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Uncovering the History of the Massacre of Black Wall Street (Encore)

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B.C. Franklin (right), I.H. Spears (left) and Effie Thompson (center) filing insurance claims for survivors of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre in a Red Cross tent.

B.C. Franklin (right), I.H. Spears (left) and Effie Thompson (center) filing insurance claims for survivors of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre in a Red Cross tent. Credit: Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift from Tulsa Friends and John W. and Karen R. Franklin

In the first of our 3 part series leading up to Black History Month, we turn our focus to how journalists and historians today are covering the Tulsa Race Massacre. We hear from KalaLea, host of the critically acclaimed podcast Blindspot: Tulsa Burning. The series tells the story of the rise of Greenwood, a prosperous Black neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, also known as Black Wall Street. 

The podcast recounts the brutal 1921 massacre, a racist attack on the Black community backed by the local police. KalaLea spoke about the behind-the-scenes process of reporting on a deeply traumatic historical chapter, why healing is important, and the necessity of accountability. 

We also hear from Bracken Klar and Carlos Moreno of Tulsa’s Tri-City Collective and the radio show Focus: Black Oklahoma, in partnership with KOSU. They discuss current efforts to better understand not just the tragedy of the event, but also the success of the neighborhood before and after the attack. 

Featuring:

  • KalaLea – Lead Producer and host of Blindspot: Tulsa Burning and producer, reporter and editor with WNYC and The New Yorker Radio Hour
  • Bracken Klar – Co-Executive Producer of Focus: Black Oklahoma, vice-president of Tulsa’s Tri-City Collective and DEI consultant
  • Carlos Moreno – Member of Tulsa’s Tri-City Collective, journalist and author of The Victory of Greenwood and A Kid’s Book About the Tulsa Race Massacre

Episode Credits:

  • Host: Amy Gastelum
  • Producers: Anita Johnson, Salima Hamirani, Amy Gastelum, and Lucy Kang
  • Executive Director: Jina Chung
  • Editor: Adwoa Gyimah-Brempong
  • Engineer: Jeff Emtman 
  • Digital Media Marketing: Anubhuti Kumar

Music:

  • Krotoa Haze, Krotoa, Cheldana Outpost, Krotoa Hills, and Helion Fleet by Blue Dot Sessions

 

Transcript:

Making Contact Intro: Our system is in too many ways broken. The way we see the world shapes the way that we treat it. This is Making Contact.

Amy Gastelum: On today’s Making Contact, we’re talking about Black history in Oklahoma.

KalaLea: Someone asked what would you want people to get from this series? And I think my number one response was healing.

Amy Gastelum: KalaLea made the critically acclaimed podcast series Blindspot: Tulsa Burning. It covers the rise of Greenwood, a prosperous Black neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And it also tells the story of a terrible massacre there in 1921.

Carlos Moreno: Greenwood has been portrayed in all these shows and documentaries. And we kind of think we know everything there is to know about Greenwood. And that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Amy Gastelum: Stay with us.

Amy Gastelum: Before we start, I want to let you know that in today’s episode we’re gonna talk about a 1921 attack on a Black neighborhood, Greenwood, Oklahoma. The focus of this interview will not be the specific terrors of the event, but we wanted to make you aware that this episode includes discussion of racialized violence and hatred.

Amy Gastelum: The first thing to know about Greenwood is that there’s a lot we don’t know about Greenwood.

Carlos Moreno: Did I show you that map?

Bracken Klar:  No, I don’t think so.

Amy Gastelum: That’s Carlos Moreno and Bracken Klar of Tulsa’s Tri-City Collective. Bracken is executive producer of the radio show Focus: Black Oklahoma. Carlos is a journalist who contributes to the show and also wrote a non-fiction book called The Victory of Greenwood.

During our interview, Carlos told Bracken that he’s been working with academics and community scholars to piece together Greenwood’s historic boundaries. Recently, they made some pretty big discoveries.

