tv Tulsa Race Massacre National Symposium - Anneliese Bruner... CSPAN July 2, 2021 9:10am-9:53am EDT
american revolution and the early republic, and sunday at 6:00 p.m. eastern, on american artifacts, a french vessel. exploring the american story, watch american history tv this weekend on c-span3. on may 31st, 1921, tensions over the arrest of a young black man for his interactions with a white woman led to an armed mob of white men marching on the predominantly african-american greenwood district in tulsa, oklahoma. over the next day, the neighborhood known as black wall street was burned to the ground and hundreds of african-americans were killed. up next, the great granddaughter of a massacre survivor discusses
the events of 100 years ago and the steps she believes are needed for tulsa to heal. this talk is part of a national symposium held by the john hope franklin center for reconciliation. they provided the video. >> as you may know, i am the great granddaughter of mary e. jones parrish. the first person to write an eyewitness account about the 1921 tulsa race massacre. my great grandmother was a journalist and a writer. she was also a teacher. so she was well versed in the literary arts. also, she was someone who was deeply involved in her community. and as we call it today, she was a survivor. along with a little 7-year-old girl, florence mary parish, who grew up to become my grandmother.
today, i will speak to you about our new book, "the nation must awake." my great grandmother's book was originally titled "events of the tulsa disaster." i will tell you how that book came to me, how i was entrusted with it by my father who wanted me to do something with it. i will tell you a little bit about our relationship -- our relationship around the book, around the story itself and how i took his charge to bring my great grandmother's legacy forward and to fulfill a promise that i made to him. during the 1993/94 holiday season, i was visiting my family in california. my dad was still living in san francisco where i was born.
at the time, i had been living in washington, d.c. with my own little family for about ten years and traveled home each year to see my folks. on that visit, he took me into his room where we could talk privately. my dad was a gregarious guy with an outsized laugh who had a presence that filled the room. this time though, he was quiet and serious. he pulled a small red cloth-bound book from among his papers and handed it to me. he said that his grandmother on his mother's side wrote it and that he wanted to see if i could do anything with it. it was titled "events of the tulsa disaster" by mary elisebeth jones parish, my great grandmother. that charge was the beginning of the journey that brings me here today.
when i got back to d.c. and started on the book, i could not believe what i was reading. naturally, i had long been aware of the atrocities that racist ideologues in our country committed against its black citizens earlier in our country's history. but the well organized and ruthlessly executed violence they unleashed in greenwood over that 48-hour period had an intensity and character that was even more sinister than what i had ever read about before. it was clear to me that this was warfare on american soil that reached a fever pitch of brutality coupled with an unprecedented level of ruthless efficiency. the savagery of the attack stunned me. as i learned how calculated every move was from parading machine guns through the
neighborhood to be mounted on standpipe hill to surrounding the district from all sides to make escape more difficult for fleeing residents. to dispatching airplanes to intimidate, pursue and slaughter victims from the air. to encouraging boys as young as 10 to participate in the looting and killing spree. thereby, normalizing killing people in the minds of young children barely older than my own 7-year-old grandmother who watched the violence unfold from their apartment window. that was one of the most shocking aspects of this whole ordeal for me. i began to contemplate what to do with this information of the story of my own great grandmother and how she saved herself and her daughter and chronicled this american
tragedy. a new purpose began to compel me. i actually changed the work i was doing and started to focus on what i had always ended up doing at work anyway, writing and editing other folk's writing. i started to pursue a writer's life in ernest, taking writing and editing classes, eventually taking a job with a magazine group and getting my first bylines in the mid '90s. i imagind basing a screenplay on the book. so i took screenwriting classes, completing a portion of a script. i was haunted by the concern that even in the hands of an experienced screenwriter, the significance of the work would probably be lost. i continued to ponder how i could give her story the treatment it truly deserved. my truest purpose here today is
not to talk about myself. i simply wanted to get to the part where i have the book in my possession and am figuring out what to do about it. my true focus is on exploring two questions. what does the legacy of mary jones parish mean when we continue to grapple with the political terror and personal trauma of tulsa and other parallel history, past and present? what has been the cost to mary parish's legacy and contribution to history of her being a woman? in her book, "trauma and recovery, the aftermath of violence, from domestic abuse to political terror" feminist psychiatrist judith herman tells us, the ordinary result to atrocities is to banish them
from consciousness. they are too terrible to utter aloud. this is the meaning of the word unspeakable. atrocities, however, she goes on, refuse to be buried. equally as powerful as the desire to deny atrocities is the conviction that denial just does not work. folk wisdom is filled with ghost who refuse to rest in their grafrs until their stories are told. remembering and telling the truth about terrible events are prerequisites for the restoration of the social order and for the healing of individual victims. a conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them allowed is the central dialect of psychological trauma. simply put, the restoration of a
viable social order after an event like what happened here in tulsa depends on truth as does the restoration to wholeness of the individual victim of political terror. to restate, for healing to happen, truth is not optional. in tulsa, with the continuing unfolding affects and testimonies, the truth of what happened has to remain central to the discussion about responsibility and the social and personal restoration that judith herman talks about and writes about. it turns out, however, that truth is a bit trickier than it really should be. a crucial event in how my own participation in this new book came about is now at risk of being rewritten.
