Please note that the poems and essays on this site are copyright and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Pay-To-Play Killer Cop: The Death of Eric Harris, the Black Holocaust and 'Bad' History in Oklahoma


Eric Harris was shot by a 73-year-old reserve deputy who said he thought he was using his stun gun instead of his service weapon when he opened fire
: photo by AP via The Guardian, 13 April 2015

Oklahoma officer charged in killing of black man after Taser 'mistake:' Sheriff’s office found fatal shooting of Eric Harris by deputy Bob Bates was ‘a mistake’ but family says: ‘This is simply evil’: Tom Dart, The Guardian, 13 April 2015

A 73-year-old insurance salesman and reserve sheriff’s deputy has been charged with second-degree manslaughter after he appeared to accidentally fire his gun instead of his Taser and shot dead an unarmed man, Eric Harris. 

Harris, 44, died on 2 April after a sting operation designed to catch him selling a gun went wrong. He fled on foot but was caught and wrestled to the ground. 

In video released by the Tulsa County sheriff’s office, the deputy, Bob Bates, yells “Taser”, then a shot is heard and he says: “I shot him, I’m sorry.”

A gun is visible on the ground next to Harris, who cries out in pain: “Oh God, he shot me, I didn’t do shit.”

WOW. RT @deray: in his hand: type of gun that killed  #EricHarris --  on table: gun type sheriffs lied & said was used: image via Coach Kitty @CameraOnAmazon, 13 April 2015

On Monday the district attorney, Steve Kunzweiler, told the Guardian the sheriff’s office had provided him with the findings of its investigation on Friday afternoon.

In filing the charges on Monday, he said: “Oklahoma law defines culpable negligence as ‘the omission to do something which a reasonably careful person would do, or the lack of the usual ordinary care and caution in the performance of an act usually and ordinarily exercised by a person under similar circumstances and conditions.”

Harris’ brother, Andre Harris, told reporters at a news conference on Monday that officers from the sheriff’s department tried to discourage him from hiring an attorney.

He said he did not believe the shooting was “a racial thing. I don’t think this has anything to do with race. It might have a hint there somewhere. … This is simply evil.”

“When you’re the law, I guess you feel like you can do things and get away with it and not get exposed. Well, we’ve come to expose it. We’ve come to pull a mask off the evil.”

Bates, a wealthy insurance executive in the Oklahoma city, was named the department’s reserve deputy of the year in 2011. He worked for the Tulsa police department for a year in the mid-1960s and is one of 130 volunteer reserves in the sheriff’s department, according to Tulsa World, which said he had donated equipment as well as $2,500 to the re-election campaign for sheriff Stanley Glanz in 2012.

Did the 73-year-old man who shot and killed #EricHarris pay to be a cop in his spare time?: image via CNN International @cnni, 13 April 2015

Glanz, 72, told Tulsa World he had not given his friend and fishing companion special treatment and that the sheriff’s office once had an 81-year-old deputy. Bates simply “made an error”, Glanz said. “How many errors are made in an operating room every week?”

On Sunday, the Harris family issued a statement which said they “do not believe it is reasonable for a 73-year-old insurance executive to be involved in a dangerous undercover sting operation” and added: “We do not believe it is reasonable -- or responsible -- for [the sheriff’s office] to accept gifts from a wealthy citizen who wants to be [a] ‘pay to play’ cop.”

History lives in the present. Never forget that fact. America's slave patrol police. #ericharris #walterscott: image via chauncey devega @chaunceydevega, 11 April 2015

In the video of events in Tulsa, which came from a police body camera, officers continue to try to subdue Harris, one shouting: “Shut the fuck up ... You ran, motherfucker, do you hear me, you fucking ran.”

When the 44-year-old says “I’m losing my breath,” an officer replies: “Fuck your breath.”

kneeling on his head, left hand grabbing neck, right hand clenched ready to punch #ericharris #firstaid: image via Mike Spangenberg @MikeSpangenberg, 11 April 2015

I am a Black woman with asthma. I cannot even engage with "f--k your breath" as something that one human being says to another human.

