July Road Notes, Day 8: Reconciliation

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July 12, 2021, Memphis- Over the years, I’ve been in places which have shaken my conscience and sense of justice: Wounded Knee, Silver Creek, Bosque Redondo, the Holocaust Museum of Jerusalem, Donjon de Jeanne d’Arc, the Concentration Camp at Berga. This morning’s visit to Greenwood District, on Tulsa’s North Side, had a very similar effect.

I began the morning in the Cathedral District, on the south side of Tulsa’s downtown. It is majestic, in a physical sense, with spires abounding-and not so much competing, as complementing one another. I present a few of these:

First United Methodist Church, Tulsa
Holy Family Cathedral, Tulsa
First Presbyterian Church, Tulsa
No spires, but still impressive: Church of Christ, Scientist, Tulsa

One must eat and drink, so I looked a bit, in the Cathedral District, and found this gem:

Foolish Things Coffee House!

Interior of Foolish Things Coffee House

After giving downtown its due, I headed to the sacred area that drew me to Tulsa, in the first place: Greenwood Historic District.

The signature mural of Greenwood District
Greenwood Cultural Center

The whole point of Greenwood’s emergence, in the early Twentieth Century, was to promote the very self-sufficiency, among Black Americans, that capitalists claimed to want. Yet, Oklahoma Governor Robertson, and his minions, including the commander of the Oklahoma National Guard, were complicit in the plan to put an end to “Black Wall Street”. All they needed was a spark. On May 31, 1921, it was reported that a black shoe shine man had brushed up against a white elevator operator, leading to allegations of attempted rape. Further, the founder of the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce, seeing a chance to destroy his competition, accused the Mann Brothers, who operated a highly successful grocery store, of fomenting a riot, when a group of black businessmen went to the Courthouse, to seek the shoe shine man’s release. The allegations of D.W. Gurley led to a white mob’s attack on black-owned businesses. These allegations were later shown to be false, and Gurley fled to California. Ironically, the Mann family had come to Greenwood from Sherman, Texas, which later itself endured an assault on black-owned businesses. National Guard General Charles Barrett, as well as the editor-in-chief of the Tulsa Tribune, stoked white anger from behind the scenes. It is not verified, but there is circumstantial evidence that Barrett gave the go-ahead for the use of airplanes, which did fire on blacks who were trying to flee Greenwood.

Scene of Greenwood destruction, June 1, 1921

Dozens of Greenwood residents were killed, and most of the rest were rendered homeless, by the destruction. The bottom line, though, in all this is: Greenwood is coming back. The block which earned the title Black Wall Street is small, but vibrant.

Fountain, on grounds of Greenwood Cultural Center

The Vernon African Methodist Evangelical Church was a key gathering place in Greenwood, and is so again.

Mural, on south wall of Greenwood Open Air gathering space

Wanda J’s Restaurant is also a gathering place for the Greenwood community. It was closed for renovation today, but the sign says it’ll reopen tomorrow.

Mural on berm of overpass, Greenwood District

After walking around Greenwood District, I paused to watch several children who had climbed up the overpass berm, and were now helping each other down, flip-flops and all, under their father’s watchful eyes. When the kids had descended, I noted this mural, of jazz musicians.

Tulsa, and Greenwood, are still here and the city is making amends. Reparations for the families of the victims are actually being discussed. Reconciliation Park, and Street, are set aside, to remind everyone that, when one group prospers, all may prosper.

July Road Notes, Day 7

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July 11, 20201, Tulsa- All good things come to a pause, to be continued later. After a leisurely breakfast and final survey of my items, I bid farewell to son and daughter-in-law, with the common knowledge that we are always welcome in one another’s homes-as it should be with family.

My first stop, north of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, was in the city of Sherman, southern gateway to the Lake Texoma area. Sherman is important to me for two reasons: A riot of white tenant farmers and townspeople occurred on May 9, 1930-in reaction to a black labourer’s having attacked and raped the white wife of a man who owed him money. The labourer, one George Hughes, freely admitted his misdeeds and was initially subjected to due process of law. A mob soon gathered, and succeeded in breaching the Grayson County Courthouse, chasing everyone except Hughes out of the building and cutting into a vault, in which he was hiding, then killing the man and treating his corpse atrociously. https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/sherman-riot-of-1930

This occurred nine years after the Greenwood Massacre that took place in Tulsa (1921), and the Sherman rioters took a page from those in Tulsa, and burned the business district in Sherman’s Black neighbourhood to the ground. The Sherman case, however exacerbated by conditions resulting from the Great Depression, stained the good name of the town for several years. To be fair, it was only one of nearly two dozen such riots, in every part of the country-not just in the South. Modern Sherman has largely moved past the nightmare, but there are remnants of the past two centuries, including the Confederate Monument outside the present Grayson County Courthouse. My personal hope is that such monuments serve as reminders of where we went wrong, as a people, and that no person, of any racial or ethnic group, ever again seeks to circumvent the law-even in, or especially in, cases of personal injustice. Vengeance always claims a great deal of innocent lives.

