Snow blanketed the streets last night. It looks pretty. Yesterday, though, was nice and sunny. Chicago and weather. What can you even say?
Thanks for a nice selection of goodies. I look forward to Pankaj Mishra, who's always a pleasure.
Given that I may well be the only native Tulsan to read CM, please humor me while I bring up a few things that my leave you with the wrong impression regarding Tulsa after reading the Financial Times piece on the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. The Race Riot burned more or less the entirety of Greenwood to the ground. The community that existed in the neighborhood was as affluent as any black community in America in the early 20s could be. The neighborhood, or what we can know about it given all these years (and the massive distrust that it cultivated in Tulsa's black community), was home to a budding black middle class in a segregated town. This simply scared a lot of the white folks (the Gettys and Phillipses of this world) who had shown up along the banks of the Arkansas River after oil was found at Red Fork (now part of west Tulsa). Even though we really don't know exactly what happened on the night of May 31, 1921, we can be sure that an angry mob of white folks showed up with guns and started shooting at an angry mob of black folks with guns who were unhappy that Dick Rowland was being held, as I understand it, without being charged for any crime. The evening edition of the Tulsa Tribune from that night contained an, as yet, missing editorial (not even the now defunct Tribune's own archives contains this article) which most likely served to rouse the white rabble of the oil town, which was rapidly developing into an urban center. By the 2nd, the neighborhood was more or less razed. What the article claims that just isn't true, is that Greenwood is still a ghost town of a neighborhood. Yes, Greenwood has never fully recovered from 1921. But, when your entire community is destroyed in a manner that is condoned by the local authorities, how can you expect to ever be able to recover from that? But Greenwood is not dead, and it is not a one-block affair. Much like traditionally black communities in larger cities, the Greenwood district has been repopulated by middle class black folk in recent years. Modest homes with two-car garages have popped up where other modest homes housing Tulsa's black middle class stood 80 years ago. Greenwood is home to Oklahoma State University's Tulsa campus, the Greenwood Cultural Center, the Vernon Chapel AME Church (which may well be Tulsa's oldest AME congregation), George Washington Carver Middle School (the city's academic magnet school), the Oklahoma Eagle (Oklahoma's oldest Black Newspaper, if it still exists) as well as hosting the city's Juneteenth celebration as well as the annual Jazz on Greenwood festival. The neighborhood is not as dead as Andrew Meier would have you believe. The city is not as much of a racist hell hole as he would have you believe either. Yes, people have kept quiet about the riot, but there have been discussions of these issues throughout the last 80 years. I won't try to create a history of that discussion, but here is an example taken from a classic song of the Western Swing era: Bob Wills and Tommy Duncan (of Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, who performed for a radio broadcast every week at the Cain's Ballroom on Main Street in Tulsa) wrote the song "Take Me Back to Tulsa" in the mid 30s or so. The lyrics tell two stories: one about a love named Dinah who broke the singer's heart and sent him packing back to Tulsa from Louisiana as well as what I read as a discourse on race in Tulsa. The lyrics are relatively vague and appear in various forms on various recordings but the important parts are: "Little bee sucks the blossom, big bee gets the honey/Dark man picks the cotton, White man gets the money," which reads as resignation, but Wills goes on to say towards the end of the song, "Drop me off at Archer, I'll walk down to Greenwood." Archer is the street just north of the train tracks (when you're downtown) and more or less the dividing line between white Tulsa and Black Tulsa (Black folks weren't allowed south of the tracks after nightfall). As I said before, Bob Wills performed weekly at the Cain's Ballroom on Main Street just south of the Greenwood area and was, as far as I know, an upright white citizen of the era. But his subversive moment here (which is missing in nearly all the recordings of this song that I have found) expresses his desire to go down to Greenwood, where he likely found a great deal of musical influences. For those of you who aren't hip to Western Swing, you can think of it as a sort of a cross between country music, cowboy ballads, folk songs and polka with a healthy dose of swing thrown in. While the people dancing at the Cain's Ballroom on Main were most likely the same group of people who burned Greenwood to the ground, the issue was at least recognized as early as the 30s by Bob Wills. While I am perhaps reading too far into the lyrics here, I don't know of any explications of the lyrics of Bob Wills songs to help me out in the analysis. Obviously, though Bob Wills was not in the business of enlightening people (and was likely not all that enlightened himself), he at least gives us a covert moment of awareness in this song. Interestingly enough, these lines disappear from nearly every recording of the song since. While I won't speculate on the reasons for that, we can definitely see here that people have been talking about the riot since the twenties. The powers that be may have been keeping such discussions out of the public eye (much like the local media and government in Tulsa have worked hard at dulling interest in any excavations at the Oaklawn Cemetery), but there are many citizens of Tulsa who are not just red dirt racist hicks hell bent on destroying the prosperity of the black community. Don't get me wrong though, there are lots of red dirt racist hicks all over Tulsa and the surrounding area. It is Oklahoma after all.