Tulsa’s Black Wall Street burned. These artists have a new vision (audio).

As Tulsa, Oklahoma, gears up to commemorate the 1921 race massacre, a new generation of Tulsans are finding ways to make the story of Black Wall Street their own. What can the country learn from their efforts?

Jessica Mendoza/The Christian Science Monitor
Jerica Wortham sits on a couch at Fulton Street Books and Coffee, a newly opened business in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Oct. 1, 2020. Ms. Wortham, a spoken-word artist and art curator, says the spirit of entrepreneurship is alive and well in Tulsa's Black community.

Black Wall Street: ‘Everything is Us’

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Tulsa has big plans for the coming centennial of the 1921 race massacre that left the city’s Black community in ruins. But while Tulsa residents say these efforts are important, for members of the city’s Black community they’re just the beginning of mourning what they’ve lost while also building something new.

One initiative, the Greenwood Art Project, aims to make sure Tulsa, and the country, know the history of Black Wall Street and the massacre. Jerica Wortham, the program director, sees art as an opportunity to invite others into the story, and to capture the spirit of the city’s thriving Black community. “I’m so excited for the world to be able to come here and experience this story, to experience it in real time, and to feel the energy of the space being reignited,” she says.

In the final episode of our Tulsa series, we hear about how Black Tulsans are processing this moment, and how art and innovation can be a catalyst for healing.

“Rethinking the News” is a podcast that aims to make room for constructive conversations across a range of perspectives, and bring Monitor journalism straight to your ears. To learn more about the podcast and find new episodes, please visit our page

This story was designed to be heard. We strongly encourage you to experience it with your ears, but we understand that is not an option for everybody. You can find the audio player above. For those who are unable to listen, we have provided a transcript of the story below. 

AUDIO TRANSCRIPT

Samantha Laine Perfas: Welcome to “Rethinking the News,” a podcast by The Christian Science Monitor. Here, we create space for constructive conversations across a range of perspectives, to give you the information you need to come to your own conclusions. 

I’m Samantha Laine Perfas, one of the producers. Today we’ve got the last of three episodes we’re doing out of Tulsa, Oklahoma, where in 1921, a white mob destroyed the Black neighborhood of Greenwood. At the time, Greenwood – in North Tulsa – was known as Black Wall Street, a thriving community of Black-owned businesses and services. The mob set fire to the neighborhood, looting and killing, and it would take years for the Black community to rebuild – though eventually, they would.

Tulsa is now preparing for the massacre’s centennial. My colleague Jessica Mendoza and I went there at the end of summer to find out how Black Tulsans are wrestling with this history ahead of a divisive election. Our past two episodes cover the story of the race massacre and how the city is responding today. This is meant to be heard as a series, so if you haven’t yet, we encourage you to go back and check out the other two. 

Today, we’re looking forward. The commemoration is spurring a new generation of Tulsans to find ways to process, and to own, the story of Black Wall Street. What can we, as a country, learn from their efforts? Jess will take us through the episode.

[Music]

Just a warning. This episode contains descriptions of violence, including gun violence and trauma inflicted on Black Americans. Please be advised.

Jerica Wortham: Oh, you know what, I actually have a poem that I did for the Black Wall Street Awards.  Let me find it. Where is that poem? OK, I found it. 

[Jerica begins poem, ‘Love Letter to Greenwood’]

We were everything we needed 

Seeded

In Ujamaa, and imani 

Faith got long legs and no eyes 

But they had vision 

For that 

Greenwood ave

That Redman land

That Brilliance build by black man hand

Legacies of a dreamland 

That became the blueprint

For hope meeting manifestation

Heritage on every storefront 

Resilience in every brick 

Brick by brick the mortar became mortal 

This became a living thing

My bro Phetote said Greenwood was the body 

Black Wall Street was the soul 

I imagine for the generation post slavery 

Utopia 

Breathing came easy 

Cause God blessed the child that had its own

And We owned all this! 