Grayson County Courthouse, Sherman, TX

The second reason for my stopping in Sherman was that, ten years ago, a young woman from the town had moved to Prescott, and became a friend-whom I advised on several occasions, whilst she worked as a server in a couple of area restaurants. With encouragement from me and others, she moved to Tempe and entered Arizona State University. I have lost contact with Summer, but have never forgotten her gentle spirit and determined drive. In her honour, I stopped in for lunch, at Old Iron Post, which appears to be Sherman’s answer to Raven Cafe. The ambiance, and the fare, did not disappoint,

Old Iron Post Restaurant and Bar, Sherman, TX

There was one more stop for me, before leaving Texas: The Birthplace of Dwight D. Eisenhower, in Denison. The small, unassuming town, near the Oklahoma state line, helped form the character of one of America’s greatest generals, who became a fairly good president.

The building itself was closed, but as with the Birthplace of Harry S. Truman, in May, I was able to get a few photos of the exterior and the grounds.

Statue of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Denison, TX
Birthplace of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Denison, TX
Mimosa trees, Eisenhower Birthplace State Monument, Denison, TX

That was it for meandering for the day. I continued on towards this fascinating, and often troubled, industrial and commercial center of northeast Oklahoma, and locus of the Greenwood Massacre of 1921. It is to Greenwood that my own focus will be drawn, tomorrow morning.

The Second Half

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July 1, 2021- The first six months of this year have produced some rather significant changes in my world. Chief among them was Mother’s changing her residence-thankfully of her own accord-after 66 years in the same house. With all of us pitching in, the gargantuan task was broken into a hundred fairly manageable pieces. Now, Mom is happily ensconced in a small, comfortable apartment, with her basic security set.

The other changes are more internal. I have jettisoned a few personal demons that, while not interfering in my life very much, did cause a certain tension to arise, unnecessarily, between me and certain people in the wider community. I have already noticed how much more relaxed things are, when I am in my favourite places around town.

There were, as always, journeys during the period January-June. One was not planned-but going to Massachusetts in May was never in question. Going to Carson City was a year overdue- one of my best friends, and her blessed children and grandchildren are like family to me.

The second half of 2021 will be similar, with most of July being on the road-again largely making up for the lost contacts of the pandemic year. I’m not worried about a variant-the masks and hand sanitizer will be with me, and I have been fully vaccinated. Variants will be around for decades to come, as they are with Ebola-and influenza. Life cannot and should not stop. August and September will mostly find me here in Prescott, save for a memorial hike on the Navajo Nation, on August 16 and a four-day visit to southern California, September 17-21.

In mid-August, I will determine the prudence of going to Europe, for four weeks in October, and plan accordingly, Much depends on any lingering quarantines at that time. November and December will again be Southwest-centric, with my serving as host, around Thanksgiving, hopefully attending a resumed Grand Canyon Baha’i Conference, around Christmas, and making a journey to southern New Mexico for a few days thereafter.

There will also be visits, at least once a month, to the Baha’i friends living along the Colorado River, in western Arizona, and always an eye towards getting up to Navajo and Hopi, as those areas open back up. The Red Cross is also opening its programs and services to in-person situations and meetings, starting within a few weeks, and I will remain open to helping in the schools, for special substituting activities.

Thus, the second half of this year will mirror, and expand upon, the first.

Surrogacy Reflects Reality

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June 27, 2021, Carson City- Among other matters that occupied the three of us (my spiritual sister, my surrogate grandniece and me) were the little one’s umpteenth visit to Carson City Railroad Museum, a comparison of Three-Story Park with Mills Park, in terms of the playground’s quality and cleaning out “Mema’s” car. We also returned some items to her cousin, enjoyed smoothies from Keva Juice, Italian dishes at the local Olive Garden and ice cream treats from Chocolate Nugget (near Virginia City).

Right alongside my biological family, this energetic bunch has my heart and soul. I have visited them, each year since 2012 (except 2020). Before that I knew the family in Arizona and bonded with them, even during the time that they had moved to Nevada, while Penny, Aram and I were busy in various parts of Arizona. B was born in 2011, and has since been joined by a sibling, who is every bit as delightful.

