When the last school bell rang, my brother and I would meet Duane Dickens and walk down 6th Street to catch the city bus to North Tulsa. Duane, an eighth grader, was appointed by our new Catholic school as our “big brother.” Duane’s duty was to escort us to the city bus because it was the only way for the black children to get home. It was and still is the color line. Blacks live north of the railroad tracks and whites lived south of the railroad tracks.
We walked through the Brady District, the neighborhood named after Tate Brady, a prominent, wealthy Klansman of the black-robed Knights of Liberty. The Brady District was a few miles away from where the 1921 Massacre on Greenwood Riots had taken place.
A dark, quiet fellow, Duane would watch us approach, me in my plaid jumper with a white oxford shirt, navy blue socks and nappy headed pigtails and my brother in blue, pressed dickey pants and a white shirt. My brother and I were more rumpled than most of the kids at school. Duane would read while walking but he would lead us all the way to the bus stop, past two-story brick warehouses where we were met by a school guard. She was a classmate's mother, a morbidly obese white woman in black polyester pants and a brilliant orange reflective vest.
One day, a mad dog suddenly appeared and charged the three of us. Duane turned and shoved my brother and I out of the way. His book, Black Like Me, flew in the air. Duane took two giant leaps and landed on top of a car. The ferocious dog, still charging, was viciously focused on Duane. I watched my brother climb the fire hydrant. I was stiff as a board, my breath knocked out of me. A trickle of urine ran down my leg and into my dark blue, long socks.
Thankfully someone had called Animal Control and they came quickly. We later learned that the dog had attacked others that day. Once the dog was contained, Duane slowly moved to get off the top of the car and gather his things. He picked up his backpack and retrieved his book. He gathered our things, too. He walked over to us, looked at us and then said gently, “Keep walking.”
We continued our journey to cross the street. As we approached the school crossing guard, it occurred to me that she had observed the entire spectacle. My friend's mother had a smirk on her face, laughing so hard that she could not gather herself. Between hearty bouts of laughter we heard her say, “That dog does not like black people.”
A hot wave of humiliation washed over me. It rose from the ground like summer heat. Salty sweat pierced my skin and it sprang forth from my armpits. We watched our crossing guard look both ways to make sure no car was coming. It was her duty to protect us, however, she did so at our expense. The crossing guard walked in between the thick chalk white lines to the middle of the street. Proudly standing at attention, she held up the red stop sign and still chuckling, motioned to us that it was okay to cross the street.
Duane said, “Keep walking.” We followed his steps through the thick white lines past the crossing guard. It is within the confines of the black asphalt painted with white continental stripes that I lost my innocence. My world view changed.
Once my brother and my feet touched the curb, Duane stopped. The crossing guard followed us. Duane lifted his head. He turned to her and said in a calm, collected tone, “Dogs are colorblind.” The color left the crossing guard’s face. It is also when I learned that those who mouth words of indifference to black experience would also feign ignorance.
There was something in the ruins of Greenwood, Archer and Pine that informed my walk that day. Negro Wall Street burned to the ground. Defiled black churches on Greenwood, Archer and Pine.
We are the descendants of Little Africa. Brown children experiencing the continuing spectre of ignorance fueled by bigotry and White privilege. A mad dog attacks us. A White friend's mother laughs and tells black children that the attack is because of the color of their skin.
Decades later, just miles from where the riots took place, Terrence Crutcher, an unarmed black man is tortured and murdered by law-enforcement officials. His murder video taped from the helicopter flying overhead for the world to see. Both pilot and co-pilot declare from the sky that Mr. Crutcher “was a bad dude.” Mr. Crutcher's assassination just miles away from where White people rioted and killed hundreds of Black people. The attacks, carried out on the ground and in the air and just miles from where I lost my lamb-like innocence to racism while strolling a school crosswalk.
The ghosts of Greenwood are not pleased. Dogs may be colorblind but our tainted history, our present state, is not.
- Gay Pasley