During the period between 1900 and 1921, in Greenwood, North Tulsa, Oklahoma, African Americans built a thriving community complete with businesses and an economic infrastructure so strong that it was nicknamed "Black Wall Street." Over six hundred Black owned businesses thrived in the area. There were Black doctors, lawyers, business owners and entrepreneurs who controlled their own destinies. Black Dollars circulated in the Black community three times before it left the community. There were Black millionaires, Black owned restaurants, a 700 seat movie theater and Black owned bus lines, schools, banks, oil leases and a Black hospital.
Much of the progress was the result of Jim Crow Laws. These laws didn't allow race mixing, or school integration, or even for Blacks to go into White parts of town except to work for White folks. The Ku Klux Klan ran much of the state of Oklahoma. Ironically it was part of the so called, "Bible Belt of America."
The Whites called Greenwood "Little Africa" and "Niggertown." When they took a look at the progress of Blacks, they couldn't stand it so they trumped up an excuse for a race riot and destroyed Black Wall Street. If they hadn't, Greenwood could have become a model for Black progress through self help across America.
The net result of what happened in Greenwood was that the Whites started a race riot, blamed it on Blacks, and took the opportunity to destroy the hopes and dreams of Black Tulsa residents who believed that they could rise from slavery to prosperity by hard work, alone.
Today, this whole process still plays itself out in Black communities, over and over, all across the world. An example exists here in Pasadena. African American police officers spend twenty to thirty years playing by the rules. They get experience and education to move up in the organization, then one superior officer who considers that they have made a mistake, ends their careers, even if it was to help a young Black get a chance at a career entry opportunity. At the same time, a White officer makes a mistake and gets a slap on the hand.
Another example in Riverside, California happened in 2008 and was reported in an editorial the Los Angeles Times on Friday March 10, 2009. The Riverside County Sheriff, under contract to the city of Moreno Valley, on April 2, 2008, raided six Black owned barber shops searching, interrogating and humiliating customers, barbers and employees under the guise of "inspecting" the barbershops.
The Riverside Sheriffs, with guns drawn and wearing bullet proof vests, were accompanied by inspectors of the State of California Board of Barber and Beauty Examiners. Anyone who asked what was going on were told to shut up, and some were handcuffed and placed in police cars while they were 'investigated'. This included one 83 year old Black customer who was shaken to the core. You might imagine the horrible memories that experience brought back to him.
The shops included one that was owned by Ron Jones and another owned by Raymond Barnes for over twenty years in the community. Nothing of a criminal nature was found, and the police just left. The American Civil Liberties Union and a private Law firm has filed lawsuits for violation of civil rights. But nothing can ever erase the stain that discriminatory acts like this leave. Whether it is a police shooting of a citizen (even one with a record), or an election that keeps Blacks out of office, such as a school board election that guarantees White control of the lives of what the KKK would call "Niggertown" children.
At my age, I know of too many incidents like in Pasadena and Riverside. I represent them all of the time. Often they are charged with penal code section 148 (interfering with an officer in the performance of his duties). I remember the wrong done to my father, not in Oklahoma but right here in California where it is done with hidden hands. The story is of my father starting a business of his own in Bakersfield, California. Once the business got going, his former White boss went to my father's landlord, and paid him to go up on my father's rent, thereby forcing my dad to return to work on his old job. That was our family's Greenwood experience.
It happed all over again with me and my brother. I was beaten arrested and charged with a felony where later the charges were dropped. My brother was beaten, but not arrested and charged and we sued and he recovered a quarter of a million dollars. The police chief called him and apologized. I learned that those same cops who beat him are still on the force.
One friend of mine tells the story of how his father had been discriminated against so bad in Texas that he brought him to California. And when he took him to a nice (integrated) restaurant in Los Angeles, his father refused to enter in the front door, fearful that his son was going to get them in trouble because only White folks entered through the front doors.
Another Black friend tells me about how he was riding in Pasadena as a passenger when a Pasadena cop pulled the car over and while he was just sitting in the car and not saying a word the cop hollers at him, " Do you have a problem with what I'm doing?" When I get tickets by LA County Sheriff's of the Altadena station while delivering my papers, that's continues to be part of my family's Greenwood. We are still paying for being born Black.
Don't tell me about the progress we have made as evidenced by Barack Obama becoming President. There was once a period called Reconstruction. There were Black Governors in Louisiana and Black Congressmen from Mississippi. But that time came to an end. The era of Obama is not over yet. We are still waiting to see the rest of the Obama story. As a note: even Obama is being reminded that he is still Black. Arizona State University has invited him to speak at this years graduation ceremonies but the Dinosaurs that run the school refuse to grant him an Honorary Degree. They say he has not yet accomplished enough. Remember, Arizona is the state that was last to make Dr. King's birthday a holiday.