If We Must Die

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious
spot,
While round us bark the mad and
hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be
shed
In vain; then even the monsters we
Defy
shall be constrained to honor us
though dead!
O kinsmen! We must meet the common
foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show
us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one
death-blow!
what though before us lies the open
grave?
Like men we’ll face the murderous
cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting
Back!

– Claude McKay, 1919

In the spring of 1921, a war broke out in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Hundreds were killed and wounded on both sides. The conflict stemmed from an armed standoff over the attempted lynching of a Black man who was, after the battle, proven innocent of assaulting a white woman. White mobs began to attack Blacks individually. Then the entire Black community became the target. White marauders besieged the Black area of North Tulsa, which was at that time, one of the most prosperous Black communities in the United States. But the Black’s unexpectedly high degree of paramilitary sophistication and bravery stunned the white population of Tulsa, as it did whites throughout the region. The Blacks’ swift and tactically well thought out strategy, won a brief moral and military victory for the resistance against the local police force, over 3,000 members of the Ku Klux Klan, and other men of the white populous.


Eventually, the combined forces of the white power structure, including the National Guard, overwhelmed the Black resistance fighters, led by the African Blood Brotherhood and others. Hundreds of African American men were rounded up, like cattle, and held illegally for fighting for their families’ lives. Many of these men were murdered by bludgeoning, by hanging, and by firing squads. The Black community called “Little Africa”, by local white newspapers, included the Black business district referred to as “Black Wall Street”. It was all burned to the ground. The district was called Black Wall Street because of the over 600 Black owned businesses, including: banks and other financial institutions, oil, insurance, and real estate companies, lawyers’ and doctors’ offices, libraries, hospitals, schools, theatres, restaurants, etc., that flourished in the district. After the resistance ended a massacre ensued. Thousands of whites accompanied by the National Guard, looted Black homes, and set them afire, as they moved on with a scorched earth policy, to teach the Blacks a lesson. Black Wall Street and that community were obliterated. More than 10,000 Black people were left homeless. As the Black citizens of Tulsa fled, with literally nothing but the clothes on their backs, they were bombed from the air by a biplane. The plane dropped turpentine bombs, the forerunner of napalm. Bodies were dumped in the Arkansas River and others were burned at mass gravesites. This happened to a community that was, at that time, one of the most prosperous Black community in the United States. This fact helped fuel the mobs’ fury. Their jealousy, envy, hatred and fear were at the root of their madness.

Most of those who were there, in 1921, have passed on. But the State of Oklahoma, pressed by the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus, agreed to a reparation settlement for survivors of the ethnic cleansing operation that took place. Based upon my own research and study, I know this account to be true. But I also cherish the eyewitness accounts I’ve heard, over the years, from my elders. You see, my grandparents and their three sons were there. My grandfather Harry Daniel, a former slave, who had been disarmed, and his wife Ella, watched as members of the National Guard looted and then set fire to their business; Daniel’s Sundries. Their home had already been looted and burned by a mob. Their middle son Cecil was my father. The men and boys, of North Tulsa, fought bravely. They lost all but their families and their dignity. This part of my family survived, lived to tell what really happened, and established new roots in Kansas City, Missouri.


Editor’s Note:
Lloyd Daniel, a former Missouri State Representative, is a writer, educator, and advocate. He’s author of the book, “Liberation Education.” He’s a Founding member of the National Black United Front, a Silver Life member of the NAACP, and 10-year member of the ACLU. His website address is www.lloyddaniel.info He lives in Kansas City.

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