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COMMENTARY
Tulsa Race Riot
(United States Library of Congress)
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Silenced Cries
by James Coburn

I don’t remember the terror in Greenwood.
I wasn’t there. Never was it taught to me in history books.
1921 burning of the Black Wall Street in Tulsa by white mobs.
I know of racism. I saw the white nationalist march in Charlottesville.
White and black freedom fighters joined to counter them.
I once read a poem about slavery
On the grounds where a white mob fired down a hill
Outnumbering black men and women, a slaughter,
Whose lives and stories were silenced.
A rumor of a black man raping a white woman
Inflamed a weekend.
Festering fear.
Do you not hear the silenced cries?
Planes dropping burning balls of turpentine on rooftops.
Three hundred dead and more wounded.
Ten thousand blacks left homeless.
No one told me in school
Whose lives and stories were silenced.
Black innocents looked up;
Shooters aimed down.
Their story pursued higher ground.
So what do I know but clouds of smoke.
Skeletons of charred buildings of Greenwood
Once filled with restaurants, theaters, businesses thriving
Turning to ash, blackening the sky. Rising.
I read a poem about slavery on the battlefield
Where the Woody Guthrie Center stands.
Words and song dampen fear.
Memory is firm in the grass of Greenwood.
Survivors held stories in their heart
Where no mob may pass.
Even through years of lynching and segregation;
Even when white nationalism marches in Charlottesville,
Torches of dead flame
incite flies to hover on flesh.
Clans of darkness haunt despair
Until we stand united
And glory hallelujah is the call of the land.
What do I know but clouds of smoke
Once rose where memory presses green land.


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James Coburn is an Oklahoma poet, photographer and journalist. His first book of poetry, "Words of Rain," was a 2015 finalist for the Oklahoma Book Awards. His work has appeared numerous anthologies. A long­time journalist for The Edmond Sun, Coburn is a 2013 inductee of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame.