Ninety-five years ago in Tulsa, Oklahoma a race riot left the most affluent black community in America destroyed . No one was ever convicted. Now, as Amina Lovell reports, classically trained musician and Broadway performer Alicia Hall Moran has created a performance inspired by these events. (0:15)
LOVELL: Standing in front of a seven person ensemble at the Schomburg Center, Alicia Hall Moran begins her half-sung, half-narrated stage play “Black Wall Street”.
HALL-MORAN: Now I’m going to tell you what happened. 95 years ago, one lifetime ago, on May 31st in to June 1st 1921. The Greenwood section, a black section of a segregated Oklahoma town was destroyed by a mob of angry whites.
LOVELL: Historical records show the riot started when a group of black WWI veterans tried to stop the lynching of a 17-year-old black shoeshiner who’d been accused of trying to rape a white woman. Violence broke out and members of the Ku Klux Klan stormed the neighbourhood.
HALL-MORAN: “After sixteen hours of gun fire, dragging, burning and systematic destruction by every manner, including fire bombs of nitroglycerin dropped from stolen black owned airplanes. The Greenwood district of Tulsa, OK was destroyed.”
LOVELL: Booker T. Washington had dubbed Greenwood “Black Wall Street” because it was home to more black millionaires than any other part of the country. The more than 11,000 residents supported thriving black owned businesses. Grocery stores, movie theaters, even two independent newspapers according to historical documents. As Hall Moran sings..the black community had reached the mountaintop……
SOUND (This is the Mountaintop): This is the mountaintop, you built your house there. On top of the mountaintop you build a school there and they burn it down.
LOVELL 4: And its destruction took away more than just one community’s wealth…it sent a message – one that her father felt grouping up decades later in segregated Oklahoma City just a an hour and a half way Tulsa.
SOUND (Family Monologue): These are the facts. As a sophomore my father integrated his Oklahoma high school and had the highest GPA in the graduating class. But they couldn’t accept a coloured valedictorian so they changed the rules. Only students enrolled since freshman year could compete.
LOVELL: From Oklahoma to her life in New York. Hall-Moran includes a piece about her own brush with New York’s Wall Street from when she was temping trying to support her singing career.
SOUND (The 2 train to Wall Street): The 2 train to Wall Street. People like lava, the flow out of the doors and then flow up the stairs..they flow up they flow out they get more they explode into to the new day. The 2 train to Wall Street.
LOVELL: For Hall-Moran, this deeply personal work is a natural next step in her career – a career that’s taken her from Bess in Porgy and Bess on Broadway… to her residency at The National Sawdust in Brooklyn
HALL-MORAN: “I think it’s really honest for me to be making the kind of work that I make now that involves how I grew up and what about how I grew up that is interesting to me that I don’t hear a lot about.”
LOVELL: Reflecting back on race relations in Tulsa. Hall-Moran says progression often feels like one step forward… two steps back. It’s kind of similar to…
HALL-MORAN: “Like the way the pot boils. One of the bubbles that was at the top, i’m sure makes its way to the bottom. Then it gets to the top then it gets to the bottom, then it gets to the top, but that’s how people move forward. The force down (snap of finger) sprung up. Can we get a little higher up than we sink down every time?”
LOVELL : That’s a question Alicia Hall Moran says she will continue to explore – her next performances in New York City… are in June.
Amina Lovell Columbia Radio News