Tulsa History: September 2009 Archives

Links from bloggers and websites in Tulsa and around Oklahoma:

MeeCiteeWurkor looks at a traffic fatality that killed a bicyclist. The trail led to the Sinclair refinery parking lot and the question: Does Sinclair Hire Illegal Aliens?

An 1829 letter from President Andrew Jackson, informing leaders of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations that they would have to leave the southern states, has been found. (Via Blair Humphreys.)

Yogi gives a panhandler his lunch and ponders whether shelters and soup kitchens are enablers rather than true helps: Yogi's Den: A Homeless Guy, Leviticus 23:22, and my Lunch

Tasha suggests several more ways to get to know Tulsa, including Twitter and parenthood.

Emily was given a lovely 1946 linen postcard of Tulsa's Webster High School.

Stephen and Elizabeth Thompson spent a week touring famed diners and dives around Oklahoma and Kansas, and recorded the results in their blog Foodies Gone Wild: Oklahoma & Kansas edition.

The University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane has a new costumed mascot, replacing old mascot Huffy the Hurricane, Powdered Toast Man's doppelganger.

aRdent Voice wants you to see his wife Lori Sears' portrait drawings

Freedom of Information Oklahoma has some interesting stories:

Remember Marc Sherman, who was a midday talk show host on KRMG? He has a blog: Marc's True News

Jason Kearney considers the case of a Tulsa youth pastor on "The Biggest Loser" and asks Is It a Sin To Be Fat? (And congrats to Jason on his third blogiversary.)

TulsaGal has the story (with photos) of Tate Brady, namesake of Tulsa's Brady Street, and some wonderful photos and information on the Akdar Theatre, which later became Leon McAuliffe's Cimarron Ballroom.

Irritated Tulsan's guest poster bestandworstofokc offers 10 ways to annoy your coworkers.

Stan Geiger thinks high-speed trains might work in the Los Angeles / Las Vegas corridor but has reasons to doubt their utility in connecting Tulsa to Oklahoma City.

Bill Yates, who blogs about neuroscience research, has a surprising post about children, video games, and attention.

Jack Lewis remembers the way the basketball coach pushed his own son to excel and draws a lesson from that about God's love for His childrenCatoosa's Coach Commisky and God's love

Here it is:

Here are some previous entries on BatesLine that touch on Greenwood and include some of the material I shared at Ignite Tulsa.

Greenwood's streetcar: The Sand Springs Railroad (includes photos)

The rise and fall of Greenwood (includes high res 1951 aerial photo of Deep Greenwood)

Greenwood 1957

Film of Oklahoma's 1920s black communities available through Global ImageWorks

Tulsa 1957: Restaurant map

Notes on sources documenting the resurgence of Greenwood

Signs of Greenwood's rebuilding

Sometime soon, I will post the slides with a recorded narration, closer to the way I would have delivered the talk had I taken more time to rehearse and memorize. (No excuse, but I returned from a business trip just 90 minutes before the event was scheduled to begin. I waited far too long to get my slides together, and I should have taken time to write a narration and to revise my slides before submitting them. It takes a lot of work to say something in five minutes.)

I encourage you to watch all of the excellent Ignite Tulsa presentations. (I plan to do so; I was too distracted before my talk to absorb as much as I should have, and shortly after I finished, I was notified that I was needed at home.) My thanks to the organizers for bringing this idea to Tulsa and making the inaugural event such a success.

Goodbye Tulsa has a remembrance of Betsy Horowitz by her son Andrew. Betsy Horowitz was a Maple Ridge neighborhood activist who was part of the successful fight to stop construction of the Riverside Expressway through her neighborhood in the 1970s. She moved to the Dallas area a decade or so ago, and she passed away earlier this year.

I only met Mrs. Horowitz once and that only briefly -- her daughter Jean Ann was a classmate of mine at Holland Hall, and the Horowitz home in Maple Ridge was one of the sites of the Junior-Senior party. But I heard plenty about Betsy during the mid-seventies. It wasn't unusual for one or more Holland Hall parents or alumni to be serving on the City Commission or running for office, and my group of friends paid more attention to politics at every level than was usual for middle school boys. (On my bulletin board through the summer and fall of 1974: The list of candidates for state office from the Tulsa Tribune.)

