Overlooked American History: The Black Wall Street Massacre & I-Hotel Evictions

By Sarai Carpio-Au

Staff Writer

After reading about the horrific crimes of Christopher Columbus and the immensely unfair treatment to the Native Americans, American history has hidden so much. It’s hard to say there’s more hidden mass killings, the government forcing communities out of their homes, and violation of citizen’s basic human rights. As the government and the American school system continues to hide the forgotten circumstances that traumatized our people of color, their stories will still be told. 

The infamous Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street” massacre

Black Wall Street was a street in Tulsa, Oklahoma that was home to many successful African Americans. You probably haven’t even heard of this street or what happened there 99 years ago. It was one of the most disturbing and gruesome massacres of the century. But then again, schools and the media have never brought this event to the public eye. Proving to the people as to what exactly is the government hiding and what exactly happened.

The town was founded by an African American man named O.W Gurley. Alexis Clark in Tulsa’s ‘Black Wall Street’ in the Early 1900s describes, “He had a vision to create something for black people by black people.” He created his wealth from a huge oil boom in Oklahoma, setting the town to turn and thrive in the twentieth century. “On Greenwood Avenue, there were luxury shops, restaurants, grocery stores, hotels … offices for doctors, lawyers and dentists. Greenwood also had its own school system, post office, a savings and loan bank, hospital, and bus and taxi service.” (Alexis Clark). Black Wall Street was booming and, if compared to money today, was worth about 3.6 million dollars all from the work and intelligence of African American success.

What had triggered the massacre to begin was when 19-year-old Dick Rowland, an African American shoe shiner, went into an elevator, located downtown, with Sarah Page, a 17-year-old Caucasian elevator operator. She then began to scream leaving the two to run out of the elevator once it stopped. May 1921, Rowland was accused of assaulting Page and the next day was arrested. This was made known throughout articles and reports making its way to the ears of the active Ku Klax Klan who participated within a few of the white mobs. They believed that they had an obligation to do something, something that would send a message to those of color in their area. It was their way of sticking up for themselves and what they’d call ‘their people’.

The white mob’s plans were taken to action on May 31,1921 and according to The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and the financial fallout by The Harvard Gazette they mention, “white Tulsa invaded Black Tulsa, looting, dropping bombs from planes, and committing arson and murder over the next 12 hours.” There was absolutely no support from the police or the national guard that the residents of Black Wall Street could call. But why? “One witness said he saw Tulsa police officers burning down Black homes.” Not only was this hate crime a declaration of power for the whites but also for the government itself. The city was left in ruins leaving thousands of surviving residents to live in tents having to build up the city on their own. Hundreds of Tulsa residents were murdered, killed against their free will, and being found on trucks, streets, and nearby water sources.

A postcard created by the white mobs stating “Little Africa on fire Tulsa Race Riot June 1st 1921.”
Photo Credit: Oklahoma Historical Society/Getty Images

Due to the government’s covering of this event, original articles, written testimonies, journals, or even books have not been found for the use of education and for the public. Photos by the white mobs were taken of how much damage, murder, and arson they had created to such a flourishing city. These testaments of history would then be put onto postcards. These postcards would be sent nation-wide and were a symbol to the whites as power and superiority. The infamous Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street” massacre has been represented as much as it can through various books and seen on the first episode of the “Watchmen”. One of America’s darkest pasts that still needs to receive the recognition and representation of America’s upbringing.

The I-Hotel Evictions

The I-Hotel also known as the International Hotel Manilatown Center hasn’t been mentioned in textbooks or even topics on Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. As someone who knows students in the San Fransican school system they haven’t heard of such protests and haven’t been taught about it in schools. There’s a greater chance that you haven’t heard or been told of this part in history either, so let’s start from after the Spanish American War. 

After the Spanish American War had occurred America colonized the Philippines until 1946. The colonization left Asians such as Filipinos, Chinese, and Japanese to immigrate to the US. They would immigrate to the West Coast where they were able to find jobs of labor “they felt like they were living the American dream. But the reality of it was that they were extremely exploited and wages were really low.” Mentioned by Estella Habal, author of San Francisco International Hotel, on Vox. As Filipino immigrants were working day and night to make ends meet they were also living in a time where San Francisco was extremely expensive or had areas that discriminated against them. As described by Habal the discriminated parts of town “had white vigilante groups that would hunt them down, try to take them out of town, murder them.” Their safe and affordable haven was a cheap hotel, the I-Hotel, which then became home for hundreds of Asians creating their own community and their own street in San Francisco. 

San Francisco continued to progress in cost making it extremely difficult to find housing other than the I-Hotel for Asians. The city would then call for action taking new policies of redeveloping the parts of the city that were not urban enough or created a sense of value within their pockets. Another similar term is gentrification which as we know still occurs in San Francisco to this day. The operation of increasing the economy to kick out those who’ve lived here for decades or even all their lives because they can’t pay the mortgage leaving the richer, out-of-state individuals, to replace their living. The government wanted the area where our Filipinos were living in and proposed to evict everyone in the I-Hotel out one way or another. The community of the I-Hotel eventually found out and took action to save not only the homes they have kept for decades but for the sake of their family and friends.

Protesters created a barricade in front of the International Hotel on August 4, 1977.
Photo Credit: Nancy Wong/WikiCommons

Tenants living in the I-Hotel who were still able to use their legs would then protest and educate other people of all races to help their fight against being forced out of their homes. The government would use horses to step on the crowds, batons to injure many of the citizens who were present, and used the help of a ladder from a fire truck to get inside the building. They picked up and threw the residents outside of the building to fend for themselves. This left hundreds, especially the manongs, homeless and later to die along the streets of San Francisco. 

You can now visit the I-Hotel, rebuilt in 2005, located on the same building as the original building which houses Asians who need support. Although it has been rebuilt, incidents such as this continue to occur within large cities such as San Francisco. Chester Au who was raised in San Francisco has seen gentrification from the I-Hotel until modern day living. He states, ”streets such as Bryant to 6th, especially South of Market, have new buildings that have been rebuilt out of nowhere. You wonder where all these people go.” An everlasting system of greed as owners increase their pockets while stories such as the I-Hotel evictions go unheard.

A grayscale photograph of San Francisco.
Photo Credit: Nancy Wong/WikiCommons

Students, teachers, and the United States, as a whole, need to understand that the government has kept their actions of disregarding the people a secret. Learning about systematic oppression and what it does for a certain group of people changes their way of living and our perspectives. Through partaking in research and taking action, justice will eventually be served to the land and lives of our people of color. 

 

Featured Image(at top of post): Man walks amongst Tulsa wreckage. Photo Credit: Oklahoma Historical Society/Getty Images

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