Carlos Moreno: Greenwood was like five times bigger than anyone has ever imagined. It was, it was insert expletive here enormous.

Bracken Klar: Okay.

Amy Gastelum: Greenwood was a community built by and for Black and Indigenous people in the early 1900s, and it was leveled in a violent attack in 1921. The white people who perpetrated the attack didn’t talk about it, and out of survival, neither did the residents.

A century of silence means a lot of information has been lost. But the centennial anniversary of the attack brought journalists and filmmakers and even President Biden to Tulsa. Much has been dredged up. Two years later, the outsiders are gone. But local activists, including Carlos, are using newly discovered historic documents to piece together not just the tragedy of the massacre, but the success of the neighborhood before and after the attack. 

Carlos Moreno: So like that entire North Tulsa area was all one contiguous, like Black community. When you see it, I will show you this map one day, when you see it will blow your mind. Everyone I’ve shown this to is like, this changes everything we know about Greenwood, right? And Mimi at the school of law is like, where did you get this? I’m like, we built it. We painstakingly built it by hand, in no small part to Jessica Shelton’s work over the last four years, just spending evenings and weekends adding to a map using census records, combining those with county land records. It’s astonishing.

Bracken Klar: That’s super cool.

Carlos Moreno: Like nobody even knows this. When we like unveil this map to like the world, it rewrites everything that we even know about Greenwood.

Bracken Klar: Yeah.

Amy Gastelum: While you’re listening to this show, people like Carlos and Bracken and Tulsa’s Tri-City Collective are actively talking about the truth of Greenwood. Like Carlos said, some of these truths change everything we thought we knew about Greenwood, like its original size. They even nailed down who exactly founded the neighborhood.

It starts with a black couple named Ottawa and Emma Gurley. They had staked a claim of land in what is now Perry, Oklahoma, and did pretty well there.

Carlos Moreno: Then oil was discovered in the Glenpool, near Tulsa. And so they bought a little plot of land. And what’s interesting is that the land deed of sale doesn’t have Ottawa Gurley’s name on it. It says Emma Gurley. So the founder of Greenwood is a Black woman.

Amy Gastelum: Emma and Ottawa Gurley grew their wealth. And they weren’t the only ones. Carlos said there were several Black women entrepreneurs who did very well for themselves in Greenwood.

To hear more about discoveries happening now in Greenwood, go to our website radioproject.org. There we have links to Focus Black Oklahoma, the Tri-City Collective, and the incredible Mapping Greenwood Project.

Now we’re gonna shift to a conversation with host and lead producer of the Tulsa Burning podcast series, KalaLea.

Amy Gastelum:  Well, how are you?

KalaLea: I am okay. I have a lot going on right now. A lot of life stuff going on, but I have a lot to be grateful for, for sure.

Amy Gastelum: Well, it’s good to hear your voice. I’m glad you’re generally okay. Busy, but like hanging in.

KalaLea: Yes, I am. Thank you for asking.

Amy Gastelum: Yeah. And thank you so much for just making time for this and revisiting this project. And I just wanna give it its proper celebration, which is that in 2022, you were awarded, you and the team were awarded a DuPont Columbia Journalism Award, two Webbys for Best Series and Best Writing and an NAACP Image Award. You were also nominated for a Peabody Award for this project.

KalaLea: Yes, that’s correct. Yeah, that’s right. Kind of crazy.

Amy Gastelum: It’s a lot for one project for sure. And I want to play a little clip that is kind of an example of the creativity with which you used these kind of archival ads that were in the newspaper during that time and had some actors read them. So I want to play this just a little clip so that our listeners can get an a sense of Greenwood.

Clip: Ladies and gents, come on down to Williams Furniture Store. Even when you want furniture bad, you want it good. And if you’re hungry, North Greenwood Grocery Store has fine staple groceries of all kinds. Or try Ragland and Ellis for waffles and plenty of other good things to suit the most fastidious. In town for a visit? Stay at the Stratford, the leading colored hotel of the Southwest.

