GROUP seeks action on riot reparations

Wednesday, August 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ A group seeking reparations for 127 frail and elderly survivors of the 1921 Tulsa race riot announced a campaign Tuesday aimed at pressuring local leaders to act.

The Tulsa Reparations Coalition launched an Internet site where the public can endorse its call for reparations. It also is contacting national organizations asking for support for its ``All Eyes on Tulsa'' campaign. To got to the site, CLICK HERE.

The grassroots group is upset that no one has compensated black Tulsans for what they lost when white mobs burnt their homes and businesses 80 years ago.

``I'd like to see this situation righted before these little pioneers pass on,'' said coalition member Eddie Faye Gates.

Gates served on a state commission that studied the riot and concluded local authorities did not do enough to prevent the violence or to protect black Tulsans. The black Greenwood District was reduced to ashes, and estimates of the dead ranged from three dozen to 300.

The commission recommended reparations that included payments to living survivors and survivors' descendants, a scholarship fund, an economic development zone and a memorial.

The coalition wants city and county leaders and other ``relevant parties'' to consider making those reparations.

``In the five months since the report, Tulsa's leaders have said nothing and done nothing,'' said coalition chairman Mark Stodghill. ``This is an insult to the survivors, the community of Greenwood and the race riot commission.''

But Tulsa Mayor Susan Savage said efforts are under way to build a memorial, create scholarships and economic development opportunities in Greenwood.

She also has devoted half of one staff member's time to working with The National Conference for Community and Justice on a series of public forums aimed at finding ways to promote racial unity and harmony.

A Chamber of Commerce task force also is examining how reparations might be made to survivors with private funds, she said.

``I really agree with direct payment of reparations to survivors,'' Savage said. ``Legally, there are some challenges trying to do that with municipal dollars.''

Stodghill said only one city councilor and one county commissioner showed up when invited to a June workshop to discuss reparations. Savage said she believes the head of the city's human rights department attended.

His group hopes the endorsements from its Web site will pressure local leaders ``to recognize there is a strong contingency of supporters for reparations in the community and the nation as a whole.''

The coalition has about 40 active members. It is an outgrowth of the Center for Racial Justice, which was started by a local Unitarian church.

The effort to bring attention to the issue got a boost when the Unitarian Universalist Association endorsed reparations for riot survivors at its national convention in June, Stodghill said.

Gates said she's concerned that reparations will come too late for the aging survivors. Twenty-two of the living survivors she tracked down during the state commission's investigation have since died.

``It breaks my heart to strike a name off the list,'' she said.

Savage noted that cash payments are not the only way to make reparations. But she said she understands the urgency for survivors.

``Rather than go through some kind of protracted court process, we're looking at foundations and other revenue sources to address issues of reparations,'' she said.