Reconciliation The Emphasis of Recent John Hope Franklin Symposium

Associate Editor

FORMER MAYORS PANEL: From left former Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor, former mayor of Denver, CO and its first black mayor, Wellington Webb and Tulsa’s first woman mayor, M. Susan Savage were featured panelist discussing the political ramifications of reconciliation as mayors of major urban centers. Taylor served as moderator.

“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.” – John Hope Franklin
“Having resentment against someone is like drinking poison and expecting it will kill them.” – Nelson Mandela

This year’s John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation annual symposium, titled, “The Politics of Reconciliation,” began on May 31, the 81st anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. It was the third such event exploring the Center’s mission “to transform society’s divisions into social harmony through the serious study and work of reconciliation.” To this end each year eminent scholars and prominent social and political leaders are invited to come to Tulsa to present ideas on how to further human tolerance and understanding; a daunting task to say the least, but one that continues the life work of one of the city’s preeminent cultural figures.

John Hope Franklin’s life story follows the trajectory of American History that begins with the festering societal remnants of the Civil War and the many failures of post war reconstruction and reconciliation wherein African Americans were systematically cordoned off into separate communities left to their own devices to survive without the help of little, if any investment capital controlled primarily by whites. They were often denied equal protection under the law. And yet right here in Tulsa during the earliest years of the Twentieth Century they were able to create a thriving center of commerce often referred to as “Black Wall Street” only to have it destroyed by a coordinated, collective act of unbridled madness known as the Tulsa Race Riot.

In the years proceeding the riot, B. C. Franklin, father of John Hope Franklin came to bustling Black Wall Street to begin his law practice and procured housing for his family still living in the Muskogee area. Just prior to the attack on the Greenwood community Franklin sent for his family to come to Tulsa by train. But before they were able to embark, word arrived from Franklin to stay put. The riot had destroyed their future home. Thus John Hope Franklin was introduced at an early, impressionable age to the awesome destructive power of racial bigotry. No doubt the experience tempered his resolve to dedicate his life to pursuing social justice and civil rights for not only African Americans but also for all people.

And that he did. Franklin’s stellar resume begins with the Booker T. Washington High School class of ‘31 Valedictorian award and is capped with a Presidential Medal of Freedom award in 1995. In between are more than 60 years as a historian, a scholarly voice working for American civil rights, an advisor to presidents and recipient of national and international awards. He played a unique role in American society through his undying efforts to bridge the gaps and fissures in America’s melting pot culture. Hence it is profoundly fitting that an institution dedicated to reconciliation should sponsor an annual symposium focused on reconciliation among all factions of society to be held near the site that played a major role in shaping Franklin’s life legacy.

This year’s symposium began June 6 with a tour of the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park located at 415 North Detroit Ave. Attendees were welcomed Thursday morning via video by Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), noted civil rights leader dating back to the days of the march on Selma Ala, followed by Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett. Next was the featured speaker, Governor William F. Winter, former Governor of Mississippi and Vice Chair of the president’s Initiative on Race in America. He was introduced by Linda Chavez Thompson, Vice Chair. Winter’s message centered around, “Racial Reconciliation – America’s Unfinished Business.” He noted things learned during numerous community meetings of the President’s Initiative on Race revealed what Americans from all walks of life most want. They are as follows: a decent education for their children, a fair chance for a job, a safe neighborhood in which to live, affordable healthcare and to be treated with dignity and respect. These five simple items, concludes Winter, should form the basis of our national political agenda and effectively addressing them holds great potential for overcoming the country’s partisan stalemate.

On Thursday afternoon, the symposium opened to the general public with a panel comprised of former Mayor Susan Savage, Tulsa’s first woman mayor; former Governor Wellington E. Webb, the first black mayor of Denver, Colo. and former Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor. Taylor presented questions to Savage and Webb who discussed the various issues they faced as the first of their kind to hold high profile public office in their respective communities.

Savage recalled the 1996 Klu Klux Klan rally in Tulsa and how she teamed with then attorney general Drew Edmondson to promote a counterpoint “unity” rally.  She employed walking tours requesting that citizens stand together against hate. That the effort was a major success was evident on the day of the scheduled rally when those present in support of unity and tolerance dwarfed attendance. The whole affair provided an opportunity to further racial reconciliation, and the city’s response, according to Savage, proves Tulsa is full of many great people ready and willing to do the right thing.

The panel discussion was followed by a keynote address by Dr. Rahmohan Ghandi, Professor, Center for South Asia and Middle Eastern Studies, University of Illinois at Urban Champaign and grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. His talk was titled, “Reconciliation and the American Dream: Pointers from Gandhi and King.”

The featured speaker for the Friday morning gathering was Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, president, Spelman College, Atlanta Ga. According to Tatum, we are inextricably “caught in a web of mutuality” and we must seek “true reconciliation” that goes beyond just forgiveness or absence. She sited five defining elements to realizing this goal, including the restoration of friendship and harmony and bringing oneself to acceptance of “others.”

Throughout the symposium, concurrent breakout session were available for attendees and included topics like, “The Civil War at 150 Years: Wounds Yet to Heal,” presented by Joseph V. Monville; Director, Program on Healing Historical Memory, School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University. Also offered was “The Personal Politics of Reconciliation” presented by Dr. Davis D. Joyce, retired history professor and author of “Howard Zinn: A Radical American Vision, An Oklahoma I Had Never Seen Before” and “Alternative Oklahoma.” Many other sessions exploring diverse topics and issues of reconciliation were offered during the two-day symposium.

Accompanying the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation logo are the words, “From Tragedy to Triumph.” It has not been too long ago that the Tulsa Race Riot was shrouded in mystery and a forbidden topic for the media and for social discourse in a community suffering from guilt at having been even a distant party to one of the nation’s greatest racial tragedies. But today Tulsans can take pride that this same tragedy serves as the armature around which people of good will from around the nation and the world can focus their efforts on bettering the lives of all. This year’s successful symposium continues the center’s ongoing quest to achieve a more harmonious humanity. And that, indeed, would be a triumph.

Updated 07-11-2012

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