“Southern writers embrace the freedom of going out West, but once they get out there, it’s almost too free—there’s not enough community or settlement—so in the literature the characters swing back South, or they settle down in the West and embrace Southern ideals of community. They discover their Southernness by leaving the South.”
—Robert H. Brinkmeyer,
quoted in The Southern Register, Winter 1999
“After the end of the Civil War, and for several generations afterward, thousands of Black Southerners left the South to move to Oklahoma in an attempt to escape racial discrimination. But too often that attempt proved to be less than successful. That’s why the notorious and destructive Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 is often referred to as ‘Death in a Promised Land.’”
I am publishing this post in recognition of Black History Month on the next to last day of that month for two reasons: first, because my age and health have not allowed me to compile and compose it any earlier; and second, because my ancient and outdated computer has caused me as much trouble as my advancing age and failing physical health.
Obviously, this mini-post is shorter than my usual full-length posts for the same reasons. As such, I have made it easier on myself and my computer by simply reprinting, with permission, a July 1996 article I wrote for the Trinity Life monthly newsletter of Trinity Episcopal Church in downtown Tulsa where Mari and I were active members for almost twenty years.
That permission to reprint came from our longtime friend and the Trinity educational director Ed Roling. Ed, or as we often called him “Christian Ed,” was the editor of Trinity Life. Thus he chose the subjects of each of my monthly “Peacock Profiles” which I wrote for eleven years about various Trinity parishioners and their personal ministries in the church.
This post, published in July 1996, was a tribute to Florence Fairchild, a longtime member of Trinity, and her husband Robert, a survivor of the notorious 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. The Fairchilds contributed greatly to their separate church families and their shared geographical and ethnic communities.
The photocopied article appears just as it was presented in Trinity Life. The captioned colored photos that I have inserted to help illustrate the post were taken from a Trinity church publication.
Florence and Robert Fairchild:
Fleeing Prejudice, Finding Purpose
Trinitarian Florence Fairchild and her husband of 64 years, Robert, have witnessed a great deal of change in their lifetime—much of it positive but some negative, as evidenced by the reason for their being in Tulsa in the first place.
Born in Alabama and Arkansas respectively, at an early age they were brought to Oklahoma by their respective parents in an effort to escape discrimination—an attempt which was to prove less than totally successful.
“My father was killed by the riders of the Ku Klux Klan,” remembers Florence, “so my mother brought us to what was then called Indian Territory. I graduated from high school in Muskogee. From there I went to the University of Kansas and later became a teacher.
“I retired from teaching first grade for more than thirty years. I loved teaching those little children, they keep you honest.”
Robert, who has recently been interviewed several times by the local and national media in reference to the 75th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, recalls a similar negative experience in his early childhood. “My father had been sharecropping in El Dorado, Arkansas.
“At the end of the year, he went to the man he was sharecropping with and said, ‘Where do we stand? What’s my share?’
“‘You don’t have any,’ said the man, ‘you’re still in debt.’
“My father then moved to Tulsa, where my uncle, who was a barber, had moved earlier. We got here on December 24, 1913. We were really fleeing from tenant farming.”
Robert attended high school in Tulsa, then went on to study business administration at the University of Nebraska, graduating as one of only six black students in a class of 956.
After years of discriminatory treatment by both whites and blacks, he was to use that degree as his ticket out of the economic malaise so prevalent among many black Tulsans—especially after the destruction of the riot and the depression of the oil boom.
Like Florence, Robert dedicated his talents and education to the service of God and his fellow man, working with young people through various public service organizations primarily for the city of Tulsa.
Although they have remained members of separate churches throughout their long marriage (he has always belonged to Mt. Vernon AME Church), both Florence and Robert attribute the success of their marriage, their careers, and their lives to the faithfulness of God.
“It doesn’t make any difference which church you attend,” says Florence. “There’s only one church, and that’s the one the Lord Jesus is building.”
When asked why she likes Trinity, Florence replies, “I like Trinity because everyone seems to be trying to do what God told them to do. If every church in town helped the street people the way Trinity does, there wouldn’t be any hungry people here.”
Florence and Robert Fairchild know what it’s like to be outsiders. That’s why they have worked so long and hard for unity and harmony among all of God’s children regardless of their differences.
Notes and Sources
To read about or purchase the book titled Death in a Promised Land on the subject of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, visit this Web site: http://www.amazon.com/Death-Promised-Land-Tulsa-Race/dp/0807117676
To learn more about the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, Google it online or visit the Wikipedia Web site at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tulsa_race_riot
To learn more about Trinity Episcopal Church, visit its Web site at http://www.trinitytulsa.org/
The black-and-white photo of Florence and Robert Fairchild was part of the original Trinity Life article and appears with permission of Ed Roling, the former editor of Trinity Life. As noted in the text, the color photos were taken from Behold the Glory: The Iconography of Grace and used with permission of Trinity Episcopal Church.
For more about Trinity and this book, visit my blog post titled “A Summary of My Personal Spirituality and Pilgrimage.”