the truth buried as tulsa's truth was for far too long, a mere five months after it happened. on january 6, i was on twitter monitoring the unrest at the capitol. fearful that months of bombast springing from the false claim that the november 2020 election had been stolen on behalf of then president-elect joe biden would culminate in real violence. i followed the news intently as the vote certification was happening inside the building while the ticking time bomb of an agitated mob gathered outside. grandmother mary's book sprang to mind. and i quote, just as this horde of evil men swept down on the colored section of tulsa reducing the accumulation of years of toil and sacrifice to
piles of brick, ashes and twisted iron, if something is not done to bring about justice and to punish them, thereby checking that spirit, just so will they some future day sweep down on the homes and business places of their own race. at home in d.c., we watched king mob as mary jones parish calls it, a label we see mary parish use in her book, sweep into the capitol drunk with rage and seeking vengeance for an imagined wrong, ready to do bodily harm to lawmakers and law enforcement. the embodiment of social order. in a painfully ironic display, metropolitan police department officer was beaten with a blue lives matter flagpole while
insurrectionists yelled out, kill him with his own gun. the officer was tasered, suffered a heart attack and concussion and has since publically condemned efforts by some very vocal elected officials to negate the seriousness of the attack on the u.s. capitol. in this overheated context, extremist lawmakers have begun to shift the narrative of the day from one that correctly assigns responsibility for incitement to the former president to one that casts the rebels as innocent tourists who took an orderly stroll through the capitol hall. these bad faith actors within the ranks of government have cynically doubled down on this counter narrative jockeying for
political narrative at the expense of truth. we must be aware that truth is the first casualty in any war on democratic norms. rewriting history is how totalitarian regimes exercise social control and maintain absolute power. and to be clear, absolute power within those regimes rests in the hands of relatively few who use dangerous propaganda to convince their supporters to side with the regime. the segment of the population who are spoon fed white supremacist ideology in our own nation will suffer along with everyone else as democracy is suffocated. but what are primitive urges to enjoy unearned dominance, power and status, keep them aligned with those who seek power for the sake of power.
just as tulsa has made strides forward, our entire country must commit itself to confronting the truth to avoid sliding ever further toward an undemocratic future where justice itself becomes a casualty of a conspiracy of lies. i was personally compelled by the events of 1/6 and the parallels with what happened in tulsa 100 years ago to write an article for "the lily," an imprint of the "washington post." in that january article, i laid out my relationship to mary parish, which garnered attention from several quarters. among those who contacted me was dr. scott ellsworth who told me that trinity university press was scheduled to republic my great grandmother's book this may.
