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By Tyrance Billingsley
In 1921, Tulsa bathed itself in blood and forever intertwined its story and fate with the issue of racism. While racism is an atrocity that has plagued this nation since its inception, it was during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre that Tulsa became a slave to its transgression and stood in need of emancipation. I use such language to emphasize the fact that the issue of racism in Tulsa is nothing less than a battle for Tulsa’s soul and legacy.
Tulsa is amid a renaissance that stands to elevate innovative ideas, cultures, perspectives and opportunities in ways that it hasn’t seen in decades. Whether it be programs of civic innovation, the attraction of new companies like Amazon, or the construction of new attractions like A Gathering Place, Tulsa is indeed on its way to becoming the globally competitive city that Mayor G.T. Bynum envisions. It is by these standards that modern society judges whether a city is thriving and deserving of praise and imitation, so our city strives to achieve them. Sadly, Tulsa is no longer in league with other cities that have the privilege of keeping these items at the forefront of their focus. Sadly, too, our city is in a league of its own. The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre revoked Tulsa’s privilege to focus on displaying the aesthetic aspects of growing a city as its primary endeavor. In 1921, Tulsa signed a contract with blood of its African American citizens that holds its progression captive.
Understand that Tulsa will grow. And by American standards, it will flourish. But it has been flourishing by the standards of a culture that has been willing to isolate atrocity to the fine print of history for the sake of constructing a glorious mythology. In the courtroom of its people and eventually the throne room of God, its blood contract will still be binding if the debts are not reconciled. Tulsa has a choice that lies before it. Either it will join the meticulously crafted culture of willful ignorance and vast carelessness that has allowed the abomination of racism to exist in plain view and merely be deemed as “something to work on” or it will take full responsibility for its past and undertake the task of carefully dissecting how many of the same issues have simply transformed to hold its future hostage.
As a young African American entrepreneur who made the conscious choice to stay in Tulsa and build it rather than running off to a new place the first chance I got, I can genuinely say that I love Tulsa, and so do all my fellow black young professionals and activists. We would love nothing more than to see Tulsa become a beacon for the rest of this nation. I dream of a city that is economically thriving, socially accepting, civically engaged, and creatively unmatched. But first we have a debt that can only be paid with changed behavior. I write this so that elected officials of Tulsa can not only understand what lies before them but also know that they have allies willing to help. I write this so that the powers-that-be and movers and shakers of Tulsa know that the issue of racism and how it is remedied will be what defines this city long after 2021.
(Photo courtesy of Tulsa Historical Society)
The contract of shame and bondage signed with the blood of Greenwood’s inhabitants is still binding. Those who presume to lead Tulsa have a duty to terminate this contract in order for Tulsa to truly to be OneTulsa. Now is the time to work towards the emancipation of this city from the chains of its past via reconciliation. Tulsa will never truly become the globally competitive city that our mayor envisions until the issue of reconciliation has been resolved on a systemic level. Make no mistake, there is tremendous hope. Mayor Bynum and the dynamic team he has assembled are the perfect mixture of various backgrounds and perspectives that Tulsa needs for the present and the future. However, it is our job to keep them accountable and to work with them to liberate Tulsa from the ghosts of its past and navigate the problems of the future.
Tulsa can excel. And it will exceed all expectations that have been set before it once the atrocity of racism has been systemically eviscerated with the same level of fervor and tact with which it was implemented. Again, where we stand on this issue will be the true test of what our city is worth. The fight will be hard. And the heaviest weight will be on the conscience of our elected officials, particularly Mayor Bynum. The time in which he was elected and the openness he has displayed to fixing these issues will put him under heavier scrutiny than any of our past mayors. But this is necessary. It is also necessary for concerned citizens of Tulsa to be intentional about providing wisdom, council and perspective to him and the City Council so that we succeed in making Tulsa better together. The burden has now been placed at the feet of our leaders.
What will they choose? When all is said and done, will the soul of Tulsa soar to the heavens, or fall to the earth? What will our legacy be?
Tyrance Billingsley is a contributing writer of The Black Wall Street Times as well as an entrepreneurial and politically active African American in Tulsa. He chose to stay in Tulsa after high school in an effort to establish himself locally and to help build Tulsa into the global hub it once was — for all its citizens. Tyrance is very passionate about Tulsa and hopes to use Tulsa as a launchpad for global change.