STATEMENT OF PETER MAY, ASSOCIATE REGIONAL DIRECTOR, NATIONAL CAPITAL REGION, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS AND PUBLIC LANDS OF THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES CONCERNING H.R. 1278, A BILL TO DIRECT THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR TO CONDUCT A SPECIAL RESOURCE STUDY REGARDING THE SUITABILITY AND FEASIBILITY OF DESIGNATING THE JOHN HOPE FRANKLIN RECONCILIATION PARK AND OTHER SITES IN TULSA, OKLAHOMA, RELATING TO THE 1921 RACE RIOT AS A UNIT OF THE NATIONAL PARK SYSTEM, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
JANUARY 24, 2012
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the views of the Department of the Interior on H.R. 1278, a bill to direct the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a special resource study regarding the suitability and feasibility of designating the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park and other sites in Tulsa, Oklahoma, relating to the 1921 Tulsa race riot as a unit of the National Park System and, for other purposes.
The Department supports enactment of this legislation.However, we feel that priority should be given to the 37 previously authorized studies for potential units of the National Park System, potential new National Heritage Areas, and potential additions to the National Trails System and National Wild and Scenic Rivers System that have not yet been transmitted to Congress.
The Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa witnessed one of the most violent episodes of racial conflict in the early 20th century. On May 31, 1921, a white mob entered the city's segregated African-American community and burned more than 35 city blocks of residences and businesses.Rioters destroyed approximately 70% of Greenwood's residential area and virtually the entire business district. An unknown number of people, somewhere between 36 and 300, lost their lives; more than 700 were injured; and nearly 9,000 African Americans were left homeless.
The riot was sparked by the conflict that occurred after the arrest of an African-American youth, Dick Rowland. He was accused of assaulting a white teenaged girl in a public elevator on May 30.Rowland was arrested the next day, May 31, and was held in custody in the Tulsa County Courthouse.That evening, an angry white mob of more than 2,000 men confronted about 75 armed African-American men outside the downtown courthouse.
When a white man attempted to forcibly disarm an African-American World War I veteran, a struggle ensued and a gun was fired.Almost immediately, members of the white mob opened fire. The African-American men returned the volleys and retreated from downtown to the Greenwood neighborhood with the armed white men in close pursuit.Within hours, much of Greenwood was in flames.
Order was not restored until the following day when a special train carrying 110 soldiers of the Oklahoma City-based National Guard arrived.By then, most of the damage to property and loss of life had already occurred.The case against Dick Rowland was dismissed in September, 1921.
The National Park Service completed a reconnaissance survey of the 1921 Tulsa race riot in 2005. The report concluded that the riot is nationally significant because of the potential ability to illustrate and interpret a tragic and important chapter in the history of the United States.Despite the substantial loss of historic fabric and setting, key historic resources, including the Greenwood Cultural Center, Mt. Zion Baptist Church (listed on the National Register of Historic Places), Vernon Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, Greenwood Avenue, Frisco and Santa Fe Railroad tracks, and the site of the Royal Hotel have survived.
The John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park is an important element in a memorial of the 1921 Tulsa race riot. The reconciliation park, established in 2001, tells the story of African Americans' role in building Oklahoma and contributes to a more full account of Oklahoma's history. It is named for John Hope Franklin, who was born in Oklahoma in 1915 and graduated from the then-segregated Booker T. Washington High School.Franklin went on to graduate from Harvard University and became a noted historian and writer.He died in 2009.
Collectively, these resources warrant further study for ways to memorialize and interpret this tragic chapter in American history.
This concludes my prepared remarks, Mr. Chairman.I will be happy to answer any questions you or other committee members may have regarding this bill.