[Music]

Jessica Mendoza: 2020 is coming to a close. This long, difficult year, including the election, will be behind us. But no matter what else happens, no matter who wins, America will still be wrestling with race and racism. Black Lives Matter, police violence and calls for reform, white supremacy – these aren’t going anywhere.  

So when the year turns, the nation may well look to Tulsa, Oklahoma, to see what it looks like when a city confronts a racist past. At the end of May, Tulsa will be commemorating the centennial of the 1921 race massacre – a violent incident of racism that left the Black community of Greenwood in ruins. 

The city has big plans for the year. They’re building a new museum dedicated to Greenwood and the community once known as Black Wall Street. They’ve launched an investigation into where the bodies of those killed in the massacre are buried. They’re inviting Tulsans to share their stories through visual art and music, and making sure Oklahoma, and America, know the story of Greenwood. 

And everyone we talked to in Tulsa agrees these efforts are important. Few, if any, other U.S. cities have tried to come to terms with their racist histories in this way.

But for many Black Tulsans, the massacre represents not just historic pain or symbolic oppression. It reflects their lived experiences today. And they told us that owning up to a racist history – to racism – takes more than programs and projects and good intentions. It takes a willingness, on the part of their leaders and fellow residents, to have difficult conversations about what the Black community has been through and is still going through. 

And it means, for Black Tulsans, mourning what they’ve lost – but also reclaiming it, and building something new. 

Today, we hear from some of them about that process: the sorrow and the anger involved, but also the determination. And the hope. 

[Music]

Jerica: I was born and raised in Tulsa, went to Booker Taliaferro Washington, Sr., High School, world-class high school. Absolutely phenomenal magnet program. I learned nothing about the massacre there. 

Jess: That’s Jerica Wortham. She’s the poet we heard at the start of the episode.

Steph Simon: I just seen it in a related search. Tulsa race riot. Documentary.

Jess: And that’s Steph Simon, rapper and producer. We’ve been playing some of his songs throughout this series. 

Steph: I’m like, man, is this from here? Like from my streets, you know what I’m saying, from where my school is at?

Jess: We’ll be hearing from Steph and Jerica throughout this story. Both are from Tulsa originally, and like lots of folks from the city, they didn’t learn anything about the 1921 race massacre until they were young adults. The knowledge changed something in them – though in different ways.  

Steph was 23 when he first came across a documentary on the massacre, on YouTube. The story would dominate his life for the next decade.

Samantha Laine Perfas/The Christian Science Monitor
Musician Steph Simon stands in front of a grand staircase inside Skyline Mansion in Tulsa, Okla., on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020. The mansion was built and formerly owned by Tulsa founding father and avowed white supremacist W. Tate Brady.

Steph: I don’t walk, eat, think, nothing the same as pre-learning this. Like, I’ve been covered in this, I’m a whole different person. Learning this really like, changed me.

Jess: When we met with him, Steph had on a custom sweatshirt with Dick Rowland’s name splashed across the front. Dick Rowland was the Black shoeshiner accused of assaulting a white woman back in 1921. His arrest was the spark that ignited the massacre. 

Steph: He was the scapegoat, the catalyst.

Jess: Steph feels a real connection with Dick Rowland, whom he sees as a kind of an avatar of the Black experience – not just a hundred years ago, but today.  

Steph: Dick Rowland was one of the first. The story is, he is blamed for sexual assault. I know we are believing women, but I also believe that they use Black kids to start stuff like that. Like Mike Brown –

Jess: – the 18-year-old shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Mo., back in 2014.

Steph:He shouldn’t have been stealing in the first place. He wouldn’t have never got shot.’ Or the guy that got killed jogging. 

Jess: Ahmaud Arbery –

Steph: ‘He shouldn’t have been looking in the house.’ 