What I knew about Betsy Horowitz was filtered through the local newspapers and the KRMG morning show. At best, these sources told me, Betsy was a joke, an overweight loudmouth. Her son Andrew mentions that people connected her with feminist Bella Abzug, an outspoken feminist of the day.

At worst, she was a dangerous obstructionist, standing in the path of progress. As a map-obsessed kid, I was all about seeing the dashed "proposed" lines on the map turn into broken, colored "under construction" lines and ultimately into solid, completed freeways. Anyone standing in the way of that was by definition a Bad Person, so it was easy for me to fall in with the conventional view.

I don't know if it was an actual news report or just a silly rumor that she had had her mouth wired shut as part of a liquid diet weight loss plan, but the conventional wisdom was that this was a good thing and wouldn't it be nice if it were permanent. (I'm not the only one who remembers this.)

My other vivid memory of Betsy's political career is her radio ad for one of her mayoral campaigns. A parody of Charlie Rich's crossover country hit, the lyric ran, "Betsy will stop what goes on behind closed doors." The ad communicated a problem that persists today at Tulsa's City Hall -- a hallmark, in fact, of Mayor Taylor's administration -- with deals being done behind the scenes and presented to the public and their representatives as a fait accompli for their ratification.

It's easy now to see that Betsy Horowitz was a valiant defender of neighborhoods against heedless destruction in the name of moving cars around. She and her allies not only stopped a freeway, but they made the renaissance of Maple Ridge possible and gave us the start of Tulsa's extensive trail system.

The Riverside Expressway's route was conceptualized in 1956, but firmly set in 1962. The expressway was planned to follow the Midland Valley Railroad right-of-way from Riverside Drive to the southeast interchange of the Inner Dispersal Loop. If you want to see the path of the expressway -- where the exits were planned, what buildings would have been sacrificed -- there's an atlas in the Central Library map case:

Comprehensive functional plans for the long range highway needs for Tulsa, Oklahoma; Tulsa metropolitan area expressway system. Prepared under the direction of the Oklahoma State Highway Dept. in cooperation with U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of Public Roads.

As you drive the boulevards of Maple Ridge today, it's easy to forget that the district was not always popular and beloved. In the post-war period, Tulsans of every class wanted new, and wealthy Tulsans built homes along the ridge to the south-southeast, toward Southern Hills Country Club. With an expressway planned, Maple Ridge homes could very well have followed the pattern of big, old homes in urban neighborhoods in other cities -- subdivision into apartments and slow decay. Many Maple Ridge homes were badly "wreckovated." It wasn't until the expressway was off the map that the cachet of Maple Ridge began to return.

The Goodbye Tulsa piece links to a Wayne Greene column about Betsy Horowitz in the Tulsa World from 2008 which begins:

Is it safe to say something nice about Betsy Horowitz yet?

She's been gone from Tulsa 11 years now. Has enough time passed that her many enemies -- and many, many friends -- are willing to listen to someone say she was right about at least one thing?

Evidently it takes being dead or at least long gone from Tulsa, and no longer a threat to anyone's big plans, before it's safe to credit a naysayer with being right. The same column points readers to Wayne Greene's blog entry explaining why it's OK to praise Betsy Horowitz's neighborhood activism while damning White City resident's opposition to the Tetched Mahal on the other side of I-244. (I have a feeling I'll get some grief over that epithet, but I think it's a good pun, so it stays.) There are certainly distinctions, but the arguments Greene puts forth in support of the activists who fought the Riverside Expressway would have been torn apart as obstructionist nonsense by his predecessors on the World editorial page.

