POSTED ON NOVEMBER 28, 2007:
Undying memories, and soon, a monument to the victims of 1921 Race Riot . . . That is, if the State of Oklahoma is good on its word of promising to fund the project.
One Man's Determination, A Community's Dream. Greenwood Chamber of Commerce president Reuben Gant has labored long and hard to fulfill his personal commitment to see the Race Riot Memorial built in the heart of this once-thriving district.
After more than 86 years of broken lives, shattered dreams and civic neglect, a fitting monument will soon begin to be erected on a portion of the city ground laid waste by the most deadly race riot in the history of the United States.
Construction of the John Hope Franklin Memorial of Reconciliation, a three-acre park in the heart of the Greenwood District just northeast of downtown and near the epicenter of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, is expected to begin in spring or summer 2008.
"It's time for us to move on--it's time to reconcile the ills of our past. This memorial is what we need to get past it and understand it," said Reuben Gant, president and CEO of the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce, and a prime mover in the ongoing efforts to turn the concept of the memorial into reality.
"It is important that we recognize our past and we own up to events that have occurred and move forward from that point," adds Julius Pegues, chairman of the memorial's design committee.
As a teenager, Pegues worked alongside his uncles Japhe Clinton "J.C." Latimer and William Shakespeare "W.S." Latimer to rebuild Mt. Zion Baptist Church and other structures in the aftermath of the Race Riot.
Initially, the Tulsa Race Riot memorial will include two outdoor monuments: the "Tower of Reconciliation" depicting African Americans' broader history, and a three-piece sculpture in "Hope Plaza" focusing specifically on the Tulsa Race Riot.
Longer-term plans for the memorial, though, include eventual construction of a John Hope Franklin Memorial Museum, as well as B.C. Franklin Square: a larger area of hoped-for retail, residential and tourist development centered on the memorial.
If the aspirations of Gant and others come to fruition, the project could be a new beginning for the historic Greenwood District, as well as the closing of a long, dark chapter in the history of the community and of Tulsa--a chapter in which the atrocities of that infamous night have typically been ignored, swept under the rug of history.
Clearing the Air
"It's just something that wasn't talked about, and it wasn't recorded in any annals of history," Gant said of the Riot.
That is, until 1997 when Tulsa's state Rep. Don Ross and state Sen. Maxine Horner, whose districts include Greenwood, passed a resolution calling for the creation of an 11-member commission to study the riot by tracking down and interviewing survivors, gathering other relevant information and documentation, and developing a historical record of the terrible event.
The results of the commission's labor were published in their final report in February 2001, which included an overview history by Dr. John Hope Franklin and Scott Ellsworth.
In 1982, Ellsworth authored "Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921," which has since been regarded as the standard documentary history of the riot.
The report also included a narrative history of the riot by Ellsworth, as well as numerous related topical studies, like the role of airplanes in the riot, confirmed deaths, investigation of possible mass grave locations, property loss and assessments of the legal culpability of state and local governments.
The commission also made recommendations, such as payment of reparations to the survivors or to their descendents, creation of a scholarship fund for students affected by the Riot, and establishment of an economic development enterprise zone in the Greenwood District.
They also recommended a Race Riot memorial be constructed in the Greenwood District.
Heeding that recommendation, the Legislature allotted $5 million in 2002 for the memorial's construction in the Greenwood District, between Elgin and Detroit Avenues, just south of the Martin Luther King Expressway.
The plan was that appropriations for the Memorial were to be disbursed annually to the Oklahoma Historical Society's Race Riot Memorial Committee in $1 million increments, but budget troubles and changes in leadership in the state Legislature have since frustrated those plans.
Gant serves as the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce's representative on that committee.
Instead of the full million, Gant said $750,000 was appropriated one year, $670,000 the next, with only $3.7 million disbursed thus far.
Seeing that other priorities had diverted attention away from funding the project, Gant said he made an effort in 2005 to appeal to lawmakers and remind them of their obligation when he gave a presentation to "key leaders" in the state Legislature, showing them what the memorial would look like and what it would do for the community and state.
"When we started getting some resistance, we felt it necessary to start to lobby the Legislature for the completed appropriations," he told UTW.
Gant said he received what he thought was a positive response, but hasn't seen any results to confirm that impression.
"We haven't received an appropriation for the past two years," he said.
Gant said he also applied for funds through the Oklahoma Centennial Commission, but to no avail, since the project wouldn't have been completed within the time required to qualify as a "centennial project."
"We've been working on this for five years now. It would be complete if the state would give us just one more increment," said Pegues.
More recently, he told UTW that, when he was serving on the Tulsa Airport Improvement Trust when Ross, Horner and then-Mayor Susan Savage asked him to get involved in the memorial-building process as a "citizens'