© 2024 Public Radio Tulsa
800 South Tucker Drive
Tulsa, OK 74104
(918) 631-2577

A listener-supported service of The University of Tulsa
classical 88.7 | public radio 89.5
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Listen for LIVE Republican National Convention coverage from NPR tonight from 8 - 10pm on KWGS 89.5 FM

For some Tulsans, Juneteenth is about finding, honoring ancestors

Michelle Burdex's bookshelf at the Greenwood Cultural Center holds photographs of her family.
Elizabeth Caldwell
/
KWGS News
Michelle Burdex's bookshelf at the Greenwood Cultural Center holds photographs of her family.

Michelle Burdex has a framed copy of the Emancipation Proclamation in her office at the Greenwood Cultural Center. She keeps it around as she researches her family history that includes the pain of slavery.

“I think the older I get, and the more I learn about our history, it just becomes so much more significant to me, so much more real,” said Burdex.

A talented blacksmith given as a wedding present is one of Burdex’s ancestors. But, not long after he was exchanged, Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Two and a half years later, on June 19, 1865, federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to make sure the proclamation’s promise of abolishing slavery was realized.

In the years that followed, Burdex’s great grandfather became one of the first Black men in Kansas to own his own land, business, and home.

Now, Burdex says the holiday marking the effective end of slavery symbolized by the Galveston arrival — Juneteenth — is a time to remember how freedmen and their descendants seized newfound rights to provide for their families.

“They were proud to do that. They were committed to doing that. So, for me, Juneteenth is all about remembering. Remembering that history, and acknowledging that, and knowing we are descendants of that courage, that strength, that resilience.”

President Joe Biden listens to Greenwood Cultural Center program coordinator Michelle Burdex during a tour in 2021.
Associated Press
/
Evan Vucci
President Joe Biden listens to Greenwood Cultural Center program coordinator Michelle Burdex during a tour in 2021.

Others in Greenwood are also thinking of their ancestors on Juneteenth. Justice for Greenwood, a nonprofit, held a genealogy workshop in honor of the holiday where KJRH reported some Black Tulsans began exploring their roots for the first time.

In a Facebook post, Justice for Greenwood’s founder, Damario Solomon-Simmons, encouraged Black Tulsans to seek out their stories that are harder to find due to the way slavery separated families.

“The loss of personal histories is deeply felt through our DNA for generations,” wrote Solomon-Simmons.

To learn more about Juneteenth and about how to research genealogy, visit the Tulsa City-County Library’s African-American Resource Center.

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.