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Connecting To Historical Artifacts
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The Tulsa Race Riot provides multiple historical artifacts: pictures, poems, political cartoons, newspaper editorials, and firsthand accounts from the time. They present a part of the story that words alone cannot tell. To help students engage in the action and reflection Freire encourages, students should choose an artifact, relate it to a passage from Beloved, and then reflect on the connection between the two.
An artifact I used was an editorial, "It Must Not Be Again," which was printed in the Tulsa Tribune a few days after the riot. Reprinted in Riot on Greenwood: The Total Destruction of Black Wall Street, the editorial begins with a quotation from Timothy Titcomb: "The moment that law is destroyed, liberty is lost; and men, left free to enter upon the domains of each other, destroy each other's rights, and invade the field of each other's liberty" (qtd. in Gates 34). The editorial continues:
Such a district as the old "Nigger-town" must never be allowed in Tulsa again. It was a cesspool of iniquity and corruption . . . which had been pointed out specifically to the Tulsa police and to Police Commissioner Adkison, and they could see nothing in it. Yet anybody could go into the most unspeakable dance halls and base joints of prostitution. All this had been called to the attention of our police department and all the police department could do under the Mayor of this city was to whitewash itself. . . . The Tulsa Tribune makes no apology to the Police Commissioner or to the Mayor of this city for having pleaded with them to clean up the cesspools in this city. (qtd. in Gates 34)I found that this editorial could be connected powerfully to a difficult passage in Beloved. Stamp Paid, an African American character in the novel, tries to make sense of his world in the year's right after the Civil War. Many students have difficulty understanding the following passage written from Stamp Paid's perspective:
White people believed that whatever the manners, under every dark skin was a jungle. . . . The more colored people spent their strength trying to convince them how gentle they were, how clever and loving, how human, the more they used themselves to persuade whites of something Negroes believed could not be questioned, the deeper and more tangled the jungle grew inside. But it wasn't the jungle blacks brought with them to this place from the other (livable) place. It was the jungle white folks planted in them. And it grew. It spread . . . until it invaded the whites who had made it. Changed and altered them. Made them bloody, silly, worse than even they wanted to be, so scared were they of the jungle they had made. The screaming baboon lived under their own white skin.
After students selected a passage from the text and connected it to a historical artifact, I asked them to engage in action-reflection by making connections between the two texts; that is, I ask the students to focus on how the historical artifact informs the passage from the novel, and how the passage from the novel helps them understand the historical artifact.
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