Tulsa race riot survivors have mixed emotions about Legislature'shonor

OKLAHOMA CITY: Skepticism among survivors of the 1921 Tulsa race

riot appears to have diluted the PR value of the Oklahoma Legislature's

decision to award them medals.

The Legislature passed a resolution March 28 to award 'medals of

distinction' to the 120 or so known survivors of the nation's worst race

riot. However, dissenters have suggested that the medals are just a PR

sticking plaster, and fear that they may replace more substantive and

contentious proposals, such as paying reparations to survivors and their


'Some (survivors) just say flat that they don't like the idea of a

medal,' said Eddie Faye Gates, who served on a state commission that

studied the riot and urged reparations. 'Others say it's OK but it's not

the priority we like.'

State Rep. Don Ross (D-Tulsa), recruited arch rival and reparations

opponent State Rep. Bill Graves (R-Oklahoma City) to cosponsor the

measure as a show of unity. Graves, who has debated Ross on national

television, noted the medals will be bought with private funds, not

taxpayer dollars.

'The whole point was to do something very special for them on the 80th

anniversary of the race riot,' Ross said. Some of the medals will be

presented at the legislative black caucus' annual dinner April 24 in

Oklahoma City and the rest at an anniversary commemoration June 3 in


'This is much bigger than medals,' Gates said, while stressing that she

didn't necessarily oppose the gesture. 'This is an issue of the

destruction of our whole neighborhood.'

Thirty-five blocks of the prosperous Greenwood area, then known as

'Black Wall Street,' burned May 31 and June 1, 1921, and some historians

estimate 300 or more people died.

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