TULSA, Okla. — A coalition of government and community groups is working to address issues of racism and seek reparations for survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot.
Several groups, including the city of Tulsa, have formed the Journey of Healing initiative, which will work to take people in the Tulsa community through a process to identify racism, said Mana Tahaie, the YWCA’s director of racial justice.
Along with the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice and the Tulsa Urban League, the YWCA is kicking off the first step Sunday with the premiere of “Before They Die,” a documentary made by Mportant Films about the survivors of the race riot and their court struggle for reparations.
In 2004, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit against the city and the state by 150 survivors and about 300 descendants of those who lost property or their lives in the 1921 riot. The city and state argued that the lawsuit came 80 years too late to fall within a two-year statute of limitations in civil cases.
Several funds have been started to give the survivors reparations. But in most cases, money could not be given directly to the survivors because Congress has never designated them as a charitable class, which is needed for the groups administering the funds to be in line with the rules of the Internal Revenue Service, Tahaie said.
About $83,000 was raised through the YWCA and other sponsorships for the survivors. Through the Journey of Healing initiative’s planning, officials found a fund of about $500,000 at the Tulsa Community Foundation that had been mostly untouched since it was raised in the wake of the Tulsa Race Riot Commission’s 2001 final report, Tahaie said.
Now, the Journey of Healing participants are seeking legislation to allow nonprofit groups and foundations to disburse those funds in cash. The money now can be used only for indirect support, such as airfare and accommodations for Sunday’s movie, Tahaie said.
For survivors, any kind of effort means a lot, she said.
“I just get the sense that this is a huge, huge deal for them,” Tahaie said.
The film will also be a source of pride for people who might not know about the Greenwood neighborhood’s rich history and cultural significance to black Americans, said Felicia Collins Correia, CEO of the YWCA.
“This is so much closer to home for children in north Tulsa to take pride in,” she said.
In addition to hosting the film’s showing, Journey of Healing will support efforts to address racism, including training groups to reach an understanding of the problem and a Race against Racism run in the Greenwood neighborhood.
“We want to be able to talk about race in Tulsa without guilt and placing blame,” Tahaie said, adding that Journey of Healing is the difference between providing social services and affecting social change.
The fighting broke out May 30, 1921, after whites and blacks clashed outside a courthouse where a black man was being held on allegations of assaulting a white woman.
The confirmed death toll was 37, but some estimates range as high as 300.
"The events of 1921 in Tulsa were one of the most senseless and regrettable chapters in American history, yet most people are not even aware they happened," said Charles J. Ogletree Jr., founder and executive director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School. "There were many people from that period who wanted to sweep it under the carpet and forget. But if we do forget what is unjust, what is unpleasant, what is unforgivable — then what have we learned?" More »
"I know it has been a long haul, and I know you have told this story over and over again," said Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat. "This is our time. We can't afford to give up." More »
The Web site of the Mportant Films documentary about the survivors of the 1921 Tulsa riot includes background on the film project, video clips, screening details, news, information and more. More »