POSTED ON MAY 26, 2010:
John Hope Franklin Symposium spotlights racial violence and Tulsa's race riot past
Julius Pegues views the 1921 Tulsa race riot from a perspective of hope rather than despair.
"It's important to us that that one-time event be turned into a triumph," he said. "And the only way that can happen is to have, on a continual basis, events that bring people together."
The first step in that process is the inaugural John Hope Franklin Symposium, which will take place Tuesday, June 2 through Thursday, June 4 at various downtown locations. The purpose of the event, which will bring together scholars and others working in the field, is to explore current academic research and projects that address racial violence and the potential for reconciliation.
"It's important to have these events in order to heal a community that has gone 80, almost 90 years, with a minimum amount of healing," said Pegues, who serves as the chairman of the board of directors of the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation, a nonprofit organization formed in 2007 and named in honor of the legendary historian and Tulsa native who died in 2009. The center is designed to serve as a setting in which the full community can reflect on, study and understand race relations and move toward reconciliation.
The symposium will begin at 2pm June 2 with the dedication of John Hope Franklin Park just west of the newly opened ONEOK Field in Greenwood. Among those expected to be in attendance are Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr., U.S. Rep. John Sullivan, R-Tulsa, and several former Tulsa mayors. The celebration features the unveiling of artwork created for the park, including the 25-foot Tower of Reconciliation, a sculpture depicting the history of the African-American experience from Africa to America and all its accompanying struggles.
Sheryl Lovelady, another member of the center's board of directors, credited three former mayors with getting the park built.
"The effort really started with Mayor (Susan) Savage getting the funding in place, then with Mayor (Bill) LaFortune, who secured the land," she said. "And Mayor (Kathy) Taylor helped get the money at the state level that had been approved but never allocated."
The highlight of the symposium likely will be a town hall meeting scheduled for 3:30pm on June 3 at the Doubletree Hotel. The event will be moderated by noted historian, author and Tulsa native Scott Ellsworth, now a professor of African-American studies at the University of Michigan.
Ellsworth authored "Death in a Promised Land," the first comprehensive study of the 1921 riot, and served as co-lead scholar with Franklin on the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, the body charged by the state Legislature in 1997 with compiling an official record of what transpired in the city from May 31-June 1, 1921.
"Something I expect to happen is, the town hall gathering will bring people together to participate in and hear different points of view related to reconciliation and race relations and just have a warm interaction," Pegues said. "You can always agree to disagree without being hostile. That hasn't taken place for us as a city, a state and a country."
Another member of the center's board of directors, Lee Johns, said the town hall meeting was the impetus for the decision to stage the symposium.
"We decided that if you want to achieve something that will have both a local and national impact, it's a good idea to ask people what they think you should do," she said.
In that respect, the town hall meeting is not intended as a forum for rehashing old positions.
"The subject is not the race riot, it's what role the center can play in Tulsa and nationally," she said.
The symposium will bring in dozens of scholars from across the country, including keynote speaker Paul Finkelman, who will speak at 5:30pm on June 3 at the Doubletree. A specialist in American legal history, race and the law, Finkelman has written more than 150 scholarly articles and more than 25 books, and serves as the President William McKinley Distinguished Professor of Law and Public Policy at Albany Law School. His work has been cited by the U.S. Supreme Court and many other courts.
Johns said she hopes Finkelman's speech will attract 300 to 400 people.
The park dedication, the town hall meeting and the keynote address are free and open to the public.
Throughout the rest of the symposium, scholars will present papers on their research into racial divides and racial violence, and conference attendees will talk about how those racial divides can be bridged.
Johns emphasized that even though the infamous 1921 riot took place here, Tulsa was hardly alone in serving as the site of racial violence. Many of those presenting papers at the conference will chronicle the long and bloody history of racial conflict throughout America from the 1890s through the 1960s, she said.
"Tulsa was not unique at all," she said. "Tulsans need to understand that. This was a scar going on across the country."
She said there has been a surge of interest in exploring that aspect and period of American history in recent years, and the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation is designed to serve as a place where that kind of scholarship and research can take place.
As far as symposium organizers are aware, she said, this will be the first time people who have done scholarship on that subject will be able to come together and discuss their findings.
Others scheduled to speak at the symposium include Rob Corcoran, the U.S. national director of Initiatives of Change, a global network dedicated to building trust across divides of race, class, relation and culture; Tulsa's Hannibal Johnson, an adjunct professor at the University of Tulsa College of Law, Oklahoma State University and University of Oklahoma who is the author of several books, including "Black Wall Street -- From Riot to Renaissance in Tulsa's Historic Greenwood District"; James Loewen, a longtime professor of race relations at the University of Vermont and author of "Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism"; and David Thelen, a longtime faculty member, researcher and author at Indiana University, and longtime editor of the Journal of American History.
Registration for the symposium can be done online at jhfcenter.org and costs $175. Pegues said he expects the symposium to draw between 100 and 150 people, and he hopes the event leads to a conversation between those of different races that continues long afterward.
"This symposium is just a significant step in what we're trying to do to get people to talk to one another," he said.
Next on the agenda for the organization's board of directors will be the construction of a permanent home for the center at the park. Pegues was already looking forward to that.
"We'll be real happy when we have our park open and we're well into our fundraising for the reconciliation center," he said.
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