by Jim North
Southeast Campus Editor
One man’s dream for Tulsa is to become a ‘Tale of One City,’ instead of a ‘Tale of Two Cities’: namely, ‘White Tulsa’ and ‘Black Tulsa’.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Michael Jackson sang the same message.
Remembering the 1960s Civil Rights Movement conjures vivid images of racial prejudice and rampant violence against people of color.
Martin Luther King, Jr. penned the profound letter from a Birmingham jail on April 16, 1963, addressing the social chains shackling African-American citizens of the United States at that time.
To date, American citizens tend to think of the country as having fundamentally changed, as there has been relative progress.
However, there may be a thousand miles still to travel on the road to racial equality, and for many the intersection could not come soon enough.
Black History Month featured the portrayal of the 1960s of Tulsa in an event at the University of Oklahoma/Tulsa (OU-Tulsa), 41st and Yale.
The luncheon in the Founders Hall of the Schusterman Learning Center featured
notable speakers who reminisced concerning 60s Tulsa, as well as the current racial climate and prospects for lasting change.
OU President David Boren sent a message to attendees, adding his unswerving support of the important luncheon event.
The Norman based college was at the center of a racially charged incident one year ago, involving white students of the university guilty of uttering overt racial slurs.
Bobby Eaton calls himself ‘truthful’ and a ‘civil rights fighter’. Eaton is keenly aware of the differences which still exist in the Tulsa community.
“When we look at what north Tulsa has gone through … you can wonder now how does it manage to exist.”
Eaton underscored the fact that there are signs near downtown Tulsa which refer to “Historic Greenwood,” suggesting that the area was never restored to its original prominence following the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot.
Tulsa Urban Renewal was a controversial program presumably designed to assist African-American Tulsans in purchasing residential property in the decades following the riot.
However, good intentions quickly reverted to long-standing patterns of racial prejudice within the city.
From the 1921 Race Riot into the 50s, zoning enforcement permitted residential lots for African-American Tulsans to be split, split again, then split again.
“So you had smaller and smaller homes built on these lots. It was a way of condensing the black community into a smaller area,” said former Mayor Robert LaFortune.
He went on to say Tulsa was a segregated city in the 60s. Freedom to eat in restaurants or stay in area hotels was both restrictive and difficult.
City Councilor Jack Henderson comments that in 2016, people should not be hated for the color of their skin, nor treated differently because of the area of town in which they live.
He also recognizes that development still does not occur in north Tulsa like it should.
“The only way we’re going to change Tulsa is we’ve got to first admit that we’ve got a problem.”
He emphasizes that many people do not believe Tulsa even has a racial problem.
“We’ve still got racial problems. It’s just hidden differently than it was back in the day, he says.”
He explained that many African-American citizens experience racial prejudice when they attempt to buy a home, but are encouraged to look elsewhere, due to certain predominantly white residential areas.
Henderson concluded, “I hope we’ll leave here with a better understanding that we are all people: black, white, Indians, Mexicans. We all bleed. We all have dreams.”
“I have a dream for my kids just like you have a dream for yours, he said.”
James O. Goodwin is the publisher of The Oklahoma Eagle. He reminded the audience of a quote by Martin Luther King Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Goodwin attended college at the University of Notre Dame. Out of 5,000 students, he was one of only two African-American students in his freshman class.
After law school, Goodwin became active in the Tulsa Civil Rights community, helping facilitate the desegregation of schools.
Former Sen. Judy Eason-McIntyre was born in Tulsa and educated in Tulsa Public Schools during the early 50s. At the time, she did not understand the concept of segregation. She had no white friends, and was never around white people.
She began to experience segregation firsthand when she went to movies, being forced to sit in the upstairs section.
At age 16, she began working in the Southern Hills buffet line and was called the ‘n’ word for the first time in her life.
She recalls the contradiction, saying: “That was an eye-opener … you served them [patrons] food and they called you the ‘n’ word.”
At high school football and basketball games, whites sat on one side, and African-Americans on the other side of the field.
Eason-McIntyre transitioned her studies to OU in Norman. She was called the ‘n’ word by teachers, as well as students on campus.
Tongue-in-cheek, she quips she nearly forgot her name due to the frequency of racial slurs.
At her orientation, there were a total of 50 African-American students. They were all told, “By mid-term, half of you will be gone.” She says by mid-term, they were gone.
There was nothing to speak of on campus for black students, according to Eason-McIntyre. There were no beauty shops where she could go.
She experienced teacher bias as it related to grades. Consistently, she received lower grades than the whites in her class, due to the color of her skin.
She recalls being informed by an instructor: “If you took this class, no black student can ever make more than a ‘C’.”
Eason-McIntyre calls those experiences the beginning of a transformation from the age of innocence to unbridled rage, calling to remembrance the frequent lynching of African-American citizens.
By the time she graduated from OU, she was angry. Eventually, she transitioned from unbridled rage to working within the system to effect positive change.
Eason-McIntyre calls ‘Tulsa Urban Renewal’ a more fitting term, ‘Tulsa Urban Removal’, due to the shrinking ability of African-Americans to become prominent homeowners.
The resolve of the age-old dilemma of racism in Tulsa, she believes, lies in the development of genuine friendships.
“As we help friends, we also help each other, and we help the entire city where we do reach that point in time where we’re not the two cities divided, we’re one city united.”
She concludes, “The unification of our city is at hand. We have the resources to accomplish it … we have the will … if we genuinely have the friendship to do that, then we will have done a good thing.”