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I’m 80 F***ing Years Old. How Did I Not Know About The Massacre In Tulsa


My friend Leonard is delighted that Juneteenth is now a national holiday, in remembrance and celebration of the 1865 emancipation of African American slaves in states in rebellion against the Union. Juneteenth is also his birthday. On a recent bicycle ride, Leonard let me catch up to him, probably because he had something to say. “I’m 80 fucking years old,” he said, keeping his eyes on the road. “How did I not know about the massacre in Tulsa?”

Leonard, of course, was referring to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre in which a series of events over two days nearly destroyed the business district known as Black Wall Street and the surrounding residential area. “Jim Crow, jealousy, white supremacy, and land lust, all played roles in leading up to the destruction and loss of life on May 31, and June 1, 1921.” As many as 300 people may have died, some 1,256 homes were destroyed, and 35 city blocks were “charred ruins.”

History repeats itself, it seems, in metaphoric if not literal ways. “As a couple of white guys, why would we know?” My response to Leonard also included a profanity-laced interpolation of William Barr’s quote defending his decision to drop charges against Flynn — after the latter had twice admitted to lying to the FBI and pleaded guilty: “History is written by the winners.” They also decide what’s taught, I said.

Oil on Panel, 36" x 48", Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**

If I hadn’t been out of breath, I would also have said they fear that teaching un-whitewashed history will lead to an understanding of how and why slavery and indigenous genocide, the two greatest atrocities in American history, occurred and who was responsible, which itself could lead to a broader recognition of the systemic, subtle, and nuanced artifacts of slavery and genocide in modern society and legal and religious institutions. That could lead to greater tolerance, empathy, and improved relations. “The winners’” greatest fear is that people who learn and understand unvarnished history will vote for progressive change — and them out of office.

Oil on Panel, 10" x 8", Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Richard A. and Helen Bero Van Wagoner**

On our drive home, I mentioned Utah’s Senator Lee, of course, a classic purveyor of intellectual dishonesty via (among other intellectual violations) creating strawmen to topple with self-righteous indignation. The damage occurs when those who peddle in fear — Senator Lee and his tripe-stripe — attempt to control the information. Lee’s bait and switch suggests that public schools are indoctrinating our children, viz, white children — (the ones who matter) with points of view under the rubric Critical Race Theory, an intellectual movement he deems racist and anti-American. While I’m quite certain that is not what is being taught, he might be helping to prove Critical Race theorists’ point. He was, after all, born to legal and Mormon royalty, systems (legal, Mormon) in which race is a construct and disparate treatment based on race is not only natural but ordained of god. Indeed, the only advances for people of color Lee is interested in seeing benefit those who serve him and his interests.

*My brother the very talented fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to and Rob’s second novel, a beautifully written suspense drama that takes place in Utah, Wyoming, and Norway, dropped on November 17, 2020. Available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple Bookstore and your favorite local bookshop, this novel, The Contortionists, which Rob himself narrates for the audio version, is a psychological page-turner about a missing child in a predominantly Mormon community. I have read the novel and listened to the audio version twice. It is a literary masterpiece. The Contortionists, however, is not for the faint of heart.

**Richard J Van Wagoner is my father. His list of honors, awards and professional associations is extensive. He was Professor Emeritus (Painting and Drawing), Weber State University, having served three Appointments as Chair of the Department of Visual Arts there. He guest-lectured and instructed at many universities and juried numerous shows and exhibitions. He was invited to submit his work as part of many shows and exhibitions, and his work was exhibited in many traveling shows domestically and internationally. My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed more than 500 pieces of my father’s work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his artwork. The photographs of my father’s art reproduced in and are hers.




AfroSapiophile is a hub for critical thinking and analysis pertaining to civil rights, human rights, systemic racism and sexism across politics, entertainment, and history.

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