For our relaunch of the Beyond Coexistence Podcast, we have a special episode to share…
Transcript of the Beyond Coexistence Podcast: A community response to the OETA documentary Tulsa Race Massacre: 100 years later
Recorded at Nappy Roots Books, Oklahoma City on June 13, 2021
SPEAKERS: Rev. Jesse Jackson, Rev. T. Sheri Dickerson, James M. Branum, Rena Guay
James M. Branum: We’d like to welcome you to the Beyond Coexistence podcast.
Rena Guay: Hi, this is Rena,
James M. Branum: and this is James.
And we’re with the Objector Church. We are a religious humanist community dedicated to the cause of peace and social justice. That’s our tagline kind of thing.
Rena Guay: We can’t finish your sentences, but sometimes we stop. Okay, so we’re pretty excited. We’re back after a bit of a hiatus and so forth . . . that’s a whole other podcast to explain that.
James M. Branum: But we had a pandemic, among, among other things
Rena Guay: but we are so so excited to bring you this program. Because it, the content of it, the people involved, the timeliness of it. We just are really excited to bring it to you, and we really think you’re going to enjoy it. It’s recorded in Oklahoma City at Nappy Roots Bookstore, and it was on . . . what was the date again, James? About a week ago? Yes. I don’t remember the days, well, we’ll fill in the exact date.
But we do have a little story to explain what happened, because the audio recording was kind of poor quality, because we weren’t really planning to use that audio for anything. We were video live streaming it. But we had serious technical difficulties in that the live stream completely went kaput on us. So we just had the fallback sort of. . . I just happened to be audio recording, I didn’t set it up to be, you know, a decent quality at all. So we’ve been tinkering with that file to try to improve the quality. And James did stellar work, getting a transcript made so that you can read along and follow exactly what’s being said, because, again, the subject is so important. So what is it all about?
James M. Branum: Well, what this event was that we had last week, we did a community screening of the documentary, The Tulsa race massacre: 100 years later. And it was produced by OETA, which is Oklahoma’s public television network. And they did these screenings as opportunities for members of the community to watch the film together and talk about it. And so we were fortunate in our screening to have two special guests there. And we’ll talk about it in just a moment, but we had a conversation with them right after the documentary so Rena, myself and the other speakers were Reverend T. Sheri Dickerson, who is also the executive director of Black Lives Matter Oklahoma. And then the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who is the pastor of East 6th Street Christian church. And it was a really, really good conversation. We went into some points of agreement, points of disagreement, and really engaged with this documentary, which is looking at literally 100 years later, where are we at culturally, here in Oklahoma? Where are we at in our history? What demons have we not yet uncovered? What is this all about?
Rena Guay: And we want to thank, right off the bat, we want to thank Sheri and Jesse, for joining us, they really went above and beyond to give us their time and attention to watch this video with us and to share their thoughts afterwards. And we just cannot thank them enough. And did you say that they are pastors, their respective communities…
James M. Branum: I don’t know Sheri’s church.
Rena Guay: I don’t think she’s currently involved (in ministry) with a church, but she is the executive director of the Oklahoma Black Lives Matter. Jesse is this I think it’s 6th Street, East 6th Street Baptist Church.
James M. Branum: Christian Church. . . And these are both I will add, these are both, these are activists, these are community organizers. These are people that have stood up for, for what is right and just for a long, long time. That’s why we really wanted to hear their perspectives, especially.
One thing I’ll also mention, I just want to give a special thanks especially to OETA for having these community screenings. I really I thought it was a really good thing to have these. And also we should mention that if you have not seen this documentary, the good news is you can watch it. It’s on YouTube. In the shownotes we’ll have a link to the video and we encourage you if you have the time to watch it. It’s worth seeing. It’s good and you’ll hear more of our take on it, positive and negative. But you’ll hear our take on it in the rest of this program.
Rena Guay: Okay, so have we covered all the details that we need to ahead of time. Can we segue into the program?
James M. Branum: Well, before we do that, I want to mention one other thing real quick. And that is the group that’s putting out this podcast (the Objector Church), we will be having more podcasts like this and we’re hoping for maybe once a month, in the future, we’ll see, you know, there’s contingencies. But I do encourage you to check, check out those podcasts in the future. They will all be up at Objector.church on our podcast page.
Also the audio that’s going to follow right after this, is going to have some rough spots. And so we do have a transcript and we encourage you to follow along there. But the content is so good, despite, the audio qualities, that we still wanted to share it. So other than that, we really appreciate you listening.