At root, the White City and the Maple Ridge activists are both about trying to preserve the quality of life in a neighborhood against plans that sacrifice that quality of life for the sake of some presumed greater good. The usual arguments against the neighborhood are that the impact on quality of life won't be as great as the homeowners fear, that the homeowners are selfish for putting their own desires ahead of the needs of the general public, and that the plans have been on file at the "local planning department in Alpha Centauri for fifty of your Earth years, so you've had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaint and it's far too late to start making a fuss about it now."

I'm reminded of World editorial writer Ken Neal's sendoff to Vince Sposato, a New York-born troublemaker like Betsy Horowitz, an opponent of urban renewal who was actually displaced by an expressway, and a frequent candidate for office. The World's obit states:

His love of politics was born from a love of people, according to his family.

In the 1950s, he championed civil rights and special educational needs. In the 1960s, he fought against urban renewal and the taking of people's homes without just compensation.

In 1974, Sposato found himself fighting for his own home. The city had condemned the property because it was needed for part of the construction of the Inner Dispersal Loop. Sposato eventually lost his fight for the house that he and his wife had owned for 22 years.

At the time, I advised the members of the Reform Alliance on the City Council, who were facing sharp criticism for not rolling over on the issue of suburban water service, not to hold their breath waiting for the approval of the Whirled: "If you want the Whirled to say something nice about you, drop dead."

It's interesting that both Horowitz and Sposato came to Tulsa from New York, where confrontation in politics and in daily life is a given. Tulsa needed, and still needs, dissidents who are willing to be pushy and willing to be called obnoxious. I'm sure they were told numerous times, as I've been told, that they needed to tone it down, work within the system, don't ruffle feathers, don't rub people the wrong way. They probably did try that, and they no doubt learned that playing nice only makes it easier for your cause to be ignored. And when you stand up for something and are persistent, you are going to be called angry, obsessed, rude, etc., even if you are as pleasant as can be. Every "troublemaker" on the City Council started out trying to work within the system, convinced that the previous troublemakers failed by not being nice enough.

A comment on one of the World stories, posted by a sometime commenter here, challenges the significance of Betsy Horowitz's leadership role in stopping the Riverside Expressway. I have no doubt that the legal challenge of which he writes was essential. But politics doesn't stop at the courthouse door, and without Horowitz's willingness to call public attention to the issue and to take a heap of ridicule as her pay, I doubt the court challenge would have been successful. (I would love to know more specifics about the court case.)

In the midst of ragweed season, I should mention one other significant contribution made by the Horowitz family to Tulsa's quality of life: Dr. Leon Horowitz, Betsy's husband, was a founder of the Allergy Clinic of Tulsa.

Wayne Greene wonders when it's safe to praise a naysayer. I'm wondering when it's permissible to fix blame on the individuals and institutions who, time and again, pushed schemes that the naysayers rightly warned against. Why do we never give due credit to those who were right and due blame to those who led us to disaster?

MORE: Tulsa District 7 City Councilor John Eagleton recalls that in 1968, after he was hit and dragged by a car as he was crossing 21st Street on his walk to Lee School, Betsy Horowitz took up the cause of school crossing safety and school zones. (He heard about this second-hand, as he spent the Summer of Love in a body cast.)

In my Ignite Tulsa talk on the "Greenwood Gap," I mentioned in passing the physical indications of the rebuilding and flourishing of Tulsa's African-American district after it was burned in 1921 by a white mob. I would have included photos of some of those signs, and I had some that I'd taken, but I couldn't find them, so earlier today I took some more, finding dates on buildings, on cornerstones, and on commemorative plaques that tell the story of Greenwood's post-1921 resurgence. (Click that link to view the set on Flickr.)

The churches, and the dates on their cornerstones, beg the question: If there wasn't a rebuilt neighborhood nearby, why were the churches rebuilt there? (Further, why did congregations build newer fancier buildings in the late '50s and early '60s?) (NOTE: In the olden days, churches were built in neighborhoods and people traveled short distances to church. They weren't set up like consumer-oriented big-box stores with huge parking lots, isolated from neighborhoods.)

Here's the Williams Building at 102 N. Greenwood Ave., rebuilt in 1922, after the building previously on that site was destroyed by the riot. Note the year above the name of the building.