KalaLea: Yeah, that is something that I believe I found in the Tulsa Star. There was a, a business section, and in the end, Greenwood had a library, their own school, two movie theaters I believe, hundreds of businesses from furriers to cafes, restaurants, establishments where there was live music, butchers, just everything, candy shops. It was just a thriving community and neighborhood. And Greenwood, I want to mention, was not alone in this. I mean, there were hundreds of others. In doing research, we had come across hundreds of other fully or predominantly Black-owned, Black Indigenous…

Amy Gastelum: Oh, cool. 

KalaLea: Towns or communities or counties like this throughout Oklahomand throughout the entire country actually. And Oklahoma still has a few of those  communities that are Black owned, that were founded back in the early 20th century. So this was not really an anomaly. I think it, a lot of people think that like, oh, there’s just one magical place where Black people were able to thrive. But actually that was happening all over the country, all over the world. And Greenwood, I think obviously because of the tragic events and its destruction in 1921, I think obviously stands out. But that again was not exceptional in any way. There were a number of communities that were also destroyed and terrorized at the same time, Black communities. And we review that very quickly in like what I called a timeline montage in episode three.

Amy Gastelum: I want to jump in here to give a little more context. The Greenwood massacre happened only two years after the Red Summer of 1919, a time when Black communities all over the nation were terrorized by white people. And like always, Black communities resisted. In Tulsa, one resistance group was called the African Blood Brotherhood.

KalaLea: The African Blood Brotherhood was an organization that was about self-sustainability.

Amy Gastelum: Yeah.

KalaLea: They stood for Black liberation, and they had, you know, veterans, World War I, so they were very knowledgeable and trained about fighting and…

Amy Gastelum: They knew how to fight.

KalaLea: And warfare and, and such like that, you know. And some people define them as militant. I would just say that they were about empowerment overall, and that’s not really militant, and self-sustainability, which to me is not militant at all. But they were also about self-defense.

Amy Gastelum: Mm-hmm. Yeah. And you never really say the word scapegoat in the series, I don’t think.

KalaLea: No.

Amy Gastelum: But I definitely think of the African Blood Brotherhood as one of the scapegoats for the attack.

KalaLea: Yeah. Yeah.

Amy Gastelum:  So we have, so Greenwood is prospering and Black, and then they’re armed and prepared to defend it. And suddenly there is an incident. Can you talk about Dick Rowland and the alleged elevator incident?

KalaLea: It happened to be a holiday, it was Memorial Day. He happened to go up to use the restroom, apparently allegedly tripped in the elevator, grabbed the white woman’s hand. She yelled, this is all hearsay, or allegedly. Police or law enforcement sought him out and arrested him and took him to the local jail.

Amy Gastelum: Mm-hmm.

KalaLea: And at the local jail, as things happened, especially during that time, a group of white people were outside trying to get into the jail because they wanted Dick Rowland so that they could lynch him. And some reason, I mean, this is the thing, like I believe that somebody in Tulsa is working on this now, this story. Dick Rowland disappears. This woman that he touched also disappears. Later we’ve kind of learned, which is not in the series, again we really had to stay focused, and it was tough to find this information out, but we later learned that they might have ended up in the exact same city, the two, and that they might have actually been lovers.

Amy Gastelum: Wow.

KalaLea: Consensual lovers. And that that was discovered.

Amy Gastelum: Yeah.

KalaLea: And this whole thing happened. And Dick Rowland in that event, in the elevator was the scapegoat.

Amy Gastelum: Right.

KalaLea: Bringing it back to something you brought up.

Amy Gastelum: Yeah.

KalaLea: And it was just an excuse to erupt and for the white people to kind of go in and destroy Greenwood.

Amy Gastelum: Mm-hmm.

Amy Gastelum: You are listening to Making Contact and an interview with KalaLea, producer and host of the podcast series, Blindspot: Tulsa Burning. If you wanna learn more about this series or KalaLea, you can visit our website at radioproject.org. Now back to the show.

