Librarians and teachers were some of the first professions black women could take to escape what John Whittington Franklin called domestic jobs.
His father, John Hope Franklin, was the son of a writer and a teacher, he said. John Whittington Franklin’s mother was a librarian. His sister was a librarian. His wife’s mother was a librarian.
“You must understand that in the beginning of 20th century that librarian was a new profession for black women,” Franklin said. “Our fathers and grandfathers wanted to get their daughters out of those domestic jobs so they wouldn’t be subject to rape.”
Franklin shared this Thursday evening to a crowd at John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, where multiple organizations dedicated the park on Thursday evening as a national Literary Landmark.
The dedication Thursday coincided with the anniversary of the Tulsa Race Riot — referred to by several at the ceremony as a massacre. The John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation, Friends of Libraries in Oklahoma, United for Libraries and Oklahoma State University’s Edmon Low Library dedicated the landmark.
“Dr. (John Hope) Franklin reminded us that, in a historical sense, race matters, and it deserves more than subtextual treatment,” Tulsa author Hannibal Johnson said.
Born in Rentiesville in 1915, John Hope Franklin came to Tulsa with his family as a child. He later earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University and went on to serve as a noted historian on the faculties of Harvard and other prestigous universities. He was the first black scholar to be appointed department head at a mostly white college and was the first African-American leader of the American Historical Association. He died in 2009.
John Hope Franklin is well known for his book “From Slavery to Freedom: A history of Negro Americans,” published in 1947. It has sold more than 3 million copies and has been translated into multiple languages.
He worked on the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education case, was appointed in 1997 to the National Advisory Board on Race by President Bill Clinton and served on the Fulbright Scholarships Board.
Johnson, who spoke on John Hope Franklin’s life and literary works, said the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation in Tulsa “pushes forward the dialog on racial reconciliation.”
“His work, which is our work, is not yet done,” Johnson said. “We honor his memory by doing the day-to-day tasks necessary to stimulate dialog and promote engagement across racial lines.”
Leading up to the park’s dedication, dozens gathered at Greenwood Avenue and Archer Street to march through the revitalized area of northeast downtown Tulsa to the park.
A trumpeter played solemn melodies as the reverent marchers walked through the neighborhood, which had been burned to the ground 97 years earlier in what has come to be called the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. Dewayne Dickens, a Reconciliation Center board member, provided an overview of the night it started.
“Greenwood is our community, no matter where we are in Tulsa,” he said.
Prior to the riot, the Greenwood District — also called Black Wall Street — was a buzzing commercial district in segregated Tulsa with hundreds of black-owned businesses, highly educated individuals and an 11,000-strong population.
“All this changed May 31st,” Dickens said.
Thirty-seven people were confirmed dead, with oral histories indicating that hundreds more were also killed. The riot started after a mob of white men went to the local jail intending to take a black man, Dick Rowland, from a cell there and lynch him, according to reports on the riot. Rowland had been arrested after a white woman, Sarah Page, accused him of assaulting her in an elevator in downtown Tulsa.
A group of black men responded to rumors of an impending lynching and also went to the jail, intending to protect Rowland. Shots were fired, and the mob moved north of the railroad tracks separating white and black Tulsa, setting fire to buildings throughout the Greenwood District and shooting people as they went. The Greenwood District was destroyed.