Williams Building, 102 N. Greenwood Ave., Tulsa, rebuilt in 1922

After the jump, you'll see the plaque set in the sidewalk next to the building, and two more plaques -- one on the entrance to the Mabel B. Little Heritage House and the other on the entrance to the Greenwood Cultural Center.

Thanks to the organizers, speakers, and audience for last night's Ignite Tulsa event. It was a great experience, and I only wish I could have stayed through the entire program -- family needs called me home shortly after I spoke. I'm happy I had the chance to come back to the afterparty and chat with many very interesting folks. More to say about the total Ignite Tulsa experience later.

Someone asked if the source material for my talk is online. A lot of it is already, in past BatesLine entries. I plan to post links to key articles and go into detail on my sources. For now, if you're impatient, Google Greenwood on this site.

When an OSU professor wrote a response to my 2007 column on the Greenwood gap, challenging the factual basis for what I wrote and my conclusions, I responded by detailing my sources, which may be of interest here (this is the original reply, not the edited version that appeared in the paper):

I'm always pleased to know that someone has given one of my columns a close and critical reading, as OSU Political Science Professor J. S. Maloy has done with my column on the rise and fall of the Greenwood district. This aspect of Tulsa history is important but overlooked, so I welcome his interest. I empathize with his disappointment that so little of Greenwood remains. My column was an attempt to use available evidence to explain why things are the way they are.

The issues he raises deserve a detailed and specific discussion: Which level of government is to blame for Greenwood's second destruction; whether Greenwood was rebuilt after the riot and how the reconstruction was funded; whether local officials in 1921 took a free market approach to rebuilding Greenwood; the role of racism in the city's treatment of Greenwood; and whether the free market is to blame for the lack of progress in Greenwood since urban renewal.

I agree with Maloy that what our city has done to Greenwood is a self-inflicted wound. I should have made it more clear that city officials made the decisions to route I-244 through the heart of Greenwood and to bulldoze most of the rest of it in the name of urban renewal. The Federal Government only supplied the funds to carry out the city's plans.

Prof. Maloy expresses doubt that Greenwood was fully restored following the riot. An examination of the sources I used in researching my column will confirm that it was.

He can read for himself the recorded memories of Greenwood residents contained in the books I cited: Black Wall Street, by Hannibal Johnson, and They Came Searching, by Eddie Faye Gates, both residents of Tulsa and active in the community.

He can visit the mapping department of the Indian Nations Council of Governments (INCOG), 201 W. 5th St., Suite 600, and view historical aerial photographs, such as the one from 1951 which ran with my column.

He can go to the 4th floor of Central Library and page through the shelf of Polk City Directories and Cole Cross Reference Directories, dating back to 1911, which list residences and businesses street by street, ordered by house number. With the help of a pre-1960 street map (urban renewal destroyed much of the street grid), he can trace the year-by-year evolution of commercial avenues like Greenwood and Lansing and the district's more residential side streets.

He can explore the Sanborn Fire Maps, which document location, footprint, number of stories, and types of buildings for use in fire insurance risk assessment. They were kept up to date until the early '60s as buildings were built and demolished.

Maps for the entire state are available to cardholders on the Tulsa Library website (http://www.tulsalibrary.org:2048/login?url=http ://sanborn.umi.com).

Select the map set for Tulsa that says 1915-July 1926 (that's a typo -- it's really July 1962), and then take a look at sheets 9, 33, 50, 55, 82, 90, and 91. An earlier map set, dated 1915, will illustrate what Greenwood was like in the years before the riot.

Maloy mentions Tee's Barber Shop, located in one of the handful of Deep Greenwood buildings that were spared from urban renewal. The next time he's there, he should notice the markers in the sidewalk which show where businesses were located before the riot. He'll see that many of the markers contain the words "reopened" and "rebuilt."

If he'll walk to the corner of Greenwood and Archer and look up to the west, he'll see the year "1922" -- a year after the riot -- carved above the name "WILLIAMS BLDG." The plaque in the sidewalk explains that Williams, who also owned the Dreamland Theater across the street, was the first to rebuild all of his properties after the riot.

