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Blog #7: The Ghosts of Tulsa (Part 1)

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In the period right after Reconstruction up through the early part of the previous century, there was widespread massacre and violence done against many groups of people of color. A small number of these episodes were public knowledge; while the vast majority were covered up so successfully they’re largely unknown, even by people who grew up in the same of neighboring communities. There has always been an effort to whitewash (pun intended) certain aspects of the turbulent racial history of this country by the offenders and their descendants, but maybe the most egregious episode of racial genocide took place less than 100 miles from where I grew up, and I never had any knowledge of the events that took place until well into my adulthood.

The shocking and unfortunate events that took place in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, OK on June 1, 1921 are documented in other places in a much more substantial way than I could ever dream of giving voice to. One excellent source of knowledge describing the events that took place on that dark day in our nation’s history is a Documentary entitled Tulsa is Burning. Former Oklahoma City Thunder MVP Russell Westbrook is an Executive Producer among others, and it was first televised by The History Channel around the 100th Anniversary of the event, where far too many people learned about these events for the first time.

My focus will not be about the actual events over 100 years ago; I will instead speak on what I have personally witnessed and experienced as a neighbor who grew up in the Big Brother City, Oklahoma’s Capital, most populated and most important city, which leads into any discussion about the second largest city in the state and how it perceives itself. I was always curious as to why some (probably not many, for it is strictly anecdotal) residents of that city always seemed to have a chip on its shoulder in regards to perceived status and popularity. I understand the natural rivalries that exists between just about any two or even three large cities that are located in the same state: Los Angeles-San Francisco. Dallas-Houston, San Antonio-Austin, Miami-Orlando-Tampa, Philadelphia-Pittsburgh, St. Louis-Kansas City, Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati, Nashville-Memphis and Charlotte-Raleigh are other examples. Washington-Baltimore and Seattle-Portland are two examples that are not in the same state of course, but they are in close enough proximity to be competitive, and don’t forget the Main Card, Los Angeles-Chicago for Second City status behind New York City, the ultimate Alpha City. But in the case of all of these cities, signposts such as a large economy, professional sports franchises, corporate locations, educational opportunities, tourism, entertainment options, mass transit options, well-connected airports, interstate highway access and passenger rail access are plentiful as well as comparable for the most part between the competing cities. So it is usually a case of six of one, a half-dozen of another; any “competition” is usually tongue-in cheek.

Admittedly, in the history of our state, Tulsa definitely had a head start on Oklahoma City in the beginning, and the Oil Boom had a lot to do with that advantage. That city was perceived as the “Oil Capital of the World” in the 1920s because of the new discovery in the new state. At the same time, the new state capital was finding its legs from a beginning of wildcatters, criminals, men of ill repute and other opportunists who staked claims in the Unassigned Lands, which gave it an outlaw feel that took many decades to overcome (The book Boomtown by Sam Anderson gives a very definitive account of Oklahoma City’s birth as well as complete oral history). Tulsa rode the Oil Industry’s very high profile to national prominence as well as generational riches (ironically, Black Wall Street, the Greenwood Business District which became a very big and ultimately too big of a player in the Oil Industry, and it led to its definitive downfall). This new strain of nouveau riche citizens understandably gave the many in the city an outsized opinion of themselves, and along with all of that new wealth, it seemed to be passed down generationally.

The outsized wealth is only a very small part in my opinion. What I had no idea about until my adulthood was that those dark events that took place a century ago had a deep impact on Tulsa’s collective psyche and soul that has impacted the city in ways that many of the citizenry is not even aware of. It has seemed to produce a stagnation effect, and to me whenever I happen to visit (which is not very often admittedly), things seem frozen in time.

How exactly? Well, when I was younger, my family would drive to St. Louis, MO, and at that time, Interstate 44 spanned from Oklahoma City to St. Louis through Tulsa, so first of all, I-44 is their only Interstate access, and it is a Turnpike on both sides. All state highways seem to be tolls as well, so if you want to leave Tulsa, you pretty much have to pay to do it. OKC by comparison has I-40 that goes from Barstow, CA to Wilmington, NC (essentially coast-to-coast) and I-35 from Laredo, TX to Duluth, MN (literally border-to-border) as well as an I-44 that has been extended to Wichita Falls, TX and it is the only turnpike on both sides; it is one of the few crossroads of America. Even though I-44 is a part of the old Route 66 (which may explain the lack of an Interstate when the President Eisenhower Administration created the initial Interstate system), the toll factor and the less traveled route may have a cause and effect of many motorists steering clear of Tulsa entirely; when they do, they most likely have to drive through Big Brother OKC as well.

Second, whenever I have driven through Tulsa, I have noticed that the skyline has looked pretty much the same for the last four decades. As a student at Oklahoma State, I befriended more than a few other students from there, and a very big point of pride for most of them was the fact that they had three skyscrapers taller than any in OKC. Well, those same three buildings constitute the bulk of their downtown area with very few evident additions – frozen in time – while Big Brother has had numerous additions to its skyline. The most striking of all, the Devon Tower; standing 844 feet, it is the tallest tower in the United States west of the Mississippi River with the exception of towers in the states of Texas, California and Washington. Not to mention all of the infrastructure and civic improvements that have been added (oops, I just mentioned it).

As far as economy, Tulsa’s title of “Oil Capital of the World” has long since been abdicated many years ago, while the dual engines of the State Government and Tinker Air Force Base puts OKC’s net economy far ahead in most metrics. OKC’s Will Rogers World Airport has over 30 daily nonstop flights to every corner of the nation, while Tulsa International Airport has roughly half of that number daily, plus some non-daily resort-type flights with none to either coast except recently added LAX. Amtrak’s Heartland Flyer is daily round trip between The City and Ft. Worth, which connects to the entire network; T-Town may be the largest city in the U.S. with no Amtrak train or bus service at all, and it is the very definition of an “Urban Island” tucked away in the hills of Eastern Oklahoma. OKC’s Bricktown is the premier entertainment district in the state by far, with a Streetcar that circulates tourist and the work force around to Downtown, Automobile Alley, Midtown, the new Scissortail Park adjacent to Downtown and Chesapeake Energy Arena; while the Gathering Place is a superb new park in Tulsa, it is very isolated, so the entertainment advantage (non-sports) also goes to the Capital City, because all of Oklahoma City’s museums and Halls of Fame more than outweigh Tulsa’s perceived live music advantage as well. The educational opportunities are roughly equal, with Oklahoma State University equidistant from both cities and their local colleges, but with the University of Oklahoma in suburban Norman, the pendulum swings strongly towards The City...

Continued on Part 2


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Updated 08-05-2021 at 07:46 PM by K SUMP ON SPORTS

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