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    Entries in Oklahoma (2)

    Monday
    Nov052018

    Tulsa Struggles to Make Amends for a Massacre it Ignored for Nearly a Century

    BY  NOVEMBER 2018

     

    On weekday mornings, enticing whiffs of bacon and fried potatoes waft from Wanda J’s Next Generation restaurant in Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood. The smell of breakfast on the griddle offers a comforting contrast to the sound of big rigs and commuter traffic roaring by on the Interstate 244 overpass that cleaves the neighborhood in two. 

    At first glance, the Greenwood section of Tulsa doesn’t look much different from places in other cities where, in the name of urban renewal, new highways were erected in the 1960s, obliterating or dividing minority neighborhoods. Around the corner from Wanda J’s, there are signs of a revitalization effort -- or of gentrification, depending on whom you ask. A sign on an empty lot promises a future mixed-use development; a two-story historic building nearby has already been renovated with retail on the ground floor that includes a combo coffee shop and yoga studio, a bookstore, and a Vietnamese sandwich shop. 

    But the sidewalks that line the streets of this neighborhood offer a grim reminder of Greenwood’s darker past. Every 20 or 30 feet, a plaque lists the name of a business -- a restaurant, grocer, lawyer, doctor, clothing store -- and below it, the words, “Destroyed in 1921.”

    A hundred years ago, this 35-square-block section of Tulsa was home to one of the largest concentrations of African-American-owned enterprises and wealth in this country. It was so well-known at the time that Booker T. Washington nicknamed the area “Negro Wall Street.” At its peak, Greenwood was home to more than 300 businesses serving roughly 11,000 residents who, thanks to segregation, reinvested whatever they earned back into their community. By 1921, Black Wall Street, as it’s called today, boasted a three-story, chandeliered hotel as well as a public library, two newspapers, 23 churches and a high school that taught Latin, chemistry and physics.

    That all changed on May 31 of that year when a black teenage boy was accused of assaulting a white female elevator operator. Within hours, marauding white residents swept into the district and burned it to the ground.

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    Thursday
    Jun012017

    Nation's Least-Funded Schools Get What They Pay For

    Education funding has yet to bounce back from the recession in many states. But nowhere is the situation more dire than in Oklahoma.
    BY  JUNE 2017
    school hallway and lockers
    Shutterstock.com

    In his 17 years as a school official in Oklahoma, Robert Romines has dealt with more than his share of painful situations. In 2013, as superintendent in the town of Moore, he had to shepherd his system through the aftermath of a tornado that caused $2 billion in total damage, destroying entire neighborhoods and taking down two elementary schools. Today, he is up against a subtler but deeply corrosive attack on his schools: death by a thousand spending cuts.

    No state has suffered more than Oklahoma when it comes to education funding over the past decade. As it has struggled to balance its budget in the face of declining oil revenue, spending on schools has declined further than anywhere else. Oklahoma now spends $1 billion less on K-12 education than it did a decade ago. One in five of its school districts has opted for a four-day school week; the base minimum salary for educators hasn’t been raised in nearly a decade; and emergency credentials are being awarded at a record pace to help fill teacher vacancies. Arts programs are going away. Some schools are consolidating their sports programs with other schools to save money. Funding was cut in this year’s education budget for the statewide science fair, in which students compete for awards and scholarships.

    In Moore, Romines has tried to hold off as long as possible from making budget cuts that directly impact students. But in the last few years, he has had no choice.

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