This past Sunday I had the opportunity to attend the first screening of a new documentary focused primarily on the survivors of the Tulsa Race Riot and their failed attempts to attain reparations. If you are not familiar with the Tulsa Race Riot then you should go back and read these posts here, here, here and here. You can find the official state historical report on the race riot here.
The documentary was very, very difficult to watch on many levels. Recalling such a painful event and the blatant disregard for human life and decency is but at the surface and surprisingly not even the deepest of emotion. The evidence of a conspiracy of silence that essentially tried to ignore the event and even blame the event on the victims themselves brings even more turmoil to the issue. This leads us to the long history of attempts by survivors and victims to attain compensation for lost property.
And now the remaining survivors, most of whom were mere children at the time of the riot, are dying off with no official legal recourse left in our judicial system. But what can I do? I’m not a lawyer. I’m not a rich man. I’m not a powerful man in a powerful position. But in my heart I felt there was one thing I must do. So as I left the theater this Sunday afternoon and with two of the survivors sitting directly behind me. On my way out I made a point to stop, shake their hands, look them in the eyes and say “I’m sorry.” Of course, I had these visions of how deeply impacted these individuals might be. Perhaps they have never had a white man apologize to them. Self-centered thinking on my part. Instead I was treated to some very powerful words. Words of encouragement and words of hope. As one of the survivors held my hand in an extended handshake, he spoke those words to me. And I was amazed. His hands on that day back in 1921 were held high in the air as they were marched off to internment camps. Yet his hands now were extended again, but to me in a gesture of hope and peace.
These survivors deserve a tribute. They haven’t soured themselve sulking alone at home thinking thoughts of revenge. They have moved on. With out the assistance of a just judicial system. The best we can do is continue that spirit and learn from our past and move forward TOGETHER!