UPDATED: Ground broken on race riot memorial
BY DENVER NICKS World Staff Writer
Monday, November 17, 2008
1/20/13 at 8:25 AM
Read more about the 1921 Tulsa race riot and its aftermath:
Telling the story: Race Riot survivors speak up
Markers serve as reminder of Black Wall Street
Nearly a century after the Tulsa Race Riot devastated black homes and businesses in one of the worst acts of racial violence in American history, Tulsans have dedicated a park to the memory of the tragedy and the ongoing racial reconciliation.
More than 200 people attended Monday’s groundbreaking ceremony for the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, many more than organizers had anticipated. The park will be located between Elgin and Detroit avenues just south of the Inner Dispersal Loop.
Among attendees were a number of prominent Oklahomans who helped make the park a reality.
``The John Hope Franklin Center is a project important to Tulsa, but also vital to the promotion of human rights and human dignity throughout Oklahoma,” said Gov. Brad Henry in a message delivered by Oklahoma Secretary of State Susan Savage, Tulsa’s former mayor.
Also in attendance were Mayor Kathy Taylor, former Mayor Bill LaFortune, longtime champion of the race riot memorial project Julius Pegues and John Hope Franklin himself.
Born in Rentiesville, Franklin, now 93, is among Oklahoma’s favorite sons.
Valedictorian of his graduating class at Booker T. Washington High School, Franklin went on to graduate magna cum laude from Fisk University, and receive his Ph.D. from Harvard University.
Franklin, an internationally renowned scholar, was lead historian for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund during the watershed civil rights case, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. In 1995, he received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
“Someday we’ll have the joy and pleasure of complete reconciliation. We’re moving in that direction,” said Franklin Monday. “I hope we get there very soon.”
Wesley Young, 91, who survived the riot and grew up in its aftermath, spoke with poignancy and humor about what the park meant to him.
“This is one of the greatest moments of my life, except for my birthday,” Young said.
Launched in 2001 following the recommendation of the Tulsa Race Riot Commission’s final report, the project had been plagued by financial shortfalls.
The park itself will cost about $5 million and is expected to be completed within six months, said Reuben Gant, president of the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce. About $3.7 million for the park came from the state of Oklahoma, $900,000 from the city of Tulsa, and the rest from private donations, he said.
Designed by renowned sculptor and first black astronaut Ed Dwight, the park will include three sculptures and three granite towers, representing hostility, humiliation and hope. The centerpiece will be the Tower of Reconciliation, a 27-foot-tall monument depicting the history of African and Native Americans in Oklahoma, from slavery to the present.
The park is intended to be the first installment in a complex that will ultimately include a center for reconciliation housing archives, gathering spaces, a museum and research facilities, said Gant. The $20 million estimated cost of the center is being raised primarily from private donations, though organizers hope the city and state will eventually contribute, Gant said.
“We’ve got a long way to go on this, but we think its a doable project,” said Gant, who estimates that finalizing the complex will take another two to three years.
Though memorializing Tulsa’s darkest hour has met with resistance from some, many believe it is worthwhile.
The riot occurred in 1921 over a 14-hour period, leaving hundreds injured, thousands homeless and at least three dozen people dead. It is considered one of the worst of its kind in American history.
“The whole premise here is never forget,” said Hannibal Johnson, an author who has written extensively about the black experience in Oklahoma. Johnson cited moves by the Jewish community to memorialize the holocaust as an example of transforming tragedy into hope by ensuring that it never happens again.
John Hope Franklin (left center) chats with former Tulsa Mayor Susan Savage following a groundbreaking ceremony for the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, between Elgin and Detroit avenues, south of the Martin Luther King Memorial Expressway.