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Hundreds of Black gun owners marched on “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa, Oklahoma, this weekend chanting “Black power!” and carrying signs demanding reparations for the massacre that occurred in the city 100 years ago.
In 1921, white mobs killed as many as 300 Black Americans in the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa and leveled the affluent, 35-block center for Black commerce and entrepreneurship. More than 1,000 homes and businesses, built from the ground up by the city’s segregated population, were looted and burned down.
To commemorate the lives lost and continue the fight for racial equality, 15 pro-Black gun rights organizations descended on the town and encouraged their communities to take advantage of the right to bear arms for self-defense. The march, considered one of the largest recent gatherings of Black gun rights activists, included: The New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, the Elmer “Geronimo” Pratt Pistol and Rifle Gun Club of Central Texas, the Anubis Arms Gun Club, and the Panther Special Operations Command.
“The March was successful simply because we were able to educate the community about their legal rights,” Yafeuh Balogun, a co-founder of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club and an organizer of the march, told VICE News.
Participants trekked from MLK Jr. Blvd. and Pine Street through Greenwood chanting “Black power” and “power to the people” for more than two hours. Many of the participants also support reparations for the massacre, a position supported by Human Rights Watch and several other civil rights organizations. Twenty years ago, an Oklahoma state commission estimated the cost at $30 million, but no meaningful legislation has passed in the state or in Congress.
"We are tired of begging,” Nick Bezzel, the co-leader of the Pratt Gun Club, told Tulsa ABC affiliate News Channel 8. “Our ancestors deserve nothing less than our strongest efforts.”
Some of the gun rights advocates later joined the Tulsa Race Massacre Legacy Fest, another peaceful march organized to mark the centennial. Three survivors of the massacre led the march in a horse-drawn carriage: Lessie Benningfield Randle, Ellis Van Hughes, and Viola Ford Fletcher. Fletcher, the oldest living survivor at age 107, advocated for the national recognition of the Tulsa riots with a written testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives on May 19.
“We must honor those that are still living from the bombing, which includes Mother Fletcher,” Balogun told VICE News. “Fletcher has demanded reparations for the community; she and others have demanded acknowledgement from the U.S. government as related to the massacre. We have to continue to fight on behalf of those who have not received justice until the day of atonement comes.”