One June 1, 2021, Guyanese Americans join others in observing the 100th anniversary of the massacre of Black Americans in Tulsa, Oklahoma state. The President Joe Biden was scheduled to visit the city for remembrance ceremonies on June 1 and to announce a national policy on improved race relations in America. America is facing up to its past history of ethnic abuses. We should emulate the US and do same in Guyana on our race ghost.
In Tulsa, an organized white mob attacked residents, homes and businesses in the predominantly Black Greenwood section of the city. The event remains one of the worst incidents of racial violence in U.S. history; it is also one of the least known and not taught in schools. All of that had begun to change over the last few years culminating in President Biden acknowledging what happened and apologizing and finding way to make amends.
Guyana needs to do same. We need to delve back into our history and address our past of violent race relations. We can begin with Wismar or any other incident of violence. Similar to Tulsa, in Wismar, including McKenzie and Christianburg (the entire area renamed Linden after the dictator Forbes Burnham) in 1964 an organized mob attacked Indians, their homes, mandirs, masjids, and businesses forcing their evacuation.
The Tulsa and Wismar massacres share some commonalities.
Like Tulsa, the attack on Indians in Wismar was one the worst incidents of racial violence in Guyana. It was a real Guyanese tragedy, an incident not seen any part of the globe since the Jewish Holocaust. The entire Wismar area was cleansed of Indians. And it has remained one of the least-known attacks on a people in Guyana. Tulsa, like Wismar, was a growing and prosperous community. It was dubbed the Black Wall Street of the State (and perhaps of the South). It was a Jim Crow segregated city known for vigilante justice of all kinds. Blacks were often wrongly accused of violating norms like speaking to White girls and lynched. Such an incident triggered in an elevator in which a Black boy accidentally happened on a White girl that led to her screaming. The boy was arrested and certain to be lynched. This triggered the Tulsa Black massacre in which the possessions of the entire Black community was wiped out; they received little compensation from the White government but they were allowed back in to rebuild their lives.
Analogously, the racial violence in Wismar was triggered by racial incidents in other areas of the country. Unlike the segregated characteristic of Tulsa, in Wismar, Indians and Africans got along well until these race riots that drove them out. The exact toll is not known of the number killed, raped, maimed, injured, brutalized. Even by low estimates, the Tulsa and Wismar Race Massacres stood as among the deadliest race riots in US and Guyana history.
We must never forget that history, and we must homage to the victims of both massacres. Regrettably, for decades, there were no public ceremonies, memorials for the victims. As a result, the Tulsa and Wismar Race Massacres were not mentioned in history books, taught in schools, or even talked about. But Black American scholars in recent years have started to raise the issue in the media. It has been making news and this week it has been all over the news in America; there are also video documentaries released about the Tulsa Black Massacre including a special on CBS news on Monday night. Hardly any historian or scholar or politician has raised the issue of the Wismar Indian Massacre. This needs to change. We need to confront the ghosts of our past for racial reconciliation.