Sunset on Lottie

From Tulsa Reparations, The Tulsa Race Riot:

“…After armed whites had led his mother away at gunpoint, five-year-old George Monroe was hiding beneath his parents’ bed with his two older sisters and his one older brother when white men suddenly entered the room. After rifling through the dresser, the men set the curtains on fire. As the men began to leave, one of them stepped on George’s hand. George started to cry out, but his sister Lottie threw her hand over his mouth, preventing their discovery. A few minutes later, the children were able to escape from their home before it burst into flame.”

Oklahoma State Capitol at Sunset on Lottie Avenue
Photo by Jen | March 3, 2012 | NE 23rd and Lottie Avenue looking west to the Oklahoma Capitol.

In the spring of 1921, the wealthiest African-American community in the United States was burned to the ground in a racially motivated, large-scale riot. It happened in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, once known as the Negro Wall Street.

For many years, nobody ever talked about the riots. In fact, they were omitted from local and state  history. I first learned about them in 1987, from Rabbi A. David Packman while he was serving as adjunct faculty at Southern Nazarene University. The teaching gig was sponsored by the Chautauqua Society, which believed in educating Protestant students like me about atrocities motivated by racism and religious prejudice. I’ve always been really grateful for that opportunity.

In 2001 (or maybe it was 2002), while working as the PR Director for the Oklahoma Arts Council, I attended a dedication event at the Greenwood Cultural Center in Tulsa. (Historically, OAC, has provided funding to Greenwood.) That night, I read several historic accounts of the riots including one by a woman who wrote about her dream of going to college and becoming a teacher. “After the riots, I had to go to work to support my family,” she wrote. “But, I always thought I would have made a good teacher.”

If that doesn’t sink you, you’re not human.

Last week, a statewide elected official in Oklahoma wrote an opinion editorial in which he said “Oklahoma should not waste taxpayer resources on museums and theatres.”

Tomorrow, I believe the sun will rise to the east of Lottie and not one breath or public dime spent in sharing her story or others like it through art, drama, music or exhibits has been or ever will be wasted.

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Comments

  1. says

    Thanks, Jen. :) Yeah, the “needing to write more” thing has been on my mind a lot for the past year. I can’t believe that after 2.5 yrs of having AAP, I have slipped to only once a month. Blogging has been a part of my life for a long time, though, and the only thing I can think is that perhaps at this point I need it less, or maybe just have outgrown its role in my life. I don’t know. Part of it is my personal journey has been going in a direction really differently from where that blog is at, and I have not been precisely sure how to translate it/transform it into “blogworthy” posts. There’s a lot going on for me now… not all of which is meant for my public online life. So I am trying to decide where the lines and boundaries are, if that makes sense, and figure out what I can write about versus what I can’t. I should just be blogging this comment instead, lol. I might just do that…

    Anyway, I have your email in my list from Misadventures with Andi. I’ll shoot you a quick note about the ex. :)

  2. says

    I still don’t understand how people think putting money into the arts is a waste. Not having kids I don’t keep on the topic of which subjects get pulled form school, but I believe in the drips and drabs that I hear, it is often arts funding that gets pulled.  It is shame because there are both right and left-brained people the fill this world and you need both to be a complete society.  We learn from our past, whether that be mistakes our successes, and I don’t get the need to cover up our hide mistakes and failures, I think it is important to learn from them to grow as an individual and as a society.

  3. jenx67 says

    I am almost positive I would have known him. I’ll message you. The world is so small. I saw that article on HuffPo and felt the same way. It is very discouraging especially considering the tiny amount of money government spends on the arts when compared to other things. It’s such a small amount and helps so many ideas gain traction. Government vets them for the private sector. This fight is not for the faint of heart and making the argument about freedom and democracy is key, but it doesn’t always translate. I’m not giving up though! Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply. I enjoy your comments Karin! I always click on your blog to see if you’ve written. You should write more!

  4. says

    Wide ranging post, I had to think about it a few days.
    The elected official you talk about frustrates me. I’m all over public funding for the arts. I’ve let me tea party senator and house member know about it. The house member, Weldon Watston,, at least acknowledges me. I used to work with him and he tells me that Heather and I are one of the few people in his district who never, ever miss an election of any type. My senator, Bernie Crain, Tea Party, Dominist to the core.

    The Tulsa Race Riot is still repressed in Tulsa. There are still some life long residents who have never heard of it. Those that do hear of it, once I start talking about it, get all stiff and mad and tell me that they aren’t paying any reparations.When I tell them about the gardens and the sculptures and how easy they are to see because they are right next to ONEOK Field. Well….

  5. says

    Jen, having grown up in a family who stood up for the legal rights of our African-American neighbors in rural Mississippi and the 50s and had prize lifestock, vehicles, outbuildings, etc. destroyed by hate groups as a result, I thank you PROFUSELY for this post today.  We DO need to fund the preservation and presentation means to keep these stories alive in the public consciousness!

  6. says

    Heh! My second ex went to SNU from ’86 to ’89 (and then moved back to Colo). It’s a small school — I bet you knew him. I’m not going to name him here, privacy and all, but you can message me about it, if you like. I’d be curious to know if you know him.

    I lived with the second ex from ’04 to ’06 in Tulsa. I really enjoyed my two years there, and it was there that I first heard of the riots. It’s sad to me that I did not know about them before I was well into my 30s and that I had to move to Tulsa to know about them. I had taken a lot of history courses, too. Granted, not ones with an Afro-American historical and cultural perspective, so that is probably one reason why. I wish I had known about it before.

    As to funding in the arts, I really liked this article here from this past month: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brendan-mcmahon/military-arts-funding_b_1238206.html?ref=tw

    I write that I “liked” the article, which I did appreciate reading, but I really got discouraged with some of the information and arguments presented. It worried me. I really believe that if we don’t fund our museums and the arts, places which so often tell our human stories, we will forget critical points and are doomed to repeat events such as the Tulsa Riots.

    The arts help us understand one another and turn the “them” into “us.” It scares me to think that when we do away with the arts, entire groups of people become “Other” and are de-humanized in the process. The arts remind us of the human condition and how it is universal. The bring us together instead of dividing us.

    I love your last sentence. It’s not only not a waste to spend on the arts, but absolutely essential to our freedom and democracy, IMO.

  7. Bhelenmartin1034 says

    GREAT post Jen.
    We need more funding for the ARTS.  One of my fondest memories as a child was a vacation trip to visit the  then “Pink Palace Museum” in Memphis, Tennessee in 1942.  I was in awe…  What a rich experience for me.  I saw my first ballet (Nutcracker) when I was in my 60′s.  The arts has something for everyone –  Young and Old.

    I want to pet one of the ARTS LICENSE PLATES when they are issued.  :-)

    Hugs–  Gracie

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