Calls for reparations for slavery and racism in America continue with the proposal HR 40 still being debated in Congress and new calls for President Joe Biden to authorize a commission to study the issue. Last week, Blavity spoke exclusively with Tiffany Crutcher, founder of the Terence Crutcher Foundation, started in honor of her twin brother, who was shot and killed by police during a 2016 encounter. She is also the lead organizer of the Black Wall Street Legacy Festival, honoring the legacy of the once-thriving Greenwood community of Tulsa, which was known as Black Wall Street until it was destroyed in the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921.
Honoring her family's legacy
In these roles, Crutcher has emerged as a major advocate for “repair, respect, restitution,” as she phrases it. Crutcher is the great-granddaughter of a woman who escaped the Tulsa Race Massacre, but she grew up knowing nothing about this incident. “No one educated us,” Crutcher told Blavity, recounting how she learned about Black Wall Street and its destruction only after she went away to college.
While this knowledge inspired Crutcher to learn more about the history of her community and her family, she was spurred to action by the more recent tragedy that occurred when police shot and killed her unarmed twin brother during a 2016 encounter. “It wasn’t until after my twin brother Terence Crutcher was killed, in the same manner, with his hands in the air, unarmed, by the same police department [as] back in 1921 that I really amplified my fight for justice,” Crutcher said.
Crutcher sees the Tulsa massacre, her brother’s killing and the Jan. 6 insurrection as part of the same system of racial violence and oppression. “The same white supremacist culture that terrorized an innocent Black community terrorized my twin brother and then terrorized our members of Congress,” she said. “And so I believe that repair’s in order.”
"Once you know, you owe"
Now that knowledge of the Tulsa Race Massacre has entered public consciousness after a century of whitewashing the violence, Crutcher is “relieved that people are starting to pay attention.” But for her and the community in Tulsa, “just knowing is not enough.”
She described Tulsa today as “a tale of two cities” pointing to the continual racial disparities in food access, education opportunities, infrastructure and even life expectancy — 11 years less for Black children — as you cross the railroad tracks that continue to separate the Black and white communities of the city. The city is still “dealing with the effects of the residual harm that the massacre created 100 years ago.”
Even though knowledge of the massacre has become more widespread, more work is needed, Crutcher argues. “Who’s telling our story, who’s benefiting from our story, and who’s missing from our story?” she asks, pointing to gentrifiers occupying the former Black Wall Street neighborhood as the descendants of the massacre’s victims live in poverty and hardship across the tracks.
“It’s not enough to be knowledgeable about a situation,” Crutcher says. Instead, the larger public must “translate this knowledge into power and action and stand in solidarity with the Black community” to demand justice and repair for the enduring legacy of racism and violence. “Once you know, you owe.”
To reclaim control over the story of Greenwood, Crutcher has organized the Black Wall Street Legacy Festival to “share that knowledge and impart it into our future generations.” The festival, Crutcher told Blavity, is important for ensuring that “our Black youth know that they come from greatness, that they know that there were people who thrived in the days of Jim Crow, who built something amazing.” She describes the festival, which will occur later this month, as “a platform for us to center the survivors and the descendants and the people who were impacted by what happened here in Tulsa 100 years ago.”
"We can get it right"
Tying the legacy of racism and violence in Tulsa to “the atrocities that are taking place in Ukraine,” Crutcher expressed horror at the sufferings being inflicted on Ukrainians and applauded the United States for “stepping up to help Ukraine rebuild, to help them survive, to help them thrive again, for something that Russia did.” The response to Ukraine, Crutcher argues, can be a model for the type of restitution she seeks at home. “And so if they can do this for Ukraine, they can do this for enslaved Africans in America. They can do this for survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre.”
Specifically, Crutcher supports HR 40, the legislation that has been proposed annually for over 30 years that would create a commission to study the legacy of slavery and racism and explore potential remedies, including reparations. “We know that the fight for Tulsa and reparations for Tulsa is just a microcosm of what’s happening throughout this nation,” Crutcher explains, “and we believe that if we can get it right in Tulsa, then we can fuel HR 40 and get it right across our nation.”
Knowing that HR 40 has stalled in Congress despite growing support over the past few years, Crutcher has also joined activists who are calling on Biden to create a similar commission through executive action. “We need for President Biden to do it for us and echo our voices,” Crutcher proclaimed, recalling the time that Biden promised to his Black supporters that “you had my back and now I’ll have your back.”
Crutcher, along with a few of the remaining survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre, met with Biden last year. Recalling that Biden acknowledged the sustained threat of white supremacy during that meeting, Crutcher would tell the president that “now that you’ve acknowledged it, we just need you to go a step further” by authorizing the commission to study potential remedies.
Crutcher tied her activism, from the Oklahoma State House to Washington, D.C., back to the legacy of her brother. She remembers his last words to her — “Sis I’m going to make you proud, and God is going to get the glory out of my life” — and she sees her work as the fulfillment of these words. “Because of his death,” she explained, “we were able to reactivate a culture of activism and organizing in this community and stretch people’s beliefs and give them a voice and give them a platform.”
She hopes that her work will finally heal the generational trauma that has been inflicted on her family and community and that her nephew Terence Jr., named after his deceased father, “will have the ability to walk outside free due to the work we are doing in his name.”