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Saturday, May 05, 2007

Journalists Should Look to History before Calling an event the Worse Massacre in US History

It has been a few weeks since the Virginia Tech Massacre and I guess one of our off-the topic post is due.

I saw many of the articles that floated around on the web dealing with race and the massacre.

My focus is on how the media covered the event. Many times, especially on NPR and CNN you heard the following statements:

“The worst mass shooting in the nation’s history."

“The worst mass killing in US history.”

Journalist should be careful when making such statements. Most likely, many of these general statements were made without any historical research into their validity or else were made off hand. However, it also shows us how White culture looks at the mass killing of people of color. Although people of color were victims of the VT massacre, our history shows many other events in US history that would qualify as “worst” in the US history books. Many surpass the VT Massacre by a long shot.

Let us just look at mass killing since 1776, the birth of our nation. In 1778, the Cherry Valley Massacre took place in which Loyalists and their Iroquois allies, led by Walter Butler and Joseph Brant, led a raid on Cherry Valley, and this ended in a massacre of 33 people. This might be able to be let go since this took place during war, so let us look on. However, any killing of unarmed, POW, disarmed, wounded, is still a massacre in my eyes.

On May 29, 1780, the Waxhaw Massacre took place in Buford, South Carolina as British killed some ‘Americans’ as they attempted to surrender. Again, many of the deaths were in battle so it hard to say this was the worst, but the British killed an estimated 113 and mortally wounded more than a hundred.

Though not part of the US yet, in California in 1837, several genocidal raids against Native Americans took place in California. Led by José María Amador, a group of Californians killed about 200 Native Americans. Here, one can say, California was not yet part of the union.

However, in 1852 California was part of the union when the Bridge Gulch Massacre occurred. In this instance, 120 Native American men, women, and children were killed. Wow. This may qualify as the worse, but let look on.

On Sept. 7 (11?), 1857, Mountain Meadows Massacre took place. Here Mormons killed between 100 and 140 men, women, and children from Arkansas after convincing them to turn over their weapons.

On April 12, 1864, at Fort Pillow, Tennessee, after Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest (founder of the Ku Klux Klan) demanded surrender of Union Fort Pillow and it was refused. Forrest's forces assaulted the fort defenses in a particularly violent battle until the Union defenders flew a white flag. However, Confederate forces continued firing upon the surrendering soldiers killing or wounding over 354 of the 580 men. In An Unerring Fire, author Richard Fuchs examines the event as a product of the social milieu and the individual personality of Nathan Bedford Forrest, who Fuchs believes was an accessorial inspiration before and a passive participant during the massacre. Again, during wartime.

On Nov. 19, 1864, there was the infamous Sand Creek Massacre. Colorado Volunteers under the command of Col. John M. Chivington attacked a village of Cheyenne and Arapaho. The Native Americans were there at the instructions of the Commander of Fort Lyon, who had promised them protection until the Native Americans could negotiate a formal peace settlement with the military commander of the Department of Kansas. The Whites killed approximately 150 Native Americans. This would whole-heartedly qualify as one of the worst mass killing in US history. The Native Americans were unarmed and not at war.

There was also the Memphis Riot, May 1-4, 1866. You learn that urban acts of genocide against in African Americans are many times called “riots” in US history. The same can be said for urban acts of violence again people of Mexican decent (ex. Zoot Suit Riots). The word “riot” may be used as to place blame on the victims. Here, police and firefighters led the way in terrorizing African Americans. White rioters killed forty-six African Americans, shot or beat two hundred more, and raped five women. The mob burned eight to nine homes, four churches, and twelve schoolhouses; only the arrival of Union troops restored order. Source: Mother Jones: The Most Dangerous Women In America.

Another one that would surpass VT is the January 23, 1870 Massacre on the Marias in which U.S. soldiers slaughtered 173 Blackfeet men, women, and children on the Marias River in Montana in response for the killing of Malcolm Clarke and the wounding of his son by a small party of young Blackfeet men.

