One of Tulsa’s most famous former citizens is John Hope Franklin, a historian who wrote the well-acclaimed From Slavery to Freedom, published in 1947, and updated many times afterwards. A little-known jewel in Tulsa is the small but impressive park named after Franklin, a man who was awarded the national’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995.
The John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park in downtown Tulsa, just off Detroit and north of Brady, is also partly named in conjunction with the park—and the city’s—purpose in response to the horrific Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. The park depicts what it actually means to make reparations or to reconcile the racism of the past with hope for a brighter future.
At the north entrance, three large statues on a triangular pedestal define the area called Hope Plaza. The statues, Hostility, Humiliation and Hope, are each modeled on actual photographs from the Tulsa Race Riot. “Hostility” shows a white man with a gun, “Humiliation” is a black man surrendering, and “Hope” is the Red Cross director, a white man, holding a black baby.
The park is dedicated, as these statues illustrate, to clearly depicting the past and also pointing the way to an optimistic future. The tower-like statue at the center of the park also has this goal. This 25-foot bronze sculpture by Ed Dwight is reason enough to visit the park because it takes a while to see everything on it.
Dwight, America’s first black astronaut, who is now a Denver artist, created this tower to tell many stories of the black experience in the United States. Most of the stories are presented in bas relief, some with figures and objects protruding from the tower, some almost escaping the surface, some melding into it. At the uneven top of the statue, figures hold on to one another and push each other up reaching to the sky.
Franklin’s father B.C. Franklin, whose achievements are noted elsewhere in the park, is depicted on the statue. He was instrumental in helping rebuild the Greenwood area, a black community devastated by the results of the riot. The riot began when a black man supposedly brushed against a white woman in an elevator.
On granite plaques surrounding the tower pavilion are historical summaries of what can be seen on the tower. A short concrete path, a sort of mini-labyrinth, circles the pavilion. At the entrance is a concrete wall with this quotation from B.C. Franklin: “Lifting as we climb, the eternal verities shall prevail.”
The park is not a traditional park with a children’s play area or picnic tables, but it is a place that is naturally beautiful. It has a sloping lawn and tall prairie grasses surround the entrance. An arbor at the west entrance is covered in flowers and wisteria vines.
Of his life’s work, Franklin, who died in 2009, once said, "My challenge was to weave into the fabric of American history enough of the presence of blacks so that the story of the United States could be told adequately and fairly."
The presence of the black American story is certainly felt in this park. The park serves as both an artistic expression of what is best and also what is worst in our nation’s history, and it should be visited by more people who can learn from the message of tragedy and hope that it contains.
The gates to the park are open from 8a.m. to 8p.m. every day. For more information about John Hope Franklin and about the park, visit the park website. You can also go to this link for a slide show of park photos.