-- tweet via Ebony Elizabeth @Ebonyteach, 13 April 2015

The unimaginable cruelty of a world where a cop says "f*ck your breath" as you lay dying. Have mercy, God.

-- tweet via Yolanda Pierce @YNPierce, 13 April 2015
Hollow. I don't have words for #EricHarris. My words won't form. His last words - and his murderers' vile answers - keep ringing in my ear.

-- tweet via Ava DuVernay @AVAETC, 13 April 2015

There's not much more barbaric than continuing to physically/mentally terrorize someone as they lay dying, screaming in fear. #Eric Harris

-- tweet via Jesse Benn @JesseBenn, 13 April 2015

"F*ck your breath" is the experience.

-- tweet via StLNYC @StLnNYC, 13 April 2015

Westworld – Onde Ninguém Tem Alma | Retrospectiva #Westworld #MichaelCrichton: image via A Fábrica @Fabdeexpressos, 9 March 2015

Harris died in hospital.

In their statement, Harris’s family said: “Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of all this is the inhumane and malicious treatment of Eric after he was shot ... No human being deserves to be treated with such contempt. These deputies treated Eric as less than human. They treated Eric as if his life had no value.”
At a press conference last Friday, the Tulsa sheriff’s office said its own investigation had concluded that Bates had made a mistake and had not committed a crime. It brought in a Tulsa police sergeant, Jim Clark, as a private consultant.

Tulsa Police Sgt. Jim Clark (right), acting as an independent consultant for the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office, and Sheriff's Capt. Billy McKelvey listen to a question during a press conference about the shooting death of a suspect by a reserve deputy: photo by Cory Young/Tulsa World, 11 April 2015

Clark told reporters that Bates was “a true victim of ‘slips and capture’”, a term used to describe a mistake when someone thinks he or she is taking one course of action but is following another.

It was an argument used by former Oakland police officer Johannes Mehserle to explain why he shot dead Oscar Grant at a Bart station in 2009 when, Mehserle said, he had planned to use his Taser.

Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. The incident inspired the 2013 film Fruitvale Station.

BART Trial Oscar Grant 
Johannes Mehserle

Oscar Grant, shortly before being fatally shot by San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit officer Johannes Mehserle, New Years Day, 2009: photo by Associated Press

The deputy that shot and killed #EricHarris is an insurance executive who pays to play cop: image via AlexMedina @mrmedina. 13 April 2015

After the K.K.K. take off their hoods they go back to being your police, prosecutors and judges #EricHarris #firstaid: image via Frank Clark @menes676, 11 April 2015

#MichaelCrichton Writer Series continues with #Westworld (1973): image via Motion State Review @motion_state, 8 April 2015

You are afforded the right to remain silent. #WalterScott #EricHarris: image via BlackHistoryStudies @BlkHistStudies, 13 April 2015

Steven W. Thrasher: Oklahoma and "Bad" History

If history teachers banished lessons on “bad” American history, what would be left?: photo by PhotoQuest via The Guardian, 19 February 2015

Sorry, Oklahoma. You don't get to ban history you don't like: Going after history classes that don’t teach “American Exceptionalism” is anything but patriotic: Steven W. Thrasher, The Guardian, 19 February 2015

Oklahoma House Republicans on the Common Education Committee voted on Tuesday to ban advanced placement US history courses, because they think [such courses show] "what is bad about America". If I were Oklahoma, I’d want to forget about “what is bad about” American history, too, especially in my corner of it!

