The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Racist Massacres Mar U.S. History

Jun 7, 2021

The Tulsa massacre of 1921 is only one in a long list of racist massacres against Black people in the U.S.

During the half century or so after the Civil War, stopping Black people from using their voting rights was a common reason for organized racist attacks, such as in Colfax, Louisiana in 1873, Wilmington, North Carolina in 1893 and Ocoee, Florida in 1920. Dozens of Black people were killed in each of these massacres.

In 1923, two years after the Tulsa massacre, a similar scenario was staged in Rosewood, a Black town in the Florida pine woods. A White mob burned the town to the ground—supposedly in revenge for an assault on a White woman, a much-used, and tired, excuse for racial attacks that targeted the whole Black population.

Race riots against the Black population were so widespread in the summer of 1919 that it became known as the “Red Summer,” referring to the blood that was spilled. The riot in Chicago began at a segregated beach, when a Black youth swam into an area customarily used by Whites, where he was stoned and drowned. When Chicago police refused to take action against the attackers and young Black men tried to retaliate, a 13-day riot ensued, resulting in 38 deaths, of 23 Black and 15 White people. White mobs destroyed hundreds of Black homes and businesses on the South Side of Chicago, leaving 1,000 Black families homeless. That same summer in Washington, D.C., where Black people again fought back a race riot, 39 people were killed.

The bloodiest race massacre of the Red Summer happened in rural Arkansas, where estimates of the death toll among Black farmers ranged between 100 and 237. Five White people were also killed. The Black farmers were organizing a union to fight against the exploitation of the sharecropping system, at the same time that a general strike was going on across the U.S.

Again in 1919, the effort of the bosses to divide the work force at Bogalusa, Louisiana, the largest sawmill complex in the world at the time, led to a massacre. When Black workers, who were brought in as strikebreakers, joined an ongoing unionization campaign along with White workers instead, both Black and White organizers were killed by the private army of the Great Southern Lumber Company. The company thugs then proceeded to massacre Black workers, who were trying to organize their own union.

Two years earlier in East St. Louis, Illinois, the bosses’ race-based divide-and-conquer game had already led to one of the largest race riots and massacres in U.S. history. In response to unionizing efforts by workers in the meatpacking and aluminum industries, companies had hired Black workers, trying to use them as strikebreakers. At union meetings attended by White workers, rumors were circulated about ... Black men pursuing White women (what else!). In July 1917, White mobs descended on the Black neighborhoods in East St. Louis, attacking every Black person in sight. Police and National Guard not only stood by, but actually joined the widespread lynching of Black people and the burning down of their neighborhoods. The NAACP estimated that between 100 and 200 Black people were killed. In addition, 6,000 Black people were left homeless.

These are some episodes in the long, bloody history of racist violence targeting Black people in this country, usually initiated by racist mobs organized for this purpose, and often used by capitalists to divide workers, both Black and White, organizing against exploitation. The resulting deep divide between White and Black workers has persisted to this day, ever standing in the way of the unity of the U.S. working class.