Rena Guay: And it was June 13
(We will jump right in to the conversation…)
T. Sheri Dickerson: For me, I knew a lot of the people who were involved that we saw today. And have, I mean, we even have nicknames for one another. That’s how close we are. And when I talk to Dr. Hannibal Johnson and the artist, probably one of my favorite artists, who is a Black woman who is so intentional, in her artistic expression, Ebony Imam Dallas. It wasn’t really connecting dots because I’ve been talking about the story of Greenwood and Black Wall Street for over 20 years. But to be able to hear the perspective from historians, those have, heard from some of the ones that have done research. And to see the survivors, all of whom the ones displayed here, I think all of them have passed away now. I was very, very grateful that that history, that that documentation, and capture of their story was included. In that a lot of those people that were talking, I think it was Footage from 1999. That’s what spoke to me most. That’s what I was most grateful for. And that’s what I had to focus on. Because the beginning of this documentary is still very upsetting to me. It is another story of how whiteness, and often white women are so dangerous to the entire community of black women and black people. But also was it intentional? Or did they – this mob, these rioters, these thugs, just used this story to to actually play out and erupt what they wanted to do anyway. So any, any reason would have done- that’s just the one that was an easy target and made the entire community of Greenwood very easy prey.
Jesse Jackson: I thought the film was well done. I did learn some tidbits that I had not heard before. But it put some things like the threatening letters sent to certain merchants in Greenwood before this happened. So it was almost as if, you know, we’re just looking for the right opportunity to do this.
Rena Guay: OK, Jesse, any reaction to this production?
Jesse Jackson: And it was just a couple more things that now because you know the story, we know how things turned out, (now) they make perfect sense. But not only that, you get a sense, that it’s not over. I know that night, June 1 1921, that part is over. But this whole situation is not over here. My mind is not settled, because there’s been no reconciliation or reparation or anything like that. And I think it’s bogus for people to call for reconciliation without dealing with atoning for… certainly something like that. But it lets us know that oppression continues when people were denied insurance when people in speak of it, but I’ve read other places in the city of Tulsa, denied building permits to some people. And not then going back in and building. It was a systematic thing that continued after June 1, 1921. — And it continued, building a highway through the middle of it. And the one thing that I’ve been saying about, Greenwood in 1921 is that there was a dot to be connected with other things. It was bigger than Greenwood, it was bigger than Oklahoma even. This was a national thing, the election of 1912 brought us Woodrow Wilson. Woodrow Wilson’s administration, not only did he view Birth of a Nation in the White House, but he had the largest, the largest Klan march in the history of the United States, down Pennsylvania Avenue. And that was the kind of move that was present in the country, and a state that was present in Oklahoma, if you read our history, and we read about the first governors, particularly there was one Governor who was thrown out of office for fighting the Klan. Yeah, you know, so you have that kind of situation like that. And what happened in North Tulsa affected what happened in Oklahoma City as well. We have the same situation. And in what they call “Deep Deuce” —- were not allowed to get beyond those boundaries there now. And it shaped some of the other things that came after that. John Hope Franklin, whose father . . . was born in Greenwood, he grew up there. His father was a very prominent businessman there. He says that, “you destroy black community in two ways: you either resort it or you build a highway through it and we certainly see how we drill through Greenwood to separate it. But also as the gentlemen said, it still kind of on sacred ground where they believe that a lot of bodies are buried. And I know that it has to be . . . you know, intentional. here in Oklahoma City Harrison-Walnut was destroyed to build Broadway Extension. Everts Addition, historical addition, the first African American neighborhood owned by African Americans in Oklahoma City, has I-35 through it and now they’re talking about taking more homes to expand, after the attack. It is not an accident that they build highways to separate our communities and then I said one night on Facebook. People from all over the country started chiming in, you know from Los Angeles, other places, they did this, they did that. That stuff is intentional. This is just them so that’s why I’m saying that it feels like it is ongoing, it has not stopped and it is very intentional.
Rena Guay: James, what about you? Reactions to this particular production?
James M. Branum: Real fast I’m just making sure our video is running. Okay, before we keep rolling it I’m concerned I’m not seeing it over here so I’m just double checking, because …
Rena Guay: I’m audio recording.
James M. Branum: We’ll keep rolling then, I think it is working, I just wanted to make sure. I think to me . . . this documentary was really moving to me from this, first particularly showing how the community is continuing to respond and continuing to commemorate and seek justice. One of the things I think to me was hopeful — I grew up here in Oklahoma, and I’ve also been a student of Oklahoma history since high school and I fell in love with the subject, I have ever since. What I’ve learned about studying Oklahoma history is, that it is all about who tells the story and that often the powers that be, they want a certain version of it told.
I’ve brought … two Oklahoma history books. These are authentic books used in Oklahoma history classes. This one is Oklahoma, our home and it moves as you see it’s from Oklahoma City School District in 1957, I looked through it in detail, not a word about the Tulsa race massacre. And this book was actually the same edition I used when I was in high school, The 89er edition of Oklahoma Heritage. . . . this was a better telling, but an incomplete telling, in fact, if I remember right, was that he keeps saying Tulsa race “riot” over and over again. Now, it did tell some of the horror of it, but it did not tell everything. And to me what this documentary we just saw, it’s, it’s another step in this journey of the real truth coming out, but I think we have so far to go.
Jesse Jackson: There was intentionality in calling it a riot, as well. And as this film pointed out, if you call it a “riot” it had insurance implications. But when you tell the story, you know, it was anything but a riot. It was an invasion. You know, 300 against 2000, and the 300 were defending their homes, you know, their property and their lives, and everything. So that’s a whole different absolute ballgame. So the whole idea was intentional. And I think that’s the thing that our government and others don’t want people to talk about, that they want it to be like, it just happened in a spontaneous way. And we know that it did not. It was intentional. It had a purpose. And the purpose was, look, you know, if people talk about it among us in the African American community and the fact that the dollars don’t turn over in the community. People bringing dollars into the community, they take them all the way out. Money turned over in their community. time and time and time again, I have no idea how many times it turned over. But you know, it didn’t matter that you couldn’t go to South Tulsa, because you could spend your money on everything that you wanted in North Tulsa as well as Greenwood. And so, . . . I disagree with my brother, that said in speaking about the civil rights movement and said it was a good thing and a bad thing. It’s bad in this sense. It’s bad in this sense. I think it opened the door to take finances out of the community and take them somewhere else. It was more than
… At some point, desegregation switched to assimilation. I think that’s the biggest thing, that’s one of the major culprits all around the United States in different parts of this state was urban renewal. And he says in there, we call down by our church, Urban Renewal, in the Lower JFK (neighborhood) was Negro removal. Because that is essentially what it did, essentially what it did when you look at pictures from that time period, and you see houses just scattered. You see a community and then you see it a few years later, and you see a lot of fields and empty lots, because they were just just wiped out and the community was transformed. And people spread out over the city. Now you see another transformation coming in with gentrification, and the community is transforming. But it’s being transformed by other people, rather than the people who have historic roots there.
James M. Branum: What happens when these neighborhoods lose their identity? I mean, some of these neighborhoods have been around for so long. And people they have connections…
Jesse Jackson: It took families down their blood, sweat and tears to buy that property. I mean, it did. I cannot tell you the stories of what it took for some people to buy property. And to some people, that was the only property that they had. If they were part of a Native American tribe, they probably had some property in another part of the state. But if they were not, they came here, they worked hard. They got this. This legacy is the only legacy that they give to their kids. But the kids live in Northwest. They live in Midwest city. They live in Edmond, and they have no plans of coming back. So they just want to get rid of the house. And then these wildcatters come along and offer people a fraction of what the house is actually worth. And they just want to get out of it because they don’t want to fool with it. And then the people get it and they may transform it and they can sell it for $50,000 more than they bought it for.
T. Sheri Dickerson: Or $200,000
Jesse Jackson: Well yes, and the people and the legacy of that family is now gone. The legacy of what it took to get this property is gone.
Rena Guay: you know, we have people sticking up these signs that say “we buy houses” And they’re…
Jesse Jackson: I get 5 calls a day.
Rena Guay: They’re corrupting that cohesiveness . . . stimulating or affecting the value of all the houses in the neighborhood. It’s certain neighborhoods more than others. I mean, they’re not in Nichols Hills.
T. Sheri Dickerson: Just like in this when they talk about (unintelligible) and how men were deputized just to come in and eviscerate and destroy a community. Some people say that they were saying the lives that were lost were collateral damage, that’s how they referred to, because their intention was to destroy Greenwood. And so, as Reverend Jackson was speaking about how it is intentional, to take away and to eliminate legacy. That’s one of the reasons why I believe this was actually seen prior to the legacy festival, because language is important. Just like it was important for them to change the terminology from “riot” to “massacre” , to make it more accurate and truthful, it was also very intentional, when the organizers of the Legacy Festival said. We are talking about, we’re centering around, the survivors who are centenarians. We are centering around the community and the descendants, because it is about legacy. And trying to hold on to that.
And just like we’re still trying to do that, right here in Oklahoma City, where another act of domestic terrorism [1995 Murrah Federal Building bombing], which was connected to and stems from the same vitriolic system of white supremacy happens. And people don’t really want to attribute the fact that the intent was around killing people of color. I guess in that particular sense. Their white counterparts were also collateral damage. We had over 300 souls … (unintelligible)we don’t know that there’s not many, many more, when they’re buried in mass graves under a highway. How do you ever give their bodies and their memories a proper internment, but here we know that it was 168. But so we also can connect, how far and wide and bad the damage is they spoke about. One of the artists said, when I was listening to the story, it dawned on me that this person had PTSD. Which is . . . I don’t know any black person, any brown person, any indigenous person and any person of conscience that does not have PTSD from knowing and experiencing the same type of hatred and violence on a daily basis. But history, that’s why they don’t want Critical Race Theory. Because it causes PTSD for white people, because they want it to be more palatable.
Rena Guay: Right. And, you know, in some of the commemorations … I don’t know, I don’t want to malign anybody’s intentions, but some of them have been, you know, kind of whitewashed to try to make sure that nobody’s feelings get hurt, and you can’t, and this whole law that you can’t teach critical race theory in Oklahoma, you know, people need to understand that, you know, just, we’re not perfect, you know, our predecessors we’re not perfect, and we’ve got to grapple with it. What you were saying earlier made me think about it, the lines from the poem “the past is not really past.” And, the other thing I was thinking about when you were talking about how they paved over the graves, it’s like, you know, in, in Germany after World War Two, you know, they say that they know where Hitler’s ashes got buried and they paved over it. They paved over it intentionally because they didn’t want memorials, they didn’t want memories, they didn’t want people to think about that anymore. And the same thing here, it’s like, you know, oh, that’s, that makes me feel icky, and I don’t want to think about that. And I was really impressed by the artist bringing the reproduction bringing the art into it in such a, in such a concrete way that shows that what what artists are doing, you know, with their own probably PTSD as part of their healing, and they’re creating art based on this event, and, you know, the interviews they heard, or whatever, and that’s part of how we all need to, I think, deal with know, this difficult situation and others is, face it in a way that is, doesn’t, you know, doesn’t whitewash it, doesn’t leave out any of that importance, but give people a way to grapple with it in a creative way, it seems to me that, you know, that’s part of the spiritual process. We have three pastors here, so we can’t, we can’t not talk about that. Yeah, that, to me, that’s a spiritual process of creating things. It helps yourself, you know, deal with, with events and history, and allows the people who then do or hear or read your art, to begin to process it. So I was really impressed with the way they rolled that in here.
Jesse Jackson: It’s so hard, though, to heal, when you have people that don’t deal with reality. And they won’t deal with what happened. And, you know, my seminary President at Phillips [Gary Peluso-Verdend] … he writes a blog a week, and Gary wrote, and I used it in one of my sermons a few weeks ago. The family therapists normally say that you’re only as sick as your secrets. We are sick. We are sick, because we will not deal with what happened, we won’t deal, you know, and that just filters down to all of the parts of the family, we keep family secrets that are detrimental, that could stop children from being hurt, they could stop spouses from being hurt, that can stop people from actually growing and becoming whole and humane people, because we keep secrets like that. You know, we all know these people in our homes, like we know people, you know, we know these folk. These are uncles, these are grandparents. It doesn’t mean that you have to stop loving somebody. But it does mean that you need to call out that kind of wrong, that kind of vitriol. We need to be able to do that. You need to be able to acknowledge that that happens. And I don’t know if you’re just trying to save the face of grandpa or whatever, but you know, that kind of sickness is not worth it. It’s not.
T. Sheri Dickerson: It is a sickness. Something about Rena said, when you spoke about art and even art that is allowed ,is very, very . . . Milquetoast. And what I mean by that is yes, art is supposed to be provocative and sometimes pervasive. But true artistic expression can also be very profane. It can be offensive and it is not always beautiful. And I saw and I still continue to see that they try to depict this very violent. – soul crushing, life draining moment and period in time, into a very pretty picture, into a dance. And they started it off, which it struck me I mean, it disturbed me and sometimes art is disturbing. Why do we start and in the first part there is still a white woman centered? And we still needed to justify or dilute what happened. And why was the immediate assumption of some woman? And I don’t know whether it’s true or not. But why did it seem more palatable that this white woman. . .or if it was a girl, because they were teenagers. So these youth were in some type of amorous relationship. Was there something wrong with it? No. But I still say that it is very dangerous to the health, the longevity and the survival and generational survival of black people, especially black men.
We’ve seen how many times when a white woman weaponizes her tears, her story, and basically fabricates … there is always a reaction of violence. And, again, that’s all that they need – just just a spark, to be able to destroy Greenwood, to be able to murder Emmitt Till. To be able to lynch (unintelligible). Because sometimes we forget that over 300 plus bodies are in places that we don’t know where they are. And … tribally and a lot of African tradition says that until I’m able to be put at rest, my physical (body), my Spirit can’t rest. So the spirit of these people are still crying out for justice. And we talked a lot about atonement and they put them in the picture. … the art they were displaying today, amazing art. But none of it was ugly. None of it was disturbing. It was like, we’re still trying to get away from dealing with the fact that this was a massacre. I mean, I don’t, I don’t think you’ll ever be able to make that a beautiful thing.
Rena Guay: No, no.
Jesse Jackson: It’s not supposed to be.
Rena Guay: That’s a good point. But I mean, and so to some extent, as was said earlier, some of these things are originally whitewashed or printed out for the general consumption of the wider community, right? And not, you know, not being as hard hitting as it maybe could be or should be.
James M. Branum: Along the lines of digging deep, one challenge I’m going to make for . . . a fair number of listeners are white, and I’m speaking now as a mostly white person here. I think, for white people, I think we have a special challenge. And that is we need to dig into our own family trees. And the reason I say that is, it’s important, is that it’s so easy to treat these issues like an abstraction, until you go back. And in my case, what I discovered was, for instance, of my slave owning ancestors, finding their wills and finding the most flowery language talking about how much they love the Lord, and how much faith they have in the Lord, and then a paragraph later they are divvying up their slaves and giving human beings. by name, to other family members, and it’s horrid. And it’s shocking and appalling when you read this, and yet my belief is, that until we are willing to do that and we’re willing to then ask the question of how has my family been benefited by the unpaid labor of other people – until we can do that. It’s not going to get better.
Jesse Jackson: Mayor Bynum continues to deny it… this history going back to the 1600’s.
James M. Branum: The reality of it is, if you dig deep enough.. . (one of the ) myths in history class growing up, I heard was that most white people didn’t own slaves. And the reality of it, at least on my family tree, is that, is not true. And there are a lot more people, even white people who may not owned the slaves, who still benefited from it financially. And that’s the reality now of it. … I would also say that, in my family tree, there are humongous heroes and scoundrels and all of that. But if we aren’t willing to go there, if there is that unfinished business that hasn’t been wrestled with… And … how is it for other folks, who have this history of oppression. We got to dig deeper. We can’t keep doing this shallow business.
Rena Guay: That’s true. . . my mother’s side of the family comes from the south. And basically, you know, poor white trash. And I always assumed that, you know, I had, I had ancestors that fought, you know, for the Confederacy, in the civil war that’s that seems, you know, a given. But we didn’t own any slaves in our family. Well, my brother got into genealogy and come to find out there’s actually a female ancestor who owned a handful of slaves. And so, just like we say, I mean, don’t assume. Don’t just, say my family wasn’t touched by that. Almost all were.
Jesse Jackson: I love genealogy, as one of the things that I’ve done, kinda part-time. Genealogy is painful.
James M. Branum: It is.
Jesse Jackson: Because when you’re African-American, you go through . . . there’s only so far you can go back. The first census that includes African Americans was 1870. But you go back, and do you see a mother but you won’t see a father, and it was because the father was a white owner. And I went back and found that one of my ancestors was willed twice. He was willing another human being to somebody. It happened when he was a little boy. And it happened to he and his wife right before the Civil War. And that stuff just kind of chills you. And they’re just some missing holes. Now. I can take the white side of my family and go back to England and Scotland. And it just, it just works that way. But . . . something else, getting back to this that struck me. The same playbook is being used today. You start with a big lie, that this rape, and you start with The Tulsa Tribune, which I think holds a great amount of responsibility for this thing, to publish all of the salacious head headlines that they have now cut out a lot of papers. About “Nab Negro” and he “raped his woman” and things of that sort. So you have this lie and how people would gravitate to a lie and gravitate towards salacious headlines and all the other stuff that they have going on that makes them damage people on the inside, were drawn to that stuff. And then all they want to do is do what they did in January six in DC. You start with a lie, and you start with Fox News and other places. And it’s fires these people up. You would hope that people would see eventually. The Koch brothers are not going to be at the end of the cross with gasoline in one hand and a lighter in the other. They will get people there. They won’t be there themselves.
Rena Guay: hey will bring the busses.
James M. Branum: That was what happened during the Tulsa race massacre. The rich and powerful were the ones who were buying the guns.
Jesse Jackson: It’s interesting, and I just found this out, that the only person that was able to get an insurance claim was the white guy that owns a sports store, that people broke in and stole guns from.
Everybody talking at once: unintelligible
T. Sheri Dickerson: Yeah. And that’s why we wanted to destroy it. That was the true intent. They used literally embellish and just expanded an act that really, probably didn’t happen. The woman, the girl, she’s 17, recounted her story. And I don’t know if she recanted it because I don’t know she ever said, “this is what happened.”
Jesse Jackson: We need to keep making it known that they didn’t just loot a gun store, they looted homes. That was seen in Rosewood, this movie Rosewood, that depicts the very same thing. . And this guy goes, he breaks into this house and starts looting. And he says, “these people have a piano. I don’t even have a piano.” And this other guy says, “you don’t even play a piano.” And so it’s just the thought, it’s just the thought, that they had something more than what they had in South Tulsa.
James M. Branum: Do we know what happened to the young man?
Jesse Jackson: No, I don’t think anybody knows for sure. But the idea that they were connected and that they were loves has been a thing for a long time, because he came from Kansas City. And the last spot that he and she relocated were in Kansas City.
T. Sheri Dickerson: I do believe they say that he was actually murdered during all of this.
Jesse Jackson: Really?
