Calls for ‘Reparations Now’ at Tulsa’s Juneteenth Rally

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People attend and celebrate at Tulsa's “I, Too, Am America,” Juneteenth Rally for Justice. © 2020 Human Rights Watch

Several thousand people gathered yesterday in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s historic Greenwood district for the “I, Too, Am America,” Juneteenth Rally for Justice. It was in part a celebration to commemorate the emancipation of the last large population of enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865 – with live music, food trucks, and plenty of reminders to wear masks and socially distance.

But the anger and frustration were also palpable, as Black Tulsans are all too aware that, after 155 Juneteenth celebrations and nearly 100 years after the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, when a white mob killed several hundred Black people and destroyed a prosperous Black neighborhood, deep-rooted problems remain, and the enduring legacy of structural racism  and injustices continue. Many Tulsan community leaders gave powerful speeches, with calls to action and demands for long overdue reparations.

Dr. Robert Turner, pastor of Historic Vernon Chapel A.M.E. Church in Tulsa, described the significance of the field where the rally was held:

The very place where you are standing is sacred ground, where nearly 100 years ago, bombs were dropped right where you’re standing. Children were running, mothers were looking, grandmothers were afraid. And so, we are here today, in this sacred place to celebrate Juneteenth, to celebrate the liberation of African Americans from chattel slavery some 155 years later.

But…we still today, 155 years later, are not yet free. We as a people are not yet free to even walk down the streets of Tulsa without the police coming to harass and assault our young men. We are not free as a people to sit in our car and rest and relax as Terence Crutcher did without getting our lives taken from us.

We as a people are still not free when you have a major of our police department saying that we don’t kill Black people enough. We as a people are not free when you have a mayor that says justice such as reparations is divisive. We demand reparations not tomorrow, not next week, not next month, not next year, but we demand reparations, Mr. Mayor, Mr. Governor and Mr. President, Now. Reparations Now.

In his remarks, Demario Solomon Simmons, a civil rights attorney and an adjunct professor of African and African American studies at the University of Oklahoma, also explained why reparations were needed:

What are reparations? The root word means “to repair.” It’s very simple. We need to repair the damage that was done, not just in 1921, but the continual massacre that has happened ever since that day. We must repair it because we suffer in north Tulsa. We suffer as Black people in this city. And the only way we can have reconciliation that they talk about it, is to have what? Reparations.

A number of other speakers made powerful calls to action and justice, including: Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, who has become a leading advocate for justice afterTulsa police killed her brother Terence in 2016; Greg Robinson, Tulsa community activist and candidate for mayor; Tulsa’s City Council Vice Chair Vanessa Hall-Harper, who is also Membership Committee and Power Group Chair for the Black Wall Street Chamber of Commerce; and the civil rights activist and founder of the National Action Network, Reverend Al Sharpton.

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Several thousand people gathered yesterday in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s historic Greenwood district for the “I, Too, Am America,” Juneteenth Rally for Justice. But the anger and frustration were also palpable, as Black Tulsans are all too aware that, after 155 Juneteenth celebrations and nearly 100 years after the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre