My final event in Black History Month 2007 was by far the most rewarding and inspiring; it strengthened my resolve to continue to fight for what is right and to stand against what is wrong. Having had the absolute pleasure of being in the company of six survivors of the riot in the Greenwood section of Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1921, I received yet another "booster shot" necessary to keep me from being infected with complacency and apathy.
The Northeast Church of Christ in Oklahoma City and its Northeast College Students Network recently honored the "Indomitable Spirit" of the survivors of one of this nation's dirty little secrets — The Tulsa Race War, in which hundreds of Blacks were murdered and their prosperous community was burned to the ground.
The tragedy side of the Black Wall Street massacre, replete with fire-bombings, shootings, and burning bodies, usually dominates conversations related to Tulsa on May 31, 1921. The aftermath of Black survivors being rounded up, placed in makeshift concentration camps, and having to wait for a White person to come and "claim" them, to the mass graves, abandoned mines, and the river in which Black bodies were discarded, to the families torn apart and left with absolutely nothing, are the primary aspects of most discussions of Black Wall Street. But there is "the rest of the story."
We celebrated the triumph, the victory of resurgence, the "Renaissance," as Dr. Kevin McPherson noted during our panel discussion, the strength and resiliency of Black people who, against all odds and in spite of the worst that could happen to them, came back to rebuild Greenwood. They did such a great job of literally rising from the ashes left by the fires of a hateful, jealous, and envious White mob, so much so that four years later, in 1925, the National Negro Business Association held its convention in Greenwood.
Although small children then, most of the survivors living today can remember their parents and grandparents telling them what went on back then, how they escaped, the relatives they lost, and the resulting abject poverty that ensued after the riot.
Eddie Faye Gates, author, former teacher, and community activist has done yeoman's work interviewing the survivors and chronicling their recollections in her book "Riot on Greenwood."
The six Tulsa Race Riot Survivors I had the honor to meet and spend three days with included Mr. John Melvin Alexander, Mrs. Hazel Jones, Thelma Knight, Mr. Julius Warren Scott, Mr. James Steward and Mr. Wess Young.
Ponder the words of the President of Tulsa Chamber of Commerce, immediately following the riot: "The deplorable event is the greatest wound Tulsa's civic pride has ever received. Leading businessmen are in hourly conference and a movement is now being organized… to formulate a plan of reparation." Sound familiar? Eighty-six years later and the Children of Black Wall Street are still fighting for their reparations. How can this country, and those who supposedly run it, not be so ashamed of the Tulsa Race Riot that they would not immediately grant reparations for the lives lost and the millions of dollars in property destroyed back then?
We celebrated the triumph, and it's not over yet. The fight continues in International Court, since our own courts would not do the right thing. Even better, we still have the "real" Survivors amongst us, their laughter, their spirit, and their strength which will, in turn, strengthen us in our resolve to stand up and speak out against injustice.
James Clingman is the executive director of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.