In its “good” history, Oklahoma can boast being the basis of Rodgers and Hammerstein musical and the home of Oral Roberts University. But if Oklahomans were to purge all their local stories which reflect “what is bad about America”, their history pages would be wiped as white as a Tulsa klansman’s hood. Oklahoma was the extremely violent home to a number of lynched African-Americans, as chronicled by America's Black Holocaust Museum; the Native American men, women and children slaughtered at what is now the Washita Battlefield National Historic Site; and the white people who killed them and likely went to church that very week. It is where Timothy McVeigh committed the largest domestic act of terrorism in recent years and blew up, killed and wounded hundreds of people in the Alfred P Murrah Federal Building. Oklahoma is chock full of former reservations where Native Americans were forced to relocate. It’s where, just last year, a botched execution took 45 minutes and left condemned Clayton Lockett "a bloody mess". And it’s where the violent fracking of its natural resources may be the reason why Oklahoma has gone from having “one or two perceptible earthquakes a year” to “averaging two or three a day.”

Just last month, Education Week gave the state a D- on education and ranked it 48th in the nation. Clearly, Oklahoma could move up from being third dumbest, fourth most incarcerated, and sixth fattest state if it just ignored its unpleasant history, right?

Nationally, if history teachers were to banish everything “bad” about America from our classrooms (i.e., the three-fifths compromise, Jim Crow, the lack of women’s suffrage for a  century and a half, the genocide of Native Americans, the annexation of Mexico through war, the sexual assault of one in three women in her lifetime, the apartheid of imprisoned African Americans, Ronald Reagan, the internment of Japanese Americans, McDonald's, the colonization of Puerto Rico, the Chinese Exclusion Act, exporting chemical warfare, Three Mile Island, Applebee's [without drones], TGIF’s [with drones], killing kids with drones, selling drones to foreign countries, and Ryan Secrest, to name just a few national disasters), and to instead only teach about what was truly exceptional about America, what would be left to give lessons on? 

Embedded image permalink

Who knew THIS SHIT could be topped by #FuckYourBreath: image via Steven Thrasher@hrasherxy, 13 April 2015

National Republicans seem to agree with what the Okies are doing here: when it comes to focusing too much on “bad” history (ie, not propagating white superiority or creationism enough), Oklahoma Republicans are in good company. Republicans in Arizona have already banned ethnic studies in public schools. Wisconsin governor Scott Walker wants to burnish his White House creds by cutting $300 mn from his public university system. Louisiana Republican Governor Bobby Jindal is also eyeing 2016 by trying to gut $300 mn from his public university system, but from a state which “has already cut more money, on a per-student basis, from higher education than almost any other state in the country.”

National Republicans aren’t any better: they blocked Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren’s bill to lend [money to] college students at the same interest banks get. Senator Marco Rubio currently opposes President Obama's plan to make community college free because he says it doesn’t give “options” and will make the poor feel “pressured to attend community college” just “because it’s the one option paid for by the government.”

This latest anti-education effort, which will only punish really smart kids (who are the ones who want to earn college history credits while in a high school AP course) came about because Republicans think the coursework   doesn’t shill for “American exceptionalism” enough. But why would Oklahoma Republicans -- who embrace education "options" -- want to rob all of their brightest high school seniors of the choice to inexpensively earn college history credits just because their history lessons may be critical and not necessarily full of pro-American propaganda?

If America is exceptional for anything, it was exceptional for the process its founders set in motion at the moment of its birth, when they put their plans into the tangible words of the Constitution. It was an imperfect document to be sure (that "three-fifths thing”, for example), but words were a vastly improved repository for nationhood than a crown.

That Constitution gave us the impetus to place both our nation and our history -- wretched and glorious alike – in writing, in a document which could be amended, but would never be erased. We write shit down and improve on it: that is the American exception. The written word records our history, all of our history, in a way oral history alone can not, especially not with the centuries-long holocaust of Americans of color.

Republicans’ efforts -- in Oklahoma and otherwise -- to bury the past and replace it with a prettier version are outright un-American -- in addition to being 100% ahistorical. Holding our children’s futures hostage by refusing them the opportunity to learn both the good and the bad is simply an effort to secure future votes, not help children learn ... and you can’t hide the truth from kids forever, as any parent who welcomed Santa Claus into their home knows all too well.

Negro drinking at

Negro drinking at "Colored" water cooler in streetcar terminal, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
: photo by Russell Lee, July 1939 (Farm Security Administration Collection, Library of Congress)

Unappeased: The 1921 Tulsa race riot:  "It really destroyed my faith in humanity"

Olivia Hooker, 99, is one of the last survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. While her family home survived the destruction, the family lost everything else they had -– including her father’s department store. Hooker, who was only 6 at the time of the riot, had never experienced racism before the mobsters burned down Greenwood. After she witnessed white Tulsans loot her town, her perceptions of race were dramatically altered: "It really destroyed my faith in humanity". After 93 years of fighting for restitution, Hooker admits it is not likely she’ll ever receive anything: photo by Al Jazeera America, 19 July 2014

Survivors of infamous 1921 Tulsa race riot still hope for justice: Witness to the destruction of their world, they are dying before reparations can reach them: Dexter Mullins, AlJazeera America, 19 July 2014

TULSA, Oklahoma -- They called it Black Wall Street.

Tulsa race riots

The Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma, after the 1921 Tulsa race riot: photo courtesy of Tulsa Historical Society via Al Jazeera America, 19 July 2014

It was only a 1-square-mile area on the north side of Tulsa, but for blacks in the 1900s, Greenwood was everything the South was not. Filled with black lawyers, doctors and business owners, flush with prosperity, here was an area where African-Americans finally had a chance to make something of themselves, escaping the harsh racism of a nation that deprived them of even the most basic dignities.

A dollar would circulate 19 times before leaving Greenwood, a byproduct of the segregation laws, which kept blacks from shopping anywhere else but also united the community financially. There was affluence and education in Greenwood not seen anywhere else in the country for African-Americans, and each day more people were coming to carve out a piece of the dream for themselves, adding to the prosperity of the neighborhood.

Tulsa race riots

African-Americans taken prisoner during the riot. An armed white man rides on the running board of the truck: photo courtesy of Tulsa Historical Society via Al Jazeera America, 19 July 2014

This was the town Olivia Hooker was born in, the place she called home as a little girl, an African-American child oblivious to the racism plaguing the country until the day in 1921 when all of her neighborhood would be wiped off the map in the space of a day: the bank, the elegant brick homes, the Red Wing Hotel, Mann’s Grocery, the Dreamland Theatre, even her father’s department store, the Sam D. Hooker Store at 124 Greenwood Avenue.

On May 30, 1921, a young black man was accused of assaulting a white woman. That accusation was the tipping point for a town already reeling from racial tension, and would turn into the worst 24 hours in the city’s history, known as the Tulsa Race Riot.

Hooker is 99 now, a retired teacher living in White Plains, New York. But when the riot happened, she was 6, exposed for the first time to the brutal realities of discrimination and hatred. She was devastated.

“And so when this terrible thing happened, it really destroyed my faith in humanity,” she said. “And it took a good long while for me to get over it.”

There are fewer than a dozen survivors of the riot, which Hooker refers to as “the catastrophe.” And for nearly a century now, the survivors have been seeking reparations for the destruction of their homes and businesses. Despite their best efforts, they have come up empty-handed.

Experts and historians may have differing accounts of what happened, but they all agree on one thing: It’s likely that the survivors will die before they receive what they are seeking.

Tulsa race riot

Thousands of families were left homeless from the fire that raged through the 35 blocks of Greenwood during the riot: photo courtesy of Tulsa Historical Society via Al Jazeera America, 19 July 2014

Tulsa wasn’t the first city to experience a race riot, and it would not be the last. Racial disturbances were commonplace at the time, as the nation struggled to grapple with its rapidly changing culture.

During the "Red Summer of 1919," there were more than two dozen race riots across the country. In Chicago, tensions mounted over housing, job prospects and which race had use of certain recreational areas, resulting in a bloody riot. 

Washington, D.C., experienced its own unrest after a white woman fabricated a story of being raped by two black men, a common lie of the time that was then inflamed by the white press, kicking off yet another riot.

