Saturday, May 29, 2021

Unsurprisingly, in 1921 Salem Papers got the Tulsa Massacre all Wrong

At the end of four days of news coverage, the morning paper here gave a verdict on the Tulsa Massacre in 1921: "Negros held to blame. Radicals said to have inflamed hatred."

June 4th, 1921

The anniversary of the massacre, coinciding with a year of BLM protest, has prompted widespread attention to a revised understanding of the massacre. NY Times published a moving and detailed interactive on the loss and destruction.

The Wall Street Journal also published a long interactive piece on "Black Wall Street," and they summarized:

One hundred years ago, white mobs burned Tulsa’s Black neighborhood to the ground. Thirty-five blocks were leveled. Hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed. As many as 300 were killed.

In pop culture, there was the Watchmen series a year ago. Here the paper printed something on its impact in contemporary politics.

Yesterday's paper

Perhaps there will be more on Sunday or early next week.

The news here a century ago got it fundamentally wrong, distorted by the general commitment to white supremacy. (Salem clips in order of publication.)

June 1st, 1921

June 1st, 1921

June 2nd, 1921

June 2nd, 1921

June 3rd, 1921

The news coverage quickly pivoted to a harmonizing reading: "race feeling gone" and promises of rebuilding. It didn't quite work out that way.

The next day they blamed the Negro Radicals.

None of this is surprising, and it does not seem useful to try to mine it for any closer readings. The local papers are depending on wire stories and are doing no original reporting themselves. What is interesting, though not surprising, is the expectation that readers here would say "of course" and not question the framing. (I suppose it might be interesting to compare the Salem stories with those printed elsewhere, or even with the parent wire stories as originally distributed, to see what changes, if any, local editors might have made. But that's a kind of redaction criticism others will have to undertake.)

MLK in a later form of red scare
(Bob Fitch Archive, Stanford)

In the end, the most direct relevance here might be the persistence of the correlation of "Negros" and "radicals," a racialized form of red scare that remains potent today.

Maybe you will see something different, or more interesting. It has not been widely taught in any standard US history, it seems, and there are things still to learn.

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