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By Bill White, contributing writer
Tulsans, it’s time to talk about ‘reparations.’ And to ensure we’re all on the same page, we must examine the definition of that controversial word. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines reparations as
“a repairing, keeping in repair, or repairs. Moreover, it defines it as the act of making amends, offering expiation, or giving satisfaction for a wrong or injury, [having] something done or given as amends or satisfaction, and the payment of damages.”
For most, the words that many identify as reparations include compensation, damages, restitution, recompense, and redress.
For the sake of discussion, let’s do a Q & A.
(Q1): Were the inhabitants of Greenwood residence of Tulsa?
(Q2): Did these people pay taxes as residents of Tulsa?
(Q3): As tax-paying citizens, weren’t they afforded protection by the City of Tulsa?
(A3): No, especially if Tulsa Police deputized any ol’ Tom, Dick, and Harry!
(Q4): Was the only time the residence of Greenwood’s money was of any good was if the City could use it for its purposes and not their benefit?
(A4): It appears their tax dollars were gladly accepted and used to build other parts of Tulsa.
(Q5): The question is, should the City of Tulsa pay reparations?
(A6): Under the City Charter in Section 3: General grant of power, the City of Tulsa shall have the power: (A.) To adopt and enforce all ordinances necessary or proper to protect the public peace, health, order, morals, and safety, and to promote the general welfare of the City of Tulsa and its inhabitants; (H.) To make public improvements of every kind. (M.) To appropriate and expend money for any public purpose. (P.) To perform all acts or do any other thing necessary or proper to exercise the powers granted in this amended Charter or by law.
Can we, as a city, have it both ways? Either the inhabitants of the Greenwood Business District of 1921 were tax-paying citizens or were not? If they were, we have an issue because their rights were violated under the Tulsa Charter.
If they were not, we have a problem because they were taxed, and all their tax dollars are in the public coffers and need to be returned with 100 years of interest.
You have heard of taxation without economic representation, right?
Think of the Greenwood-Tulsa Race Massacre as such for the past 100-years.
Here’s another way to think about it: If the entire retail corridor of 71st and Memorial to 71st and Garnett were destroyed — and for two-years, no one was able to build, get a permit, or a loan — would businesses leave and never be able to recoup their losses?
What if the City’s insurance companies and banks did everything in their power, including codify policies and agree to redline the 71st and Memorial corridor? How many businesses would survive? Would people and businesses move away?
In Janurary former 2020 presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg visited Tulsa and revealed his Greenwood Initiative: Economic Justice for Black America. He promised almost $70 Billion toward housing and other Black focused initiatives. I was surprised that there has never been a Tulsa Initiative for the Greenwood District.
Candidly, I was not for Bloomberg’s plan nor against it. I view it through the lenses of all the past political promises since the Reconstruction Era (1865-1877) for the Black community. We can look at all the receipts.
So, what do I think reparations should look like in Tulsa?
I am of the opinion that the City of Tulsa had an obligation to protect its Black citizens from the White mob but failed miserably. I believe, that to a large degree, the City of Tulsa was the angry and envious mobs corporate. Tulsa, therefore, should pay because it violated its own charter. Black Tulsans should be the recipients of that restitution.
About 5-years ago, the City raised over $860 Million for the Tulsa Vision Fund, which was for the betterment of the City of Tulsa. I think a Reparation Fund of this magnitude is in order.
I know, I know, you were not there! I get that! Nevertheless, justice is still owed to this community.
My personal Greenwood Initiative Plan:
1. $80 – $100 million investment fund specifically for African-American businesses in north Tulsa that is managed by Black bankers or a Black investment group with real business development expertise. The fund would not need the City of Tulsa for oversight.
2. $200 – $300 million dollar housing fund – to reverse what Urban Removal, I mean what Urban Renewal did and all its adverse effects due to the Crosstown Freeway.
3. $10 – $15 Million Dollar Detention Ponds/Pits Reversal in the Greenwood District, beautification and land reclaimed for housing and businesses.
4. The Land that Greenwood Cultural Center sits on be deeded, not least, to the Greenwood Cultural Center.
5. College scholarships and loan forgiveness to the great, great-grandchildren of the Tulsa Massacre descendants and to Black children in Tulsa.
6. The City of Tulsa will affirm to hire at least 10 African-American city managers.
7. Markers and Signage throughout the City that informs travelers how to get to Black Wall Street, especially on the freeways and across and throughout all of downtown.
8. A requirement from the City of Tulsa that if city funds are deposited in banks or any lending institution that it will be required to sign a document that they will not continue to redline north Tulsa. If found that the lending institution is practicing redlining, the City would immediately shrink its deposits with that institution.
9. The City of Tulsa/TDA to provide first right of refusal in the Kilpatrick Height area to the previous owners or their descendants to repurchase their family land and the City of Tulsa to provide 0% loans for them to rebuild.
I believe these small steps will move Tulsa to the forefront as to the right way to make amends for past transgressions. Tulsans, you can be either a leader that does what is right or a follower that does what is wrong.
Bill White, a Morehouse alum, is the founder and executive director for The Greenwood Experience, an institute that showcases Tulsa’s Historical Greenwood Business community. He is also the former director of development for the Greenwood Culture Center and Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce.