Tulsa, OK 2017

I visited Tulsa, OK this weekend for the wedding of my son, Will McNitt, and Cassidy Williams. The ceremony was was in a very beautiful barn on a ranch outside of Tulsa ( Spain Ranch). It was a wonderful wedding – especially the part where the officiant says ” in sickness an in health”….Will had spent the previous day and all night w/ a severe “gastro”. He actually had to visit an ED ( on a day off, no less!) – I understand he received 3L of NS (or it might have been LR), as well as huge amounts of ondansetron. Everyone in the guest area laughed, as did the bride and the groom.

Tulsa itself was very interesting. My pre-visit thoughts about it included: This is the place where the catastrophic Dust Bowl happened, where the “Okies” from the Woody Guthrie songs originated, where Native American/Indian tribes were sent from their homelands, where there is poverty and neighborhoods w/ food deserts, where oil and gas are the only industry, where “fracking” is rampant w/ assoc. epidemics of earthquakes, and ( I only recently learned, from a neighbor here in Lyons, CO) where a huge and catastrophic race riot occurred in the 20th century. For some reason, I was under the impression that the race riot was “not to be spoken about” ( one of those ever-present Inconvenient Truths).

I spent my last day there on an “expotition” ( as our friend Winnie the Pooh would say). I started out in the Brady district), on the other side of the railroad tracks ( literally!). It was so fascinating, I ended up spending several hours there. Here are my observations:

  • Tulsa itself has very broad streets, a few tall urban-type towers. It was very still: very few cars on the streets, no bicyclists, no people walking down the sidewalks. It was oddly quiet, and…empty. The Brady district is on the “other side of the tracks” ( and abuts the former thriving black neighborhood known as Greenwood). Brady includes many old warehouses, several magnificent small parks, a large Radio/TV headquarters ( I believe it is Channel 6). It has several cool coffee shop/bakeries, a few restaurants ( I saw Taco places, etc..), and scattered art studios ( even a stained glass studio! – unlike the stained glass artisans in Chartres, France this studio seemed to have many glass pumpkins, etc. ( Halloween time…)). However, most interesting to me was the TREASURES there : the Jazz Hall of Fame, the Woody Guthrie Center, and Reconciliation Park in Greenwood.
  • Jazz Hall of Fame. This in an old building just above a major set of railroad tracks, between Brady and downtown proper.  It was closed, as they were preparing for a concert that evening, but a man graciously invited me in. I highly recommend a visit to this place. There are photos w/ accompanying stories of various Jazz greats, and the ability to listen to their individual music styles as you read their story. I have always loved several different jazz styles since being introduced to it when I was 17 yrs old, and living in Boston, MA..  But, being “Boston and NYC centric”, my very minimal knowledge of the great musicians is of their NE lives and connections. Of course, that is ridiculous, as these people ( mostly, but not all..men) were born in many different places, and had full and rich parts of their careers in Missouri ( Kansas City seems prominent), Oklahoma ( a few of the greats are from Tulsa!!), Mississippi, Chicago, etc..  The history of their various bands in Oklahoma and Kansas City was particularly fascinating to me.  If I lived in Tulsa, I would become involved w/ this Center. They have jam sessions there every Tuesday night, and concerts as well  ( a large adjoining room had a  large stage and many round dinner tables w/ white linen tablecloths – looked like a GREAT place to enjoys some music!).
  • Woody Guthrie Center. This is in a huge old warehouse building right in the Brady area. It appears to have very significant financial funding, as it is very beautiful, well-done, and spacious. There is high-tech everywhere, with many areas to see photos, manuscripts, original sheet music scores, and review the history of Guthrie and the era in which he lived. Of course, he was born in Oklahoma, and became politically impassioned about the conditions of the “Okies” who desperately migrated westward in an attempt to avoid starvation during the Dust Bowl disaster. The front desk woman told me that not only has a very wealthy benefactor financed the Center, but that he purchased the Woody Guthrie archives. They are stored on site in a sophisticated, climate-controlled room ( which is visible to visitors through a glass wall).
  • Reconciliation Park. This was a real surprise. I had trouble finding it, as it is off the main beaten path – wedged near a large sports stadium, and beneath a major superhighway. It is officially  the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, named after a prominent, highly educated/highly degree’d  member of the Greenwood black community in Tulsa ( my understanding is that his family were among survivors of the race riot/conflagration that occurred in the area). This is the quote from him on the welcoming plaque (dedicated on Oct. 27, 2010).:  I want to be out there on the firing line, helping, directing or doing something to try to make this a better world, a better place to live. I found this place to be remarkable…quiet, beautifully kept, peaceful. There is a series of plaques, describing the history of black people in Oklahoma, incl. the details of the race riot May 31, 1921. The details of the riot are ones that I have read about in  other places in America during the Jim Crow era ( eg Rosewood, FL). A black man is arrested for sexual assault of a white woman. White crowds amass at the jail, a lynching may or may not occur ( what is that euphemism I always see referred to when people essentially receive the Death Penalty outside an official system ( eg. Mexico) – “extrajudicial killings” ?!), then a powerful, violent cataclysm occurs – this includes armed white crowds swarming through the black neighborhoods, shooting, beating, killing men, women and children in their path, irrespective of anyone or anything. Homes, businesses, churches are torched, and the place is burned down. That is what happened in the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa ( Greenwood had been a very large, thriving, rich ( in all senses of the word) community). The final historical plaque includes the following: “We survived”. “Now, we must all climb together”.      In addition to the history that is explained here, there are two magnificent parts of this park. There is a labyrinth to walk, which they call Healing walkway, and there is a Tower of Reconciliation, which is a beautiful sculpture done by Ed Dwight.  I found myself continually referring back in my head to South Africa, and the Truth and Reconciliation commission there.

 

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