There is a separate group of cousins, not far from B and K. This group would also occupy a lot of my time, were I to be in this part of the country more often. They are a blended bunch, with every one of them treasured by Grandma, who does her level best to give them an actual home.

Surrogacy is a relative term-no pun intended. I am seeing just how strong a bond there is, blood or no blood, when the application of love is made. Oh, and this very busy day was capped, by one of the longest series of UNO hands, that I have ever joined. The last hand took over an hour to complete.

The Slow Healing

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June 24, 2021, Carson City- Several years ago a person, who claimed to be an adherent to the belief in Progressive Revelation, nonetheless made comments about people needing to be “in their place”. At the time, I just agreed to disagree, quietly sensing that time and circumstance would change that person’s heart.

My father, a fervent believer in the free enterprise system and in the right of individuals to make, and live with, their own choices in life, passed those beliefs on to the four of us who were of competence. I give a bit more leeway to non-capitalist systems, provided they avoid the top-down authoritarianism, to which most Marxist nations have subscribed; but I digress.

At the meeting I attended today, the very same group, who years ago acquiesced to the notion described in the first paragraph, had advanced, by leaps and bounds, to a place of broader mindedness-recognizing the imperative that society embrace all of its ethnicities and show more compassion towards immigrants.

Thus is the way of healing. Thus goes the path to true reconciliation. As a kindergartner cannot, customarily, comprehend calculus, so can a person raised in a largely homogeneous environment not, without a full-range of life experiences, comprehend the vastness of humanity’s variations. A well-read person can appreciate this multivariance, to some degree, and one who is truly well-traveled, who has mingled with many different nations and ethnicities, can appreciate it even more. The basis, the foundation, for such understanding, however, is set in childhood and cemented by experiences in adolescence and young adulthood. It requires a solid spirituality, albeit of the person’s own choosing. Otherwise, the healing that one must undergo, later in life, is a slow, tortuous and sometimes painful path.

The gathering this evening was a vindication of all that Baha’u’llah teaches us, in His Writings, and all that ‘Abdu’l-Baha showed us, by the example of His life. The group will now find its way to a very special place, as will any person, or group of people, who embrace the healing.

Just So Much Skin in The Game

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June 15, 2021- After reading my horoscope, which said not to make financial decisions today, I spent a delightful morning at Phippen Museum of Western Art, on Prescott’s north side, with my hiking buddy. Given that it was too hot for any outside activity, enjoying various paintings, sculptures and Native American handicrafts was a fine way to appreciate the Southwest. It also gave A.K. a possible outlet for creativity, during the rest of the hot weather. The Phippen offers affordable painting classes, once a week.

I have no qualms about sharing time and energy, as these imply that the other people involved will invest the same. Money, as I’ve said before, is a different matter. People often throw out- “The more you give, the more you get”, in a guilt-mongering manner. I have said, more times than I have cared to, that my fair share of coin goes to those in need. So, I set a hard and fast limit on the amount going towards a socioeconomic development project in another country. This generated a sarcastic comment, that I have such “an elevated sense of brotherhood”. I actually view that as a compliment. What I am not doing for one person, in perpetuity, is balanced by what I am doing for others. I want to see just how much the individual will pull himself together, working with others to build a communal dream. I will “beseech God to guide him”-as Baha’u’llah teaches us.

My parents gave us only so much, in the way of financial and material assistance, and I believe each of us are the better for it.

The Flow

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June 12, 2021- The past four days were my first attempt at administering a formal event, since 2013. Then, there was a dire emergency, a day or so after the horrific deaths of nineteen wildland firefighters with an ongoing wildfire emergency. I supervised a shelter for some 60 people, who had fled the fire zone, in the small communities of Yarnell and Peeples Valley, about 35 miles southwest of Prescott. This lasted but one night, as a national Red Cross team arrived, the next morning.

This time around, the task was to coordinate a camp for 14 teenagers, who are studying Baha’i teachings. It also involved tending to the needs of four adult tutors, five kitchen staff, two groundskeepers and a recurring visitor, whose skillsets actually came in handy a few times. Three members of the Bellemont School Committee also visited, and thankfully were helpful and anything but overbearing.

My management style, largely derived from watching my father-who was a middle manager, is to take a respectful interest in the activities of both clientele and staff, rolling up my sleeves, so to speak, in any area where needed. It was a pleasure to join the students’ devotionals, help in the kitchen when needed and keep an eye on the needs of individuals, both in terms of first aid and arranging comfortable sleeping facilities. This last is especially critical, as the nighttime temperature differential between the Phoenix area, where most of the people present live, and Bellemont is 50 degrees. Many of the visitors had no clear concept of this critical difference, despite being told in advance, by the camp organizers.

