Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Racial Divide Bedevils Plan to Honor MLK

Lindsay Morris, Yahoo! News, April 22, 2012

This city, where a history of racial tension was inflamed by the Good Friday shootings of five black people, plans to name a street in honor of civil rights pioneer Dr. Martin Luther King but only the section that passes through a predominantly black part of a city.

The challenges in winning approval for the move and getting it put into place—including the need to scale the proposal down to get it passed by the largely white city council—illustrate Tulsa’s legacy of racial animosities and resistance to change.

“Is there a racial divide in this town? Just look at the signs,” said Kavin Ross, 49, a black resident of Oklahoma’s second-largest city whose father, former state Representative Don Ross, helped pass the state’s hate-crime law.

More than 900 streets in cities and towns across the country are named after King, according to Derek Alderman, a professor of geography at East Carolina University. Tulsa was late to join them, voting last summer to rename a portion of Cincinnati Avenue as Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.


But a 1921 riot in Tulsa that left an untold number dead is considered one of the worst incidents of racial violence in American history, and residents of the 400,000-person city grew up hearing their parents’ horror stories of the events.

Some citizens said that the shootings in north Tulsa on Good Friday, after which prosecutors brought murder and hate-crime charges against two white men, brought back painful memories of a rift that never healed.

“The racial divide has been there forever,” said Jack Henderson, the sole black member of Tulsa’s city council. “You don’t have to have a street separating us to divide the city.”


Critics, including downtown businesses and churches, complained that the street name change would be confusing to long-time businesses in the downtown area, and the council shelved the idea.

Henderson came back in 2011 with a compromise that the name change stop at the railroad tracks that separate north Tulsa from downtown, so approximately 1.5 miles of the street in the higher profile, mostly white downtown would not be renamed. The mostly white city council approved the plan.

The railroad tracks have special significance in Tulsa, marking the racial border, said James Goodwin, a 71-year-old black Tulsa lawyer whose father’s high school graduation was canceled because of the historic Tulsa race riot.

Little known outside Oklahoma, the Tulsa race riot of 1921 erupted at a time when American blacks were shut out of most jobs, including Tulsa’s booming oil industry, and were segregated in schools, businesses and housing. Blacks were subjected to violence including lynchings elsewhere in Oklahoma and around the country. Tulsa’s black community was determined to protect itself from such lynchings, according to a 2001 Oklahoma state commission report on the riot.

On May 31, 1921, Tulsa exploded in violence after rumors spread that white vigilantes planned to lynch a black man held in jail and accused of raping a white woman. Armed black men tried to defend the man, while white citizens, some armed by the all-white police department, burned and looted 1,000 homes and businesses in the all-black section of north Tulsa.

An official death count was never produced—the 2001 commission said 39 death certificates were issued but conceded that the number could be significantly higher because of reports multiple bodies were buried in graves. No one was ever arrested for any of the killings. The state established a memorial park, but attempts to secure reparations for the families have failed.

To this day, many blacks are suspicious of the police. Henderson said that immediately after the Good Friday killings on April 6 some black residents wanted to take vigilante action to protect the community, but cooler heads prevailed. {snip}

In north Tulsa, where about half the residents are black and less than a third are white, the median household income is $26,000, compared to $39,000 for Tulsa as a whole, according to an analysis by the Indian Nations Council of Governments. The population of Tulsa is about 66 percent white, 10.5 percent black, 11 percent Hispanic and 5.7 percent Native American.


While south and midtown Tulsa and the surrounding suburbs all have chain grocery stores, movie theaters and family restaurants, north Tulsa does not.

The recent shootings—which left three dead and two wounded—have perpetuated negative perceptions of north Tulsa, said Goodwin, publisher of The Oklahoma Eagle, a newspaper that covers the African American community in Tulsa.

Shortly before the April 6 killings, one of the suspects, Jake England, had lamented on his Facebook page that two years had passed since his father was killed by a black man, to whom he referred with a racial slur. England said in an interview from jail on April 14 that he felt no hatred or ill will toward African Americans, according to a video of the interview.