There were similar eruptions in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Omaha, Nebraska, that summer. And even after Tulsa, a rape accusation was the cause of a riot in Rosewood, a black community in Florida that was burned to the ground in 1923. In Tulsa, it all started because of an incident between Dick Rowland, a black man, and Sarah Page, a young white woman, in an elevator at the Drexel Building. It’s not exactly clear what the chain of events was -- even the state’s official report lists a variety of stories surrounding what happened -- but most credible accounts agree on the basic facts.

On May 30, 19-year-old Rowland was riding in an elevator operated by 17-year-old Page. Rowland tripped as he was exiting the elevator and grabbed Page’s arm in an attempt to steady himself. She screamed, and he fled the elevator as a white clerk from a nearby store came to investigate the noise. He assumed Page, apparently distraught from the incident, had been assaulted by Rowland and called the police.

Like a game of telephone, the story became more inflammatory with each retelling, and spread rapidly. Rowland hid in Greenwood, terrified he’d be lynched for allegedly raping a white girl. He was arrested the next morning and taken to the courthouse, where a vigilante mob had arrived to demand that police turn him over to the crowd.

Tulsa race riots

Armed white men ride with a few black men in the car during the riot: photo courtesy of Tulsa Historical Society via Al Jazeera America, 19 July 2014

A group of black men, many of them World War I veterans, armed themselves and went to the courthouse to protect Rowland, determined that a black person would not be lynched in their town.

More than 75 of them twice arrived at the courthouse to offer their services to defend Rowland against a mob of thousands of angry whites. They were twice denied. Their departure from the courthouse the second time would be the tipping point.

According to the official report, a white man approached one of the black men, who was armed with a revolver.

“Nigger, what are you going to do with that pistol?” he said.

“I’m going to use it if I need to,” the black man replied.

The white man demanded he hand it over, and he refused. When the white man tried to disarm him, the gun went off and the riot began.

Over the course of 24 hours, Greenwood would be looted, set ablaze and literally burned off the map. All 35 blocks were gone.

When the smoke cleared on June 1, more than $1.5 million in damage (about $20 million in contemporary dollars) had been done; as many as 300 people, black and white, had been killed; and thousands of black families were left homeless, with nothing but rubble and ash to call home.

Tulsa race riots

The damage to the Williams Dreamland Theatre in Greenwood: photo courtesy of Tulsa Historical Society via Al Jazeera America, 19 July 2014

Even then, there were people who wanted to pay restitution.

According to a 1921 New York Times article, Judge Loyal J. Martin, a former mayor of Tulsa who chaired the first race riot committee -- the Tulsa City Commission -- just days after the attack, said in a mass meeting that the city could redeem itself and move forward only “by complete restitution and rehabilitation of the destroyed black belt.”

"The rest of the United States must know that the real citizenship of Tulsa weeps at this unspeakable crime and will make good the damage, so far as it can be done, to the last penny,” he said.

But that never happened. Insurance companies denied claims from African-Americans, leaving them with nothing but the clothes on their backs, forced to start over or leave. Blacks tried to sue the city and state for damages but had their claims blocked or denied, according to the official report.

On June 14, just two weeks after the riot, Mayor T.D. Evans addressed the commission, telling it that the incident was “inevitable” and that the victims “should receive such help as we can give them.”

But then he said something else: “Let us immediately get to the outside fact that everything is quiet in our city, that this menace has been fully conquered, and that we are going on in a normal condition.”

In other words: The city should move on. And for 90 years, that’s what happened.

After an initial flurry of reports, with articles appearing as far away as the London Times, news of the “troubles” in Tulsa vanished.

Tulsa race riot

A Tulsa man is detained during the riot: photo courtesy of Tulsa Historical Society via Al Jazeera America, 19 July 2014

Greenwood did rebuild, bigger and better than it was before. But desegregation claimed Greenwood just as it did every black town in the United States; given the opportunity to spend money outside their own neighborhood for the first time, and the chance to live in areas previously off limits to them, African-Americans slowly but steadily moved away from the area, and the businesses left with them.