Amy Gastelum: I wanted to share this clip of an actor reading an account from a man who witnessed and survived the, the attack that day, and that’s B.C. Franklin. Why don’t you talk a little bit about B.C. Franklin, who he was and why he was there that day.

KalaLea: So yeah, B.C. Franklin is of Indigenous and African descent. He was practicing law in Ardmore, in a town called Rentiesville before moving to Tulsa, early in 1921.

Amy Gastelum: Mm-hmm.

KalaLea: He was there on his own, looking for a place for them to live, for his son and his wife to live. And basically he just happened to be there at the wrong time. He was in his hotel.

Amy Gastelum: Mm-hmm.

KalaLea: He has a journal that, or a producer Alana Casanova-Burgess had found. This is a firsthand account…

Amy Gastelum: Mm-hmm.

KalaLea: Of what was happening on the day, or you know, the day of. It actually went across two days.

Amy Gastelum: Mm-hmm.

KalaLea:  I believe you said one day earlier, but this actually went into two days. It was about a 36 hour…

Amy Gastelum: Wow.

KalaLea: Tragic event. Yeah.

Amy Gastelum: Mm-hmm. And just for our listeners, I mean, I want to say that this clip does not actually include any violence from that day. The clip is only Franklin’s account of the calm with which the day began so that you can get a sense of this footage.

B.C. Franklin V/O: It is May 31st, 1921. The day is just beginning. An unbroken stream of pedestrians, male and female, passes down Greenwood Avenue. It is made up of laborers, some empty-handed and others with dinner pails on their way to work.

KalaLea: And luckily, like I said, he was there without his family so that he can secure housing.

Amy Gastelum: Yeah.

KalaLea: And in the process of doing that, the massacre happened. And then we were able to interview his grandson, John W. Franklin. And wow, what a wonderful way to connect B.C. Franklin to his grandson in one episode. And kind of you hear B.C. Franklin’s writing and account of it. And then you get to hear, you know, across generations the impact that that had on the Franklin family, right through his grandson. And I thought that was really special, yeah.

Amy Gastelum: Yeah. And it provides like this really intimate way of telling this story. And I just want to say regarding the intimacy, that I really appreciated your use of self…

KalaLea: Mm-hmm.

Amy Gastelum: In the series and the way that you express empathy and like, deep curiosity with the people that you’re interviewing. It really deepened the experience for me. And I do have a clip, um, here of an interaction between you and J.W. Franklin, who’s B.C. Franklin’s grandson. So I wanted to play that.

KalaLea: Can we talk about your grandfather’s experience during the massacre? What did you know about that? Did he ever talk about it and its effect on him?

J.W. Franklin: He didn’t discuss it with me. I grew up knowing about the massacre from my father. My father, he was six years old. And from the age of six to ten, they are a separated family. And they’re not able to live together as a family until 1924.

KalaLea: That’s because your grandfather was helping a lot of the survivors and the victims of the massacre.

J.W. Franklin: Yes. Immediately following the massacre with his law partner and their temporary secretary, they’re processing insurance claims from homeowners and businesses that were destroyed in the massacre. 

KalaLea: There’s a photograph of your grandfather that I really love. It’s of him sitting in a tent.

J.W. Franklin: Yes.

KalaLea: And he’s working and there’s a typist or a stenographer or something like that.

J.W. Franklin: So it’s a sepia colored photograph of a Red Cross cloth tent. There’s a brick floor. There’s a desk, which Ms. Thompson is sitting at with a typewriter. And between the typewriter and I.H. Spears is a telephone.

KalaLea: Mm.

J.W. Franklin: The telephone is in two parts. There’s a part that you’ve put on the table, and there’s a part that you take and listen to in your ear.

KalaLea: Mm-hmm.

J.W. Franklin: Very different from the phones we have now.

KalaLea: Yes.

J.W. Franklin: But I think it’s remarkable that in a Red Cross tent following a catastrophe, six days later they have a phone in their tent.

