One week after the centennial anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, Revs. Irene Monroe and Emmett G. Price III questioned America’s commitment to repairing its own racial wounds during a Monday discussion on Boston Public Radio.
Price kicked off the conversation by noting his own frustration with the lack of any financial reparations for the Black residents of Tulsa, over “what has clearly decimated not only property [and] businesses, but also hopes and dreams of so many individuals.” That frustration, he said, is heightened by the reality that a dominant chunk of Americans remain unaware the massacre ever happened.
In May, the remaining three survivors of the incident testified before a House Judiciary Subcommittee to make their case for why reparations are justified. A 107-year-old Viola Fletcher told House members, “I will never forget the violence of the white mob when we left our home. I still see Black men being shot, Black bodies lying in the street. I still smell smoke and see fire. I still see Black businesses being burned. I still hear airplanes flying overhead. I hear the screams … Our country may forget this history, but I cannot.”
“I cried,” Monroe said, watching the hearing unfold.
“If you listen to her entire testimony, there’s a point where she says that as a fourth grader, she had to stop school. And because she had to stop school and her family fled to California for a moment ... she had to take menial jobs there, and she said that what she had to do was clean white people’s homes for substandard pay.”
“As people are talking about diversity, equity and inclusivity,” Price asked, “are we serious about it, or are we just talking about it? Because there’s various ways that we can actually create a more diverse society, a more equitable society, a more inclusive society.”
Monroe added that she expects U.S. lawmaker’s hesitancy stems from the fact that Tulsa wasn’t an isolated incident.
“You know why we can’t do it? Because the whole idea is that we would be opening up Pandora’s Box. See, once we pay reparations for the Greenwood [District] in Oklahoma, we’ve then gotta pay for the massacre in Elaine, Arkansas. Let’s not forget Rosewood, and many other massacres that took place.”
Monroe is a syndicated religion columnist, the Boston voice for Detour’s African American Heritage Trail and a visiting researcher in the Religion and Conflict Transformation Program at Boston University School of Theology. Price is a professor of worship, church and culture and founding executive director of the Institute for the Study of the Black Christian Experience at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Together they host the All Rev’d Up podcast, produced by GBH.