“…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.”
|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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