Dr. Dewayne Dickens paused to look at the audience before continuing on to explain that one person’s experience with racial violence in New York last Thursday probably mirrors another person’s experience in Baltimore seven months ago. Or someone else’s experience in St. Louis two years ago. Or in LA a decade ago.
Or in this case, the city of Tulsa 95 years ago.
On Wednesday, February 3, TU’s Student Alliance for Violence Education (SAVE) hosted two speakers for a discussion on racial violence centered around the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 and the effects of racial violence in Tulsa today.
The event garnered about fifteen or twenty attendees, many of whom appeared to be regular SAVE members but some of whom were not.
The two speakers, Dr. Jocelyn Lee Payne and Dr. Dewayne Dickens, were representatives from the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation. The Center is located in Greenwood and intends to continue the legacy of John Hope Franklin, a Tulsan historian, scholar and activist. The organization does so through education, scholarship and community outreach programs with a focus on equality and social justice.
Dr. Dickens is a professor at Tulsa Community College and is on the JHF Center’s Board of Directors. Dr. Payne is Executive Director of the JHF Center.
After introductions, discussion began with a historical summary of the Tulsa Race Riot and the aftermath of the riot.
For those who are unfamiliar with the Tulsa Race Riot, it occurred on May 31-June 1, 1921, when white Tulsans destroyed most of the Greenwood district through burning, looting and violence towards its citizens. The Greenwood district was a predominantly black and wealthy area, and was known as “The Black Wall Street” before the riots occurred.
The riots began in response to a black man who accidentally bumped into a white woman on an elevator. Witnesses claimed he attacked her, a back-and-forth of small aggressions began and tensions eventually reached a boiling point in the form of the race riot.
The two speakers discussed some of the main events and players in the riot, including the preceding conflicts between black and white Tulsans, the effects of desegregation on the revitalization of Greenwood, and Buck Franklin, who sued the city of Tulsa over ordinances which effectively prevented black citizens from rebuilding in Greenwood.
Systemic racism, they told the audience, is often kept in place by laws and ordinances.
On a broader scale, the speakers discussed responses to racial violence, particularly in a modern context.
One aspect of systemic racism which perpetuates violence is that people tend to “forget” the effects of racial violence, and therefore they cannot relate to those who are affected by it.
“For example, not knowing that it’s wrong to call a black woman of a certain age ‘gal,’” Dr. Payne proclaimed. She continued to explain that racial violence is sustained in part by those who don’t understand the struggles of others and don’t care to take the time to learn about them.
Dr. Dickens added on to this point, mentioning that during the Tulsa Race Riot, there was a separate category of people who were bystanders—they wanted nothing to do with the riots, but didn’t act against them, either. Being a bystander, he told the audience, perpetuates racial violence as well.
The lecture was followed by a Q&A in which students in the audience asked more specific questions about the race riot and responding to racial violence.
The two speakers ended on the note that racial violence, if it hasn’t already reached you, will reach you in some way at some point. The best response is to learn and address it before this happens.