TULSA, Okla. (NewsNation Now) —The Department of Homeland Security is warning the commemoration event for the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre could be an attractive target for white supremacists.
Agents say they haven’t seen any specific credible threats but that the current homeland threat environment remains heightened.
Police in Tulsa are gearing up with undercover officers and security cameras.
“I want a bunch of policemen working, and my hope is that none of them have to take any action,” said Tulsa Police Department Chief Wendell Franklin.
The DHS memo warning of potential attacks states, “white supremacists historically have used simple tactics, such as vehicle ramming, small arms, edged weapons and rudimentary explosive devices to target individuals perceived as having ideologically opposing views, racial minorities, or law enforcement at mass gatherings or crowded public spaces.”
“What is the difference between an angry white mob in 1921 and an angry white mob in 2021, in January? Really just time. I would take any threat, particularly one from DHS, I would take that very seriously,” said Quraysh Ali Lansana.
It all began a century ago in a district known as Black Wall Street, which was a community of prominence and wealth for black people in the early 1900s.
The trigger for the Massacre was an encounter in an elevator in downtown Tulsa between two teenagers, a black shoeshine boy, and a white elevator operator.
By the time it was over, the entire community burned, totaling 35 city blocks of destruction.
More than 1,2000 homes, 600 businesses, churches and the famed Black Wall Street were left in ruins.
It’s estimated between 100 to 300 people, mostly black, were killed and many others wounded.
A renewed search for bodies in 2020 found at least 12 in an unmarked mass grave in a Tulsa cemetery. A team led by Oklahoma’s state archaeologist has not been identified the bodies or confirmed they are victims of the massacre. But they were found in an area adjacent to two gravestones of victims and where old funeral home records show both identified and unidentified victims were buried.
Revered Dr. Robert Turner pastors the historic Vernon AME church, where only the basement survived the massacre.
“It was the first time airplanes were used to terrorize Americans,” said Turner.
According to a U.S. Census Bureau estimate, the median household income for Black households across Tulsa was an estimated $30,955 in 2019, compared with $55,278 median income for white households. In a city of an estimated 401,760 people, close to a third of Tulsans who lived below the poverty line in 2019 were Black, while 12% were white.
A quick drive between south and north Tulsa shows a clear difference in development. Some paved streets don’t have streetlights or traffic signals. Until recently, the entire north side had easy access to just one grocery store.
About 15,000 people are still expected to come to Tulsa this weekend according to Homeland Security.
President Joe Biden and other prominent public figures are scheduled to visit Tuesday, June 1.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.