Author’s Note: About four years ago, I was introduced to Brian Ketley’s The 3 A.M. Epiphany, a book of over 200 writing exercises designed to help transform your fiction. After sifting through prompts about synesthesia, atypical days at work, and practicing negative capability, I arrived at a prompt titled “What If?” In the prompt, I had to choose a historical event and write a short story centered around its opposite outcome. What if the South won the Civil War? What if Japan never attacked Pearl Harbor? I opted to choose a lesser known, yet just as deadly, event in U.S. history: The bombing of “Black Wall Street”, in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the early 1920s. The bomb, dropped on the intersection of Greenwood, Archer, and Pine, inspired the title of my work, GAP (This event was also the inspiration behind the popular song “You Dropped a Bomb on Me” by GAP Band.) In this work, I wanted to emphasize the craft of elements of dialogue, dialect, and plot.
Greenwood Province, Tulsa, OK 1927
“Notha roun’ on me, Scotty! We live, baby!” said Count from the large stage.
The crowd roared with excitement. His band was visiting from Harlem and Tulsa ain’t know how to act. But that’s how we do it here in Greenwood – stompin’ our feet to the sounds of Swing. The smell of pipe smoke wisped through the thick air as the bass from the band shook the wooden floors of the GAP club.
I nodded. The GAP club bustled with the poignant personalities of many – the ladies rolling their lovely brown bodies to the sounds of Count Basie’s band, while the fellas stared in awe, sippin’ the remainder of their scotches. I lined up ‘bout a dozen shot glasses on the sleek, wooden bar and a couple of youngins watched as the bourbon danced into each of ‘em.
“Not for y’all.” I winked. They giggled.
“Oh I know, Mr. Scotty! My Daddy’ll tear my raw hide if I tried!” said young Clyde Stradford. All the girls giggled – their petite brown hands over their mouths. I couldn’t help but smile.
He’d just finished up his last year at GAP High School and had been accepted to one of dem fancy schools up North. Harlem University is what dey call it. “Well, we’on want that. You’d miss the celebration.” I replied.
“Yessir. Can’t believe it’s been a whole six years.” Clyde shook his head.
Now, we usually don’t let the youngins in this joint, but tonight is a special night. It’s the sixth anniversary of the Greenwood Province that almost ain’t exist.
‘Bout six years and some change ago, I was sittin’ in the lobby of J.B. Stradford’s hotel, waitin’ for my wife to finish up in the powder room. Stradford’s joint was the epitome of black excellence – it had over 54 rooms, a ballroom laced with crystal chandeliers, red carpets, and satin table linings. Most people would never believe he’d been born a slave. That night, we were coming to see a brotha named Edward Ellington from D.C. play with his band. Stradford said he had no doubt ol’ Ellie would make it big.
My eyes were glued to the headline of the Tulsa Star, our local newspaper:
Dick Rowland Protected by Greenwood WWI Veterans
Ol’ Roe was accused of accidentally tripping over a little white girl in an elevator at the Drexel Building a few months ago. She screams and everyone reacts – y’all know how that goes. After he was arrested, a few of our Elders marched up to the courthouse to protect Roe from the angry mobs that lurked. They had just lynched ol’ Roy Belton the year before and we ain’t need another headline like that in our newspaper.
As the story goes, a lynch mob approached the group and asked them what Roe was doing with a pistol. Roe looked the men up and down and replied that he’d use it if he needed to. They got into a scuffle and the gun went off. All hell broke loose.
“Still readin’ deh madness, eh?” said Coolie as he sat next to me, peering at my newspaper.
“Coolie”, or Ian Baptiste, was a musician from one of dem islands in the Caribbean and man did he drive the women of Greenwood buck wild. If it wasn’t his long curly jet-black hair, it was surely was his dark skin contrasted against his dark blue eyes that kept them coming. He was opening for Ellie tonight.
“Yeah, man,” I sighed, “Hopefully, you an’ Ellie can take our minds off it for a while. We can’t wait to hear the set tonight.”
He bowed his head graciously, “Life back on deh island jus as wicked, yeh know? At least we have a community here.”
Next thing we knew, Stradford came runnin’ out of his backroom, yellin’ to the top of his lungs, “Y’all run in the ballroom! The mob’s comin’! The mob’s comin!”
It was just before sunset and the shouting of quite a few men could be heard in the distance. Everyone jumped up and hustled all of the women and children into the ballroom. I stood up, lookin’ roun’ for my wife, MaeBelle. She and Stradford’s wife, Posie Kay, came runnin’ out the powder room like some chickens wit’ the heads cut off.
“Scotty, they got me sweatin’ in this satin dress, damn it!” she said. The red dress complimented her ebony skin.
“Where Stradford? Tell ‘em I’m gonna get my pistol!” said Posie Kay, making her way toward her office. Coolie stood in front of her.
“Posie, deh mob’s comin’. It’s not safe.” He said.
Posie Kay looked Coolie from head to toe, “Coolie, get yo ass out the way! I ain’t lettin’ dem white boys take-”
Stradford came between the two and threw Posie Kay over his shoulder. He looked back at Coolie and gave him a nod. We rushed the women to the ballroom, with Posie Kay fussin’ the whole way.
All the men guarded the ballroom, ready to die. Stradford, in his red velvet suit, went outside and stood in front of his hotel – the pistol in his hand just as dark as his complexion.
“Stradford, you crazy? Get in here!” shouted one of the men.
Stradford turned toward us. “If them white boys want my hotel, they gonna have to fight me for it!”
I shook my head. Yeah, he and Posie were made for each otha.
We could hear the mob in the distance – or so we thought. It was the GAP militia, Greenwood’s very own army, charging toward the white mob and they managed to detain the group. Some say the mob worked with the U.S. government to try an’ bomb us – I didn’t doubt it. Once we got wind of this, Stradford, Coolie, and myself went over to meet up with the militia. Stradford’s oldest son, Renald, was one of highest-ranking officials.
“Renny, what y’all gonna do wit’ ‘em?” asked Stradford, shootin’ daggers at the now powerless mob members, “Sendin’ back ain’t gonna stop ‘em from tryin’ this again.”
“I know, Pa.” nodded Renald, glancing at the mobsters, their face as red as his father’s suit, “Y’all let us do our job. You won’t be hearing from them again.”
Renald’s words sent a chill down my spine. To this day, we don’t know what became of those mobsters. Did he kill ‘em? Hell, dey didn’t have a problem with tryin’ to kill us. Dem fools had 99% resentment in their eyes an’ 1% guilt. I ask myself why I only focus on the one percent.
A few fellas grabbed their shots of bourbon as J.B. Stradford walked onto the stage.
“Thank you, Count for that bangin’ performance! I wanna introduce our next act: He came on back to Greenwood to bless our ears! Welcome, Edw- ‘cuse me, Duke Ellington and the Washingtonians!”
The crowd went wild as the sounds of “East St. Louis Toodle-oo” richoted off the walls of the GAP club. I snapped my fingers slowly to the beat of the music. MaeBelle came and leaned over the bar.
“You look good in that red,” I said with a smile.
She grinned, “Don’t I know it?”
I noticed a flower sitting neatly in the side of her hair.
“What’s that there?” I pointed.
“Oh this here’s a posie from Posie Kay,” she smiled, “She said a whole mess of ‘em started growing in that land behind Stradford’s hotel. I heard the Natives gonna build a monument back there or somethin’.”
Hm. There goes that one percent again.