Who would we be if we had never ‘forgotten’ the Tulsa Race Massacre?

May 27, 2021, 6:53 PM UTC

How will we make the most of this terrible milestone? Also, PayPal pays back, Black executives issue a call action on voting rights, and meet the mayors of the 13 remaining Black towns in Oklahoma.

But first, here’s your “how to remember” news, in Haiku.

What happens when we
forget to remember what
really happened? When

we fail to remember
that the other is really
“each other?” And a

dream deferred for
one is a dream denied to all?
What does it mean to

discover that we
may not be the hero in 
the stories we’ve come

to tell? The answer
may lie in the stories
being written now.

Wishing you a happy and healthy long weekend, if you’ve got one coming. Thank you, raceAhead readers, and never forget how much you mean to us.

Ellen McGirt

In Brief

Sometime in the wee hours of May 31st, it will be exactly 100 years since a well-organized white mob descended upon a segregated and prosperous Black community in North Tulsa known as the Greenwood District and destroyed it.

During the two-day massacre, some 10,000 people were made homeless when every home was burned. All the businesses were destroyed. And historians estimate that up to 300 people were brutally murdered by the mob who had been encouraged by local police. Nobody was held accountable, no property owner was made whole. And then, it mostly disappeared from history. I’d wager you’d have a hard time finding anyone who is old enough to vote who learned about it in school.

So, who would we be if we had never “forgotten” the Tulsa Race Massacre?

This is the question my colleagues and I have been pondering as we worked together on a wide-ranging package called 100 years after the Tulsa massacre, Black Wall Street’s legacy of entrepreneurship continues. We’re keeping it in front of Fortune’s paywall, so please read and share.

Clearly, the hit to generational wealth was profound.

The wealth destroyed has been estimated by experts to be upwards of $200 million dollars of Black property in today’s currency. But many descendants had no idea the extent of what they had lost. Brenda Nails-Alford only learned about her own legacy when she received a notice that she was being included in a lawsuit for reparations. Before the massacre, her grandparents and great-uncle owned a shoe and record shop, other ancestors had opened a skating rink, dance pavilion and a taxi service. “I grew up in the Greenwood neighborhood along with my family members and community members, and they were absolutely wonderful,” Nails-Alford tells Fortune. “It was hard to believe that something as horrible as the race massacre could have occurred in our community.” 

Stories like that abound in Fortune’s reporting. Oh, and please don't miss the opening video, starring the photographer, DeSean McClinton-Holland, who traveled to Greenwood on multiple occasions for the story. It turned out, it was his story too.

Descendants, advocates, and the three remaining survivors are now pushing for a meaningful reckoning.

Viola Fletcher, along with her 100-year-old brother Hughes “Uncle Red” Van Ellis, and 106-year-old Lessie Benningfield Randle, are the lead plaintiffs in a reparations lawsuit filed last year. Fletcher, who shared her memories of the massacre in recent Congressional testimony, worked cleaning houses until she was 85. “They’re living in poverty,” Color of Change senior campaign director Jade Magnus Ogunnaike tells Fortune. “They can’t afford basic items like milk, cheese,” and caretaking support. The justice organization is leading a campaign to divert some of the $30 million raised by the city of Tulsa for their now controversial Centennial Commission. “If you are willing, as a mayor, to raise money …and not a penny of it goes to restorative justice or descendants, then you’re all talk,” she says.

The reckoning is also ours.

“This was not that long ago,” says Charisse Conanan Johnson, a managing partner at Next Street, a capital advisory firm with a focus on entrepreneurs from underserved communities tells Fortune. The tragic loss of generational wealth remains a measurable blow, which is important to understand. But “it’s the intangible wealth that comes from confidence, that comes from exposure, that comes from knowledge,” the picture of dignified Black success in a world paused at a devil’s crossroad. White supremacy on one path, liberty and justice for all on the other. The work we are all doing to remember Greenwood makes that fateful choice — further abetted by decades of silence — crystal clear.

Now that we remember, what’s next?

