The teacher who probably most affected me was one who's name I don't remember. I was in 7th or 8th grade during the early 1960's and studying American History. We had gotten to the time period just after Would War I and the teacher said that he was going to tell us something we wouldn't read about in our text books. He then told us about the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, specifically he told us that the "official" versions of the facts were not true. I don't believe he returned to my school the next year. This truly brave man probably knew that he would be fired. You see, my school was located in Turley, an unincorporated area just north of Tulsa. You may remember recently hearing about Turley - the two men arrested for the April 6, 2012 shooting spree in Tulsa were living there at the time of their arrests.
After the riot, the truth was suppressed and lies printed. After a while, only those who had been there knew the truth. On June 1, 1996, the 75th anniversary of the event, a commemorative service was held and a memorial erected. In 1997, state representatives Don Ross (D-Tulsa) and Maxine Horner (D-Tulsa) introduced legislation into the Oklahoma House of Representatives to create the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Commission. The Commission's final report published on February 28, 2001 (found at http://www.okhistory.org/...) and includes the following:
This Commission fully understands that it is neither judge or jury. We have no binding legal authority to assign culpability, to determine damages, to establish a remedy, or to order either recitation or reparations. However, in our interim report in February, 2000 the majority of Commissioners declared that reparations to the historic Greenwood community in real and tangible form would be good public policy and do much to repair the emotional and physical scars of this terrible incident in our shared past. We listed several recommended courses of action including direct payments to riot survivors and decedents; a scholarship fund available to students affected by the riot; establishment of an economic development enterprise zone in the historic Greenwood district; a memorial for the riot victims.
The following is from Representative Ross' Prologue in the Report:
Tulsa’s Race Relations Are Ceremonial
In the 80 years hence, survivor, descendants, and a bereaved community seeks that administration in some action akin to justice. Tulsa’s race relations are more ceremonial — liken to a bad marriage, with spouses living in the same quarters but housed in different rooms, each escaping one another by perpetuating a separate- ness of silence. The French political historian Alexis d’Tocqueville noted, “Once the majority has irrevocably decided a question, it is no longer discussed. This is because the majority is a power that does not respond well to criticism.”
I first learn about the riot when I was about 15 from Booker T. Washington High School teacher and riot survivor W. D. Williams. In his slow, laboring voice Mr. W.D. as he was fondly known, said on the evening of May 31, 1921, his school graduation, and prom were canceled. Dick Rowland, who had dropped out of high school a few years before to become rich in the lucrative trade of shining shoes, was in jail, accused of raping a white woman Sarah Page, “on a public elevator in broad daylight.” After Rowland was arrested, angry white vigilantes gathered at the courthouse intent on lynching the shine boy. Armed blacks integrated the mob to protect him. There was a scuffle between a black and a white man, a shot rang out. The crowd scattered. It was about 10:00 a.m. A race riot had broken out. He said blacks defended their community for awhile, “but then the airplanes came dropping bombs.” All of the black community was burned to the ground and 300 people died.”
More annoyed than bored, I leaped from my chair and spoke: “Greenwood was never burned. Ain’t no 300 people dead. We’re too old for fairy tales.” Calling a teacher a liar was a capital offense Mr. W.D. snorted with a twist that framed his face with anger. He ignored my obstinacy and returned to his hyperbole. He finished his tale and dismissed the class. The next day he asked me to remain after class, and passed over a photo album with picture and post cards of Mount Zion Baptist Church on fire, the Dreamland Theater in shambles, whites with guns standing over dead bodies, blacks being marched to concentration camps with white mobs jeering, trucks loaded with caskets, and a yellowing newspaper article accounting block after block of destruction – “30, 75 even 300 dead.” Everything was just as he had described it. I was to learn later that Rowland was assigned a lawyer who was a prominent member of the Ku Klux Klan. “What you think, fat mouth?” Mr. W.D. asked his astonished student.
On June 1, 2001, Governor Keating (R) signed the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Reconciliation Act recognizing the event but ignoring the request for reparations. Each survivor was given a gold-plated medal bearing the state seal. In February 2003, a reparations lawsuit was filed in federal court on behalf of the survivors and descendants of victims and survivors. In March 2004, the lawsuit was dismissed.
The judge, however, ruled that the lawsuit was many years too late. He stressed that he was ruling only on the legal question of when a deadline for suing had passed and his ruling was not intended to "speak to the tragedy of the riot or the terrible devastation it caused."
In 2004, the Tenth Circuit upheld the dismissal. A petition for review filed with the Supreme Court in 2005 was denied. In 2007, Congressman John Conyers Jr., D-Michigan, introduced the Tulsa Greenwood Riot Accountability Act of 2007 which would provide that any Greenwood claimant (a survivor or descendent of victims) who has to previously obtained a determination on the merits of a Greenwood claim may, in a civil action commenced within five years after enactment of this Act, obtain a determination. A hearing was held on April 24, 2007 (see http://judiciary.house.gov/...
). The Republican controlled committee took no further action.
The John Hope Franklin Tulsa-Greenwood Race Riot Claims Accountability Act of 2009 (H.R. 1843) was introduced April 1, 2009 and referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary which referred it to the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties. It was referred back to the full Committee on June 11, 2009. Again, the Republican controlled committee took no further action.
On May 8, 2012, Mr. Conyers introduced H.R. 5593, the John Hope Franklin Tulsa-Greenwood Race Riot Claims Accountability Act of 2012 (see http://www.govtrack.us/...). This time the proposed bill declares that:
any person (including the state of Oklahoma) who, in connection with the Greenwood community of Tulsa, Oklahoma, race riot of 1921 and its aftermath, acted under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage of the state of Oklahoma to subject, or cause to be subjected, any person to the deprivation, on account of race, of any right secured at the time of the deprivation by Oklahoma law, shall be liable to the party injured in a civil action for redress (thereby allowing claims for damages notwithstanding the federal court decision in Alexander v. State of Oklahoma, which found that such claims were time-barred and not to be determined on the merits).
It was referred to Judiciary Committee on May 8, which referred it to the Subcommittee on the Constitution on May 18, 2012, where it now sits.
Why does Mr. Conyers of Michigan continue to fight for the survivors and descendent of the riot? Here is part of the speech he made when introducing the current bill:
The case of the Tulsa-Greenwood Riot victims is worthy of Congressional attention because substantial evidence suggests that governmental officials deputized and armed the mob and that the National Guard joined in the destruction. The report commissioned by the Oklahoma State Legislature in 1997, and published in 2001, uncovered new information and detailed, for the first time, the extent of the involvement by the State and city government in prosecuting and erasing evidence of the riot. This new evidence was crucial for the formulation of a substantial case, but its timeliness raised issues at law, and resulted in a dismissal on statute of limitation grounds. In dismissing the survivor's claims, however, the Court found that extraordinary circumstances might support extending the statute of limitations, but that Congress did not establish rules applicable to the case at bar. With this legislation, we have the opportunity to provide closure for a group of claimants--many over 100 years old--and the ability close the book on a tragic chapter in history.
Once again it is unlikely that the bill will make it out of the Committee on the Judiciary. To see who is on the Committee go to http://judiciary.house.gov/...
. The Subcommittee on the Constitution is composed of Franks, R-Arizona (Chairman); Pence, R-Indiana (Vice-Chairman); Chabot, R-Ohio; Forbes, R-Virginia; King, R-Iowa; Jordan, R-Ohio; Nadler, D-New York; Quigley, D-Illinois; Conyers, D-Micigan; and Scott, Virginia.