Jess: – who was chased and shot by white residents in his South Georgia neighborhood in February. A neighbor had called 911 to report seeing a Black man inside a house under construction in the area, which had recently seen several break-ins. 

Steph: So that justified him getting shot by two non-cops. There’s always some justifiable, stupid story. And this one was, he assaulted her. And that’s the reason we blow the whole city up. These stories just keep happening over and over. And over. And over. And over again.  

You know what I’m saying? I was still mad about Ahmaud, and then it was like, dang, we gotta get more mad about George Floyd. I’m still mad about Terence Crutcher. That happened up the road from my house. And then by the time we got done painting him on a shirt, there was somebody else we gotta put. Like we’re running out of street signs, and we’re running out of shirts, and we’re running out of paint, and we’re running out of walls. 

Jess: Steph has poured all he’s felt since learning about the massacre into his most recent solo album, ‘Born On Black Wall Street.’ It dropped in 2019. There’s a lot of anger and sorrow in his music. But there’s also pride – at what the Greenwood community was able to achieve in the face of unimaginable hostility. That’s something Steph wants to really tap into and raise up.  

Steph: I always tell everybody, ‘Everything is us. Everything is. Everything is us.’ The mindset is the key. It won’t work without the mindset. Pro-Black business, pro local, pro collaboration with your peers, is key. Black Wall Street – ‘everything is us’ was their mentality that they used. That’s how you rise as a community. 

Jess: Even where Steph recorded his album is part of his message. The Skyline Mansion was originally known as the Brady Mansion, after W. Tate Brady – a founding father of Tulsa and an avowed white supremacist and Ku Klux Klan member. The mansion, built in 1920, is a close replica of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s home in Virginia: Massive stone columns, a grand staircase in the lobby, a fountain on the lawn.  

Steph: It’s like, what kind of great way for the tables to turn? Where it’s a Black man in here. I want to get to the point where his name ain’t even brought up anymore. I’m changing the narrative, like let me be the ignition for the new Black Wall Street and the rebuild.

[Music]

[Jerica continues her poem, ‘Love Letter to Greenwood’]

Imagine that negroes running things

Greenwood was like the board room meeting the cookout. 

Nuclear Family Meets Community

United.... on some June nights under the groove. Getting down just… for the funk of it 

Black Wall Street. 

Where I heard Steph say everything is us 

I believe it 

Jess: For Steph Simon, the legacy of the race massacre and Black Wall Street is primarily spiritual. Jerica Wortham agrees. But for her, it’s physical, as well. Jerica is a spoken-word artist – that was her with another excerpt from her poem, ‘Love Letter to Greenwood,’ the same poem we started the episode with. 

But Jerica is also an art curator, and she spends a lot of time working with small businesses across Tulsa – especially those run by people of color. She actually asked to meet us in one of them – Fulton Street Books and Coffee – which a friend of hers recently opened.  

Jerica: Tulsa is a space that is rich with entrepreneurs, with opportunity to really just kind of spread your wings. Tulsa’s very, very receptive to, ‘I have an idea. I want to try this out. Can I get a little support and just kind of see how that works?’

Jess: But at the same time, she says –

Jessica Mendoza/The Christian Science Monitor
Jerica Wortham, at Fulton Street Books and Coffee in Tulsa, Okla., on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020, says she wants to see the spirit of Black Wall Street translate into physical spaces in her community. "[It's] having a space where you can go in and say, 'Someone that looks like me created this space,'" she says. "I know I'm welcomed."

Jerica: A lot of the people in our community do their business online because the increasing difficulty for people of color to have storefronts. So it’s ingrained in us, we still are running businesses. But storefront space, having brick and mortar, having a space where you can go in and say, ‘Someone that looks like me created this space. And when I go into this space, I know I’m welcomed.’ That is what we are looking for more of. 

So the – the spirit of Black Wall Street, the spirit of Greenwood, the spirit of of bringing together community – that is there. What I’m hoping is some of those spiritual spaces also being able to manifest themselves into physical spaces within our community. 