So if we can agree that Greenwood was fully rebuilt after the riot, the question becomes how.

Maloy is correct that there was very little aid from the government and white charities. It makes it all the more impressive that the African-American community was able to rebuild, but they were determined and they did. African-Americans in other cities raised money to assist Greenwood's reconstruction, and Greenwood's own residents worked, scrimped, saved, provided mutual assistance, and expended sweat equity to rebuild.

Maloy is incorrect in stating that city officials in 1921 took a laissez-faire attitude toward Greenwood. The democratically-elected City Commission of the time tried to use government regulation -- a fire ordinance -- to prevent Greenwood residents from rebuilding. Attorneys from the community challenged the ordinance and won an injunction, clearing the way for reconstruction. (Joe Lockett v. the City of Tulsa -- see pp. 87-88 of Scott Ellsworth's Death in a Promised Land.)

Maloy says that I overlook the role of racism in the history of Greenwood, but I think my references to segregation, racist mobs of white looters, and a city government that wanted to remove blacks to a new district beyond the city limits point clearly enough to the racism behind those actions.

Some urban renewal advocates may well have been motivated by racism, but some proponents were well-intentioned progressive activists trying to bridge the gap between Tulsa's black and white communities. The story of Tulsa's Model Cities program deserves to be explored in depth, and I would welcome the chance to talk to those with first-hand knowledge.

Finally, Prof. Maloy wants to know why the "Do-It-Yourself approach" which worked to rebuild Greenwood after the 1921 riot hasn't worked in the 40 years since urban renewal and the construction of I-244.

It's simple: After 1921, the land remained in private ownership, and the victims of the riot could rebuild what had been burned down.

But in the '60s and '70s, urban renewal took the land out of private ownership. Most of the south end of the district is still owned by some government entity. The urban renewal authority has sold some of the land in the northern part back to private owners, but mainly for residential and industrial development. There is no land available for new commercial development.

For example, if you wanted to rebuild the Holloway Building at 350 N. Greenwood Av. (home, in 1957, to Holloway's Hardware and Appliances, Holloway Dental Laboratory, a doctor's office, and an advertising and painting company), you'd have to fill in a pond, and you'd have to get permission from Prof. Maloy's employer. OSU-Tulsa controls all of Deep Greenwood north of I-244, with the exception of two churches and the City's Greenwood Cultural Center.

The commercial buildings between King and Pine Streets (including the Rex Theater) which faced Greenwood were cleared by urban renewal and replaced with suburban homes facing the side streets, many of which have been turned into cul-de-sacs. Only a few churches, Carver Middle School, the old Public Library (now a Unitarian Church), and a few homes remain from the pre-urban renewal days.

City officials created an industrial park out of the area between the Midland Valley and Santa Fe tracks and south of Pine, which once had been residential and commercial. (It had its own movie theater, the Regal, on Lansing Ave.) Morning Star Baptist Church and Hutcherson YMCA are about the only buildings in that area that survived urban renewal.

There is one part of Deep Greenwood which might yet be redeveloped, south of I-244 and northeast of Archer and Elgin. It is owned by the Tulsa Development Authority (the renamed urban renewal authority). There have been proposals for mixed-use development on that site, but the TDA has yet to approve any of them, to the consternation of many north Tulsa community leaders.

Maloy objects to comparing Greenwood to Cherry Street and Brookside. Contrary to his assumptions, big developers didn't produce the rebirth of those neighborhood commercial districts. Along with the adjoining residential areas they went through a period of decline before their rediscovery and renovation. About 20 years ago, aspiring small business owners looking for a place to operate found cheap and often run-down storefront space in the old buildings along Peoria and 15th Street. If Greenwood had been left standing, it too might have been rediscovered.

Prof. Maloy concludes by saying that "the free market will always indulge racism, ignorance, fear, and sheer pettiness of spirit in the name of profits. Only a democratic process--public investment constrained by public consultation--can do better."

