Monday, June 12, 2017

Day 12 pt. 1/3: The 96th Anniversary of Day 2 of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riots (Massacre)

The intro to this day is for everyone that criticizes "those darn millennials" for always being on their smart devices:

My father was getting dressed and I was packing up, getting ready to take on the day and hit the road!

(okay so maybe I was lying in bed just scrolling on my phone but I was waiting to use the restroom)

I stumble upon a shared article on Twitter, mentioning that that particular day, June 1st, was the anniversary of the Tulsa Race Riots, which ravaged the predominantly Black neighborhood of Greenwood, where the economically prosperous "Black Wall Street" was located.

I recalled learning a bit about this riot (massacre, if we are calling it what it actually was) when I was fortunate to go on a CMC sponsored trip to the recently opened National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) in D.C., but it quickly took up residence at the very end of my mind since it is not a commonly noted act of cruelty against the African American community.

It's just not taught in our schools, like the initial tragedy was not enough.

Fast forward to later that day:

I am in the Greenwood Cultural Center, there is a cohort of young kids being led in some activity, presumably as part of a summer program.

I am in awe of all that is there, the cultural African/African American artifacts, symbols of hope for the future, and, most importantly, the number of articles (from around the world) speaking of the events of those devastating days in 1921.

I know that I would be remiss if I did not get an interview with someone, really anyone, that worked here and had a greater understanding of the community today than what could be offered from any textbook.

So I walk knock on the door of what is presumably their administrative offices, explain to them my project and what I am doing there, and they said that they will try to find someone.

(Sidebar: sometimes I tell my friends some of the people that I have gotten the privilege to interview and their reply is often along the lines of "woahh how did you set that up???" Most of the time I just ask, ahah, but it helps to have a camera hanging from my neck, it just looks official)

They point me to Bill White, the Director of Development at the Greenwood Cultural Center, and I get the honor to interview this man that is working towards improving a community that has never quite been the same since they were persecuted by what is arguably the worst crime Black people can commit in the eyes of white supremacy: Black excellence.

He told me about the history of the neighborhood post-1921, how some businesses rebuilt and tried to continue with their success, but how many others just left and the neighborhood suffered an intellectual dearth from all these people with successful business models, especially ones that served the community. He also told me about something that shocked me but didn't surprise me, that White Tulsans had almost no idea that this had happened until recent years.

Imagine that. Over a thousand businesses burned down out of hate, scores of African Americans killed, and a community, as a collective, does not acknowledge that this happened in just the prior century.

But if this event is not taught in the city where this actually happened, how could we expect it to be included in textbooks on the national scale? And this has only served as another separating factor between these communities. Black people in Tulsa could never forget that this happened. Passed down orally or what have you, they needed to be wary in the following decades of the tremendous spite that White Tulsans could harbor. So this discouraged interactions between communities, and increased racial distrust. And now here we are.

At times like this I think of then-General Dwight D. Eisenhower making sure that his soldiers took many photos of the atrocities of the Holocaust so that there would be no way for the people that committed these crimes against humanity to rewrite history to fit a self-serving agenda.

Afterwards, my father and I took a walk down of what was formerly Black Wall street, with plaques embedded into the sidewalks detailing what businesses once stood there, who owned them, and whether they reopened or did not.

It was sobering, angering, frustrating, and many other emotions but, most importantly, it was necessary.

We later went to the John Hope Franklin Memorial, Reconciliation Park. A native of Tulsa, John Hope Franklin was a great historian of Black existence in America, lecturer, professor, and author. His contributions to the community cannot be overstated, and this memorial to him is a testament to his outstanding work in cataloging the Black struggle.

After this, my father and I drove the four hours to Kansas City, Kansas.

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