i wrote to tom paton, the press director, share mid article with him and asked about his vision for this most important material. i hoped that the integrity of her work and historical significance would be honored. tom invited me to contribute the afterward essay for the new book. officially published yesterday. to represent the author, my great grandmother. needless to say -- [ applause ] i was thrilled and i said yes. since i began on this journey of participated in the republishing of my great grandmother's book, reporters and others have asked why i think a collective amnesia around the massacre persisted
for so long. a silencing that is well documented. here again, i offer the words of judith herman. in order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. if secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. if he cannot silence the victim absolutely, he tries to make sure that no one listens. from a 1999 "new york times" article we read, in addition to the death toll, the tulsa race riot commission at its height hopes to answer a number of other questions, many of them grounded in local lore. blacks here have long maintained that whites used airplanes to
bomb buildings in north tulsa. the commission hopes to find records showing whether any tulsa residents owned airplanes in 1921 and where they were based. the newspaper of record by its framing and word choice goes on record casting doubt on the reliability of black witnesses to the destruction. the offense against the community is deepened by widespread unbelief. the silencing is furthered as the emotional toll of speaking out increases. more broadly, this is not an isolated phenomenon. this so-called amnesia we have seen around the tulsa offensive mirrors precisely the painfully common deployment of shame in dealing with victims of abuse. one of the most obvious ways to understand this is how it plays
out in domestic violence situations. victims are silenced by fear of recurrence of what has already happened or some other kind of retribution. unsurprisingly, the perpetrator may, in fact, feel invigorated by his power to carry out abuse without accountability, reveling in his impunity and feeling no clear sense of internal shame or regret. simply because he can, the perpetrator loads the least powerful player in the equation with blame, a transaction that preserved the facade of normalcy that is essential to the smooth functioning of a status quo in which the abuser wields the most power. the preservation of power is assured. a situation that is reinforced by the suppression of an honest reckoning that would validate the victim's experience of
suffering. the least powerful players in a game that coerces them into accepting normative rules imposed by the powerful are left to deal with their complex trauma as best they can without support or understanding. they may be saddled with guilt or shame for what someone else did to cause their trauma. in the cruellest irony, the victim is scapegoated for their own suffering. today, we have a growing understanding of just how core -- corrosive it is to allow it to happen. the dark may be the only space that survivors can access.
along with the denial to talk about what happened, any emotional space to talk about the massacre was limited. although the impetus to talk about it could have been a powerful drive, it was also one for which there were internal mechanisms of repression at work. this surely produced a conundrum that resounds down through the years. how to talk about this thing that happened yet remain emotionally safe. the mechanisms of political terror would have done their job, succeeding in consigning victims to a grotesque silence that choked and haunted them as the truth fought to come out. as we know, political terror is intended to invade and inhabit the psyche of its victims. it teaches them that they are not safe. that they must stay in line or
else the unthinkable will happen or happen again. that their fate lies in the hands of people who hate them. and that they must endure this condition and its attacks without recourse. i was 20 years old when my granny florence mary died. i never heard her or my father speak about the massacre that she survived as a girl. he did not talk about it much even after he gave me the book when i was 34 years old. and i, naively, took my cue from him, not understanding that he probably needed permission to talk about what he knew from what his mother or grandmother may have told him. no reckoning was on the horizon and extrapolating, i can well imagine that people grew weary of the burden of remembrance without the possibility of
restoration. yet too often when secrecy prevails, the story of the traumatic event surfaces not as a verbal narrative but as a symptom according to dr. herman. i could see some of those symptoms in my own family. affirmation that remembering and telling the truth are requisite to healing trauma. this applies both individually and societally, although, the cost to a society's sense of itself and the mythologies in which it takes comfort will be great. these can bedeadly. the world had emerged from world war and a major pandemic had swept the globe. it was a time of great
happenings. black people were restless for the freedom and self-determination that reconstruction had promised and with its educational and political opportunities. reconstruction was the federal government's attempt to bring a people up from enslavement. until it was thwarted by regressive ideologues, it had considerable success. we know that scores of african-americans became educated in that time and embraced the promise of full civic participation. churches and civic organizations helped to organize communities and provided spaces for african-americans to build wealth and organized constituencies that empowered them to participate in the broader society. continuing that tradition and gaining in confidence from african-american participation in the war effort, black folks in greenwood were the architects of a self-sufficient and proud
