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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » John Bradshaw » John Bradshaw - Black Wall Street

John Bradshaw - Black Wall Street

John Bradshaw - Black Wall Street
John Bradshaw - Black Wall Street

This is It Is Written. I'm John Bradshaw. Thanks for joining me. Have you ever wondered what you're actually capable of? Now, I don't mean do you have greatness within, could you complete an Ironman, could you run a Fortune 500 company. I don't mean that. Quite the opposite, really. There are times, far too many times, that we see the darkest side of humanity. What does it take for a person to go to one of those really dark places? What do you have to have inside yourself that makes you capable of going there?

In 1921, people who otherwise would have been considered, for the most part, decent, law-abiding, upstanding members of society, took part in the massacre of 300 innocent civilians. And the likelihood is you've never heard anything about it. Here's some details. Three hundred people murdered. Thousands more injured. Property damaged on a massive scale. Businesses, homes, hotels, theaters, personal property destroyed. Insurance companies refused to pay out the victims of this, this unfathomable horror. And nobody was brought to justice. The proper authorities weren't alerted until well after they could have made a difference. In fact, there was a concerted effort to keep help from arriving to assist the victims.

And in case you missed it, 300 people were killed. Hundreds were injured. Ten thousand people were left homeless. And 40 or so city blocks were burned to the ground. So where did this take place? Yugoslavia? The Soviet Union? Cambodia? No. It happened here in the United States of America. In fact, right here in Tulsa, Oklahoma, right here on this spot where I am now. The worst civil disturbance in American history. It's an incredibly little-known atrocity. The vast majority of people have got no idea that it ever happened, in spite of it being one of the worst incidents of racial violence in American history. And given the history of this country, that's really saying something.

In 1921, Greenwood, Oklahoma, was a prosperous community. In fact, it was the wealthiest black community in the United States. It was known as the Black Wall Street. But on Memorial Day weekend that year, Greenwood's prosperity, in fact, Greenwood itself, came to an awful, abrupt end. Greenwood was populated exclusively by African-Americans, many of whom were very prosperous and ran successful businesses. Because of Jim Crow laws, Greenwood's residents weren't able to shop at white-owned businesses in Tulsa. A hundred years ago Greenwood had its own hospital, many doctors, including a nationally-renowned surgeon, a library, schools, hotels, theaters, and a whole lot more. At the time, Tulsa was a hotbed of the biting, bitter racism that plagued the United States. Between 1882 and 1968 there were almost 5,000 known lynchings spread across more than 40 states.

Experts agree that there were undoubtedly more, maybe thousands more. Almost 3/4 of the people who were lynched were African-American. Think about what's involved in this. Lynching was murder carried out by a mob and often with the cooperation of law enforcement. If law enforcement didn't actively participate, and there were times the law couldn't prevent a mob from doing what it wanted to do, law enforcement officers often refused to try to prevent the murder and were complicit in what went on. Huge crowds would come out to watch lynchings. Now, these weren't people coming to witness a public execution that had been ordered by a court of law; they were coming to watch mob justice. They were coming to witness a murder. Photographs of lynching victims would frequently be taken and then turned into postcards, which would be sent around the country. There were times that the protagonists of or witnesses to lynchings would cut off the fingers and so forth of lynching victims and keep them as souvenirs.

So we're asking the question, "What kind of person do you have to be to be capable of that"? Now, first some background to the Tulsa race riot, or the Greenwood massacre, as it's often called. Before it had taken place, a 19-year-old white man, Roy Belton, admitted to having murdered a taxi driver. An angry mob seized him from the place where he was being held, took him a few miles out of town, and lynched him. What were law enforcement officials doing? They were there, keeping the peace and diverting or directing the traffic. Up until this time, 20 African-Americans had been lynched in the state of Oklahoma, but never in Tulsa. Well, now, black Tulsans realized or figured that if the white population was prepared to lynch a white man, it wouldn't be long before they lynched a black man. And sooner, rather than later, their fears were realized.

On May the 30th, 1921, a 19-year-old black shoeshine boy named Dick Rowland entered the elevator of the Drexel Building here at 319 South Main Street in Tulsa. Why was he in the elevator in the Drexel Building? Well, he wanted to use the bathroom, and as a black man, he couldn't use the bathrooms that were used by the white population, and there was a colored bathroom on the top floor of the Drexel Building. Now, exactly what happened inside that elevator isn't known, but it seemed that as the elevator began to move, it lurched, causing the elevator operator, a 17-year-old girl, 17-year-old white girl, named Sarah Page, to trip and fall forward. It might be that Dick Rowland tripped and fell forward. But whatever happened, in that moment, young Sarah Page let out a shout of surprise. And that shout of surprise ended up being a young man's death sentence. I'll tell you why in just a moment.

