After reading the accounts of the Tulsa , Oklahoma Race Massacre in 1921 in the Huntsville Item , and listening to President Biden speak in Tulsa at the Memorial Ceremony, this writer feels compelled to make comments.
I have been reminded of the letter the Apostle Paul was writing to the Romans in , Romans 1:18 , in which he said ,” The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”
This part of Scripture appropriately describes what happened in Tulsa 100 years ago and the environment that has existed there since that time.
I have known about the Tulsa Massacre, and many other lynchings and massacres throughout this nation for most of my life. Unfortunately, Walker County was not exempt.
The property that I currently live on and that most of my aunts and uncles were born on was established by my farther’s parents in the 1870’s as a safe zone for protection of African-American Families from the KKK. My grandfather experienced attempts on his life from the klan in the process. I witnessed the scars on his back and the side of his head that were results of injuries that he had received during those attempts on his life.
I was born and grew up in Huntsville during the Jim Crow Era, and that was not a good time in the life of African-Americans. I can recall a situation where a Black man and a White woman were in a relationship and when it became known, the White woman claimed that she had been raped. The Black man (Major Preston) was arrested, tried, convicted, sent to prison and executed by electrocution in the Walls Unit in Huntsville.
I can remember my chemistry teacher being fired because he built a modern brick home and refused to sell it when he was ordered to do so.
Huntsville,Texas is known as the “Prison City”, that has provided great job opportunities for white people, mainly white men, since the beginning of the Texas prison system. Even though this system is the only state agency that is headquartered outside of Austin, because of the actions of a Black Texas Legislator; the first black person to work for the Texas Prison was in 1964.
During the desegregation period in the 1960’s, a group of primarily young Black Huntsville youth started a movement called the “Hey You Movement.” Because of their supporting fair and equal treatment and opportunities for Blacks some of them were arrested and taken illegally to locations outside of Huntsville without any notice to their families. According to statements from some of the young people, they were treated worse than convicted felons.
After I returned to Huntsville with my family in 1977 an article was printed in The Huntsville Item about an experience that I had as a five-year-old, along with my 13-year-old brother. Our mother had us go the local post office with her last $20 to purchase money orders to pay our family’s bills. During Jim Crow, Blacks had to wait for service until all Whites had been served. When we arrived at the post office we were the only people in there, so my brother placed the $20 bill on the counter and was telling the postal clerk what we needed in money orders when a white man walked in.
The clerk told us to stand back until he waited on this white man. The white man eventually left after a long visit with the clerk. We stepped up to the counter so that my brother could tell the clerk what money orders we needed. The clerk said, “where is your money”. My brother tried to explain to the clerk that he had left the $20 bill on the counter. The clerk said, “I haven’t seen any money.”
The long walk home to tell our mother what had happened was the longest walk of our little lives. I can, today, still see our mother sit down as she cried, knowing that nothing could be done to get her last $20 back.
After the article was printed in The Huntsville Item, the Associated Press picked up the story and it was printed all over Texas.
Some time after the article was printed, I ran into a local white woman in a store. She was so upset with me for my sharing this experience until she challenged me by saying,” What you described is not the Huntsville that I know.” I didn’t get into any discussion with her, because I knew that we might have grown up in the same town but we grew up in different worlds.
Huntsville and Walker County today, still is not a great place for African-Americans . There is not appropriate representation of diversity in city and county staff, elected and appointed. There are two kinds of law enforcement, one for whites and another kind for people of color. The Huntsville Police Department is out of control, with frequent complaints being lodged against them for excessive use of force against Black men. There has also been numerous complaints about some of the HPD officers’ lack of professionalism and total disrespect for Black and white citizens during traffic stops. Most of the white complaints are related to the actions of the motorcycle officers. I am really concerned and disappointed with HPD, because I have personally supported HPD in past years, even having served on their committee for promotions and reviews.
County government is totally non-responsive to a majority of its citizens. The commissioners court is a classic example of the kind of commissioners court that existed during Jim Crow.
The previous examples that I have shared are only a few of the real life situations that have occurred. As horrible as Tulsa was, at least now, their community leadership is truthfully and openly talking about what really happened in 1921.
I look forward to Huntsville and Walker County taking the opportunity to truthfully establish initially, conversations and later actions to bring about a better community environment for peaceful community relations.
In previous years, the Huntsville community came together and established Families United. Many segments of the community came together in churches and later at the fairgrounds, to share conversations, food and customs. Hundreds of people attended the fairground events, but at some point the negative took priority and the program ended.
This was an excellent start but it will take continues efforts to develop and maintain an environment of truth and peace. It will take courage to share all of our experiences , ideas and beliefs. It will take even more courage to listen to others share their experiences.
I am not so unrealistic to believe that a person’s hatred can be change by the actions of some other person. Hatred, like love, is a personal preference and that individual has complete authority. The power of choice is one of the greatest gifts from Our Supreme Power.
It is my belief that the anger and hostility that we see in our nation and in our community is not so much hatred as is fear and a lack of a truthful understanding. Until we can sit down with each other in an environment of peace and respect, nothing will ever change for the better.
The Apostle John wrote in John 8: 32, “Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.”