The Greenwood of today looks nothing like the once famous area. A highway overpass cuts right through the middle of the neighborhood. The sidewalks along Greenwood Avenue and Archer Street are lined with hundreds of plaques that each list the name of a business that was destroyed in the riot and whether or not it was rebuilt. Many were not.

But just behind the businesses on Greenwood Avenue is a shiny new baseball stadium, and across the street is a new luxury condominium building. A large chunk of Greenwood is now home to the Tulsa campuses of both Oklahoma State University and Langston University.

Tulsa race riot

 An armed man during the riot: photo courtesy of Tulsa Historical Society via Al Jazeera America, 19 July 2014

From the time of the riot, whole generations of Tulsans have grown up never hearing a word about the darkest moment in the city’s history.

Damario Solomon-Simmons, an African-American attorney in Tulsa, is one of them.

A native of North Tulsa, Solomon-Simmons attended Carver Middle School -- on Greenwood Avenue -- and still didn’t learn about Greenwood and the riots until he took an African-American studies course at the University of Oklahoma.

All of it -- the business district and the homes, the sudden destruction -- left him flabbergasted. He argued with his professor, telling him, “You’re wrong! I’m from Tulsa, I’m from North Tulsa, I’ve never seen or heard of anything like that.’’

Marc Carlson, a historian and archivist at the University of Tulsa who oversees the school’s race riot collection, said many of his students don’t know either, not even the ones from Tulsa.

“I don’t know why that is,” he said, adding that the state Legislature requires schools to include the riot in their curriculum.

Oddly, there is more awareness of the event in other countries than in the U.S.

Michelle Place, executive director of the Tulsa Historical Society, said requests for information about the riot are the society’s No. 1 inquiry.

"About a month ago I talked to someone in New Zealand. I’ve talked to Tokyo, I’ve talked to London,” said Place.

She can understand why city leaders might be reluctant to put it in school textbooks. But why, she wondered, didn’t the tale survive orally?

“The fact that it’s not just one of those things that we all knew took place,” she said and paused, “… takes my breath away, brings me up short.”

Tulsa race riots

A dead body in the street, June 1, 1921: photo courtesy of Tulsa Historical Society via Al Jazeera America, 19 July 2014

Despite suffering massive losses from the riot, many people in the black community did not and still do not know about it, said Mechelle Brown, program coordinator at the Greenwood Cultural Center.

Many whites were ashamed of the incident, she said, so it would make sense that they wouldn’t want to talk about it. But it was also hushed up in the black community. Why, she wondered, wouldn’t they want people to know what happened to them?

Tulsa race riot

Firefighters extinguish the flames during the riot: photo courtesy of Tulsa Historical Society via Al Jazeera America, 19 July 2014

“But blacks, we asked years ago, ‘Why did you not talk about it?’ And they said that after the race riot, when they came back here and there was absolutely nothing to come home to, that they felt those same feelings of anger and resentment and bitterness and fear,” Brown said. “But they had to think about the next day, and the day after.”

Brown understands why they wouldn’t want to relive that pain, she said. At the same time, she sees it as a missed opportunity.

“It robbed us of something. It robbed us of our history. It robbed us of where we come from.”

Tulsa race riot Ku Klux Klan

A Ku Klux Klan gathering in Drumright, Oklahoma, 1922. The Klan's presence in Oklahoma increased after the riot: photo courtesy of Tulsa Historical Society via Al Jazeera America, 19 July 2014

In 2001, 80 years after the destruction of Greenwood, the Tulsa Race Riot Commission recommended in a 178-page report that survivors be paid reparations, calling it a “moral obligation.”

“Justice demands a closure as it did with Japanese Americans and Holocaust victims of Germany,” the report reads. The issue is not if reparations are to be paid, but “which government entity should provide financial repair to the survivors and the condemned community that suffered under vigilante violence?”

Paying reparations was just not something Oklahomans were interested in entertaining.

