Seeking to “confront our past transgressions,” the Tulsa County Democratic Party released a statement on Friday acknowledging the party’s role in upholding white supremacy and called for “monetary reparations” to the Black community.
While Republicans currently grapple with far-right extremism and outright racism and xenophobia within its ranks, they’re often quick to bring up the Ku Klux Klan’s historic involvement in the Democratic Party, as well as prominent Democratic officials’ and politicians’ previous efforts to thwart the Civil Rights Movement of the ‘60s.
But in the press release, the Tulsa County Democratic Party intentionally and publicly denounced their own racism.
TCDP takes an honest look at itself
“The Democratic Party, at multiple points throughout history, has been represented by individuals that have held racist views; this includes previous Democratic National Committee members and Democratic elected officials on both a national and a state level that has documented histories as members of the Ku Klux Klan and participants in the [Tulsa Race] massacre,” the statement read.
The truth-telling and attempt to reconcile with Black communities that have been traumatically harmed by the Democratic Party comes as descendants and survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre commemorate the 100-Year Centennial of one of the worst incidents of racial violence that destroyed the community of Greenwood, home to Black Wall Street.
“As someone that grew up in Tulsa and didn’t learn about the 1921 Race Massacre until my early 20s, I think these types of acknowledgements are incredibly important and necessary to have authentic conversation about racial injustice,” Tulsa County Democratic Party Chair Amanda Swope told The Black Wall Street Times.
Tulsa’s legacy of mayors in the KKK
T.D. Evans, a Republican mayor of Tulsa during the massacre from 1920 to 1922, was infamously known for supporting the tarring and feathering of organized workers years earlier and for making racist comments against the wealthy Black community of Greenwood.
However, at least two Tulsa mayors of the Democratic Party actively participated in the Ku Klux Klan. Mayor H.F. Newblock, for which Newblock Party in the city is named, served from 1922 to 1928 and from 1932 to 1934, while Geo L. Watkins served from 1930 to 1932. They both supported the domestic terrorism organization as members, according to a Klu Klux Klan (KKK) Collection Original Membership Roster 1993.001.2 vault housed at the University of Tulsa.
On the national level, Kwame Ture (formerly known as Stokely Carmichael), was instrumental in crafting the Lowndes County Freedom Organization in Alabama to register Black voters and support their right to vote in a community dominated by a racist White-only Democratic Party. The efforts in Lowndes County eventually inspired the Black Panther movement in Oakland, and across the nation.
And before that, Democratic President Andrew Jackson infamously forced thousands of indigenous tribes and their Black enslaved members to march from the South to Oklahoma during the 1830s and 1840s on the deadly “Trail of Tears,” according to the Oklahoma Historical Society.
Moving beyond a mere apology
“The Tulsa County Democratic Party encourages citizens of Tulsa to work to bring awareness to the abuses and injustices committed upon Black people throughout history and to the racism that still persists today,” the press release continued.
Luke Harris, the vice chair for the county’s Democratic Party, reiterated the importance of telling difficult truths in order to inspire transformative change.
“It’s the first step we can make towards the healing that will help us unite stronger,” Harris said.
While the state of Oklahoma did apologize for its role in the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre via the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Reconciliation Act on June 1, 2001, exactly 80 years after the massacre, it fell short of admitting any legal culpability, according to Harvard Business School.
Meanwhile, Tulsa County Democratic Party, went a step further than most political entities by calling for reparations.
“We affirm that reflection and repentance are necessary aspects of acknowledgment, but that true healing will require ongoing personal and community conversations and substantial monetary reparations,” the press release stated.
The call for reparations add to the many voices seeking restitution for survivors and descendants of the massacre.
“If you can’t ever admit to being in the wrong, you will never be in a place to make it right,” Swope said.