T. Sheri Dickerson: I think so.
Jesse Jackson: And there’s been so many rumors, you know, I don’t, I just I don’t know.
James M. Branum: I was also just horrified, (it’s) not not surprising, but the role of the national guard in all of this.
Rena Guay: And the cops!
T. Sheri Dickerson: . . . like they still do everyday. It is not surprising and there were black law enforcement. And they were literally hired to police the black communities. Now imagine how forward thinking that would be to have people within your own community policing themselves. I don’t know, maybe somebody continues to ask for that. And they might not have been over policed. But what was the intent of that officer when he said it to his neighbors and with African Americans that were coming to stop, to prohibit the lynching of an 18 year old man, “go home, we got it”. And then the white sheriff said to the white people, “go home, we got it.” But they literally organized and then came to the National Guard, which did just issue, an apology.
Everybody talking at once: (unintelligble)
James M. Branum: They did?
T. Sheri Dickerson: The National Guard issued an apology during the Legacy Festival, that said that we have to be honest about our actions, about our participation, and about the lack of truth, and how our participation has been intentionally removed from history books. And what happened. It didn’t miss. I didn’t miss the fact that (unintelligible) and she was an African American woman. And those were the two that pushed and brought it to fruition, that there was an apology issued.
Jesse Jackson: I’m still struck by the fact, as the woman said on the film, that they saw the National Guard, and their first thought was that they were there to help us and that they were not . . . that the trust of authority, and the trust of the uniforms, and I know that some of that was a holdover from the Civil War. They saw those blue uniforms, that they knew that at least they had a different mission. I don’t know if the black officers in Tulsa had this mandate, but black officers (unintelligible) couldn’t carry weapons at the time. They certainly couldn’t arrest white people. The only people they could arrest were people in the African American community, but I don’t know what those guys had. The reach of African-Americans in law enforcement was a small reach, it was a small reach. Those guys did throw discipline around, they would beat the hack out of you, they had billy clubs and everybody knew that they would use them. But they still did not have, I don’t think that authority to fend people off. The state brought in the national Guard. The Oklahoma governor had a hand in it and which means it is beyond just a city action, it becomes a state action. And so I think people in Oklahoma CIty would watch it like and think “if they will do it up there, they will do it down here.” But I thank God for people like Roscoe Dunjee of the Black Dispatch, because all of the Black papers in Tulsa were destroyed. People around the country would not have known about this as fast if Roscoe Dunjee did not have the gumption, the strength, the wisdom, that he had to tell the truth. And to say it boldly, loudly, continually, continually and he did that, and that’s how people got the story. And others picked it up from there.
Rena Guay: Not enough people know about Roscoe Dunjee. I’ve learned about him probably about maybe 11 or 12 years ago, from one of your former congregants, Fannie Bates.
Jesse Jackson: Yes, Yes.
Rena Guay: . . . is actually a fanatic about Roscoe Dunjee, and told me a lot, but, you know. Has there been a biography?
Jesse Jackson: There have been some things and one of my church members, an elder, wrote his PhD thesis on Roscoe Dunjee and education. . . . (unintelligible) I just think that Roscoe Dunjee was one the most amazing people in the history of this state.
Rena Guay: He is.
Jesse Jackson: I love him. His picture was my facebook profile picture for a while. But he’s just an amazing man. He was an amazing man.
Rena Guay: We need to get more people to be aware of him.
Jesse Jackson: And his sister was such an amazing woman,, a historian that was not trained in a formal sense, but she wrote books that Dr. W.E.B. Deboise…(unintelligible). Nobody with a PhD from Harvard could do this.
James M. Branum: By the way, my high school Oklahoma history book, they actually surprisingly had a good bit about Roscoe Dunjee. One line I just loved says, “no movement of any consequence was started in Oklahoma for a period of 40 years without the counsel, and usually the active support of Roscoe Dunjee” and then it goes on to a long bit of conversation.
Rena Guay: I heard he funded a lot of Thurgood Marshall’s…
Jesse Jackson: Thurgood Marshall said at (Dunjee’s) funeral that “no civil rights action took place in Oklahoma or this region, without it being funded by Roscue Dunjee.”.
T. Sheri Dickerson: And I went to a, I mean, it was 97% Black school my entire life. And our history books didn’t have anything.
Rena Guay: Another situation is a (unintelligible) part of of Black Oklahoma history, Black American history, it’s just really been silenced. And we know it’s gonna take effort of everybody to know to bring that up. And I really hope, I don’t know if that thesis can be published, and someone can can use it as the beginning of a. . . there should be a movie about Roscoe Dunjee.
Jesse Jackson: I think he is the most dynamic leader in African-American history in Oklahoma.
Rena Guay: Absolutely. Oklahoma is always talking about wanting to fund, to get movies made in Oklahoma. There you go, there’s your custom-made movie.
