LOCAL & STATE
The Oklahoma Eagle
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For many Tulsans, the 2023 new year was marked less by traditional celebrations of years past, and more by the hope of a return of normalcy.
By January, the COVID-19 pandemic held fewer Tulsans in fear, but in its wake were the memories of family and friends who they could no longer embrace.
Tulsa Public Schools and Oklahoma’s post-secondary education institutions, a nexus for many of the negative impacts experienced during the pandemic, were central to the COVID-19 series authored by Gary Lee, managing editor for The Oklahoma Eagle’s.
Lee’s series builds upon his award-winning effort of 2022, capturing both the broad scope of the pandemic and the personal narratives of those impacted. Tulsa educators and Langston University students shared how they endured the pandemic throughout the pandemic, significant adjustments in family dynamics, and their combined resilience.
As The Oklahoma Eagle has reported, no reprieve was granted to TPS educators, parents, or students throughout 2023. Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction, Ryan Walters, continued a year-long assault against Tulsa schools. Public and overt criticism of school administrators, threats of a state takeover and a proposed alignment with right-wing efforts to recast U.S. history, were amongst many unnecessary challenges embraced by Walters.
The resolve of Tulsans committed to the dignity, posthumously, of the slain men, women, and children of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre was further challenged throughout the year.
Jan. 6, Apr. 7 & Apr. 21 Editions – COVID-19
The Oklahoma Eagle’s Jan. 06 edition featured a Word In Black story exploring the pandemic’s ‘deep and lasting negative impact’ on Black families and children. Maya Pottiger, the story author, highlighted the importance of race when considering both the challenge and solutions.
The lingering negative impact on the emotional well-being of Black children was a key aspect of the published article, an analysis undertaken by Dr. Terence Fitzgerald, an internal consultant with the Council for Mental Wellbeing.
Fitzgerald, although optimistic about the resilience of Black children, cautioned parents to be mindful of signs of trauma, such as how they confront new challenges in school.
As highlighted earlier, Gary Lee’s reporting anchored The Eagle’s editorial journey, partnering with Sam Levrault Media to capture the narratives in copy and rich media. We explored how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the nearly 33,000 students in Tulsa Public Schools and the surrounding metropolitan area school districts. The Oklahoma Eagle conducted more than four dozen interviews with students, parents, administrators and health officials about how the public-school community in Tulsa — and surrounding school districts — have fared in the three years of the pandemic. The interviewees were drawn from many Tulsa schools, including McLain, Booker T. Washington High School, George Washington Carver Middle School, John Burroughs Elementary School and Emerson Elementary School. We also interviewed teachers and students from Union Public Schools. And we gathered and analyzed the reports and data prepared by TPS and other sources.
Jan. 13 & 20 Editions – TPS School Board
The Tulsa School Board began the new year with the unexpected resignation of District 2 representative, Judith Barba Perez.
Perez’s resignation, and the effort to fill the soon vacant position, set in motion a months-long series of challenges to the process for appointing a new school board member, vetting candidates for consideration and garnering support for preferred candidates, culminating in a vote on Mar. 20.
Diamond Marshall, a 24-year-old educator and community activist, secured majority support from TPS school board members. Her successful candidacy, reflective of the community support present during the board meeting, ushered in a new generation of leadership for District 2. “It took as long as it needed to, and we’re here now, so I’m very excited,” Marshall shared after the board meeting. She remains a significant influence on board policy and practices.
Feb. 03 & Apr. 14 Editions – 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, Mass Graves Investigation
A clear reminder of ‘Tulsans have not forgotten’ framed The Eagle’s coverage of the City of Tulsa’s 1921 Graves Investigation, of significance, the City of Tulsa’s failure to establish a recorded artifact of virtual committee meetings, providing the public and media with sufficient notice to attend committee meetings, and its [City of Tulsa] practice of filtering information provided to the 1921 Graves Investigation Public Oversight Committee, who were commissioned to ensure transparency.
Randy Hopkins, a contributor to The Oklahoma Eagle, is unwavering in his pursuit of a clear and factual response from Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum and other city officials. Hopkins revealed that the city failed to disclose the shift in the longstanding practice of recording committee meetings, to placing the burden of memorializing discussions with media and committee members.