[Music]

As the centennial of the 1921 race massacre approaches, there’s a kind of bustle about the city of Tulsa. A sense of revival and revitalization, an awareness that the country might soon look its way. And in Tulsa’s Black community, especially in the north part of the city, there’s a new consciousness – of Greenwood and Black Wall Street, and all they represented before and after the massacre – that for decades, simply didn’t exist.

[Music]

Audio montage: members of The Juice Radio Show

Takara Williams: “To me, Black Wall Street means remembering what happened, remembering the businesses that were there, remembering the success that Black people had and still have.”

Tiller Watson: “Black Wall Street shows me that we can be successful no matter the cost. Anything is possible for us.”

Eden Burrell: “Black Wall Street to me is like a symbol, Black power, like Black excellence. It’s just a collage of everything that we can do and that we have done. That’s just what it is to me, like a symbol of hope and power.”

William Green: “You know, when a lot of people think of Tulsa, they don’t really think of Black Wall Street. But we want that to be what you think about now. We want to make it less of an idea and more of a reality.”

Jess: Those were Takara Williams, Tiller Watson, Eden Burrell, and William Green. They’re all young Tulsans, high school- and college-age, who host a weekly radio program called The Juice Radio Show. The show airs on a local community radio station run by a man named Bobby Eaton. 

Jessica Mendoza/The Christian Science Monitor
Takara "TK" Williams, one of the hosts of The Juice Radio Show, starts off the weekly radio program at the headquarters of Eaton Media Services in Tulsa, Okla., on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020.

Bobby Eaton: I believe and I tell young people all the time, ‘Don’t limit yourself.’ 

Jess: Bobby is another Tulsa native, though he spent much of his life working as a musician in Los Angeles and Houston. He came back in 2015 to help care for his mother. But he quickly found himself doing something more. 

Bobby: When I first moved back here four and a half years ago, I just would go around in the community and I would talk to people. And they would always say, ‘Did you know so-and-so had something going on at the event center, the cultural center?’ ‘No, I didn’t know nothing about it. Never heard of it.’ And it was always like a word of mouth kind of thing. So I decided to open up a radio station.

Jess: Bobby runs about a dozen programs through his company, Eaton Media Services, including a few he hosts himself. But The Juice Radio Show is his pride. For Bobby, the show – and the young people who host it – represent what he hopes is a positive future, for Tulsa’s Black community. So he and his executive director, Ramal Brown, do all they can to make sure The Juice is more than an afternoon hobby for the young folks involved. 

Bobby: We try to make sure they get placed in college. We write letters and reference letters, let everybody know they’ve had some broadcasting experience. And we’ve helped get about three of them down in Jackson State.

My grandfather always told me something: Be the best at what you do, whatever you decide. If you’re gonna be a garbage man, be the best garbage man. Or, you know, the best doctor. The best musician or entertainer. And if you strive to do the best, then you’re going to see some success. 

I think that in the African American community, we’ve lost a lot of that type of insight, like Black Wall Street. And to describe North Tulsa is, we’ve lost a lot. Economic development. Things have been torn down. Homes have been torn down. We don’t have a lot of Black businesses in our community like we once had. We’ve got to get back into that sense of building up our community. 

Jess: Bobby’s work predates the centennial, and he has every intention of outlasting it. But he says the commemoration is an important chance for folks to process what happened in Greenwood: the spirit that built up Black Wall Street, the hate that tore it down, and the persistence that built it back up again.  

Bobby: And it needs to be talked about. It’s a conversation that’s overdue.

[Music]

Jess: Jerica Wortham is pretty psyched to be part of that conversation. She’s the poet and art curator we heard from earlier. 

Jerica: I am so excited – COVID pending, right? I’m so excited for the world to be able to come here and experience this story, to experience it in real time, and to feel the energy of the space being reignited.

