The Tulsa Regional Chamber donated to the Greenwood Cultural Center a copy of its meeting minutes from the weeks following the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Their preservation alongside other important archival material will help ensure the most complete set of historical facts about the massacre as possible.
The minutes contain numerous troubling passages that, as Chamber President and CEO Mike Neal explained, “offer insight into the attitudes, beliefs and actions of those at the highest levels of power during our city’s lowest moral point.” The minutes cover meetings of the Chamber’s general membership and board of directors from June 2 through July 1, 1921.
“Throughout the minutes, Greenwood residents were blamed for the violence,” said Neal. “Tulsa businessmen committed to restitution and reconstruction but delivered neither. City leaders considered plans to take land from what was the most prosperous African American commercial hub in the entire country and use it for their own purposes.”
Chamber leadership marked the donation with an apology for how the organization responded to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
“We’re sorry that our organization did not fulfill its civic and moral obligation to ensure the welfare of all Tulsans,” said Neal. “We’re sorry that we have not acknowledged this history for nearly 98 years. And we’re sorry that for too long, we did not directly confront how the racism that enabled the massacre also shaped the economic disparities in our community.”
“As awful as they were, the attitudes of Chamber leadership in 1921 were commonplace for the time,” added Neal. “They reflect the predominant views on race, class and society during what historians call ‘the nadir of race relations in America.’ These were views predicated on the superiority of white Tulsans over their black neighbors. Chamber leaders at the time did not challenge this white supremacy. Their inaction and opportunism caused very real suffering and denied economic prosperity to the surviving Greenwood community, the effects of which are still felt in our city today.”
The Chamber used the occasion to mark a renewed commitment to racial reconciliation and equitable economic outcomes.
“More than ever, we must be a community that prioritizes diversity, equity and inclusion,” said 2019 Chamber Chair David Stratton, executive vice president of Tulsa corporate banking for BOK Financial. “This past fall, we made an intentional effort to diversify our volunteer leadership and board of directors. As a result of this intentionality, the Chamber increased gender diversity on our 2019 board by 50 percent. Additionally, the Chamber’s 2019 executive committee is just under 50 percent women and people of color.”
“These are all things I am proud of but, candidly, we still have work to do,” added Stratton. “We need to increase the number of people of color on the board, and we have plans to do that in the years ahead.”
The organization also announced three initiatives in pursuit of this commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion.
First, the Chamber, in partnership with Hilti North America, will bring the Men Advocating Real Change (MARC) Leaders Workshop to Tulsa. The workshop is a 1 1⁄2-day immersive training program that enables male executives to sharpen their awareness of inequality, develop inclusive leadership strategies, and be better allies to women and people of color.
Second, the Chamber’s 2019 Intercity Visit destination will be Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. The trip will offer attendees a closer look at the Twin Cities’ strategies for inclusion and equity. Intercity Visit is an annual trip to a peer city taken by more than 100 business, nonprofit and civic leaders to learn how another community deals with challenges and opportunities similar to those facing the Tulsa region.
Third, the Chamber has initiated conversations with local, state and federal stakeholders about the feasibility of reimagining the northeast leg of downtown Tulsa’s Inner Dispersal Loop (IDL).
“The northeast corner of the IDL cuts through the heart of historic Greenwood,” said Kuma Roberts, the Chamber’s executive director of diversity, equity and inclusion. “It looms as a reminder that this neighborhood has experienced great trauma, and not only in 1921.”
Cities across the country are re-examining their highway networks with the realization the placement of infrastructure has often encouraged investment in certain neighborhoods to the detriment of others.
“We think it’s important to share this vision now and begin the conversation about how this infrastructure impacts our community,” added Roberts. “We believe that bridging this gap presents an opportunity to examine how the built environment of our city affects all Tulsans.”