community and were living the american dream of reward for hard work and responsible living. but the american nightmare of racialized envy took that from them in a moment of white rage. supposed precipitating event far from rare in its expression. absent that destructive sentiment in american society, how much farther along could our country be in the journey toward an enlightenment that values the service of an individual -- the service an individual could give to the world as much as it does a simplistic self-serving racial ethos. instead, one step forward for black america has consistently been met with backlash as the incomparable nina simone captured and immortalized in her
song, "backlash jobs." when i try to find a job to earn a little cash, all you got to offer is your mean old white backlash. we can see the challenge is to foster a collective humanity through truth telling that makes an event like tulsa less likely as opposed to continuing to overload african-americans with the responsibility of caling anxiety about us. it's woven into so many aspects of life that black people must be vigilant about drifting into accepting fear of black people as a justifiable part of the racial landscape. anxiety and suspicion also shape perceptions about other groups. society at large is flooded with negative tropes and stereotypes
that become part of a background of assumptions. it is morally incumbent upon all of us to resist these cultivated thought pathways and to reject the humanizing stereotypes that make violence against identifiable groups more likely. this takes energy and commitment. but it is doable and necessary to prevent a future that tulsa warns us of. so with the historical and emotional distance provided by our current vantage point, we have the space to delve into what happened with a fresh framework for understanding why people don't talk about the massacre and what we are tasked to do about it. today we know the importance of telling your own story and being heard and understood. that's a prime purpose of the
"nation must awake." the assembled voices of the survivors who appear in the book tell their own stories down through history to the broadest possible audience. great grandmother mary was the reporter and scribe whose work made possible much of the scholarship that has been done about this historical event and the time in which it is set. the organized violence and destruction that disrupted black wall street arose from converging factors. but one of the underlying aims was to erase a self-sufficient and well-organized african-american community that stood in direct contrast to any stereotype of black incompetence. here was a town full of industrious black citizens who did the right things but still had all they worked so hard for snatched away at the whim of the mob and complicit city fathers.
no one was supposed it talk about it. today, we see things differently. it is our job to create new frameworks accordingly. mary parish's persona has endured the same erasing of the event itself no doubt because of the suppression of the tulsa story but also undoubtedly because of her gender and the ease of appropriating the work product of a woman without feeling compelled to center her. it is common for works by unknown or less known people to be folded into the efforts of those who have a bigger platform. there was no mechanism for recognizing and celebrating her or perhaps there was no will because of the inability to recognize the significance of her contribution. her name fell into obscurity. other names emerged and were rightfully celebrated for their work on behalf of tulsa's
legacy. her work is a testimony to her capacity to speak for herself, yet this independent woman remained in the background. the people who relied on her work look for her descendents. i believe she was a woman with a daughter, the common disruptions that happened in women's lives and take them off their own track, marriage, children, extended family responsibilities and more, upended the preservation of her legacy. beyond the factors, had the capture and dissemination been valued from the outset, mary would have been a more widely known figure. thankfully, we see things differently today. there's more to the story of the little red book and of bringing mary jones parish's name back to
prominence. in 2011, my daughter's law school classmate invited us to the home of a prominent washington, d.c. activist who was hosting a fund-raiser for the yet to be built national museum of african-american history and culture. we gave a founding member contribution and met john franklin who spoke on behalf of the new museum. i approached him, aware his father, john hope franklin, was from tulsa and told him my great grandmother had survived and had written events of the disaster. he gave me his card. a few years later, when my father passed away and the museum was closer to opening, i considered donating the book to the museum. a textile preservationist pulled my coattails that museum
contributions often end up in storage. so without any way to ensure that her work would be featured, i held onto the book. i did not wish to participate in the continuingge continuing e the continuingrasing. when tom paton, the director of trinity university press, invited me to be part of the new book they were preparing to republi republish, i accepted the invitation. this is debatable, because some records indicate that she was with her husband in tulsa, though her own account of her life in 1921 all but explicitly establishes her as a single mother to her daughter. she managed to get this book done. she worked as a teacher at the ymca in greenwood, teaching
secretarial sciences and ran her own school teaching those same skills. it was a time when many exceptional women and certainly black women took jobs as secretaries to gain entry into the workforce, help support their families and they played an increasing role in the economy and society. when women would have been eager -- women would have been eager to learn these skills. so mary parish would have had strong demand for her business. by her own account, she had never worked for white people. although, many black women worked as domestics in white homes. of course, this was likely the mechanism by which black women saw in the white homes of tulsa greenwood's looted possessions. coming across your or your neighbor's property in the homes of the community that had destroyed your own without