Jess: Jerica is talking about the Greenwood Art Project. She’s the program director. The project is an initiative of the Tulsa Centennial Commission, which aims to make sure Tulsa, and the country, know the history of Black Wall Street and the massacre.

Jerica: The Greenwood Art Project is a public art project designed to help the artists in Tulsa tell the story of Greenwood in their own way, from their own perspective, and a first-person lens.

This was a battleground. This was where horrific things happened. But at the same time, this is where a family lived, where they ate dinner, where they loved each other. And where real people lived real lives. So what you will experience is spaces being engaged with music, poetry, live theater, dance.

Jess: The goal of the Greenwood Art Project is to make history come alive. But much of that history is dark and painful. So the project’s organizers are building in a kind of support system, so people can process what they experience. 

Jerica: We understand that it could be heavy. So it’s partnering with mental health organizations to make sure that they have support on stand-by when people are experiencing these moments – to not just drop them in a space and leave them there to deal with it. 

That’s part of the problem, right? That’s how we got here. It was a lot of blowing things up and then leaving you to deal with it, but not actually having the necessary discussions. So the hope is then, after all of these experiences, that people are able to come together, that they’re able to have meaningful dialogue to really impact real change.

Jess: The installations for the Greenwood Art Project will start showing up in the Greenwood District at the start of 2021, all the way up to the centennial on May 31st and June 1st, and possibly beyond. But the centennial has inspired other artistic endeavors – including one that centers on the Black community reclaiming what it lost, and owning its history. It’s called ‘Fire In Little Africa.’ And Jerica is a part of that, too. 

Jerica: Man, ‘Fire In Little Africa’ is – it was so much fun. It was so much fun. I wish you all could have seen all of these artists in one space just creating. 

Jess: ‘Fire In Little Africa’ is a multimedia hip-hop project. The name is a knock on the derogatory term that white Tulsans used to refer to Greenwood at the time of the massacre. The project includes a compilation album, set to drop sometime in May; a documentary on how Black Wall Street inspired the artists involved; a weekly podcast; and a curriculum for schools, museums, and corporate offices, based on the project’s themes. 

But the album is the soul of ‘Fire In Little Africa.’ Back in March, just before the pandemic hit, musicians, writers, and producers – all from Oklahoma or with ties to the state – descended on Tulsa. Over a four-day weekend, they wrote, recorded, and produced the album in a frenzy of creative energy, all inside the historic Greenwood Cultural Center and the Skyline Mansion. 

Jerica: It was beautiful to record it in historical spaces, to see the story being told in a nontraditional way, utilizing hip-hop. It was beautiful to see people that are significantly younger than me engaged in this story and telling it in a way that their peers can digest it. 

Jess: Steph Simon, the rapper we heard from earlier, was one of the first artists to have been tapped for the project.

Steph: It’s showing people that Tulsa, Oklahoma, middle of the map, no man’s land. It’s like, naw. We got something to talk about and we have something to say. 

Jerica: The works that they’ve created, the work that I got to be a part of as well? Dope! Like it was amazing – amazing, amazing, amazing. And then for them to be able to do that without filter, without sugar coating, without watering it down. Just being able to just be like, ‘Yo, this is what I want to say. This is what happened. This is what’s still happening. And I want to talk about it.’ 

[Music]

Sam: Hi everyone, Samantha Laine Perfas again, one of the producers on this show. Because of listeners like you, we’re able to devote time to a podcast that goes deep into today’s issues. If you enjoy “Rethinking the News,” the best way to make sure we produce more work like this is to subscribe to The Christian Science Monitor. If you already do, thank you! But if you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do that at csmonitor.com/subscribe. We really appreciate your support. Again, that’s csmonitor.com/subscribe. Thanks for listening.

[Music]

Jess: For all the hope and even excitement surrounding the centennial, there’s no forgetting that the history it’s commemorating is a horrific one. Pretty much everyone we talked to recognized that the centennial is really just the start of the reckoning process. 

