By CHARLES CANTRELL
AND SO IT BEGINS: John Hope Franklin, fourth from the right, is joined by Mayor Kathy Taylor and other dignitaries to break ground on the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park in downtown Tulsa. The ceremony was held Monday, Nov. 17. Construction will begin as soon as final bids are in. The park is scheduled to be completed by June of 2009.
CHARLES CANTRELL for GTR Newspapers
Greater Tulsa Reporter Newspapers is pleased to introduce its readers to this on-going column focusing on the many positive things happening in and around greater Tulsa. In this column we will keep you informed of economic and cultural developments that have a beneficial effect on all of the community and on you as a citizen of greater Tulsa. We’re confident these articles will help to affirm what many of you already know, greater Tulsa is a great place to live and it just keeps getting better.
Now that the BOK Center has hit full stride booking everything from Tulsa Oilers hockey to the Eagles’ to Celine Dion to Metallica, the nightlife downtown is increasing. Restaurants, clubs and hotel owners are beginning to see the energy level grow. But judging from things in the works, it’s only the beginning.
On Nov. 17, ground was broken on one of downtown’s next big things, the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park located on the north side of downtown adjacent to the site of the new Driller ballpark. The groundbreaking marked the beginning of the first phase of a broader plan to create the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation. When completed, the center will be the only facility of its kind in the world focusing specifically on studies, education and outreach addressing the divisions that tear at the social fabric including racial, ethnic, religious, gender and class differences. The overriding goal of the Center’s work is to transform the tragedy of the infamous 1921 Tulsa Race Riot into a foundation for creating a more just, harmonious society for the future.
The memorial park will have large entry sculptures and storyboard panels portraying various aspects of African American cultural history. A 27-foot Tower of Reconciliation will be the featured attraction displaying figures arranged in a historic timeline spiraling up the column starting with the African American struggle from Africa to America and continuing through the migration of slaves with Native Americans on the Trail of Tears, the slave labor experience in the Territories, the 7th Kansas Regiment of Civil War soldiers that won the Battle of Honey Springs to statehood and the immigration of non-slaves into Oklahoma. The sculptural narrative concludes with the founding of the many black towns including Tulsa’s Greenwood. The final statement at the tower’s “promised land” pinnacle displays how reconciliation and healing of the races is achieved through mutual support and understanding.
The project’s namesake, John Hope Franklin, is a native Oklahoman and one of the state’s most renowned scholars and prominent sons. As an internationally acclaimed historian, as a scholarly voice supporting American civil rights, as an advisor to presidents and the recipient of national and international awards, Dr. Franklin has played a unique role in American society. (go to: http://library.duke.edu/specialcollections/franklin/bio.html) He has devoted his life to study, reasoned analysis and social progress. The 94-year old Franklin was here for the groundbreaking. At his side and having particular interest in the project was his son, John W. Franklin, director of Partnerships and International Relations at the Smithsonian Institution’s National African American Museum of History and Culture.
From an economic perspective, locating the project between the historic Greenwood and Brady Districts and adjacent to the new ballpark will add to the overall development of a relatively dormant area of downtown. The Reconciliation Park will be on a three-acre tract butting up to the Martin Luther King Memorial Expressway (I-244) to the north, bordered on the east by Elgin Avenue and on the west by Detroit Avenue. With a broader plan in the works coming from the Driller Trust for a mixed-use development supporting the new stadium and neighboring businesses, the tourist attracting center and park should fit perfectly into the mix. Soon this new downtown district will undergo a renaissance and make a significant contribution to that “new kind of energy” that is underway in midtown and across greater Tulsa.
When completed, the center will draw a wide range of visitors to the city. Some will be scholars and students in quest of solutions to the insidious issues that persist in fragmenting communities and countries. Many will come to see and consider how to learn from the past in order to build a better future. With the election of America’s first president of mixed race, hopefully ushering in a new era of unity in a country growing increasingly culturally diverse, the timing for this project in downtown Tulsa could not be better.
However, this project is by far more than just an investment in new infrastructure and tourism. The greater benefit of the John Hope Franklin Park and Center for Reconciliation will be intangible. It will speak to the spirit of a city that fosters community leaders with the understanding, will, courage and compassion to address contentious issues of social divisiveness. It will also illustrate how a community came together to finally reconcile an egregious and irrefutable injustice perpetrated on a segment of the city’s population and turn a lingering dark chapter in Tulsa’s past into an opportunity to cultivate understanding and cooperation among all the social and cultural factions that comprise not only our city, but America as well. And that will indeed release a new kind of energy.