Racial conflicts in the United States have been a cause of major concern from the era of slave abolishment up to current times. In spite of this, the country has made huge progress in this area. In the past, violent confrontations were common between African Americans and Native Americans (whites) but today’s conflicts are less violent. Nonetheless, in the 21st century incidents of discrimination have continued with many liberal activists citing that there is institutional racism in American institutions. Good examples of these types of incidents are the Tulsa race riot and the Harlem riot. This study will examine the underlying contributors towards these conflicts as well as racial and historical contexts of their occurrences. Besides, this study will also analyze individual parties involved and the impact of the conflicts on segregation as developed in urban history.
The Tulsa riot is one of the largest racially motivated conflicts to occur in the 20th century. This riot happened in 31st of May 1921 and it involved the black community of Oklahoma been attacked by a group of white rioters in the Tulsa region—now referred as the Black Wall Street (Scott Ellsworth, 27; Brophyand Randall, 43). The riot had devastating effects on the Black community of Oklahoma who were largely outnumbered by the white rioters (Witten, Brooks& Fenner, 655). To understand the cause for this riot we also must understand the context in which the riot occurred.
The Tulsa riot happened in a post World War I environment, where veterans felt the need to press for hard-line positions in their community. After coming back from war many Native American Whites veterans joined the Ku Klux Klan, while many African American veterans sought to be recognized as full citizens with equal rights next to Native American. In this regard, African American veterans had rejuvenated their awakening about their citizens’ rights as Americans particularly after facing endangering their lives during war times while safeguarding values of their own country. These conflicting social trends within American society at that time generated social tension which generated the perfect environment for social conflict to emerge.
The specific event which ignited the Tulsa riot was an incident generated by a 19-year-old black man who was accused of assaulting 17-year-old elevator operator women named Sarah Page. After boarding the elevator, Rowland, who is 19 years old, left the elevator quickly with screaming emanating from the scene. This was all reported by an eyewitness how called the police and accused Rowland of committing assault. Later a commission concluded that the scenario of Page and Rowland being at work on Memorial Day was unusual. These lead critics to conclude that there might have been an intimate relationship between the two(Scott Ellsworth, 29; Brophy and Randall, 41).
After the incident, fearing racial retaliation, Rowland retreated to Greenwood—his mother’s place—and remained there. However, an officer in the police force located and detained Rowland while conducting a routine patrol. After this, Rowland was taken to the City Hall and later transferred on orders of the Commissioner to the County Courthouse because death threats on the suspects’ life (Witten et al., 655). Soon after this, newspapers got news of the incident and propelled the story to achieve maximum sensationalism. After this a mob of Native Americas (whites) came to the courthouse, the mob was composed by hundreds of protesters who were determined to lynch Rowland.
Soon after, the Sherriff, Willard M. McCullough, had to step in and take defensive measures to secure the detainee and avoid a possible lynching incident (Witten et al., 656). Additionally, the black community in Greenwood turned up armed trying to aid the sheriff who turned them down. Nonetheless, even after all this defensive measure confrontations was unavoidable and violence erupted Greenwood. The property destroyed in this confrontation was worth over $20 million and the death toll reached between 55-200 persons. This incident affected disproportionately the African American population with their community having the most fatal victims (Scott Ellsworth, 27; Brophy and Randall, 44).
This riot occurred in Harlem in 1935, in the city of New York, following an accusation by a “Kress Five and ten store” employee (Grimshaw, 13). Before the riot, Lino Rivera, a 16 year-old Puerto Rican African teenager was caught attempting to shoplift a penknife. When he was caught an employee retaliated against him and threatened to beat him up. After this, Rivera bit the employee’s hand but the manager intervened and called the police who detained and later released the minor. While the incident was occurring a witness (woman) outside the store witnessed the incident but interpreted the incidentally differently. She shouted this out saying that Rivera was being beaten (Feld, 14).
The arrival of an ambulance to take care of the beaten employee served to confirm the story to an anxious crowds of spectators seen the incident. However, soon after the anxious expectations assume Rivera had been killed when they didn’t see him come out after the ambulance when it left the scene of the incident. What the crowd of people didn’t know was that officers had taken Rivera through a back entrance to the store. The police soon after tried to inform that no harm had been done to Rivera but the growing crowd of people didn’t believe them.
Assuming Rivera’s death, young Liberators movement orchestrated a demonstration the next day outside the store drawing thousands of supporters. Soon after this demonstration a looting spree followed in the streets close to the stores locations. The act of vandalism that fallowed the demonstration focused on property damage and looting without any direct confrontation of the black and the white communities. Seeking to prevent more racial unrest, Rivera was photographed with an officer after being picked from the apartment where he lived with his mother to prove that he was alright.
The local government led by the mayor had posters pinned up everywhere urging the people to return to peace and orderly conduct. The woman who reported Rivera’s beating was later detained on charges of disorderly conduct with the argument that her misguided comments instigated the riot. In order to understand the riot, it is also imperative to comprehend social-economic factors within the context of the riot.
The Harlem riot took place in 1935 at that time society in America was still very discriminatory towards minorities. Because of this, both employment and racial discrimination coupled with police aggression was inflected towards minorities groups. All of this segregation practices produce mistrust within minorities groups towards the general Native White American population, and especially, towards the police force which enforced Americas segregationist’s laws. Additionally, this was a time of great social tension because the United States was going through the great depression. Because of the great depression the unemployment rate in the US was around 25 %. These bad economic conditions also helped to exacerbate segregation and mistrust in minority groups.
Such conflicts like the Harlem riot and Tulsa race riot could be also analyzed from the perspective of segregation in the urban history. Many of these conflicts roots can be traced to discrimination against race that has affected social class and quality of living for minorities for generations by affecting their housing. For example, at the time of Tulsa riots there were designated places were African American could live within Oklahoma. These African American barrios were poor and fomented an endless cycle of poverty for their African American duelers.
The cities were these social segregation riots happened, had a wealthy area that tried to keep away impoverished minority group. In many cases, access to loans to buy houses in these places was blocked to minority groups, in this ways fomenting an endless cycle of poverty for minorities. In many instances developers forced residents living in pre-existing poor neighboring communities to migrate to even poorer parts of the city. In the end, this type of segregation policies generated that cities, like Oklahoma, in 1920, and New York of the 1930, end up split into rich and poor areas generating an endless cycle of public unrest and poverty for its residents.
In conclusion, it can be argued and even proven, that segregation has played a role in the transformation of the urban land space, and also, in the cycle of impoverishment of minority groups. In this regard, the cities formed hubs in which social segregation occurred. Besides, the rich and the power were uniquely isolated into different settings here they could firmly perpetrate their individual values based on their social settings. The Tulsa race riot was credited with very devastating impact on the black community of Oklahoma. Harmlet riot on the other hand caused significant social-economic upheavals as a result of the great economic depression that the US had been going through, an aspect that accelerated social segregation.