Bobby: I think it’s going to bring a lot of attention to Tulsa. But what are you gonna do when everybody’s gone and the smoke is cleared?

Jess: That’s Bobby Eaton again, he’s the radio host and musician we heard from earlier. 

Jessica Mendoza/The Christian Science Monitor/The Christian Science Monitor
Bobby Eaton stands outside his family's home in Tulsa, Okla., on Thursday, Oct. 1, 2020. Mr. Eaton says the city's plans to commemorate the centennial of the 1921 race massacre are important, because they're forcing conversations about Tulsa's Black community that are long overdue.

Bobby: What are you gonna do? ‘Cause I got to be here after everybody’s gone. I got to live here and I got to make a difference. And that’s what’s going to be more important. What are you gonna do?

Jess: We brought that question to Tulsa’s Republican mayor, G.T. Bynum. We heard from him in previous episodes. He says the centennial is important because –

G.T. Bynum: – it has focused citywide attention on a part of our city that got overlooked for decades. And I think we’ve made more progress on understanding what happened in that race massacre in the last five years than we had in the previous 94 years.

But it would be a terrible error to think that everybody in Tulsa needs to focus on and care about North Tulsa for the next year and a half, and then we’ll move on and focus on something else. No. You do not fix the issues that need to be fixed by having a short term focus there.

Jess: And this is the crux of the issue, the true challenge of reckoning with racism: It’s work. Painful work, long work, that’s often complicated, and sometimes even contradictory. The mayor himself embodies that contradiction: On the one hand, he’s been a huge supporter of the investigation into where people killed in the massacre might be buried. It’s an effort that many Tulsans say is long overdue, and has received a lot of praise from the city’s Black community. 

But, on the other, the mayor is also a defendant in a lawsuit against the city and other local government agencies. The lawsuit calls for reparations for the massacre’s victims and their descendants. 

Bynum: I can’t speak about the lawsuit at all. But to tax Tulsans of today for something that Tulsans 99 years ago did, I don’t think is fair to the people who live here today. The issue of reparations is much more divisive than work that we’re trying to build community consensus around. And so what I don’t want to do is introduce the issue of reparations and erode support for the other work that we’re trying to do.

[Music]

Jess: So when we asked the people we met with what they thought about the centennial, how it’s being framed, and whether it’s a step toward reconciliation … we got complicated answers. 

Vanessa Adams-Harris: It is a process. People think that it is where you land. It is not that at all. 

Jess: That’s Vanessa Adams-Harris. She does outreach and alliance for the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation. The center is named after a prominent local historian who was a key voice for Black history in Tulsa and nationwide. 

Jessica Mendoza/The Christian Science Monitor
Vanessa Adams-Harris, who does outreach for the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Center, sits on a bench at a park commemorating the events of the 1921 race massacre in Tulsa, Okla., on Friday, Oct. 2, 2020.

Vanessa: We’re looking at it like a bank statement. It’s reconciled: debit, credit, balance. It doesn’t work like that inside of us as human beings, because we have emotions. We have feelings. We have thoughts. Can we then negotiate that? Can we challenge ourselves to intentionally be with each other in uncomfortable times and moments? Can we do that honestly? And then are we able to then do it again? So it’s a continuum.

Steph: I’m not a big fan of the word reconciliation, because it always comes from just us. 

Jess: That’s Steph Simon again. 

Steph: ‘What are we gonna do to heal ourselves?,’ is what always turns out to be. A million white people can show up and say, ‘I’m sorry,’ but they still can go home. And like, their lives are not affected. It’s a tough thing. It’s a fragile situation right now, it’s like, very exhausting. 

Jess: There were also folks who said that any discussion of reconciliation couldn’t mean anything without a conversation about reparations. Dr. Tiffany Crutcher was one of them. We had her on in Episode 2. Her brother, Terence, was shot and killed by Tulsa police in 2016.  

