struggle for Black Tulsan survivors and their descendants to receive
reparations has been a century-old controversy, one that is a pox on
this country’s unwillingness to redress the human rights
violation and generational loss of accumulated wealth.
HBO’s 2019 “Watchmen” television series opened with
the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, and its “Lovecraft Country”
series ended last year with scenes from the riots, most Americans –
black and white – had never heard of the event. Even Tulsans.
May 19, 107-year-old survivor Viola (“Mother”) Fletcher
helped push a bill for reparations by reading emotional written
testimony about her massacre experience to a House Judiciary
subcommittee. Mother Fletcher was accompanied by two more survivors:
her 100-year-old brother, Hughes Van Ellis, and 106-year old survivor
Lessie Benningfield Randle.
I am in Washington, D.C., for the first time in my life. I am here
seeking justice. I am here seeking justice and asking my country to
acknowledge what happened in Tulsa in 1921.”
Greenwood section of Tulsa was known as “Black Wall Street.”
It was built on Booker T. Washington’s philosophy of
self-reliance, economic empowerment and black entrepreneurship. The
flourishing hub was one of the major economic engines in the state,
and one of the most affluent black communities in the country.
Residing in Jim Crow’s America, Black Tulsans built businesses
and services including grocers, banks, libraries, theaters, churches,
barber and beauty shops and retail stores, to name a few.
financial and property loss created by the Tulsa Race Massacre was
staggering: at least 191 businesses, 1,256 houses, several churches,
a junior high school and the only black hospital, creating about
10,000 homeless people, with approximately 6,000 of them placed in
internment camps throughout the city. The property damage was more
than $1.5 million in real estate and $750,000 in personal property.
In 2020 dollars, it would be equivalent to $32.7 million. Had the
Tulsa Race Massacre not happened, today the Greenwood section would
mirror Atlanta, boasting generations of wealth with a historic middle
class and up-and-coming black professionals clamoring to be there.
the reality for Black Tulsans is grim, and their lives are besieged
with nonstop policing, poverty and prison.
example, according to the 2020 Census, Blacks make up 15.6 percent of
the population, and 33.5 percent live below the poverty line. The
median household income is $28,399 compared with $51,053 in white
households. Blacks adults are 2.3 times more likely to be arrested
than whites, while black juveniles (up to age 17), are more than
three times as likely to be arrested than white juveniles.
black homeownership was common before the Tulsa race massacre, it’s
out of reach today for most. Black Tulsans’ homeownership is 39
percent, compared with 71 percent for white Tulsans.
educational gap is abysmal. The Black-white achievement gap in
education for Black Tulsans goes hand in hand with the social and
racial disparities faced across the country – school funding,
substandard curriculums, low test scores, large class size and harsh
disciplinary policies that create a school-to-prison pipeline, to
name a few.
Fletcher’s education and her life were interrupted, and she
my family was forced to leave Tulsa, I lost my chance at an
education. I never finished school past the fourth grade. I have
never made much money. My country, state and city took a lot from me.
Despite this, I spent time supporting the war effort in the shipyards
of California. But for most of my life, I was a domestic worker
serving white families. I never made much money,” Fletcher
testified. “To this day, I can barely afford my everyday needs.
All the while, the City of Tulsa has unjustly used the names and
stories of victims like me to enrich itself and its white allies
through the $30 million raised by the Tulsa Centennial Commission,
while I continue to live in poverty.”
a century, Mother Fletcher has been seeking reparations. Just this
century alone, bills have been presented to Congress requesting
reparations to survivors and descendants of the victims. In 2001, the
1921 Tulsa Race Riot Reconciliation Act was signed into law but
failed to deliver reparations. In 2005, the Supreme Court declined to
hear a reparations-case appeal.
John Conyers introduced the Tulsa-Greenwood Race Riot Claims
Accountability Act of 2007 for reparations and tried again with the
John Hope Franklin Tulsa-Greenwood Race Riot Claims Accountability
Act of 2012. Last year, Human Rights Watch released a report, "The
Case for Reparations in Tulsa, Oklahoma." And this year, in
commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the event, the Tulsa Race
Massacre Centennial Commission raised that $30 million for a new
museum, but not a cent to repay survivors and their descendants.
for restitution continue to fall on deaf ears. Long after Mother
Fletcher and the remaining survivors are gone, America’s
inability to redress this wrong impedes its own healing.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board
member and Columnist, The Reverend Monroe is an ordained minister,
motivational speaker and she speaks for a sector of society that is
frequently invisible. Rev. Monroe does a weekly Monday segment, “All
Revved Up!” on WGBH (89.7 FM), on Boston Public Radio and a weekly
Friday segment “The Take” on New England Channel NEWS (NECN).
She’s a Huffington Post blogger and a syndicated religion
columnist. Her columns appear in cities across the country and in the
U.K, and Canada. Also she writes a column in the Boston home LGBTQ
newspaper Baywindows and Cambridge Chronicle. A native of Brooklyn,
NY, Rev. Monroe graduated from Wellesley College and Union
Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and served as a pastor
at an African-American church in New Jersey before coming to Harvard
Divinity School to do her doctorate. She has received the Harvard
University Certificate of Distinction in Teaching several times while
being the head teaching fellow of the Rev. Peter Gomes, the Pusey
Minister in the Memorial Church at Harvard who is the author of the
best seller, THE GOOD BOOK. She appears in the film For the Bible
Tells Me So and was profiled in the Gay Pride episode of In the Life,
an Emmy-nominated segment. Monroe’s coming out story is profiled
in “CRISIS: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and
Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing up Gay in America" and in
"Youth in Crisis." In 1997 Boston Magazine cited her as one
of Boston's 50 Most Intriguing Women, and was profiled twice in the
Boston Globe, In the Living Arts and The Spiritual Life sections for
her LGBT activism. Her papers are at the Schlesinger Library at
Radcliffe College's research library on the history of women in
America. Her website is irenemonroe.com. Contact the Rev. Monroe and