Thanks for joining me today on It Is Written. In 1921, Tulsa, Oklahoma, was a booming city. Greenwood was a prosperous black suburb of Tulsa. There were plenty of people in Tulsa, though, who resented that prosperity, and as a result, that Greenwood no longer exists. A 19-year-old shoeshine boy named Dick Rowland took the elevator to the top floor of the Drexel Building at 319 South Main Street to use the colored bathroom. Now, something happened inside that elevator that caused the young white female elevator operator to scream. It seems that the elevator lurched and that Sarah Page fell in the direction of the young man.

Dick Rowland knew that that scream was likely his death sentence. He ran out of the Drexel Building as fast as he could, hoping that no one would see him. But somebody did see him. They heard a white girl scream and saw a young black man running. Now, in this case, two and two did not equal four. But this was Tulsa in 1921. It wasn't long and he'd been arrested and locked up in the Tulsa County Courthouse. And shortly after that, a white mob arrived, demanding justice. They wanted Dick Rowland lynched. Sarah Page said repeatedly that Rowland had not harmed her. She wasn't hurt, her clothes weren't ruffled, but the police insisted that this was a case of attempted rape. She refused to sign a statement saying that that was so. But there was no way the facts were going to get in the way of an opportunity to put a young black man in his place. His place being, in this case, the end of a rope.

Now, there was absolutely no basis in fact for what the mob was claiming and demanding. But here you had people you would assume were otherwise law-abiding and responsible demanding the death of an innocent young man simply because of the hatred that existed in their heart. Now, there was no lack of things fanning those flames. It's said that more than 3,000 people in Tulsa at the time were members of the Ku Klux Klan, and there was a white-owned newspaper at the time, The Tulsa Tribune, that ran a number of editorials that were overtly racist. One headline said, "A Negro Assaults a White Girl".

After Rowland's arrest, the Tribune's front page screamed, "To Lynch Negro Tonight". But a large number of Greenwood men decided they were not going to let that happen. They knew the shoeshine boy had done nothing wrong, and they weren't about to sit by while yet another innocent young black man was executed by a mob for a crime he didn't commit. So that group of men, among them World War I veterans who had served their country, armed, came down here, the site of the courthouse at that time, and they confronted that white mob of more than 2,000. That mob had massed right here in this very area. In the tension that followed, a shot was fired. And it was all on. What followed was mayhem. White Tulsans who didn't have guns stole guns and ammunition from gun shops or hardware stores, and they headed for Greenwood. Greenwood, a symbol of black progress, was burned to the ground, completely.

More than 20 black churches, a hospital, a funeral home, a school, a theater, doctors' and lawyers' offices, hotels, grocery stores, restaurants, and hundreds and hundreds of homes, more than a thousand structures were all completely destroyed. Homes were looted. Anything that could be taken was taken. In years following, black residents who came back to the area knew that those possessions that they had left behind were now in white-owned homes and businesses. Now, if that was all, that would be bad enough. But the human toll was much higher. Three hundred people were killed, murdered, slaughtered, for no other reason than the color of their skin. If you were black, you were a target. And there was no shortage of people willing to take aim.

So what does it take to enable a person to cross that bridge and get to a place where they're willing to join in a mob murder of people from their own community, people who lived only blocks away, people they interacted with, people they passed by in the street? How do you get from here to there? Now, there was plenty that was allowed to cause the pressure to build up in Tulsa, the race-baiting newspaper, The Tulsa Tribune, the racism that was endemic in society, the Ku Klux Klan, jealousy of the prosperity of black Tulsans. But none of those things can be allowed to be used as excuses for an atrocity like this. People live with and deal with frustration of all kind all the time without resorting to anything like that. I'll give you an interesting case to consider for comparison.

In 1921, the same year as the Black Wall Street was destroyed by a white mob and 300 people were murdered, two Italian-American immigrants were convicted of robbery and murder. The crime took place in Braintree, Massachusetts, and Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were convicted of the crime. There was an uproar. Academics weighed in. People protested that the two were innocent. Writers and artists pleaded that the courts would reconsider. Even Albert Einstein signed a petition. Workers went on strike. After the two men were executed, 200,000 people came out to watch the funeral procession. This was a big, big deal because there were those who believed, rightly or wrongly, that a miscarriage of justice was being carried out. But 1,400 miles away, at right around the same time, 300 people were murdered in cold blood, and the silence was deafening.

So what has to take place in a human heart to make it possible for somebody to go there? "Racism," you might say. Okay, but not every racist takes a gun and shoots somebody dead and then burns down their home or their town. "Mob mentality". Okay, but people on that day knew the difference between right and wrong. There were many white people who sheltered and protected African-Americans from the mob and saved their lives. People knew better. Now, here's why this is so important to you and me. This is what the Bible says in Jeremiah chapter 17, verse 9: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it"?

