The great Black historian Dr. John Hope Franklin spoke the truth when he addressed the issue of the Tulsa Massacre of 1921. He had a long history with Tulsa, Oklahoma having graduated from Booker T. Washington High School in the Greenwood segregated section of the city in 1931. That was ten years after the devastating unmerciful attack perpetrated on Black Americans by angry, racist white Tulsans. In the year 2000, on the seventy-ninth commemoration of the destruction Dr. Franklin said, “Posterity has not been charitable, for it has sealed the lips of those who should have spoken and blinded the eyes of those who witnessed the tragic events. Indeed, a veritable conspiracy of silence enveloped a considerable portion of the city for some seventy-five years.”
Exactly what was this “tragic event” that caused the state of Oklahoma to conduct a conspiracy of silence so that the rest of the world would not know what happened the morning of June 1, 1921. At 5:45 of that fateful morning a loud shrill whistle from a grain factory near the Frisco Railroad tracks sounded and was followed by low flying airplanes that preceded over seventy-five hundred mad, hateful white men and children who then invaded the Greenwood section of the city better known as Black Wall Street.
The men in the airplanes began to toss turpentine-soaked projectiles onto the many business buildings located on what was know as greater Greenwood. The Williams Confectionary, the Dreamland Theater, the Gurley Hotel, Stradford Hotel and over one hundred other black businesses that represented Black Wall Street went up in flames. The mob followed the planes and continued the burning of homes and the slaughter of over 300 Black men, women and children. It was the greatest massacre of American citizens in the history of the country and the first time American soil was bombed from airplanes.
When in 2009 I visited Tulsa to write the life story of a lady from that city, I was shocked to discover 1) that such an event had occurred on the streets of this country and 2) it had been kept out of the history books for so many years. The massacre was finally forced out of a dungeon of darkness and into the light of day by Don Ross, a determined Black state legislator from Tulsa. He insisted that the state conduct a thorough investigation into exactly what happened. After considerable research by the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Riot of 1921, an accurate report of what happened was released on April 6, 2000. Once that report was made public, writers began their own interpretation of the events. The silence was shattered and the Commission in their introduction to the study wrote: “The 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Commission is pleased to report that this past tragedy has been extensively aired, that it is now remembered, and that it will never again be unknown.”
Much of what the Commission expressed is true and many media outlets have written about the massacre. I have studied most of the written documents, to include the commission report, and I have also written extensively about it. But now it is time to take the story to a higher level and that is to put it on the big screen, not only here in the United States but internationally also. After struggling for five years to do just that, I believe I now have an excellent team that will release a movie sometime in 2020 about 1) the successes of black men and women in building an economically independent community, where the money stayed there for at least five to six exchanges and 2) the extreme hate that finally destroyed their good work. Furthermore, our story will not portray Black Americans as victims but as victors. The veterans that took on the horde of murderers put up an excellent fight, allowing many of their brothers and sisters to get out of town before being murdered. They were only defeated because of the superior air power and the overwhelming number of invaders.
Presently, with the expert assistance of Ms. Judith James of Dreyfuss and James Production Company out of Hollywood, California, Mr. Adger Cowans a world renowned photographer as well as a Hollywood still photographer, Professor Antoinette Winstead, Associate Dean of the Fine Arts Department at the University of Our Lady of Lake in San Antonio, Texas and independent film maker Ada Babino, I have constructed the history of the tragedy as a screen script and we are now in the pre-production stages of our project. Besides my extensive research, I had the privilege of interviewing Ms. Laurel Stradford, the great granddaughter of the richest Black man on Black Wall Street, John Baptiste Stradford, and she has joined our team.
With the extremely talented and knowledgeable experts that have recognized the importance of telling this story to the rest of the world, I know we will be serving a larger purpose than our own individual gain. Borrowing from the famous English Parliamentarian and scholar Edmund Burke who wrote: “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it,” my team’s bringing this hidden massacre and unraveling the conspiracy of silence to the screen, will hopefully stimulate conversations around the country as to how we can make sure this never happens again. Given the turbulent racial times we are encountering in our country today, communication is the key to make sure there is never another Tulsa Massacre as occurred on June 1, 1921.
One thought on “Unraveling the Conspiracy of Silence”
This post encouraged me to do some research on the Tulsa Massacre. One reason being that my father was alive and working in the entertainment business at this time. Reading posts like your makes me aware of the atmosphere Blacks had to work in then. In 1921, My father, Eddie Green, in the pursuit of a career in entertainment was appearing in black-face (the only way he could appear on stage as a supporting actor with White people) as a Soft shoe and acrobatic dancer in a stage production of Girls De Looks. He was also a music publisher with an office in New York and a song writer. I imagine he must have felt significant stress which may have led him to choose humor as a lifestyle and profession. Just FYI I found this in the New York NY Evening Call from 1921: “To be good farmers and workmen, to save money and accumulate property, to become prosperous and useful citizens in the community, this was all the colored people needed not only to end discrimination, but also to win cordial respect and admiration. If the Negro brings to market better sweet potatoes than his white neighbor, said Mr. Washington in innumerable public speeches, he will get the sale and hold the market, for money knows no color line! Thus for years, to quote the New York Evening Journal, “have the best friends of the Negro advised> him that his future and* security lie in the development of his own economic and cultural”” resources. As the Negro prospered, it was believed that the points of social friction with his white neighbors would be reduced. But continues the Post, “that cheerfull belief is now hard to maintain. If the Negro worker’s increasing prosperity is only to bring upon him the jealousy of the white worker, and if the rise of prosperous Negro communities is to breed new economic jealousies and hatreds, we are evidently face to face with a new difficulty.” This is still happening today. I don’t know why it seems like such an awakening to me. I guess that is why I read your posts, Fred. Looking forward to hearing about your project. 🙂