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Historian, fierce academic, and renowned author Eddie Faye Gates passed away on December 9, 2021. The beloved Greenwood and Tulsa community leader was 87. She is best known for playing a significant role in recording the narratives of over 200 survivors who lived through the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and documenting second-hand accounts from over 300 of their descendants.
Eddie Faye Gates was born Eddie Faye Petit in Preston, Oklahoma, to sharecroppers: Vivian and Ferman Petit on February 5, 1934. Her grandparents were born into slavery and worked a cotton plantation near Sulphur Springs, Texas. Along with twelve other Black families, they migrated to Oklahoma in hopes of escaping the brutal racism and contempt former slave owners had towards the newly emancipated families. The lynching of a close friend gave them second thoughts about remaining in the deep south.
According to Nia Clark’s Dreams of Black Wall Street podcast in 2020., Gates picked cotton as a young girl to earn help her family. “I picked cotton from the time I was 12 years old until I left for Tuskegee, for college when I was 17. This was how we earned our money. Picking cotton, $3 a day,” she shared.
A Citizen of the World
Despite being raised amid Jim Crow, Gates saw herself as a citizen of the world and thoroughly enjoyed learning. She moved throughout the U.S. and Europe with her family in her youth and was quite the academic.
Her education includes three years at Tuskegee Institute and a B.S. in Composite Social Science from the University of North Dakota at Grand Forks.
After graduating Magna Cum Laude, Gates returned home to Oklahoma and earned a Master’s degree — with honors — from the University of Tulsa.
Gates began teaching high school shortly after and did so for twenty-two years before becoming the Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator for the Tulsa Public School District. She was instrumental in implementing a multicultural curriculum needed for Tulsa Public Schools.
An educational consultant, Holocaust education consultant, and activist, Gates worked on local, state, national, and international levels to make the world a better place. She authored two books: Miz Lucy’s Cookies: And Other Links in My Black Family Support System, an autobiography, and They Came Searching: How Blacks Sought the Promised Land in Tulsa.
Work on the Tulsa Race Massacre
In 1998, Gates became one of ten members appointed to the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. She was Chair of the Survivors Committee on the Commission.
“Our task was made harder because [the riots] had been covered up and forgotten for 75 years, and many pertinent primary documents and resources had been deliberately destroyed,” Gates said.
In June of 2021, 100 years after the horrific event, the Tulsa City Council apologized for not protecting the city’s Black residents from the White mob that looted and burned the Greenwood District. Nor the city’s fire department or police department had come to the aid of Black citizens. According to research found in The Black Wall Street Times‘ Greenwood 100 Centennial Magazine, many were found to be members of the Ku Klux Klan.
The Commission recommended restitution in February 2001, after two years of research and analysis. Gates, although loved and highly revered, passes without seeing justice for Greenwood.