Brown said that almost as soon as word got out about the possibility of reparations, the Greenwood Cultural Center began to receive hate mail and angry, anonymous phone calls from people who did not support paying out. A lot of the calls were similar: “I wasn’t here, my parents weren’t involved in it.”

The Oklahoma state Legislature accepted the report and the “moral responsibility on behalf of the state and its citizens” but flatly refused to pay any type of reparations.

More than 200 people sued the state, seeking recourse for damages. The survivors weren’t asking for individual checks for themselves or their descendants; they wanted educational benefits such as scholarships for students in the area to attend historically black colleges and universities and health benefits for descendants who remained in Greenwood.

Unfortunately, Oklahoma law requires that civil rights lawsuits be filed within two years of an event, and District Judge James O. Ellison noted that the clock began ticking right after the riot. The U.S. Supreme Court said the same.

Tulsa race riot

Thousands of families were left homeless from the fire that raged through the 35 blocks of Greenwood during the riot: photo by Dexter Mullins for Al Jazeera America, 19 July 2014

For Solomon-Simmons, an attorney who worked with the victims’ legal team, having the case denied by the nation’s highest court just added insult to injury.

“I felt like we were right. We had the facts on our side. I think we should have had the law on our side,” he said. “I still get exceedingly, if I’m frank, pissed off, just thinking about the fact that we were not able to get redress for the survivors and their descendants.”

Tulsa did construct the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park in the middle of Greenwood, a memorial to the destruction and a tribute to the survivors. It’s one of two monuments in the area -- the other is in front of the Greenwood Cultural Center and was built with money raised exclusively by the center several years before the reconciliation park.

Tulsa race riots

The Mabel B. Little Heritage House, one of the few homes to survive the riot, is maintained by the Greenwood Cultural Center. The home is filled with items typical of a home in 1920s Greenwood: photo by Dexter Mullins for Al Jazeera America, 19 July 2014

Despite articles appearing in publications over the years, most people in the U.S. still have no idea the event even occurred. There is a major push from the Tulsa Historical Society, the Greenwood Cultural Center and the University of Tulsa to fix that.

The historical society has digitized its riot archive and put the collection onto an app, hoping to satisfy the seemingly unyielding demand for information about the riot, and to reach new people.

The app launched in May for $9.99, and as more material comes in, it will update so people can see the latest information. UT is also digitizing the cultural center’s archives so the information can be shared online.

The survivors may not have won their case, but at least now people may finally learn about the prosperity they once had.

After they lost their appeals, not much has happened in the way of paying the few remaining survivors. Old age and time has claimed the lives of many of them, and more die every year without any restitution.

There are some efforts in Congress to try and help. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., introduces a bill every year on the floor of the House to remove the statute of limitations in the Greenwood case to allow the survivors’ lawsuit to go forward. 
But that bill -- along with the one Conyers presents each year to study reparations for slavery -- is not likely to ever get further than that introduction, especially in today’s divided Congress.

“We thought we might live long enough to see something happen, but even though I’ve lived 99 years, nothing of that sort has actually happened,” Hooker said. “You keep hoping, you keep hope alive, so to speak.”

After all, it did take 80 years before the survivors of the riot even got an official apology from the city of Tulsa. Mayor Kathy Taylor held a “celebration of conscience” and honored with a medal each of the survivors the city could contact.

But Hooker,who was the first African American woman to serve in the Coast Guard and went on to earn a doctorate's in psychology, remains optimistic.

“We’ll just keep right on trying, never giving up. Never, never giving up.”

Solomon-Simmons, on the other hand, isn’t nearly as hopeful.

The collective failure to act, to pay the victims, to set up a scholarship fund or make a real attempt at restitution is a “stain on our nation,” he said.

“And it’s sad to know that they’re probably all going to die without receiving anything,” he added. “Unfortunately, black life in America is still not worth that much.”

Tulsa race riot

Sculptor Ed Dwight created three statues to convey the hostility, humiliation and hope experienced by the Greenwood neighborhood. Found in the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, this statue represents humiliation: photo by Dexter Mullins for Al Jazeera America, 19 July 2014