The Final Call Online Edition


WEB POSTED 03-13-2001



Relates story:

Black victims of white riot due reparations
FCN, 03-11-2001


Oklahoma mulls reparations for 'Black Wall St. Massacre'

by Memorie Knox

( three years of investigation and review of over 20,000 documents, the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riots of 1921 delivered a 200-page report to the state�s governor Feb. 28 with a strong recommendation for monetary reparations for survivors.

Approximately 15 survivors have died since the Commission began its work. Now the 120 living survivors of the Memorial Day weekend attack, who range in ages 78-108, must still wait for a split legislature to decide whether they receive reparations. The Commission�s report concluded that the amount of any monetary compensation should be left up to the legislature to decide.

Mirroring its reparations recommendation after those given to Black survivors and descendants of the Rosewood, Fla. race riot of 1923, the 11-member Commission, made up of seven Blacks and six whites, voted 10 to 1 for direct payment of reparations to survivors, the creation of school scholarship funds and the establishment of economic enterprise zones.

A $5 million riot memorial has been authorized by the legislature and is in the design phase.

"The majority of the commission has no question about the appropriateness of reparations. The recommendations are not intended to be all inclusive, but rather to give policy makers a sense of the Commission�s feelings of reparations as starting place for creating the dialogue," the report said.

The report revealed that on the evening of May 31, 1921, fighting erupted between whites and Black men gathered outside a courthouse to prevent lynching of a Black man accused of assaulting a white woman. Historians believe several headlines in false newspaper stories in the Tulsa Tribune triggered the courthouse gathering. "Nab Negro for Assaulting Girl in Elevator" and "To Lynch A Negro Tonight" the headlines read.

For two days, the report said, up to 10,000 whites stormed the prosperous Tulsa neighborhood of Greenwood, also known as "Black Wall Street," killing at least 40 people and destroying 35 blocks and more than 1,000 homes, businesses, churches and a hospital.

Historians believe the death toll may have reached 400. Some Blacks believe the numbers were even higher and say some victims were buried in mass graves.

Specific survivor accounts and documents tell of turpentine bombs being dropped from planes, the dragging death of a blind Black beggar, the shooting of an unarmed Black surgeon and escapes by women and children who were taken in by a few whites outside the city.

Commission members said primary resources about the assault were deliberately destroyed by members of the Ku Klux Klan, many of whom were also among Tulsa�s elite and respected community leaders. Commission members believe important riot documentation, including official police records, the fire marshal�s report and the National Guard�s report of the incident were destroyed.

In an interview with The Final Call, the deputy press secretary for Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating said he is reviewing the report.

"The governor is supportive of some elements of the recommendations and hesitant about others. The most difficult point that lawmakers will face here in Oklahoma is the subject of reparations. He is supportive of some form of reparations for those individuals who were directly impacted by the tragedy of 1921," the spokesman said.

The riot commission was originally called for by Oklahoma state Representative Don Ross, a Black former publisher, who became interested in documenting the riot as a young man.

"It was absolutely historic that a state agreed to document its treachery and that the governor of Oklahoma and the mayor of Tulsa came out in favor of reparations of survivors in some form. I think Tulsa may be a small link in adding fuel to the national discussion of the question of reparations for the descendants of African slaves," said state Rep. Ross.

"The 1921 Tulsa race riot was well documented, well photographed and was the largest human disaster since the Civil War. I have always challenged whether or not it was a riot because, generally, when you talk about riots, it�s always linked to Blacks. Now, I can fully accept the word riot, because the report clearly documents that it was white folks rioting," Rep. Ross said.

He hopes to become more involved with the national reparations movement for the descendant of African slaves. Mr. Ross said the efforts of Dr. Conrad Worrill; the National Association of Blacks for Reparations in America (N�COBRA); Chicago city councilwoman Dorothy Tillman, who recently spearheaded a National Reparations Convention; Rep. John Conyers, who has proposed national reparations study legislation and Randall Robinson, author of "The Debt," are inspiring.

"There can be no more doubt that that Black community was terrorized by some kind of government-supported vigilante. Tulsa�s Black community has been promised so much over the years that has not happened. I don�t want this study to collect dust and loose the traction it could have for the national movement," Rep. Ross added.

In an interview with The Final Call, Commission member Vivian Clark-Adams, said the historic report from the Commission is unprecedented and worthy of more research.

"It is way past time for this to be aired for justice to be done. The powers that be did a very good job of keeping information about the race riot hidden. The magnitude of this riot was a tragedy. I still think there is quite a bit out there that we may never uncover. I have a real problem that people want to fight recommendations for reparations. Yet we�ve paid reparations to the Japanese, Native Americans, Jewish. When it comes to reparations for Black people, some believe that�s going too far," Ms. Clark-Adams said.

Photo: National Guard troops carrying rifles with bayonets affixed escort unnamed Black men.



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