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  • Hunter Morrow

    Aw, I like it when a city has an MLK Boulevard or Malcolm X Street. It tells me where the Mugging, Larceny and Killing happens and it also tells me where X marks the spot for crime and the black ghetto. Or is that just being redundant, the phrase “crime and the black ghetto?”


    • IstvanIN

      In the case of Newark, NJ it is where they all end up…the court house.  MLK Blvd is where the Essex County Court House sits.

      • The__Bobster

        It’s between Rutgers, NJIT and two other colleges and used to be called High Street. For a while, the schools used the University Heights address when begging for money from their alumni. After all, who wants to give money to a school on MLK Blvd.?


  • I have relatives of relatives that live in suburban Tulsa.  I am familiar enough with Tulsan geography to avoid the North Side like the plague.  But I didn’t realize that Tulsa lacked an all important and all indicative MLK Street.

    Now it will be perfectly obvious to everyone where Tulsa’s ghetto lies.

    Music break:


  • LOL!  
    I can just picture the genteel, graying committee who thought this up. 
    And the horrified, PC-abiding reaction of even black businessmen….

  • sbuffalonative

    The challenges in winning approval for the move and getting it put into place—including the need to scale the proposal down to get it passed by the largely white city council—illustrate Tulsa’s legacy of racial animosities and resistance to change. “Is there a racial divide in this town? Just look at the signs,” said Kavin Ross

    TRANSLATION: When the black man says ‘jump’, the white man don’t jump.

    Yet another grand Boulevard in the tradition of the black man’s belief that the name Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard with transform the community with it’s magic juju. Changing Cincinnati Ave. to MLK Ave. isn’t good enough. It has to be Boulevard.

    More than 900 streets in cities and towns across the country are named after King, according to Derek Alderman, a professor of geography at East Carolina University. Tulsa was late to join them, voting last summer to rename a portion of Cincinnati Avenue as Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

    I once read that blacks are working toward a long-term goal to have a MLK JR. Boulevard in every city of any size. I don’t doubt it’s not true. 

    • No

      Yep, and there will be a holocaust museum at one end and KFC at the other.

  • The__Bobster


    Street Renamed For MLK In Once-Segregated New Jersey Town
    April 22, 2012 9:35 PMApril 22, 2012 9:35 PM

    WILLINGBORO, N.J. (AP) — It’s hardly news for a town to honor Martin Luther King Jr. by naming a street after him. But when the municipality was off-limits to black families until the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled otherwise, the rededication takes on special meaning.

    The Burlington County community of Willingboro renamed Salem Road for King on Sunday, adding another to the roughly 900 MLK streets, roads, boulevards and circles honoring the slain civil rights leader in the United States as of 2010, including more than a dozen in New Jersey.

    Chris Walker, who spearheaded the renaming effort, said he was inspired to choose Salem Road for the honor after a high school student asked, “Why are all the streets that are named after Dr. King in the most crime-infested areas?”

  • haroldcrews

    A modest proposal to head off seeking to name an important thoroughfare after King is to name some rink-a-dink road in the worst part of town after him.  Perhaps the road by the sewer treatment plant or down by some chemical plant or at the landfill.  It should be a very short road thus fitting the amount of actual accomplishments of King.  Or perhaps a road down by the red-light district/whorehouse.  This would be fitting of King’s reputation for the ‘ladies’ of low reputation.  Then there is the road where the house for unwed mothers is located.  That would be fitting for King.  He was an adulterer after all.

    • The__Bobster

      Then there is the road where the house for unwed mothers is located.

      These houses don’t exist anymore, as unwed teen girls are proud to have bastards.

    • bluffcreek1967

      That’s a good point. It’s an irony of history that areas in which the most crime occurs happens to be named after MLK. Quite fitting, I would say.

    • Strider73

       Better choice still: the road leading to the local jail.

  • 4teepee

    The 1921 dustup occurred in a climate during which Whites in Tulsa had become fed up with Black crime.

  • xxxtonygunsxxx

     white man beaten critical cond by black mob graphic


  • No

    Do these modern oompa-loompas even know who Michael King was?   They were already turning on him before he ran into that stray bullet in 1968. 