That the camp’s activities achieved a smooth flow is a tribute both to the organizers and to our group’s commitment to the success of the camp, as well as to the maturity of the teenagers. It was a resoundingly reaffirming start to a very full summer.

And Greenwood Burned

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June 2, 2021- Much long overdue attention has been focused, over the past week, on the Centenary of the destruction and massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood section, on May 31-June 1, 1921. The President has visited, and met with three survivors, commemorative events have been held around the country, and in other nations, and even the Murdochs, in their National Geographic Magazine, have commissioned well-thought-out articles on the horrific event, and on race identity in general. I will make my own visit of homage to Tulsa, and to Greenwood, after visiting with my son and daughter-in-law, outside Dallas, next month.

Many did not know of this stain on our history, until recently, but as a country, we have long known of the legacy of the slave trade and its aftermath. “The Underground Railroad”, whose televised depiction I am viewing now, on Amazon Prime, gives even more graphic illustration of what went on in many, if not most, plantations and smallholder farms, where slavery fueled the economy. That mindset died hard, where it did die at all, even in “Free” states. There is still far too much of the concept of “Us” vs. “Them”, even among those who say they abide the presence of people of colour. I can see it, in the readiness of so many to embrace restrictive laws, in the areas of voting, of residence and of taxation for the public weal. There are those who would summarily execute people illegally crossing both borders or homeless people in large cities-and there are more of the “I, the Jury” types than one would care to think.

I first learned of the Greenwood Massacre-and similar events in Chicago, Detroit, East St. Louis and Rosewood, Florida in 1973, during a class entitled U.S. History Since 1877. The instructor, Dr. Israelsohn, was a classical conservative, but had no use for race-baiting and the systemic segregation that occurred in every part of the country, to some degree or another, right up until the time that course was offered. Her conservatism was that of true free enterprise and self-sufficiency.

That people can mature and develop, admirably, in so many ways, yet be unable to recognize the futility of Zero-Sum, increasingly escapes me. Where there is enough to share-then there is room to share, as well. Where there is enough to cover the feet of the people around oneself, then why hog the blanket? To be sure, this is one reason why I travel-and it is one reason why community service is a priority. Where there is real connection, there is no “Other”.

Let there be no more Greenwood Massacres, of any kind.

Further Changes

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May 8, 2021- I received a supportive message from the principal of the school to which I referred yesterday. There will be some discomfort, for some people, but the children will be safe.
In a few short days, my mother’s life will become more secure. I will be on the road, towards my childhood home, and will help with whatever needs to be done, for at least a week. This was not expected-at least not this month, but life does not compromise with want-only with need.

I received word, this evening, that her next door neighbour of 66 years is dying. He is in hospice- a man’s man, reduced to lying in a single bed. I can only hope that his extended family, his cousins and closest friends, can be with him. If he is still with us, when I get to Massachusetts, I will pay a visit and thank him for being a faithful friend of our family, like his parents were.

The next few days will see preparatory activities- a Mother’s Day call, a dental check-up, a car servicing, laundry and packing. There will be time, tomorrow, for a visit to a magical place: Montezuma Well. My Home Base will be secure, while I’m gone, and there will much to be done, when I get back .

School, though, will wait until Fall, or maybe Winter, as I honour marching orders, sent from a place unseen.

Vape

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May 7, 2021- A young girl told me of the wide-ranging use of e-cigarettes, after a classmate accused her of using the substance, this afternoon, in what was likely my final assignment of this academic year. She said she had not used the substance, as her parents were always on her about the dangers to children and adolescents. I underscored that danger, stating what I know to be the risks for people under the age of 18, let alone the overall risk of e-cigarette use, or vaping, to anyone.

A short time later, someone in whom I am beginning to see the face of evil castigated me, in front of the children- very likely in the hope of discrediting my authority with them. It didn’t work, but did confuse some of the boys in the class. There is something very wrong going on, in the school where I worked today. There is little evidence that people at school are providing the students with e-cigarettes, or any other substances, yet adults, who have no obvious reason to make me uncomfortable working there, have made it clear that my talking with the students is interrupting their own flow of communication-and that it’s a good thing I’m gone for the rest of the semester.

I have learned over the years, in other venues, that where there is smoke, there’s fire-no pun intended. Through channels, justice will be done in this case, as well, whether the person I suspect is involved, or the threat to the students is coming from elsewhere.

https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/Quick-Facts-on-the-Risks-of-E-cigarettes-for-Kids-Teens-and-Young-Adults.html