Saturday, June 5, 2021

Remembering Mary E. Jones Parrish

We’re very happy to announce we have content on the Pass GCSE English VLE written by Mary E Jones Parrish.

Never heard of her?  That isn’t unsurprising – for many years she was almost hidden from history.  Here is a little  background information. 

A century ago Tulsa, Oklahoma, was an example of how black Americans could thrive socially and economically.  Although a highly segregated place, the Greenwood area of the city was an oasis for black business people and educators alike who, collectively made the district thrive to such an extent that it was often referred to as “the Black Wall Street”.

All this came to an end on 31 May 1921 when a young black man was arrested on a charge which was later dropped.  A throng of white citizens surrounded the jail where he was being detained and news reached the black community that a lynching was to take place.  A number of black citizens marched to the jail to protect the detainee and from there a single gunshot unleashed a gunfight followed by a all-out attack on the Greenwood area.  In the space of twenty-four hours, hundreds of people had died and most of the prosperous district had been burned to the ground – this event would come to be known as the “Tulsa Race Massacre”.

Mary E Jones Parrish lived and worked in the Greenwood district.  She ran a small business school and had her home directly above it, where she lived with her young daughter Florence May.  She witnessed the full extent of the fury of the mob that descended on Greenwood which, from her account, seems like a full-on (if uncontrolled) military invasion as much as anything else.  After the episode, she decided to stay on in Tulsa and gather witness statements, as well as writing her account of what she had seen during those fateful days.

Her account was published the following year as “Events of the Tulsa Disaster” and serves as a living history of what happened – possibly the worst race riot in the history of the USA.  Afterwards, she went on to become head of the commerce department at a high school in Muskogee, Oklahoma but gradually her book became forgotten by all but historians, family and those who experienced the massacre themselves. Now, however, she is being given the credit she deserves for recording the tragic historic event and giving a voice to those who had been directly impacted by it.

To commemorate the centenary, the New Yorker has just published an article entitled “The Women Who Preserved the Story of the Tulsa Race Massacre” which tells the story of this awful crime by Americans on Americans as well as a lot more detail about Jones Parrish.  It is a fascinating read and a reminder, too, that events we see unfolding around us now are rooted in a past that isn’t that long ago.

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