It is one thing to know about slavery and about racial segregation. But whites, including me until well into adulthood, tend to be unaware of the scale of violence visited by whites on blacks in the 20th century. One good place to begin is Isabel Wilkerson’s The Warmth of Other Suns, a powerful but beautifully written book that describes how violence and fear led to Blacks migrating North. I recommend it.
But the story from our past that I find most horrifying is Tulsa. Tulsa’s thriving middle class and business Black community was decimated by a pogrom. A violent white mob burned down Black owned homes and businesses and murdered people. This was in 1921. I never heard of Tulsa’s race riot in my two public school US history classes, nor in my college history classes. I’m hoping we start to teach it. This N.Y. Times story, “The Haunting of Tulsa,Okla.”, tells you just a bit about it.
A mass grave has now been found in Tulsa. That sounds like Eastern Europe from World War II or Bosnia in the 1990s, doesn’t it? But it is us.
Why is this story important? Like the story of the Japanese-American internment camps during World War II, Tulsa reminds us that in 20th century America, we were capable of evil as well as for good. And that should make us wonder, will we act for good in the 21st century?
I love our country. And I romanticize our great achievements of the 20th century, the defeat of the Nazis and the Soviets and the power of the Civil Rights movement to change laws. I’m the kind of guy that gets teary-eyed at old World War II movies or Fourth of July parades. I harbor no false illusions about other countries and economic or political systems that strip people of liberty or property.
But I don’t love America because we’re all good and have always been all good. That is a fairy tale. We’re human, and we’re corrupted with flaws, as all people are. Our history is a human one of both greatness and sadness. We are not only or primarily a nation conceived in the sin of slavery or stolen Indian land (including Tulsa). But neither are we only a nation of liberty and religious and economic freedom. We are all of the above.
We love our communities, our system of laws, and our country not because they’re perfect, but because they’re ours, and we believe they can be better.
We’re all just temporarily sharing this place, trying to make it slightly better for the generations that follow. And we all walk a little more humbly as we finish a year where Mother Nature made a new plague that reminded us how vulnerable we are.
I am proud to practice law with good lawyers who care about our clients but also our community and our country. From all of us at NachtLaw, may 2021 be a good year.