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Greenwood Rising gets new leadership

Dr. Raymond Doswell (left) with Michelle Obama in 2008
Dr. Raymond Doswell
Dr. Raymond Doswell (far left), current Negro Leagues Baseball Museum President Bob Kendrick (middle), and late former NLBM Executive Director Don Motley welcome Michelle Obama to the museum during 2008's presidential campaign.

A new face will soon be running the Greenwood Rising Black Wall Street History Center that educates visitors on the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

Dr. Raymond Doswell has been named the new executive director after a search that began in the spring. Doswell is moving to Tulsa from Kansas City, Missouri where he served as vice president for curatorial services at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. The NLBM is the only museum dedicated to African-American baseball, according to its website.

Doswell started working at NLBM in 1995 as the first curator. He went on to fill a variety of roles, including interim president.

“It’s very rewarding work. We helped build the museum into a facility that welcomes close to 70,000 visitors annually looking to understand the connections between African-American and Latino baseball and American history,” said Doswell in an interview with Public Radio Tulsa.

Doswell said the area where the NLBM is located in Kansas City shares some characteristics with Greenwood.

“Our museum project is very similar in many ways to the Greenwood neighborhood development and the Greenwood Rising museum in general. We have a neighborhood that is primarily African-American, that is steeped in the rich history of baseball and jazz, and there are many efforts to try to capture that history, as well as build on business developments on the east side of town, where African Americans have settled since migrating here during the Great Migration period, much like Greenwood, although Greenwood as a neighborhood is much older.”

Doswell, who said he began his professional career as a social studies teacher and went on to earn a doctorate in education administration from Kansas State, is originally from the St. Louis area where another “race riot” happened in 1917.

“It’s another reason why I have an affinity for Tulsa, and the Greenwood project in particular. It was something we did not learn about in great detail in school, either,” said Doswell.

Greenwood Rising has not been an uncontroversial project, with some leaders in Tulsa’s Black community criticizing the choice to divert money away from possible reparations and the Greenwood Cultural Center. Doswell said he’s still learning about those tensions, noting he wasn’t here for conversations around the creation of the museum.

“And I’ll just make this point: as I’m learning about the debate, especially around reparations, as director I would think the museum itself wouldn’t take a specific position, but we are here for the debate. And where Greenwood Rising can be a facilitator of the discussion, I think we can serve that purpose.”

In response to questions about how he might engage in issues related to modern violence, such as a state law granting immunity to drivers who hurt protestors, Doswell reiterated he hopes Greenwood Rising can be a place for conversations.

“We as a museum facility can be the public square. It’s important to me that Greenwood Rising become the conscience of the community. We will do our best to facilitate these discussions, but also make sure those who need to have a voice have a voice, because in the end, the story of Greenwood has to be about the lesson of the need to end racial violence. That’s something that has to happen.

We want to have the community turn to us to help illuminate information on these issues. I think through education we can continue to help and support the community, and get people to understand why folks are angry, what needs to happen, and facilitate change,” said Doswell.

Outgoing interim executive director, Phil Armstrong, told Public Radio Tulsa he was involved in the search for Doswell from the beginning. While he applied for the job himself and ultimately didn’t get it, he said he believes Doswell will take the museum to the next level.

“My passion is undeniable. My institutional knowledge is undeniable. The ability to express and present this history, and all that we’ve done, nothing overshadows that. But having the degree qualifications, the museum curatorial experience, it would be the skill set I don’t have. And who better than someone who’s been doing that? Especially an African American male who can be a role model to young students,” said Armstrong.

Armstrong, who has been with Greenwood Rising since its inception, said without question his best memory was June 2, 2021, when the museum was dedicated in a ceremony that was well-attended.

“We had over 160 direct descendants of the massacre and their families who traveled to be here. We pretty much made sure they were the first to walk into the building and experience it. So that was the highlight. ‘We built this for you, your history, your family so that people would never, ever forget this, you get to see it first.’ To see the emotion, the tears, that was an incredibly gratifying day.”

Before joining Public Radio Tulsa, Elizabeth Caldwell was a freelance reporter and a teacher. She holds a master's from Hollins University. Her audio work has appeared at KCRW, CBC's The World This Weekend, and The Missouri Review. She is a south Florida native.