Franklin Family's Legacy In Tulsa
Updated: Oct 20, 2020
TULSA, Okla. -
"From my office window I could see planes circling in midair. They grew in number and hung and darted and dipped below. I could see the old Midway Hotel on fire burning from the top, and then another and another and another."
Those are the words penned by B.C. Franklin during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, read by his grandson John Whit.
"A filling station farther down east Archer caught on fire from the top. I fear now an explosion and decided to try to move to safer quarters. I came out of my office, locked the door and descended to the foot of the steps. The sidewalks were literally covered with burning turpentine balls,” B.C. Franklin wrote.
B.C. Franklin's law office on Greenwood was one of 191 businesses destroyed, but that didn't stop him from practicing law. Franklin and his team helped others with insurance claims, under a tent provided by the American Red Cross.
"Because of B.C. Franklin, there really is now a Greenwood," said Ruben Gant.
Gant is the Executive Director of the John Hope Franklin Park and a friend of the family. He believes thanks to B.C.'s tenacity and knowledge of the law, black business owners were able to rebuild on Greenwood, even when the city made it nearly economically impossible with a clause that new buildings needed to be built with fire retardant material.
"It actually went before the Oklahoma Supreme Court in 1921 and B.C. won the lawsuit,” Gant said. “That in itself is a historically monumental event because who could of imagined that a black lawyer in 1921 representing a black community before the Oklahoma Supreme Court would prevail in a lawsuit, but he did.”
While immensely proud of his grandfather, John Whit remains deeply disappointed with the City of Tulsa in how it has handled the Race Massacre over the past nearly 100 years.
"The city has been in such denial for so many years of this history, of the destruction of a prosperous community," said Whit.
B.C. had a strong family foundation deeply rooted in faith, hard work and the desire to capture, know, and examine history. He passed those values on to his only child, John Hope Franklin, who dedicated his life to American History. Educated at Harvard, John Hope Franklin was an author, professor, public speaker, civil rights advocate and scholar.
"He grew up in segregated America and an America that didn't want to hear the truth of history,” Whit said. “It certainly didn't want to hear about the Tulsa Race Massacre, but it didn't want to discuss slavery, it didn't want to discuss segregation.”
"He [John Hope Franklin] used to always say, 'The truth in history is dependent upon who is writing it'," Gant said.
It's fitting that in a nationally recognized park, that bears John Hope Franklin's name, the story of determination, resilience and hope lives on in the Greenwood district.
"It's a great place to come. It's a destination for people coming from around the world to learn Tulsa's story," said Whit.
"His desire was to weave enough of the black presence in America's history so that the history of the United States could be told adequately and fairly," Gant said.
So how would John Hope and his father feel about where we are today, where we are in Oklahoma, Tulsa and in Greenwood?
"I think their words would be we've made some progress, but we have a long way to go,” Gant said. “It's not a formable task, but if we are sincere, we can be an example for the United States of America.”