As a boomer child of the south, I did not know when what I was taught was incomplete or skewed. I have good friends who called me out on things I thought were ‘truths’, a sense of curiosity and a massive digital library close at hand. With tools and impetus, I’m proof that it’s possible for adults to fill in gaps, correct framing.
Ross was the principal organizer of the 75th anniversary commemorating the virtually unknown 1921 race riot. Oral histories of survivors and press accounts [estimate upward of] 300 persons were killed from airplane bombing, fires and gunshot wounds.
The Tulsa Race Massacre, “one of the worst incidents of racial violence in U.S. history,” happened from 31 May to 01 June 1921. For most of the past 101 years, it was buried and ignored.
News reports were largely squelched, despite the fact that hundreds of people were killed and thousands left homeless.
Most of the city’s 10,000 Black residents lived in a neighborhood called Greenwood, which included a thriving business district sometimes referred to as the Black Wall Street.
The Tulsa Tribune removed the front-page story of May 31 that sparked the chaos from its bound volumes, and scholars later discovered that police and state militia archives about the riot were missing as well. As a result, until recently the Tulsa Race Massacre was rarely mentioned in history books, taught in schools or even talked about.
During an interview with ABC affiliate KOCO News on the 100th anniversary of the massacre, J. Kavin Ross, the state Representative’s son, said:
“White folks didn’t want to talk about it because it was a blemish, a stain on a city that was trying to build up its image. So nobody, nobody talked from that community,” Ross said. “The Black folks didn’t talk about it because of the fact that those people who committed the atrocities were still around, they will threaten another massacre had anybody talked it up again. And so you had these communities, separated, but together they were silent.”
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, before being elected to the legislature, state Sen. Ross “was one of the first journalists to write about the Tulsa riot [as it was then called] even as both blacks and whites criticized him for opening old wounds.”
Due to his leadership, in 1989 Oklahoma also became the first state to remove the Confederate flag from its governmental buildings.
According to Ross, his father was interviewed after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.
“One of the reporters that was talking to my father, and made the statement that is the worst event that happened on American soil, and my father had to stop and say no, the worst one is an hour away in Tulsa,” J. Kavin said.
In 1997, Ross introduced legislation to create the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, saying, “Justice demands closure as it did with Japanese Americans and Holocaust victims of Germany.”
Martin Luther King said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
Recent events cast a long shadow on his optimism.
Are enough of us willing to acknowledge past injustices, implicit bias and systemic racism? To challenge what we think we know is true? It takes time, energy and incentive, and all three seem in short supply.