Oversight Committee members’ concerns and/or demands were noted as: Investigating the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre within the framework of a homicide; the ‘unilateral downsizing’ of gravesite target demographics; the sudden halt of exhumations after the discovery of a gunshot victim in Nov. 2022; the 16-month delay for resuming exhumations; and the shameful reburial of 19 sets of previously exhumed human remains in Oaklawn on July 30, 2021, undertaken in opposition to the unanimous recommendation of the Oversight Committee.
May 19 – Private School Funding
Tulsa Public Schools, and all state public primary and secondary institutions, learned that they must now compete for funding with private institutions.
John Neal, education contributor for The Oklahoma Eagle, revealed how the passage of H.B. 1934, the Parental Choice Tax Credit Act, could further challenge TPS’s ability to serve Tulsa parents and children. The new statute provides “refundable tax credits” from $5,000 to $7,500 annually for each student attending a private school or $1,000 to families homeschooling children.
Neal’s reporting highlighted that ‘grossly underfunded public schools could put to good use of the $600 million being diverted from taxpayers’ coffers to private school beneficiaries.’
A concern was the Oklahoma Tax Commission’s estimate that there will be a shortfall of $258 million when comparing expected legitimate claims to be filed compared to the financial caps placed on total tax credits in the Act.
Jul. 21 – 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Lawsuit
The Oklahoma Eagle’s comprehensive coverage of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre case, and its outcome, was bound by Gary Lee’s reporting (Will Justice Prevail For Race Massacre Survivors), a detailed account of the Massacre survivors’ legal journey, national voices in response to the ruling and a framing of what legal remedy remained for the plaintiffs.
A companion of the lead story, “A Whistle Blew About 5:00 A.M., And The Invasion Of Greenwood Began”, was an analysis of the days-long siege against Historic Greenwood District residents, their testimonials, and a vivid reminder of the state’s culpability and failed accountability.
‘With Tulsa County District Judge Caroline Wall’s dismissal of the Race Massacre survivor’s case for reparations, the burning question was whether there was any remaining hope for justice for the victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, the most murderous, violent acts in the city’s history.
The ramifications of Wall’s dismissal of the case reach far beyond Tulsa and Oklahoma. Dozens of Black communities across the U.S. seeking reparations for the ills of slavery were watching the lawsuit closely to determine if the courts might be an avenue to pursue.
In her decision, Wall sided with the City of Tulsa. In earlier filings, the City argued that “simply being connected to a historical event does not provide a person with unlimited rights to seek compensation from any project in any way related to that historical event.
The legal team fighting for the survivors is preparing to appeal Wall’s July 7 decision to reject the case to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. The appeal must be submitted by Aug. 7. The team must launch a new legal battle if the Supreme Court decides to move forward.”
Aug. 18, 25, – TPS State Takeover
Tulsa Public Schools educators, parents and children lived under the threat of a loss of administrative autonomy throughout the year. Ryan Walters’ openly aggressive posture against TPS, reported by The Oklahoma Eagle throughout the year, left few options for any action short of a state takeover. The Superintendent of Public Instruction invested his office’s authority and resources in public critiques, personal attacks and demands of TPS administrators.
Union educator groups being likened to a “terrorist organization,” threats against the renewal of accreditation, proposed curriculum that attempted to shift the narrative of and accountability for U.S. slavery, and an embrace of book bans marked Walters’ year.
The Oklahoma Eagle Managing Editor Gary Lee, contributing writer Neal, and contributors offered comprehensive coverage for readers, represented by:
- Tulsans Unite To Oppose Bid For Takeover Of The City’s School System
- Tulsa Philanthropies And Tribes Rally Support for Tulsa Public Schools
- State Superintendent Walters Continues Attack on Tulsa Public Schools
- State Board Poised To Sanction Tulsa Public Schools
- Walters’ Pound of Flesh
- Takeover? What It Means For Tulsa Public Schools
“Yashaca Armstrong, an African American mother of three children in two different Tulsa Public schools, summed up the sentiments of TPS parents succinctly. “Of course, as a parent, I am concerned about the quality of education in Tulsa schools,” she said in an interview with The Oklahoma Eagle. “But any unwarranted downgrading of the school district would be detrimental to my kids’ education. It would be disruptive and would not address the problems TPS is having.” – Gary Lee, The Oklahoma Eagle, Aug. 18 edition
“Board member Jennettie Marshall, unrelated to Diamond Marshall, expressed deep concern at the possibility of the loss of accreditation, saying, “It is 11:59 for the destiny of Tulsa Public Schools. We cannot afford to lose our accreditation.” Instead, she noted Walters, and the state should be asking, “How can I help you with your needs?” Board member E’Lena Ashley, who had joined Walters in a previous news conference, generally supported Walters’ agenda. “We are failing our children,” she said.” – John Neal, TheOKEagle.com
The motives and intent of state officials, in the current political environment, are seldom cloaked, disguised or hidden. Walters, as is the case with Oklahoma state legislators, has advocated for nationalist-inspired remedies to real problems, all of which mandate fealty at the expense of personal liberty and the education of children. Should Oklahoma officials ‘make good’ on their threats of further punitive action against TPS, and takeover the state’s largest school district in pursuit of its perceived Brave New World, Tulsa students, and parents will ultimately shoulder the weight of such partisan bias. – Ross D. Johnson, The Oklahoma Eagle, Aug. 18 edition
Sep. 8 – State-support of right-wing education
In late summer, Oklahoma’s parents were introduced to Prager University Foundation, fashioned as PragerU, a 501 nonprofit cofounded by prominent conservative Dennis Prager.
