Panel legislators say proposal is doomed to rejection
BY RANDY KREHBIEL World Staff Writer
Feb 5, 2000
1/20/13 at 8:03 AM
George Monroe was on of about half a dozen riot survivors in the audience Friday during
the Race Riot Commision meeting at Oklahooma State University-Tulsa.
STEPHEN HOLMAN / Tulsa World
The 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Commission threw its gauntlet at the Legislature's feet on
Friday, voting in favor of a reparations proposal the two legislators on the panel
said will almost certainly be rejected.
The recommendation will be part of a preliminary report to the Legislature on
Monday. The commission will expire then, but Chairman Bob Blackburn said a final report won't be ready for months.
State Rep. Don Ross, D-Tulsa, has filed a bill that would extend the commission's activities.
During three hours of often intense but always civil discussion, the 11-member
commission on Friday approved a resolution calling restitution "good public policy"
and saying it would "do much to repair the emotional as well as physical scars of this
most terrible incident."
Five recommendations, listed in rank order, were then hammered out:
A museum exhibit at the Greenwood Cultural Center, improvements to north Tulsa
schools, a black history wing in the new Oklahoma Historical Society
building and black cultural and political archives at Langston University were
suggested but not included in the recommendations.
- Payments to living survivors.
- Payments to descendants of those who suffered property damage during the riot.
- A scholarship fund.
- Business tax incentives for the Greenwood District.
- A memorial.
No attempt was made to estimate costs, and Chairman Bob Blackburn said the
resolution does not assess legal liability or address who would pay for the
The most controversial recommendation is almost certain to be the inclusion of
descendents in any restitution agreement. The motion to include them passed by only
one vote and against the advice of Rep. Abe Deutschendorf, D-Lawton, and Sen. Robert Milacek, R-Waukomis.
"What has the best chance in the House and the Senate is educational
scholarships," Deutschendorf said. "A memorial has a chance. Restitution for
survivors is iffy. I say that because I've had a lot of people say, `Where does it stop?' "
Milacek and Deutschendorf also opposed wording in the resolution that
they say implied that state and federal governments were legally responsible for the riot.
The passage in question reads: "Whereas, we have seen a continuous pattern of
historical evidence that Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 was the violent consequence of racial
hatred institutionalized and tolerated by official federal, state, county and city
policy . . ."
The legislators said evidence presented to the commission indicates that the state
acted responsibly during the riot and should not be held liable. Previously, the
state's involvement has centered around an examination of the National Guard troops
that were mobilized the morning of June 1.
Initially, the commission looked into charges that these troops fired
indiscriminately on black Tulsans and participated in the looting of the Greenwood
District on June 1. After receiving evidence indicating otherwise, the focus shifted
to the legality of detaining black citizens -- particularly by local Guardsmen prior to
the declaration of martial law at 11:30 a.m. on June 1 -- and to conditions created by
the day's segregation laws and racial attitudes.
"I have absolutely no doubt the city was culpable," Deutschendorf said. "The county
is probably culpable. This (resolution) will be used to pull the state in."
Ross said legal liability was not the issue.
"I voted for $5 million for the Oklahoma City bombing memorial," he said. "I don't think the state had any culpability in
that. I voted for it because it was the decent thing to do. There is no statute of limitations on moral obligations."
Commission member Jimmie White said, "How much money has the state of Oklahoma
expended to get justice for two people (Oklahoma City bombers Terry Nichols and
Timothy McVeigh)? Now I see we're getting ready for the (state's) Centennial, and
they're talking about $200 million for a dome for the Capitol."
Actually, White overstated the dome's estimated cost by about $185 million. Such
oversights were not uncommon in the heat of discussion about an event that so many of
the commission members have strong feelings about.
Blackburn, who is also executive director of the Oklahoma Historical Society, said
the commission must now begin the work of sorting through the mountains of information
it has gathered. Many accounts are contradictory, and much of information is more suggestive than conclusive.
"For the final report, I think we should take each issue, one at a time, and go
through it," said Blackburn. "It's going to take some time, but it is what we should do."
Randy Krehbiel, World staff writer, can be reached at 581-8365 or via
e-mail at email@example.com .