported the incident to the Tulsa police as an assault and he was arrested. A rumor spread through the city that a Black man had assaulted a white woman, and an angry mob of 100 armed white men gathered at the police station intent on lynching him. Angry armed Black men also responded. A shot was fired and in the next 24 hours, 35 city blocks were burned to the ground, dozens were killed, an estimated 10,000 Black Tulsans were left homeless.
Over 150 are thought to have been killed. However, the only hospital that Black citizens were allowed in at the time was burned to the ground, so casualty numbers vary. For those mainly focused on property damage in situations like this, it is estimated that $32 million in 2020 dollars was lost in property damage.
Following the massacre, an all-white grand jury blamed the Black residents for violence but did note that the police department failed to prevent the riots. Eighty-five individuals were indicted but none was convicted. The city also changed the fire and zoning codes making it almost impossible for the Black residents or business owners to rebuild.
I did not hear about any of this when I was in school and I suspect most of you didn’t either. But we’re 1,500 miles from Tulsa, and I do remember learning about the Labor Movement that started in the mills of Lawrence and Lowell, Mass., and Manchester.
Both of these topics would likely be off-limits in schools if HB 544 passes the New Hampshire Legislature this year.
Have you noticed blue signs popping up around town, talking about Save Our Children? They are regarding a now-failed bill proposed by right-wing extremists like Glenn Cordelli of Tuftonboro, Jason Osborne of Rockingham County and Keith Ammon, the assistant majority whip from Hillsborough County. The bill aimed to stop the discussion of "divisive topics" like race or gender in the classroom or with any employee, contractor, staff member, student or any other individual or group doing business with the state of New Hampshire.
The stand-alone bill was deemed "inexpedient to legislate" weeks ago because the radical wing of the New Hampshire Republican Party that is pushing this bill realized it lacked support from enough conservatives in the House, Senate, and the governor.
However, these "small government conservatives" are not giving up on putting the state of New Hampshire directly into your child's history class. They have slipped identical language from HB 544 into the state budget that is still being negotiated in the House and Senate. That is why we’re suddenly seeing those blue signs popping up in Conway. Because rather than working on establishing a budget for the next biennium, the NHGOP is mainly focused on trying to keep people’s heads in the sand and fighting culture wars like the Mr. Potato Head faux outrage.
An old adage says that those who fail to study history are condemned to repeat it, and that is precisely what the New Hampshire Republican Party is counting on.
Radicals on the right will continue to ignore bread-and-butter issues and keep waging culture wars because that is what gets their base fired up and allows them to cling to power for two more years in New Hampshire.
Their time is running out, though, and the sooner voters begin to see through the political theater that is bills like HB 455, the better off the entire state will be.
Erik Corbett lives in Conway with his wife and two cats and a dog.