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Armed Demonstrators March Through Tulsa As Part Of 'National Black Power Convention'

Chris Polansky

Several hundred armed Black men and women from across the country converged on Tulsa Saturday for a march as part of the National Black Power Convention, scheduled to nearly coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

Demonstrators chanted in favor of reparations, at one point extending a long banner reading 'REPARATIONS NOW!' as they marched. There was also a focus on encouraging Black Americans to take up arms to defend themselves against everyday acts of racist violence as well as largescale atrocities like the massacre.

Speakers throughout the day drew attention to the 75 armed Black Tulsans who, in the prelude to the white-led attack, assembled outside a jail where white Tulsans had announced plans to lynch a Black man jailed there.

"Seventy-five Black men from Black Wall Street who went and got their guns. There were 75 bold Black men that said, 'Freedom or death,' 100 years ago. I'm looking at more than 75 Black men," one speaker said to cheers. (Many participants declined to provide their names to or speak with reporters.)

Marchers assembled at Hill Park on the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and East Latimer Place, and began walking a few hours before their city-permitted start time, heading downtown rather than north to Pine Street as indicated in their submitted route.

Marching east on Archer Street, the group encountered a soft barricade outside ONEOK Field, with a handful of police officers and signs saying the open carrying of weapons was not allowed past that point at the requests of the organizers of the Black Wall Street Legacy Festival, whose event spans the main blocks of the historic Greenwood District. 

A Tulsa Police captain spoke with organizers regarding the permit situation, and the marchers reversed course back to Hill Park. At one point, several police cruisers stopped at an intersection on MLK and officers got out and watched the marchers approach, with one officer wielding what appeared to be a pepper ball gun used for crowd dispersal. The officers quickly drove off as the crowd reached the intersection.

Nick Bezzel, founder of the Elmer "Geronimo" Pratt Gun Club of Central Texas and one of the lead organizers of the march, told reporters afterward that the intention had been to march on Greenwood Avenue as a symbolic demonstration of Black armed strength at the epicenter of the attack. He said his group intended to return to Greenwood carrying concealed weapons.

Later in the afternoon, the marchers followed their city-approved route north on MLK to Pine, east on Pine to Greenwood, south on Greenwood to King, and west on King back to Hill Park. Hundreds of residents and onlookers along the route watched and raised fists as the groups handed out literature. 

The largest group represented at the march was the New Black Panther Party, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated an antisemitic hate group. 

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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