Councilors Tour Areas Affected by Tulsa Race Riot Ahead of 95th Anniversary

May 10, 2016

City Councilors David Patrick (right), Jack Henderson and Phil Lakin look at a Tulsa Race Riot photo essay exhibit at the Greenwood Cultural Center with John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation Chairman Julius Pegues.
Credit Matt Trotter / KWGS

City councilors took time Tuesday to learn about Tulsa’s black communities devastated by the race riots 95 years ago.

Councilor Jack Henderson said they need to know about the events that destroyed the prosperous area known as Black Wall Street.

"The race riot happened 95 years ago, but it still leaves a taint on this city," Henderson said. "And it's a taint that a lot of people are afraid to talk about. We should never be afraid to talk about our past history, because from our past we will be able to leap forward into the future."

Three councilors toured the Mabel B. Little Heritage House next to the Greenwood Cultural Center. Sam and Lucy Mackey built the brick two-story five years after the riot to show it could be done.

After walking through the house, Councilor Phil Lakin said the older he gets, the more interested he is in history.

"It's just such an important part of our past, and the more I learn about it, the more I'm able to make, I think, better decisions about our future," Lakin said.

Little, who survived the riot and became a matriarch in Tulsa’s black community, died in 2001 at age 104.

Docents with the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation led councilors on a bus tour of the Historic Greenwood District. The district was nearly burned to the ground, and years later it was split by highways.

Though Councilor David Patrick sees revitalization happening, he said it may never be the same as it was in its heyday.

"But it'll be something new and unique, and it is, like you say, on the rebound and it is coming back," Patrick said. "It'll be an area of, definitely, interest and will draw people, you know, tourists from all over."

The Tulsa Race Riot took place over May 31 and June 1, 1921. Estimated losses total $30 million in 2016 dollars.