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Editor’s Letter – 2/20/19

On Feb. 4, a hate group-tracking website published a story alleging an employee of the Tulsa County Clerk’s Office to be a “longtime [member] of the Ku Klux Klan.” The article included disturbing details about the activities of Bonnie Kukla and her husband Stephen Kukla, including the couple’s documented affiliation with Christian Identity churches and speaking appearances at conferences held by the Knights Party, the self-proclaimed “voice of America’s white resistance.”

The two provided entertainment at one such event, performing a parody song accusing Barack Obama of faking his U.S. birth certificate—a racist smear that launched the political career of the 45th President of the United States, whose name is reportedly emblazoned on the side of the couple’s station wagon.

Kukla isn’t the only white supremacist on the public payroll in our state. News broke last year of a police chief with neo-Nazi ties in the southern Oklahoma town of Colbert, about half an hour from where I grew up. He resigned amid national media scrutiny, only to be hired onto another police force in the nearby town of Achille, where a transgender student had recently been run out of town after being threatened online by the parents of her classmates. (One of those parents was two years ahead of me in high school.)

White supremacy is not a bug in our system, but a feature. You can’t understand life in America—and certainly not Tulsa—without grappling with that dumb, cruel fact. It’s why railroads are where they are; why poverty exists where it does; why some people go to jail more than others; why some women die in childbirth more than others; and why, until last fall, young black students at Tulsa’s Council Oak Elementary were expected to learn at a public school named after a man who fought and killed so white men could own children like them as property.

Our latest feature story by Russell Cobb grapples with Tulsa’s racist roots. Specifically, he looks at the role played by former Tulsa Tribune editor Richard Lloyd Jones in sparking the rhetorical flame that burned Black Wall Street to the ground in 1921. It’s a jaw-dropping longform piece that dives deep on the famous newspaper-man’s relationship to the KKK, his role in founding Tulsa’s most famous liberal church, and the construction of a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece. Wild, right? You’ve gotta read it.

Of course, Tulsa’s black community is not a prop in a tragic historical drama. When you’re done with Russell’s story, flip back a few pages to meet some of the people who make Magic City great in 2019, and see how you can support black-owned businesses that are thriving in the once-decimated Greenwood neighborhood and beyond.   

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