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Rodney Clapp

When Tulsa Burned

A forgotten episode in American terrorism

For white, middle-and upper-class Americans such as myself, the acute threat of terrorism right here at home is something new. Indeed, the media we run and predominantly staff routinely described the 1995 bombing of Oklahoma City's Murrah Federal Building as the first significant case of terrorism in the nation's history. Of course, the horrifying events of a year ago—all the more shocking because they were played out on live national television—even more decisively made terrorism in the homeland a clear, present, and ongoing danger. Suddenly, we all believe it can happen here.

Black Americans are no less threatened by and no more enamored with the likes of Osama Bin Laden than other Americans are. But there is a difference. For blacks, homeland insecurity and the all too palpable danger of terrorism are nothing new.

As opposed to acts of war, meant to directly subdue and conquer an enemy, acts of terrorism are more immediately symbolic and even theatrical. Terrorists may dream of someday seeing an enemy under their boot. But their more proximate aim is intimidation of the spirit and toxic pollution of the imagination. They will settle for emotional and spiritual subjugation, short of a more comprehensive and physical subjugation by outright war. So the diabolically spectacular events of September 11 struck at the heart of American faith in this nation's global economic and technological superiority. It was a superiority we tended to think of as invulnerable. But now the skyscrapers and airplanes that so vividly embodied this superiority are also signs of our vulnerability; they indicate not so much the armor of the national self-image as its exposed underbelly.

Similarly, African Americans know the period after Reconstruction and into the early 20th century as one marked by virulent terrorism. Whites who would officially and wholly subjugate blacks were militarily defeated in 1865. But in 1866, the Ku Klux Klan was founded in Pulaski, Tennessee. It was originally nothing ...

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