John Neal, contributing writer for The Oklahoma Eagle, reported that the organization had recently gained the attention of state officials nationally who sought to leverage its curriculum to counter what they describe as “Woke” culture, which is defined as a more inclusive and diverse approach to teaching history.
PragerU had also drawn the attention of members of the Black community, who viewed segments of the organization’s materials and identified a strain of bias common to political conservatives who seek to minimize the country’s dark history and the role that racism has played in the establishment of legacy institutions.
“In Tulsa, Black voices have led the way in decrying the use of PragerU playbook. A panel of Black leaders, including State Rep. Monroe Nichols (Dist. 72), State Rep. Regina Goodwin (Dist. 73), Tulsa District 3 school board representative Jennettie Marshall, and founder of Citizens United for a Better Educational System (CUBES), Darryl Bright, all roundly criticized the introduction of PragerU materials as an attempt to miseducate Oklahoma students. The panel was held on Sept. 9 at Vernon AME Church in Tulsa’s Greenwood District. It was part of a day-long teach-in organized by north Tulsa activist Kristi Williams to promote Black History Saturdays, a program Williams founded to teach African American history to Tulsa school-age kids and adults.” – John Neal, The Oklahoma Eagle, Sep. 8 edition
Sep. 29 – 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Commission Progress
State Rep. Regina Goodwin (Tulsa’s District 73) appeared before the Oklahoma House General Government Committee on Oct. 5, leading the Interim Study, “Updated Status and Progress on the 2001 Tulsa Race “Riot” (Massacre) Commission Report,” a review centered within an examination of the 2001 Tulsa Race Riot (Massacre) Commission Report recommendations and the progress achieved since the report’s original filling in 2001.
The Eagle’s coverage of the event was initially framed by the insight revealed by former St. Rep. Don Ross in the prologue of the 2001 Report by the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. The story was later framed by the call-to-action by Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, a Race Massacre descendent and founder of the Terence Crutcher Foundation.
Goodwin and Crutcher were among the many leading voices who continue to champion the effort of accountability and restorative justice for the descendants of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Also in attendance were: Former commission appointees Dr. Vivian L. Clark-Adams and James ‘Jim’ Lloyd; Steven Bradford, California State Senator, District 35; James ‘Jim’ Goodwin, Esq., 1921 Massacre descendent and publisher of The Oklahoma Eagle newspaper; Laura Pitter, deputy director of the U.S. Program at Human Rights Watch; Damario Solomon-Simmons, attorney, who has represented race massacre survivors, Viola Ford Fletcher, Lessie Benningfield Randle and Hughes Van Ellis; Dreisen Heath, senior coordinator in the United States Program at Human Rights Watch; and Chief Amusan and Kristi Williams, members of the 1921 Graves Investigation Public Oversight Committee.