Another one that would surpass VT is the April 30, 1871 Camp Grant Massacre. Here, in what was Arizona Territory at the time, in the pre-dawn hours, a group of 148 Arizonans -- comprised of 6 Anglos, 94 San Xavier Papagos, and 48 Mexicans -- massacred 8 men and 110 women and children in the brief span of 30 minutes. In addition, the perpetrators kidnapped 28 Arivaipa Apache infants to sell in the child slave trade.

The next would definitely be the worst “mass killing” or “mass shooting,” however you want to look at it: On Dec. 29, 1890 at Wounded Knee, the U.S. Army massacred 300 disarmed and unarmed Native American men, women, and children. The dead include Native American leader Sitting Bull.

I think I made my point, but remember these:

April 1866. Circleville Massacre. Mormons massacred 16 Native Americans.

July 36, 1866. New Orleans Massacre. An estimated 50 African Americans and their supporters are killed and 200 injured by White rioters.

Nov. 27, 1868. Washita Massacre. George Armstrong Custer and the 7th Calvary attack a Chaynne village on the Washita Reservation in Oklahoma. Though the Native Americans offered no resistance and surrendered, the U.S. Army massacred them and killed their leader Black Kettle who was waving a white flag.

1887. Louisiana. Ten thousand workers at sugar plantations in Louisiana, organized by the Knights of Labor, went on strike for an increase in their pay to $1.25 a day. Most of the workers were African American, but some were White, infuriating Governor Samuel Douglas McEnery, who declared, "God Almighty has himself drawn the color line." The militia was called in, but then withdrawn to give free rein to a lynch mob in Thibodaux, which killed somewhere between 20 and 300 people. An African American newspaper described the scene:

"Six killed and five wounded" is that the daily papers said, but from an eyewitness to the whole transaction we learn that Whites killed no less than 35 African Americans. Lame men and blind women shot; children and hoary-headed grandsires ruthlessly swept down! The Negroes offered no resistance; they could not, as the killing was unexpected. Those of them not killed took to the woods, a majority of them finding refuge in this city.

Zinn, 2004; http://www.dougriddle.com/essays/sk20021220.html, retrieved July 21, 2005.

1921 Tulsa Race Riot. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, Whites massacre hundreds of African American residents of the prosperous Greenwood community. The earnest Sheriff McCullough worried about vigilantes running amok; the racist publisher Richard Lloyd Jones sought to sell newspapers by appealing to White bias; the defiant ex-slave Townsend Jackson refused to comply with Jim Crow laws; and the hapless Dick Rowland's arrest for accidentally bumping into a white girl triggers the slaughter. During the 16 hours of rioting, over 800 people were admitted to local hospitals with injuries, an estimated 10,000 were left homeless, 35 city blocks composed of 1,256 residences were destroyed by fire, and $1.8 million (nearly $17 million after adjustment for inflation) in property damage. Officially, Whites killed thirty-nine people, although most experts agree that the actual number of African American citizens killed during the riot to be around 300. http://www.tulsareparations.org/TulsaRiot2Of3.htm, retrieved July 23, 2005.

Aug. 5, 1920 - Jan. 27, 1923. Rosewood Massacres. Florida, USA. After an alleged rape of a White woman by an African American man, white residents of Sumner, Florida, (northern Florida) massacred African Americans in the town of Rosewood over a period of a week (starting on Jan. 5, 1923). Here, Whites killed between 70-250 African American men and women and many more wounded. Whites killed many by lynching and killed one by burning him at the stake. The whites burned the towns of Ocoee and Rosewood, whose populations are mostly African American.

1942. Detroit Race Riot. In a 'race riot' in Detroit on June 21, 34 were killed and 700 injured.

Therefore, the main message here is journalist should be careful in use of their words. Journalists can call the VT Massacre the “worst school mass shooting” or “university killing” or “university gun killing,” or even “worse mass shooting by a lone gunman,” but they should not commemorate one massacre by stepping on the victims of another, especially when they are mostly Native Americans and African Americans.

1 comment:

Blair said...

The worst massacre in U.S. history appears to be the Fort Mims Massacre near Mobile, Alabama, in August 1813. A surpize attack by Creek Indians killed 500 white and mixed-blood Creek men, women and children.