    Blacks got sick and tired of his preaching and marching . . . he was just a real drag . . . would never shut up. 

    Blacks in the 60s wanted to light stuff on fire (usually their own hovels) . . . they wanted to shoot people . . . and of course . . . wanted to loot everything they could carry.

    Half of them today probably think he invented peanut butter and the other half probably think he was Obama’s daddy.

  • I have no overwhelming desire to name a street after a man who was a communist leaning plagarist, and a womanizer of the worst kind.  Morals of an alley cat.  I guess in some communities it doesn’t take a lot to become idolized.   No wonder the FBI had a file 2 feet thick on this wanna be civil rights leader. And by the way for all you intellectual blacks  Mr. King  DID NOT write the I have a dream speech.  Stole it like he stole most of his celebrity   Sorry,  but those are the facts.

    • JohnEngelman

      Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream speech,” paraphrased passages from the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address. Isaiah 40:4-5, Amos 5:24, Shakespeare’s Richard III, and others. In doing so he revealed his erudition. 
      Writers are often inspired by previous works. Shakespeare often borrowed his plots. 

  • FITTING legacy for MLK
    They should trumpet The Honorable Reverend’s prowess doing white PROSTITUTES four at a time.

    I have a laugh when MLK worship goes awry

  • No

    Sorry to hear about your friend.

    One thing I noticed about Texas . . . they know how to deal with the MLK Street Naming Racket.

    They cave to political correctness, put up the street signs with a lot of hoopla and get it over with.  Then after 2-3 years, they go back and change the name to something else. 

    In a way, it fits the negro mentality.  Like children, they’re fascinated by whatever is in front of them only until something else diverts their attention.

  • chuck_2011

     the thin blue line…that which keeps the hordes and savages at bay…one day though their numbers will exceed even the capacity of police to maintain order…What then?

  • JohnEngelman

    Immortalized by assassination, Martin Luther King has become an iconic American leader Americans of different persuasions want to identify with. More than any other American he made the 1960s what they were in the United States. It would have been a different decade without him.
     Great leaders do not attempt the impossible. They recognize and exploit historical opportunities. I can think of four reasons the United States was receptive to the civil right movement after the Second World War. First, Nazi race theories discredited all race theories, regardless of evidence. Most whites in the United States no longer wanted to think that way. Second, Blacks had contributed fully to the war effort. Third, post World War Two prosperity put most whites in a generous mood. Forth, because of the success and popularity of the New Deal there was a great deal of confidence in the ability of the federal government to improve the lives of most Americans. 
    Martin Luther King’s talent lay in his ability to bring out the worst in his political opponents. He made them seem like brawling bullies while projecting the image to most white Americans of a humble man of God who was too good of a Christian to hate those who hated him. It was difficult to convince whites with little contact with blacks that blacks were dangerous when segregationists were attacking non violent demonstrators, and some times killing them. 
    Martin Luther King’s friendship with members of the American Communist Party would only be a legitimate concern if he passed classified information to the Soviet Union. There is no evidence that he did. Martin Luther King did not inspire anti American Communist propaganda. His enemies did.
    Martin Luther King’s practiced pauperism in college. This is difficult for me to understand, when I consider what he certainly composed on his own. 
    His womanizing was unacceptable in a clergyman, and politically reckless. 
    Nevertheless, with no formal power, and opposed by powerful enemies, he achieved his goals. That is the ultimate test of a leader. The goals he achieved, like the man himself, deserve a nuanced appraisal. The civil rights legislation made it possible for blacks who performed and behaved wall to achieve well in American society. The rise in black social pathology discredited the confidence in the government that made the civil rights legislation possible.  

  • JohnEngelman

    All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.This is probably the most quoted statement attributed to Burke, and an extraordinary number of variants of it exist, but all without any definite original source. These very extensively used remarks may be based on a paraphrase of some of Burke’s ideas, but he is not known to have ever declared them in so succinct a manner in any of his writings. They may have been adapted from these lines of Burke’s in his Thoughts on the Cause of Present Discontents (1770): “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Edmund_Burke      

    Martin Luther King cannot be accused of plagiarizing a statement Edmund Burke never made.