Jesse Jackson: You know, I just think that African-Americans have to write those books. We certainly can’t depend on [Oklahoma} Governor Stitt to do jack squat. Or any of the other people . . . if the story is going to be told, African Americans and people that are like-minded are going to have to tell those stories.
Rena Guay: Absolutely! But I mean, everybody can like, create the market, you know, because I mean, yeah, that’s what gets books and movies made, the market. So, you know, that’s, I think that’s what we have to be committed to. I’m going to wrap up this by asking each of you to talk personally, from your faith perspective about, you know, the Tulsa Race Massacre, the remembrance 100 years later, in the context of this era we live, when Black Lives Matter and the January 6 insurrection, everything that is going on in politics. What can you, how can you talk to people in a spiritual way about moving forward on these things?
T. Sheri Dickerson: 100 years later for me. In the year of 2021, watching the insurrection, I was dealing… I had COVID. And I watched it, while I was quarantining to protect my family, friends and anyone. There was another pandemic, because racism and white supremacy has been one that there has been no cure or vaccine or intentional act to try to heal. And I sat there and I thought about me being part of the Black Lives Matter movement, being one of the community leaders, and having been on those same steps. I was treated with no civility. I literally was drug off of the steps, arrested, and there was no kindness. They were not gentle. They did not escort me out. And I don’t think that, one, there was no intent — when we were protesting about our lives mattering — we did not intend to destroy or even enter into the capitol. We were amplifying voices not destroying property, or looters, or rioters. And so from a spiritual perspective, I have struggled, even as an ordained minister. And with my deep rooted faith value system, because I’m a third generation pastor’s kid; God how do you allow these types of things to happen? And when you serve in ministry, and have pastoral roles, what am I? A black, queer, indigenous, non binary person who challenges systems, but also has a clerical collar and obligation that I have pledged to serve. What do I say? When people are looking for healing, restorative justice, (and) spiritual comfort? And I still haven’t come to an actual answer. Because it’s very, very. . . I’m very, very aware that it’s still here. And one of my things that I began to pray, as I was lamenting, and I was like, “Oh, God, they are, they killed children. And they, they’re still doing this, and they’re still finding the bodies. And do you know what it’s like to lose a child? Because I have.” Literally, the voice that I heard saying, “Yes, I know exactly what it’s like, because they killed my son, too.” And it was very sobering. And I respect and honor all those that have it a different faith system or belief. And I know, but for me, I still don’t have a connector, except to the tragedy, and the violence that hanging a different belief, or one who has influence over masses still brings such destruction. And so that’s how I connected it. And so my prayer every day is to please continue to not just heal our land, but to heal the souls of those that are supposed to be part of the restorative warriors that helped unify us.
Jesse Jackson: I think in many ways, you have parallel tracks. And I’m speaking mainly of Christianity, because I believe that those people that did what they did in North Tulsa, would claim to be Christians, most of them, all of them. I feel like you sometimes have, we sometimes have parallel tracks. We don’t have to believe exactly the same thing. . . . Some people have a more difficult time because they want everybody to believe what they believe. But those people that did that, I happen to say that they are not on that parallel track, they are way off the tracks, because of their willingness to destroy church house. (unintelligible) they did this without impunity, and I’ve long fought the klan on this deal, they say “we are not burning the cross, we are lighting the cross of Jesus.” I say, “no, no, no, you are burning the cross. That’s what you are doing.” But the lack of respect for humanity, and the politics that you espouse, you can’t find it anywhere in the Bible that I read, and I have a bunch of translations. You can’t find that anywhere. You are actually doing the opposite of what Jesus told us to do, and you’re claiming to be a person of faith. So, no, you’re not on one of those parallel tracks that are going this way, and on some points we can just agree to disagree. I’m not going to agree to disagree when you hate humanity, when you kill children, when you kill anybody. When you set up a society to intentionally make people second class, you can’t have a membership in the church and then have second class members. I mean, regardless of what’s going on, you can’t do that. And I had that argument recently with somebody, another minister. I don’t care. I would rather have people that are authentic than to have liars. Yeah, because if you want to lie about that, you are going to be conflicted. If you can’t get it right with God, you can’t get it right with yourself. Be authentic. That’s not bothering me. Seeing you (unintelligible) and seeing you do harm to someone else, that bothers me.
I have long said I don’t know what these people are worshipping. They’re not worshipping Jesus, certainly not the Jesus that I worship. They are not worshipping the same God that has set aside these principles that says “follow these things.” They’re not doing it all. So no, they’re not part of that parallel group that is going in that direction. I don’t know who the hell they serve, but it ain’t what I serve, because you can never confuse my theology with Jerry Falwell’s, or Franklin Graham’s or any of those folk. I don’t know what they’re doing but it ain’t what I’m doing.