KalaLea: Great. How did that happen?

J.W. Franklin: Remarkable. I don’t know.

Amy Gastelum: I also appreciated the way that the production of the show is really respectful of the trauma that is brought up when we tell traumatic stories. You do take care to provide like content warnings in the series. But you also dedicate an entire episode to talking about not just the trauma but healing too. And I thought it was unusual.

KalaLea: Yeah, that’s very important. I think somebody asked, before we even started, you know, the interviews or producing, I feel like I had some type of interview to launch the episode. And someone asked like, what would you like people to take away? Or what would you want people to get from this series? And I think my number one response was healing.

Amy Gastelum: Mm. I want to play a clip of you and Resmaa Menakem, who’s a psychotherapist and trauma specialist that you know, basically takes up the bulk of episode five.

Resmaa Menakem: Think about this. It is relatively new that me and you can be talking the way that we’re talking on, on this thing and be somewhat sure that there’s probably not a lynch party out here waiting for us.

KalaLea: Mm-hmm.

Resmaa Menakem: Right? That’s new sis. That’s, I mean, that’s really new that we can be doing this, right?

KalaLea: Mm-hmm.

Resmaa Menakem: For most of our lives, the white body has had full and unfettered access to every part of our bodies.

KalaLea: Mm-hmm.

Resmaa Menakem: And I think that that is a problem for them because when they don’t get that deference, something happens to them. And they have not examined that as a collective when Black people have their own agency, when Black people have their own sense of being. And so for me it really is about, as Black people, how do we begin to turn towards each other more, reclaim those pieces, and metabolize that energy for our freedom as opposed to using that same energy to burn each other up.

KalaLea: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.  So you’re saying it is possible to heal ourselves?

Resmaa Menakem: It is possible. Not only is it possible, it’s being done. If it wasn’t being done, there would be no reason why you would reach out to me and want to talk to me.

KalaLea: Healing. The US in particular is obsessed with trauma, stories around oppression, especially of marginalized communities, Black and Brown communities.

Amy Gastelum: Mm-hmm.

KalaLea:  You know, I think that there’s an obsession with it. There is also a huge amount of consumption of it. It’s being sold in the journalism world…

Amy Gastelum: Yeah.

KalaLea: And the world of television and film, right?

Amy Gastelum: It’s a commodity.

KalaLea: And we just, yeah. It’s a commodity. And so what I would like for us to focus on is more healing and service.

Amy Gastelum: Mm.

KalaLea: And I feel like we need to spend more time and energy interrogating, investigating the people who are nameless. You know, not so much focusing on only the trauma…

Amy Gastelum: Yeah.

KalaLea: And only the pain and the suffering, but also who is accountable. Where do they come from, right?

Amy Gastelum: Mm-hmm.

KalaLea: You used the word white mob earlier. That’s another way of absconding or of evading the individuals that were responsible, of shielding them. If you just say white mob, you don’t have to look for the people. You don’t have to know what their family names are. You don’t have to know their connection or relation to Tulsa. A lot of those families are still there, right?

Amy Gastelum: Mm-hmm.

KalaLea: But if you use white mob, then it’s done. That’s why throughout the whole series, you hear me use white people.

Amy Gastelum: Mm-hmm.

KalaLea: And I remember one of my story editors saying like, oh my God, we have to say white so many times. And I’m like, this is how it feels to be Black.

Amy Gastelum: Mm.

KalaLea: I don’t wanna be a Black journalist. I’m a journalist.

Amy Gastelum: Mm-hmm.

KalaLea: Right? You know, there were certain moments where even for myself, I thought people should know, like people should know this story. How vicious, you know…

Amy Gastelum: Yeah.

KalaLea: These neighbors, these people were, the people that you might call your neighbors, right?

Amy Gastelum: Right.

KalaLea: And that is a thing that needs to be addressed. If I ever could do another series, I think I would totally investigate the white side of town and try to talk to as many people as possible.