Tiffany Crutcher: The fact is, the 1921 race massacre robbed Black people of their generational wealth. I’m looking right out here across the street at this land where the Stradford Hotel used to sit. Owned by J.B. Stradford. Burnt to the ground. So when people talk about reparations, they ask, What would money do? It’s just not about money. We were robbed of our dreams, of our aspirations. J.B. Stradford could have been Hyatt. He could have been Hilton. He could have been the Marriott. But they stripped us of our generational wealth, our aspirations. But yet you tell us we need to get to a place of reconciliation? 

It’s like a wound that scabs over. And you think it’s healed. But on the inside it’s infected. You’ve got to pull that scab off, and you’ve got to clean that wound out from the inside out and let it heal. And it’s painful and it takes time. But that’s the only way we’re gonna get to that place of reconciliation is if we tear that scab off. And we have these difficult conversations and we start to work on healing.

[Music] 

[Jerica continues to read her poem, ‘Love Letter to Greenwood’] 

Greenwood, has always been the trendsetter 

The world is watching and i promise we gone make it worth their while

Greenwood sweet sweet Greenwood 

Rich with heritage and a knowing 

got my heart swooning over the possibilities 

Got me open to the probability 

And I’m not the only 

One...

I know 

Wanna know how i know? 

My city told me.

[Music]

Jerica: [sings] Reconciliation… I think it’s possible. I think we could get there. 

Jess: That’s Jerica Wortham again. 

Jerica: I think we could. The capability to do so is there. I think it looks like having hard discussions and not letting go until you get it together. I think it looks like recognizing the differences that we carry and the similarities and just being a human.

Jess: But as we’ve learned, this journey is just starting for Tulsa. And for Jerica, the promise of what’s possible is wrapped up in the feelings of doubt and distrust that mark so much of the experience of being Black in Tulsa.  

Jerica: What it is to be a Tulsan is to have the hope, like we all can feel it. We can feel the shift and the opportunity to actualize the dreams that have been placed in us. We have that hope. However, also to be a Tulsan is to have a bit of skepticism, understanding that even with all the greatness that is in Tulsa, even with all of the revitalizations – understanding that that’s not really being built for us. Us being the citizens in northern Tulsa, the minorities within this community. 

Jess: This has been a story about hate and hope, about race and racism and struggle, in one city in Oklahoma. But it’s also a story about America. We heard it a lot in our reporting: This is the kind of reckoning that many cities, and the country, will have to go through for us to truly move forward together. And there’s no guarantee that it will happen – or even that Tulsa will succeed.

But, Jerica says, if there is anything the rest of us can take away from what her city is going through, it’s to see what this kind of reckoning looks like: the kind of courage it takes for these conversations to happen, and the possibilities when they persist.   

Jerica: How much further we could be if we had taken time to really acknowledge that history, teach that history, learn from that history a hundred years ago, 20 years ago, 40 years ago. Where would this generation be? We would be further along in the way that we interact with one another and the acceptance that we show towards one another.

If we understood, like, ‘Listen, this is the way we’ve handled things in the past, we see how ugly that can get. We see how long it takes to heal from that.’ Well, I just feel like we would have been further if we had had these hard discussions before 2020.

[Music]

Jess: Thanks for joining us, everyone. After the credits, you can listen to Jerica Wortham read her poem, “Love Letter to Greenwood,” in full. And if you liked this series, share it with your friends. You can find and subscribe to this podcast at csmonitor.com/rethinkingthenews, or you can search for “Rethinking the News” wherever you listen to podcasts.  

This episode was hosted by me, Jessica Mendoza. Samantha Laine Perfas and I wrote, reported, and produced this story together. Our editors are Clay Collins and Clara Germani, with additional edits by Judy Douglass and Arielle Gray. Sound design by Morgan Anderson and Noel Flatt. With thanks, again, to Steph Simon for letting us use his music throughout this miniseries. You also heard a sample track from ‘Fire In Little Africa,’ featuring vocals by Ausha. Brought to you by The Christian Science Monitor, copyright 2020.  

