Jan. 1, 1921, my Aunt Rae was a young bride and a new arrival to Tulsa, Oklahoma, her husband’s hometown. He was a successful leather goods merchant and an oil well prospector. Their home was in an all-white area of the city, apart from the segregated black community.
Growing up, I had very little awareness of the hardship of Black people living in the South and the terrible hatred that persisted from Civil War times. Fast forward to when I was a student at Proviso High School which had a large Black population. My eyes were opened to the bigotry that existed in the South, and in the North, too. A book we read on integration had a reference to Greenwood, a black area of considerable wealth in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Proudly referred to as “Black Wall Street,” business thrived there. In May 1921, 35 square blocks of the town’s businesses and homes, were set afire and completely demolished. Countless Black people were injured and more than 300 people were killed by mobs of white marauders, many having been deputized and given weapons by city officials. This horror infamously became known as the “Greenwood Massacre.”
Reading about this, prompted me to talk with my Aunt Rae and ask her about the vicious rampage that took place in the town where she was living at that time. To my amazement (and disappointment) my aunt had no recollection of any such occurrence. When I pursued the subject of segregation, she seemed annoyed with me, and it became obvious that she had no concern or interest in the non-white community. Perhaps it was my idealistic high school age, but I was shocked by my aunt’s cavalier and heartless attitude.
There may be only a few “No Blacks Allowed” signs remaining, but hatred and racism continue to exist. And almost as destructive to our society is the callous attitude of far too many folks like my Aunt Rae, who simply do not care. We seem not to have learned that “Black Lives Matter.” We must care for each other to support our democracy.
Currently, several of the states are trying to change laws in an attempt to prevent or make it very difficult for Black people to vote. Although only nine states with bigoted legislatures have initiated restrictive laws, other states are interested in a means by which to control and limit voting. I strongly believe that if one group is denied their rights, all of us are limited and impacted. We must appeal to our congressional representatives to stop this unconstitutional outrage.
The Fifteenth Amendment of our Constitution clearly states: “The right of citizens of the U.S. to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the U.S. or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this Article by appropriate legislation.”
I am certainly no Pollyanna, but I am practical. If we care for our democracy, we must actively protect fairness and the rights of all people. It’s time to call our elected leaders and insist they uphold the Constitution, saving our democracy in the process.
Harriet Hausman is a longtime resident of River Forest and a longtime member of the ACLU.