“If we can get it right in Oklahoma, we can get it right anywhere,” declared Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, during closing remarks. A Race Massacre descendent and founder of the Terence Crutcher Foundation, she has been an unwavering voice for restorative justice for Race Massacre survivors and Tulsans disenfranchised by economic, civic, and legal institutions. Crutcher’s remarks were not merely an impassioned parting sentiment, intended to evoke optimism amongst event attendees and those who streamed the session. Her [Crutcher] call to ensure that “these survivors, our descendants… receive the proper repair, the proper respect and the proper restitution” was a stark reminder that the 2001 Commission’s work was incomplete, that the city’s and state’s rhetoric has once again fallen far too short of a moral obligation…. And that Tulsans have not forgotten.” – Ross Johnson, The Oklahoma Eagle, Sep. 29 edition
Nov. 3 & Dec. 1 – Tulsa’s Black communities at risk
Tulsa’s challenges throughout the year extended well-beyond threats against its education system. John Neal, contributing writer for The Oklahoma Eagle, reported that a new rating system, dubbed the Neighborhood Conditions Index, ranks all north Tulsa in the highest priority except for six predominantly African American neighborhoods – all of which are located in the greater Greenwood residential area.
Neal noted that the 10 majority Black neighborhoods, including the six omitted from the highest priority designation, all have challenging economic, housing, and neighborhood conditions, according to the City’s “data points.”
The Oklahoma Eagle’s reporting reflected both a need to consider “social justice” impacts when accurately calculating condition metrics and a sincere commitment by city officials to strengthen the foundational elements to rebuild thriving Black neighborhoods.
May 12 & Oct. 6 – Tulsans say goodbye to those well-loved
The Oklahoma Eagle joined the voices of Tulsans who celebrated the lives of James Kavin Ross and Hughes Van Ellis.
Both Ross and Van Ellis were generational symbols of the profound legacy of Tulsa, its resiliency, and the departed’s unparallelled abilities to engender hope and respect.
“Ross, a stalwart North Tulsa leader who documented the history, culture and life of Black Tulsa for a generation, died Monday, May 8., he was 60.
Ross was a self-styled historian and gifted videographer who used his skills at engaging people and storytelling in interviews of 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre survivors during the 1990s and early 2000s. He worked closely with the late Eddie Faye Gates, Black Tulsa’s best-known historian, to ensure that the survivors’ stories were captured and preserved. Their work has proven crucial to maintaining the integrity of the narrative of that dark but pivotal chapter in Tulsa’s past.” – The Oklahoma Eagle, May 12 edition
“As a survivor (Hughes Van Ellis) of the 1921 Race Massacre, he was making a plea that through legislation, lawmakers could bring about some justice for him and the other two survivors his 109-year-old sister Viola Fletcher and 108-year-old Lessie Benningfield Randle – that the courts had denied. Van Ellis’ speech, along with those of others who testified, was broadcast nationally from the chambers of the U.S. Congress. Listeners tuning in across the country heard – and clung to – his words.
Two and a half years ago, Hughes Van Ellis appeared on the national stage and recounted critical episodes from his life story: of a childhood of poverty; of the discrimination he had faced when he came home from military service in World War II, and of the battles for justice he had fought over the years. The most poignant story he told was of being an infant in the community of north Tulsa in late spring of 1921, when a massacre, highlighted by the murder of over 300 people, wiped out the entire neighborhood.
More than one hundred years old when he told the story, Van Ellis wore his signature black leather U.S. Army cap and the determined look of a man who was proud and humble of the journey behind him and was pushing forward for a greater future.” – Gary Lee, The Oklahoma Eagle, October 6 edition
• • • • • • • • • • • •
As we venture toward a new year, a year of hope, a year of strengthened resolve, and a year of building our shared legacy, The Oklahoma Eagle will remain committed to earning your trust and publishing the unvarnished truth, wherever it leads.
We encourage you, our readers, to remind us of how we may better serve our communities through journalism.
As we enter 2024, The Oklahoma Eagle is engaging in a significant initiative to help build and rebuild trust between the newspaper, the staff, and our readers.
The Ecosystem Engagement Project program is spearheaded by the Oklahoma Media Center, an umbrella organization representing more than two dozen media outlets across the state.
The Oklahoma Eagle’s participation is focused on closely engaging you – our readers and potential readers – of both the print and digital versions of the newspaper. We would like to determine how much confidence you have in the news that The Oklahoma Eagle publishes. We want to know whether you read the paper and if so, what you like and do not like about what you read. Where there are gaps in your trust in our news reporting, we plan to work to address them. It is all about us delivering content that you feel is reliable and responds to your interests.
We will be soliciting your engagement through direct outreach, focus groups, and other means.
If you have questions or want to be part of our efforts to build trust with our readership, send an e-mail to us at: TrustingNews@TheOkEagle.com.