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Photo Courtesy of Eaton Family and Local Projects
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By Cormell Padillow, staff writer
On Saturday a celebration was held for Bobby Eaton Sr. at the Black Wall Street Liquid Lounge in deep Greenwood. Eaton Sr is a longtime staple of the Greenwood Community, most notably going by the name of “Poppa E”. He’s also an activist who lived through Tulsa’s Black Wall Street reemergence era after the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
Hosted by the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, it was a day celebrating not only him but the gifting of a 1940s barber chair and Coca Cola machine from his father’s barbershop. His father’s barbershop was the birthplace of the Tulsa Civil Rights era. The barber chair and Coca Cola machine will be on display in the Greenwood Rising History Center that’s currently being built at the corner of Greenwood Ave and East Archer Street. The narrative will be showcased in the exhibit of Greenwood Rising under the title “Changing Fortunes’ ‘ .. which speaks to the 2nd ‘heydey’ of Greenwood.
Eaton Sr.’s father’s barbershop existed in a time of economic prosperity during the reemergence.
Though much of the focus in the media focus on the destruction and massacre victims, the time directly afterward was once again a prosperous period of rebirth and growth that lasted until the 1960s.
A freeway built through its business district and urban renewal would cause the sun to set on this once Black Mecca west of the Great Mississippi.
Even without the help of White Tulsans or local government, many of whom were responsible for the destruction, didn’t aid in the rebuild. But Black Tulsans, those who lived in Greenwood and the surrounding areas, remained resilient — opening schools, doctor offices, accounting firms, movie theaters, tailor shops, grocery stores. You name it; Black Wall Street most likely had it. Black people were still able to rebuild a better life on the soil of hatred.
Today, Mr. Eaton Sr. and his father are a part of that monumental legacy.
Before Mr. Eaton Sr. shared his words of wisdom, the lives of those he touched stood in front of the crowd to speak. He gave them hope and direction to continue in a world that seemingly remains hostile. Taught them lessons on how to survive and fight for their rights in a world trying to strip those very rights away.
While sharing his stories of resilience, Mr. Eaton Sr. was asked about his present feelings, the era of Black Lives Mattering and the Nation’s first woman and person of color as Vice President-elect to the United States — Kamala Harris. He passionately said, “It tells me that I have not lived in vain,” adding, “I hope I can continue to do the things I like to. That is, to give all I have before I leave here.”
Mr. Eaton Sr. undoubtedly embodies the resilient spirit of Black Wall Street. Supporting, building, and guiding Black Tulsans when America still sees them too often as a threat or drain on society and not a contribution as many Black Americans have done.
In his final words to the public, Mr. Eaton Sr. told young people to “learn how to speak to each other again.”
His message comes at a great time as the centennial approaches. We as a city must ask ourselves: What do we gain from the coming national attention? Referring to next year’s Centennial of the 1921 Massacre on May 31 and June 1 of 2021. What type of change do we desire in our community? Furthermore, are we organized enough to demand the changes we want? The victims of the Tulsa Race Massacre had solidarity when they had no other option.
Only time will tell how we honor the past and prepare for the future.