T. Sheri Dickerson: Or Oral Roberts
James M. Branum: Well, I come at this from a Jewish humanist (perspective), but I grew up with a Christian background. And so I have a lot of commonality with my brother and sister here as far as how they approach issues of faith. But I think for myself, I would say, personally, the Jewish part of my identity today tells me to always be on the side of the oppressed, to always be on the line of the marginalized. The Humanist part – and that’s the group that is sponsoring this event ,is the Oklahoma Objector community. We are a religious humanist community, an interfaith community. So we have folks from across the theological spectrum, me and my Judaism, Rena and her atheism, we have other members who have different spiritual paths. But we all are united around humanism. And that begins with the value of human beings. And if we dig deep, and we look at what happened in the Tulsa race massacre, what we see is more than 300 beautiful human beings murdered. And that’s wrong, period end of the story. And that ongoing trauma, we have to continue to address it. And one of the things I was watching this video tonight, I was thinking about that, in Oklahoma City, we had another act of violence, committed by white supremacists. And there is a beautiful and thoughtful memorial of that space. It has taken a long time to have anything even somewhat comparable to that in Tulsa, of creating the physical space. And also recognizing that 40 blocks were destroyed in the massacre — a massive amount of space. And for that level of destruction . . . To be honest, it’s so . . . I appreciate all that’s happening now. But it’s also too little too late. There’s so much more work to be done. So I think that’s the challenge I would give to anyone watching, is whatever spiritual tradition you’re coming from, I think one of the biggest things we can all do, is to dig deep, and to look at our history and our present through the lens of our values. And, as Reverend Jackson just was speaking about talking about how that means, you know, the people that were the leaders and the murderers, many of those people were also folks who went to church on Sunday morning. And we have to be realistic about that. We have to say that just because someone has a patina of faith on top doesn’t mean what they’re doing is right. And so I would also say for people of faith, we have to keep challenging our communities. And we have to start, to keep challenging our loved ones and boy, that’s hard, but we got to keep doing it.
Rena Guay: Thank you, Reverend Jackson, Reverend Dickerson for being here. We also want to thank OETA for allowing the Oklahoma Objector Community to be one of the designated screenings of this film. The film is again available on the OETA YouTube channel and we’ll link to that from our Facebook page and website.
Jesse Jackson: Alright
James M. Branum: Thank you so much everyone. And if you have any questions or comments, you can always send it after this to James at objector dot church or Rena at objector dot church. And other than, thank you so much for listening. We really appreciate it.
Rena Guay: Goodnight, thank you.
James Branum: I also want to mention that the day that we’re editing, this final edit of this podcast, is Juneteenth, June 19 2021. A powerful moment in history because this is the first time ever that Juneteenth is recognized as a national holiday here in the United States. And so, in celebrating Juneteenth, we also have the, this nips emotion, this grief, this recognition of the trauma that so many have gone through in this country, and the roles that our ancestors played in this history, for good or for bad. And so taking all that in, that’s a part of what this day is about, too. So, anyway, we appreciate all who tuned in. If you have questions, comments, again, send them to us our contact info information is on our website at objector dot church. And also want to say one more special thank you to T. Sheri Dickerson and to Jesse Jackson, for for their contributions to this program, and really bringing so much insight into this conversation. So thank you.
Rena Guay: And James, I just want to correct one thing I said, during the conversation with Sheri and Jesse, I use the word slaves. And I, I’d heard before, you know, too, that that’s not a good construct that we need to say, enslaved people. And the reason for that is because we don’t want to give the people in that circumstance, the, you know, that glom that identity onto them, right. So they’re human beings that are in a situation out of their control. So they’re enslaved people and I, just out of force of habit and not really having that new construct in my brain very well. I did say the other, I did frame it the other way. I apologize for that. And I’m going to make an effort to be better about that framing in the future. But I just wanted to make that clear. Because it you know, language is important, and how we, how we phrase things are really important. And I, I really appreciate being being informed when you know, we do something wrong, I think it’s important to, you know, nicely, it’s possible to, you know, challenge people to change their thinking and change their language when it’s needed. So I just wanted to add that But otherwise, I just love that conversation. And I’m so thrilled that we can offer it to people. We really want feedback. So if you you know, once you listen, watch the program, listen to this conversation. And if you have any thoughts are about it reactions, good or bad. Give us a buzz and let us know. Thank you so much.
- OETA: Tulsa Race Massacre, 100 Years Later (show page)
- Youtube video: Tulsa Race Massacre: 100 Years Later
- Nappy Roots Books.
- Black Lives Matter OKC
- East Sixth Street Christian Church
- Oklahoma Objector Community
- In Oklahoma, the 1995 bombing offers lessons — and warnings — for today’s fight against extremism (Washington Post, June 21, 2021)
- “Tulsa Race Massacre” Wikipedia
- “Roscoe Dunee” Wikipedia
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