punishment or even simple accountability must have been crushing. that is but one example of the rape of greenwood that informs how we look at the massacre today. mary parish's life was not solely defined by the thing that the world knows as the tulsa race massacre. she was born in mississippi in 1890. we know that she was living in oklahoma in 1914, the year that her daughter florence mary, my grandmother, was born. mary jones and simon parish were married in 1912. by the late teens, the family was living in rochester, new york. i would like to discover why they relocated there. it could have been for some perceived opportunity or it could have been restlessness and a hunt for something different. in 1918, mary traveled to tulsa to visit her brother and was impressed by the community she
found here. there was vitality and a spirit of cooperation that appealed to her. she could envision making a living and was soon to return after that initial visit. she secured a job at the ymca and opened her own school to facilitate women who wanted to learn the secretarial arts. she was teaching the night of the massacre. her students had left for the evening. she and her daughter were pass passing the time. there would be no rest that night. she stood in the window amusing herself as her mother read, gazing into the night, florence said, mother, look at the cars full of people. the young mother took no heed, continuing to read her book to relax after dismissing her typewriting students for the evening at about 9:00. she realized the urgency of her
daughter's calls when the little girl at last said, mother, i see men with guns. she sprang to the window and saw for herself what her daughter was saying. white men with guns invaded the area, some of whom according to scott ellsworth did drive-by shootings of black residents who were unfortunate enough to be on the street and shot into homes as well. mary parish was reluctant to leave. in a quandary about the safest course of action. was persuaded to flee. with the release of her book, the public can learn this important history and has a chance to apply the measures of objective reality to what some people are suppressed or denied through the years. we value written history in our society. we like to think of ourselves as objective and rational. this may have influenced the
view of oral testimony as being subjective at worst and uncorroborated at best. what great grandmother mary's account does for us is to corroborate and underpin the accuracy and veracity of what living witnesses have said all along. this is not lore. it is an epic, historical event recounted with clear-eyed precision in real time. we may well ask ourselves why this is important now. last week's congressional testimony, given by a 107-year-old, offers a question. mother fletcher recounted that awful night and subsequent day. her calm tone and demeanor belying the horror that she witnessed as a 7-year-old.
same age as my grandmother. at the time of the tragedy. she asked for justice from her country and for full acknowledgement of the atrocity. she described the hardship that she endured in the ensuing years and throughout her life. a course she feels would not have been her lot had it not been for the massacre. she asked for reparations. mother fletcher told the truth, and it was captured in the congressional record for all of history. her oral presentation was heard by the country and her voice was silenced no more. she spoke up and spoke out in her own voice and made her case at the table of power. everything she described seeing
aligns with what mary parish's book reports as fact. no one can turn a blind eye to mother fletcher's plight as she seeks to live in dignity and security. and no one can hide behind arguing the technicalities of providing personal redress to this long lived survivor. the restoration that is required for her healing should be a natural sequeli of truth. she advocated and told the truth with her own voice. mary parish recorded the truth with her notebook and typewriter. the truth is there for all to behold. we know with certainty that capturing and preserving the truth are central to ensuring restorative justice. the enemies of true justice are working overtime to mute or
distort the truth. from the halls of congress to state legislatures, down to school districts and classrooms, they are passing legislation and codifying practice to make a sanitized version of american history all that is available to generations of learners. they are shaping policy that will make it harder to know the complex truth that as full citizens we are all obligated to grapple with. but truth is not optional in a functioning democracy. it is a fundamental element. the nation must awake to the dangers of remaining passive in the face of the onslaught against truth. and we have to work diligently to keep truth at the forefront of our debates about the solutions we need to find for some of our country's longstanding ills. the nation must awake to the threat of violence from domestic
terrorists who have demonstrated that they are willing to use violence to further their regressive agenda. finally, we must awake to the complicity of our of our own sa and passivity in the face of threats to others who may not look like us. history will judge our time much as we look back and dissect and analyze the tulsa of 1921. i certainly hope that we will be able to withstand the scrutiny. thank you. >> c-span is your unfiltered view of government. we're funded by these television companies and more, including wow. >> the world has changed. today a fast reliable internet connection is something no one can live without so wow is there for our customers with speed, reliability, value and choice. now more than ever it all starts with great internet.
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