Psalm 14 starts with these words: "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God.' They are corrupt, they've done abominable works, there is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. They've all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one".

The Apostle Paul quotes Psalm 14 in Romans chapter 3, applying those verses to his day and, by extension, to ours. So what we read in the Bible tells us that we are capable of the most disastrous actions. There lurks within every one of us the capacity for real evil. So how does a person live a life that doesn't include hate and violence? What happened with the destruction of the Black Wall Street reveals a spiritual problem. Hatred is a spiritual problem. Racism is a spiritual problem. All sin is a spiritual problem. But thank God that the Bible makes clear that there is a way that we can live without what the Bible calls "the old man" of sin dominating our lives. More in a moment.

"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth," and when He did so, He gave to the human family the ability and freedom to think and to do. We were given freedom of choice. But after sin entered the world, we inherited from Adam and Eve a fallen nature. We're born with a tendency towards evil. David wrote in Psalm 58:3, "The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies". The Bible shows us what we're truly capable of, both for good and for evil, and in some Bible personalities, you see both. We'll take a look at one incredible example in just a moment. There was a lot of race-based hatred in the Bible, and some of the most breathtaking examples of murderous hatred are found where you'd least expect.

In Jesus' day, the Jews and the Samaritans hated each other. On one occasion, Jesus was heading to Jerusalem, and He was planning to spend the night en route in a Samaritan village. James and John went ahead to get things ready. But the Samaritans told James and John to get lost. They didn't want any Jews spending the night in their village. James and John were furious. They came to Jesus and they said, "Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven and burn them up, like the prophet Elijah did"?

Now, think about this. This was James and John, John who wrote the Gospel of John, and the little Johns, and the book of Revelation. They were asking Jesus if they could incinerate a village full of people. Where did this kind of hatred come from? Now, consider the Apostle Paul. This is that case study I said we'd look at. Acts 14 says, rather matter-of-factly, "Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead". Now, this was straight-up religious hatred. He was brutalized simply because of what he believed. Acts 21:31 is speaking of Paul when it rather casually says, "And as they went about to kill him..."

In Acts chapter 23, the authorities have to protect Paul from a mob because they fear that that mob is literally gonna tear Paul to pieces. Later in the same chapter, a group of 40 men take a pledge that they're not gonna eat until after they have killed Paul. Now, they didn't kill Paul, and the Bible doesn't say exactly what happened to them, so that means they either broke their pledge or got...really hungry. Paul was persecuted owing to a blind hatred brought about simply because of what he believed. Now, earlier in the book of Acts, it was Paul doing the persecuting. The great Apostle Paul, who wrote so much of the New Testament, was himself responsible for the deaths of many people. Again, based solely upon what they believed. Even Paul was capable of the worst crimes. And we've seen this many times around our world. Northern Ireland was divided owing to a political dispute drawn basically along religious lines. In the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church ruthlessly persecuted millions of Protestants. But there were times those Protestants gained the ascendancy, and they became the persecutors.

So who does this? A lot of crime, a lot of evil is carried out by people you would not think are capable of doing so. But we all are. We are fallen. It's what sin has done. But here's the really good news in this. No one has to cave in to hate or racism or animosity or any kind of sin. We can all be kept by the grace of God through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in our life. No matter your situation, no matter what you're wrestling with, no matter what your background is, no matter what your challenge is, God can do this for you. That's why we pray in the Lord's Prayer, "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil." That's Matthew 6:13.

First Corinthians 10:13 says, "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it". Philippians 2:13 says that God "works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure".

Reporting on the aftermath of the destruction of Greenwood, The Tulsa Tribune wrote this about black residents returning to what was left of their homes: "As they passed the city's most traveled streets, they held both hands high above their heads, their hats in one hand, a token of their submission to the white man's authority. They will not return to the homes they had on Tuesday afternoon, but to heaps of ashes, the angry white man's reprisal for the wrong inflicted on them by the inferior race".

So who writes that? Who thinks like that? Well, the truth is... people just like you and me, but people whose hearts and minds are not surrendered to God. See, God gave to us freedom of choice. If your freedom of choice is not surrendered to Him, then there's no place that you are not capable of going in sin. But when your life is surrendered to God, that's when you're kept out of hate and in the hands of God. So how is it with you? Are you surrendered to God today, or is there something that must be surrendered to Him now? If there is, I want to encourage you to give your life, to give your freedom of choice completely to God.

Our Father in heaven, we realize when we look into the Bible what we are truly capable of. We look around the world, we see the depths of sin. We realize that could be us; perhaps it has been us. I thank You for forgiveness, and I thank You for power, the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives keeping us where You want us to be kept. Lord, the difference between living a life in You and a life of sin and shame is Jesus in us. Fill us with Your presence. Keep us now, I pray, in Jesus' name. Amen.

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