PGA of America Studies Tulsa and Its Historical Context
Golfers at the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship were not the only people at Southern Hills Country Club on Thursday trying to navigate strong winds and bracing for a pending afternoon storm. Commissioned by the tournament sponsor to paint a large mural that will find a permanent home in the nearby Whirlpool Corporation plant, artist Alexander Tamahn worked feverishly to adjust the strokes of his brush to the gusting winds that sped through the KitchenAid Fairway Club, a popular outdoor stop tucked along Southern Hills’ back nine.
This is a significant, somber and very meaningful week in Tulsa as the city commemorates the centennial of the deadly 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. There are many activities in town dedicated to remembrance, including art unveilings; a ribbon-cutting for a new Pathway to Hope that connects the Greenwood District to John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park; a city candlelight vigil; a Legacy Festival; and a Unity Faith Day. President Biden will visit Tulsa on Tuesday.
A century ago, a prosperous area of businesses in the Greenwood District known as Black Wall Street was subjected to two days of hideous attacks, with a white mob killing as many as 300 Black residents and business owners, and burning the community to the ground. Some residents stayed to rebuild but many others departed the city.
The pain never left, and for years there was little information about what took place. On its website, the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, which produced a detailed study in the late 1990s, wrote that racial healing starts with truth-telling. The Centennial aims to remember victims and survivors, while “repairing past damages and making amends through acknowledgement, apology and atonement.”
Tamahn, 35, radiates energy, joy and hope as he speaks. Although he has lived in Tulsa for about a decade, he knew nothing of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre until he began putting together a history curriculum for the Tulsa Boys Home. (“I’m soaking it in as well,” he said.) Tamahn finds his art to be a powerful vehicle to capture and share his human experiences.
As Tamahn’s mural springs to life, it shows a young boy of color, a PGA logo on his hat, squatting to read a putt with the skyline of Tulsa in the background. Asked what he wishes to convey in this work, Tahman said, “A sense of community. Togetherness.”
“It’s interesting to speak to it now, because there are so many people here not only for the PGA, but of course for the Legacy Festival and all the programs that are coming,” he said. “It’s a real privilege to speak to it, but it is a huge responsibility as well. It really forces me to engage with my own processing of it. We’re all kind of actively living out history right now. With all that is going on, this is still very much happening in real time.”
About 15 yards from Tamahn’s mural is a fully designed, state-of-the-art KitchenAid kitchen featuring live cooking demonstrations. The resident chef is Chris Covelli, who operates Sage, a popular restaurant in Sarasota, Fla. Adding local Tulsa flavor on Thursday was the sister tandem of Glory Wells and Tyreiha Walker-Lewis. Granddaughters of Wanda J. Armstrong, who started Wanda J’s in 1974 , they were raised around the restaurant and are now themselves experts in creating tasty Southern cuisine. Their family operates three restaurants in town, and returned to Greenwood a few years ago with Wanda J’s Next Generation.
Beyond sharing their unwritten recipes—Thursday’s was peach cobbler— they want to be agents of change in helping soothe old wounds in their community.
“This week is a big deal to us. Just being born and raised in Tulsa, and being part of the history, and knowing that we are part of something that we get to change, and make a difference in, and be right on Greenwood,” Tyeiha said. “I’ve seen people from all over (at the restaurant). Yesterday, when I was working, nobody in the restaurant was from the Tulsa area. Everybody there was pretty much a tourist. To see people from all walks of life, every color, every background, to be in the restaurant, to be part of that history, means a lot.”
Asked if she can feel the history of the Greenwood District in the restaurant, Glory Wells replied, “Every day. I like to emphasize my grandmother’s entrepreneurial spirit, something that was present in the early ’20s. To be back on that particular street, with all the history, and being a part of history … it’s meaningful.”
That history also meant a lot to Ken Tanigawa, the Defending KitchenAid Senior PGA Champion. When he visited Tulsa for the tournament’s Media Day last month, he was taken on a tour of the Greenwood District.
"As players, we are fortunate to travel around the country and compete on some of the best golf courses in the world, but our schedules don’t always allow us to get out and connect with the communities we visit,” Tanigawa said. “What I learned that morning in the Greenwood District and on Black Wall Street was equal parts educational and sobering."
“When we make site announcements, often years ahead of time, we work hard to integrate ourselves into those communities. They become our home as well,” said Seth Waugh, CEO of the PGA of America. “Our extended stay in Tulsa would not have been complete without understanding the story of the rise and destruction of the Greenwood District as told so passionately and poignantly by Phil Armstrong (Project Director 2021 Centennial Commission) during our multiple visits to Black Wall Street. The picture that Phil paints of the complete history and subsequent Massacre is both powerful and horrifying. As he explains so well, the story of the Greenwood District needs to be told, to be understood, to be taken to heart and, most of all, to be remembered.”
The Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial is all about education, acknowledgement, atonement and, of course, compassion and understanding. Shortly before they stepped on the KitchenAid stage, Glory Wells and Tyreiha Walker-Lewis offered a subtle but important message when asked to reveal their family’s secret to great Southern cuisine.
Tyreiha doesn’t hesitate. “Love,” she says.
PGA of America
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