But world history is full of examples of a majority oppressing a minority by means of the power conveyed by democratic processes, often by limiting the minority's ability to own property and to buy and sell freely.

It was a democratically elected (and Democrat-controlled) legislature that created Oklahoma's racist Jim Crow laws. Democratically elected officials abetted the pillaging and burning of Greenwood in 1921 and tried to block its reconstruction.

Private individuals, businesses, and churches rebuilt Greenwood after the riot. A democratically elected city government, using public funds, demolished almost all of it in the name of urban renewal. Admittedly, the democratic process was distorted because city officials at the time were elected on an at-large basis, but nevertheless the tyranny of the majority, not the free market, was at work.

The evidence is there for Prof. Maloy's perusal, if he cares to look.

Michael D. Bates


If you've ever wondered, "Is Michael Bates capable of expressing himself concisely?" you and I will both have a chance to find out tomorrow night, Thursday, September 17, 2009, at Ignite Tulsa. The event will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Blue Dome Diner, at 313 E. 2nd St., between Detroit and Elgin Aves. Admission is free, but R├ępondez, S'il Vous Plait.

Ignite Tulsa is a series of five-minute presentations on a variety of topics. Each speaker will have a slideshow with 20 slides, automatically advancing at 15 second intervals. Here's the list of presenters and topics (alphabetically by presenter's last name):

  • Be Nice. Don't be Rude or Sad by Chris Barton
  • The Greenwood Gap: Mythbusting pop history with contemporary documents by Michael Bates
  • How Not to be Waldo: Brands that Stand Out in a Crowd by Emily Campbell
  • Salvation in the Stacks: Tips, Rants, and a Patriotic Finale from a "Librarian 2.0" by Sarah Clark
  • If someone gives you roses you should be pissed off by Matthew Galloway
  • Visual Thinking: Boost Your Creative IQ by Sean Griffin
  • P2P Anti-Piracy: A Skunk Works History given by Dr. John Hale
  • Fighting Global Warming with Green Building by Craig Immel
  • Why Truth is Overrated by Jeff Martin
  • Top Ten Venture Capital Lies by William Paiva
  • The iPhone & Future of Art & VisCom In Tulsa by Ray Pearcey
  • Get your Head in the Cloud: Creating a lean organization by leveraging cloud computing by Nathan Phelps
  • How to tell your boss to %@$# Off! by Scott Phillips
  • Challenging Yourself by Geoffrey Thomas Simpson
  • The United Linen Story - how to market a 20th century company in the 21st century by Scott Townsend
  • Keeping Up with the Online Joneses by Brad Vernon
  • Brain Research in Tulsa by William R. Yates, MD

I'll be talking about the post-1921 history of Greenwood and the sources of information that can debunk historical myths and tell us about the mostly-vanished African-American city-within-a-city. (I covered this topic in my June 13, 2007, column, "The Rise and Fall of Greenwood," but there will be some new angles and info in Thursday's talk.)

TulsaGal has been posting scans of past Tulsa ephemera on her blog. The latest scan is of a little 16-page magazine called This Week in Tulsa, December 31, 1948 edition. Recently she posted a copy of the competing magazine, The Downtowner, from March 19, 1948. The magazines had ads for nightlife, restaurants, theaters, and more mundane retailers. Where possible, she's ferreted out photos from the Beryl Ford Collection of the places that advertised in the two magazines.

As an interesting point of comparison, Iowahawk has scans of a similar, but much racier, 16-pager serving the Chicago convention business: The April 3, 1959, edition of Night Life in Chicago.

MORE FUN TULSA EPHEMERA: Irritated Tulsan has a promotional flyer for Scene2News from the 1970s, handed out at the Tulsa State Fair, featuring Jack Morris, Jerry Webber, and John Hudson. When I see a clock that shows 10 pm, sometimes there's a voice that booms out in my head, "IT'S TEN O'CLOCK! JACK MORRIS NEWS TIME!"

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Tulsa History category from September 2009.

Tulsa History: August 2009 is the previous archive.

Tulsa History: October 2009 is the next archive.

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