On Point


There are 13 remaining all-Black towns in Oklahoma Embedded in their complicated histories is the story of all of us, once again. There were fifty such towns in the Jim Crow era, formed in Indian territory as a safe haven against racist restrictions, and designed to be an opportunity for true self-determination. “When people fled Greenwood, they came to the Black towns,” historian Shirley Nero tells New York Magazine. Ten of the mayors were photographed by DeSean McClinton-Holland, all are still fighting familiar battles within their quiet communities. “They’re coming through here, taking all the oil and gas,” says Mayor Ella DeShazer of Tatums, Okla, who is fighting to get the companies to fix roads they’ve destroyed in the process. “This little Black town is where they’re getting their riches.”
New York Magazine

Paypal is keeping its promises  PayPal has invested another $50 million in Black and Latinx-led venture capital funds, doubling a commitment from last year. The company selected 11 funds that each have at least one managing partner from the Black and Latinx community and a commitment to investing in underserved and underrepresented founders. “If you think about generational wealth creation, that comes through entrepreneurship and venture capital,” Schulman tells Fortune’s Term Sheet, in an exclusive interview. “One of the glaring gaps is the amount of venture funding that goes to Black, Latinx and underrepresented communities. But hopefully, when they make it, they think about getting back into their communities—a little like when the PayPal founders reinvested [in the tech industry].” Click through for the whole list.

Black company founders, Fortune wants to hear from you The PayPal news is a promising trend in venture, with new funds raised by and for entrepreneurs of color. But here is the problem they must solve: Overall, Black founders receive less than 1% of all venture capital. And even when successful, Black women founders raise far less: The median seed round raised by Black women founders is $125,000. As of 2020, the national median seed round funding for a startup is $2.5M. Black founders, we’d like to learn more about your experiences raising funds, particularly from primarily white venture funds and investors for an upcoming story. We will not make your name or any identifying details public without your express permission. Please circulate!
Fortune Survey

Keeping up the pressure on voting rights Last month, Black business executives collaborated on an open letter, published as a full-page ad in the New York Times, asking business leaders to support voting rights and stand against restrictive voting measures like legislation passed recently in Georgia. In this deeply personal opinion piece, Ron Williams the former chairman and CEO of Aetna and current CEO of RW2 Enterprises, digs into why. “We sometimes hear that business executives or corporations should stay out of social issues,” he writes. “Voting is not a social issue, but a fundamental right for those who are affected: the elderly, the working poor, low-income individuals, and communities of color.”

On background

The woman behind one of the world’s most famous pictures Dorothea Lange’s 1936 photograph of a worried migrant mother became one of the most famous images of the Great Depression, yet for decades we knew nothing about the subject. (In fact, Lange never bothered to ask her name.) It turns out Florence Leona Christie was Cherokee, born to Cherokee parents displaced from their tribal lands in Oklahoma. By the time the photo was taken, she had six young children and her husband had just died of tuberculosis. Click through for more, but this snippet of lost history was brought to my attention by her great-grandson, James Brady. “The children [in the picture] are my Aunt Ruby and Aunt Norma,” he tweeted in a fascinating thread. In other news, Brady used to write about sports for SB Nation, and refused to use the Washington football team’s full name in his articles long before it was popular. Who lives, who dies, who tells the story?

Remembering the Black women who served in World War II The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion, nicknamed the “six triple eight” was an all-Black battalion of the Women’s Army Corps during World War II. The unit of 824 women traveled overseas where they were responsible for sorting and delivering the huge backlog of mail sent to the service personnel. They were a force unto themselves, who a ran recreational facilities, food service and a hair salon; the military police assigned to protect their compound were barred from carrying firearms, so they learned jujitsu instead. They were disbanded without ceremony in 1946. Surviving members at the time included 97-year-old Indiana Hunt-Martin, and were honored at the National Memorial Day Parade two years ago. Hunt-Martin shared stories of racism in the US and air raids overseas, and shared another important detail: Her uniform still fit.

Want to create a more tolerant community? Send your kids to a school that welcomes lots of different people! This study from London School of Economics and the University of Bristol found that students who attend schools with diverse populations have better attitudes toward people with different ethnicities, which then translated into how they viewed their communities. It’s not just the exposure to different types of people, it’s the meaningful interaction that matters. “It’s those small every day encounters, those small experiences and you start to think, "yeah maybe I was wrong, maybe these people are just like me,’” says Simon Burgess, professor of economics at Bristol University and co-author of the paper. The study surveyed some 4,000 teens in English state schools.


This edition of raceAhead is edited by Wandy Felicita Ortiz

Today's mood board


This Memorial Day Weekend, we give a nod to the “six triple eight." Photo: National Archives

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