[Jerica Wortham, reciting ‘Love Letter to Greenwood’ in full]

We were everything we needed 

Seeded

In Ujamaa, and imani 

Faith got long legs and no eyes 

But they had vision 

For that 

Greenwood ave

That Redman land

That Brilliance build by black man hand

Legacies of a dreamland 

That became the blueprint

For hope meeting manifestation

Heritage on every storefront 

Resilience in every brick 

Brick by brick the mortar became mortal 

This became a living thing

My bro Phetote said Greenwood was the body 

Black Wall Street was the soul 

I imagine for the generation post slavery 

Utopia 

Breathing came easy 

Cause God blessed the child that had its own

And We owned all this! 

Imagine that negroes running things

Greenwood was like the board room meeting the cookout. 

Nuclear Family Meets Community

United.... on some June nights under the groove. Getting down just.. just for the funk of it 

Black Wall Street. 

Where I heard steph say everything is us 

I believe it 

Yo view There was a fire in little Africa 

Started from a spark 

Gurley 

Stradford 

Franklin 

The pioneers

Built fires 

Smoke signaled that opportunity awaited in ol Tulsy town 

Tulsa 

Where that fire spread to 35 city blocks 

A city on fire with excellence and expectation!

A city on fire where lucid dreams turned reality 

A city on fire because jealousy burned in the hearts of those across the railroad lines 

Flames of destruction swept through in a matter of hours things were leveled 

In a matter of hours thousands homeless 

Lives lost

In a matter of hours things changed 

The fact of the matter is 

Greenwood was what humanity looked like for those that had to stretch to find it 

The matter is the Greenwood district understood black lives mattered before it was the “it” thing 

Yet ironically black lives matter can’t even be placed boldly in the heart of the space 

So i guess the more things change the more they stay the same 

Yea there was a fire in Little Africa

Bombs dropped 

Smoke thick 

Breathing no longer easy 

Breathing sometimes ceased 

Hands up! Don’t shoot!

I can’t breathe 

I can’t breathe 

I can’t breathe 

And while the methods may change (sometimes)

Hate and jealousy from across the line swept through 

I thought i heard somebody say you used to be able to run south to escape that

Huh, yet...some stay 

Bothered by the audacity to find humanity in our blackness 

But just like in 1922 we rose 

Because Greenwood has always been more than a zip code 

We rose because we know 

That the torch that was passed down through the generations burns in the hearts of the city We rose because we know that fire only purifies the liquid gold that runs through our veins 

We rose because it takes more than hate and blue paint splattered to change our course 

Oooooh yea

Thangs is changing 

I feel that Kuumba coming through 

Now! Now we understand what’s been true all along... 

that we don’t ask permission anymore 

We give notice 

So consider yourself notified that Greenwood is rising again 

And while broken over and over and over again

We will Put it back together

Consider yourself notified that 

Hate don’t live here no more 

Come in love or don’t come at all

Come in peace, decency, Humanity, economic opportunity, black foot traffic, black owned store fronts, respect for the history and legacy, commitment to revitalization, and sanctuary

Or don’t come at all! 

Black Wall Street was more than the money 

But let’s face it money talks 

And it’s time for some people to speak up 

Greenwood, has always been the trendsetter 

The world is watching and i promise we gone make it worth their while

Greenwood sweet sweet Greenwood 

Rich with heritage and a knowing 

got my heart swooning over the possibilities 

Got me open to the probability 

And I’m not the only 

One...

I know 

Wanna know how i know 

My city told me

Copyright © 2020 Jerica Wortham All Rights Reserved.

Note: The poem, “Love Letter to Greenwood,” is printed here as it was sent by the author. 

[End]

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