Amy Gastelum: It sounds like confronting a denial system.

KalaLea: Yeah.

Amy Gastelum: So the final episode, it kind of talks about what’s going on in Tulsa right now….

KalaLea: Mm-hmm.

Amy Gastelum: Including efforts by legislators to stop fact-based lessons, which are being referred to as critical race theory.

KalaLea: You know, it’s not very surprising. Erasure is part of US history since the beginning. It’s always been a thing. There were Native people here, but let’s act like they weren’t here, you know?

Amy Gastelum: Right.

KalaLea: Oh, you don’t think that the Tulsa Race Massacre should be taught in schools in Oklahoma because it might make a white student feel bad.

Amy Gastelum: Mm-hmm.

KalaLea: And I think, you know, it’s hard to understand why  we would live on a planet with millions and millions or billions of various life forms and species, all types of colors and sizes and shapes and abilities, and that are a part of a larger ecosystem, and that you can understand that why do we have various trees and birds and animals.

But you can’t appreciate that when it comes to the human race, you know, the differences and the differences in the diversity and how that contributes to our world and our larger and smaller communities. I don’t want to live in a world where there’s only Black people like me. You know, that’s not interesting to me. And so I don’t really understand sometimes, it would appear that people in Congress in particular have this desire to only be around people that agree with them, that look like them, that think like them. I am so grateful that I am not one of those people. Yeah.

Amy Gastelum: Mm. Yeah, talk about psychology. Oof.

KalaLea: Yeah.

Amy Gastelum: Yeah. It occurs to me you are a person, KalaLea, who’s walking around this earth with like eyes wide open and just refusing to be buffered, and how important and impactful that approach to life in the world is. And I really appreciate that about you. And I just appreciate all the work that you’re putting out and the energy that you’re putting into it for all of us to be able to participate in it and be changed by it.

KalaLea: Yeah. Thank you. Thanks for saying that, Amy. And I’ll just say that I have my family, I have my ancestors to think for that, you know?

Amy Gastelum: Mm-hmm.

KalaLea: And yeah, I am not alone in this world in that. There are a lot of people out here that are doing the work and in small and big ways. And so I just aspire in my life to be, you know, a better human being. And I sometimes fail at that. But if given the opportunity, if given another day, when given another breath, it’s just like, yeah, it’s better than just sinking and falling, you know?

Amy Gastelum: Mm-hmm. 

KalaLea: And some days I don’t have the energy.

Amy Gastelum: Yeah.

KalaLea: You know, I’m not gonna lie. Sometimes I too am exhausted a lot of times for this reason. But I’m also very energized by it.

Amy Gastelum: Yeah. Well, thank you again for your time.

KalaLea: Yeah, no, it was my pleasure. I have a lot of respect for the work that Making Contact has done over the years.

Amy Gastelum: Thank you.

KalaLea: Yeah.

Amy Gastelum: Great.

KalaLea: So thanks a lot.

Amy Gastelum: Well, you have a wonderful day.

KalaLea: Hope you have a great rest of your day.

Amy Gastelum: We’ll stay in touch. Let’s stay in touch. I’d love to catch up.

KalaLea: Yes. Yeah, reach out anytime. Alright, thanks Amy. You too. Just, just hang up this, um, hold on, let me go look at it.

Amy Gastelum: Yep. You can just click leave session. Yep. Bye-bye.

I’m Amy Gastelum. You’re listening to Making Contact and an interview with Kala Lea about the award winning podcast series, Tulsa Burning. In observation of Black History month we’re running a three-part series that digs a bit deeper into Greenwood.  Next week we’re gonna hear more from the fellas you heard at the top of today’s episode, Carlos Moreno and Bracken Klar of Tulsa’s Tricity Collective and KOSU’s Focus: Black Oklahoma. They’re going to talk about what happened after the 1921 Tulsa race massacre and what’s happening now. To listen to all the episodes in this special series, you can find us on all the podcast platforms or our website radioproject.org. Take care.

Author: Radio Project

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