Leslie Odom Jr. as Sam Cooke
My favorite character in Director Regina King’s movie, “One Night in Miami” is Leslie Odom Jr. playing Sam Cooke. Based on a play “written by Kemp Powers, first performed in 2013. “One Night in Miami” is a fictional account of the real night of February 25, 1964. It pinpoints a pivotal moment in the lives of four, still nascent, Black American icons whose potential, thoughts and actions play out in the 90 minute, one-act play.” Wikipedia, “One Night in Miami”
In a pivotal scene, Malcolm X confronts Sam Cooke for not contributing to the cause of the struggle for black people’s freedom in America. Cooke is “Mr. Soul” and in an earlier scene we see him tripping over himself to sing for white people at the Copacabana. Malcolm plays Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” and confronts Cooke with why he writes such vanilla lyrics that do not push against white supremacy or speak to the struggle of black people. Each of the four men fight, speak out, and play out their own struggle for freedom. Having seen each of the four introduced at the beginning of the movie, Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” is the soundtrack for how each one of their stories played out. Sadly, two of the four were brutally murdered, Cooke and Malcolm X.
I urge you to watch “One Night in Miami” and stay with it until the pivotal scene I’m describing. That’s when everything really starts to make sense and take shape. Listen for the song that brings it all together, powerfully at the end.
Cooke confides that he was jealous when he heard Dylan’s song and wanted to write something so powerful. A Change is Gonna Come is depicted as one sung on Johnny Carson, with a montage of Malcolm X, who had harshly criticized his friend, watching and crying after his family was firebombed out of their home.
Thirty seconds into this scene, as I saw Malcolm X with his family rushing out of a burning house with his gun, it connected some gaps for me emotionally to the horrors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. This scene of one home in the movie was repeated literally, one thousand, two hundred, and fifty-six times in Tulsa on June 1, 1921. Malcolm X and his family were made homeless the night depicted in this scene. The night of the massacre in Tulsa, 10,000 were made homeless. Three hundred were killed. Hundreds fled the city. Thousands were detained in internment camps, one at the show grounds, where black people could only move around the city if they worked for a white person. More than a decade before the Nazis forced Jews to wear stars identify themselves as Jews in places like Germany and Poland, Tulsa City and County government forced black people to wear identifying badges showing they worked for a white person, so they could leave the internment camps.
It’s been a long time coming since that night June 1, 1921. This year it will be 100 years. Since then, no insurance claims were paid. Why? Was it because black home owners did not have insurance. No. Insurance claims were blocked in Tulsa city and county courts because white people wanted to see black people suffer and lose their land, so that white people could have their land, so the city could build a railroad on the land, so black people could be forced further North.
Reparations were never paid, even though the issue was brought to the state legislature twenty years ago. When proponents for national and local reparations were making a powerful push, even some connections being made to compare South African Apartheid with America’s Jim Crow Segregation, 9-11 happened and much of these reparation discussions were once again put on decades long back burners. Racist realism has prevented many white people from even considering the conversation about reparations. It’s called a “non-starter.” No one wants to talk about reparations because it seems so daunting, so unwieldy, so awkward of a conversation, so unprovable, so long ago, so threatening to make white people feel bad.
Yes, it’s been a long, long time, but a change is gonna come. A change is gonna come nationally and is already coming. A change is gonna come in Tulsa. We are not going to pass the centennial of the race massacre with mere ceremonies of “reconciliation.” Talk is cheap and has been all that’s been offered by white people for a century in Tulsa. The time has arrived and a change is gonna come.
What are those changes going to be in Tulsa? As one friend and supporter of 1256 Movement asked me, “How is 1256 Movement connected with the many other things happening this year in Tulsa?”
1256 Movement is one of many, many efforts to ensure that a change is gonna come in Tulsa. I have a stack of business cards from pre-Covid-19 meetings and zoom call after zoom call with black owned business people, bankers, realtors, and other contractors who want to work together to make sure a change is gonna come. What is one example to show that a change is gonna come?
1256 Movement is working contractors, realtors, bankers, public and private funders to plan land, design, and build of new homes.
We have also begun the first rehab home for a family whose home burned, and they are working together with us to rehab their home so they do not lose the home to buyers who flip homes. There’s nothing wrong with flipping homes, but every home has a story, and what I would like white people in particular to realize is that when we flip homes, we are buying from distressed people. It’s not a distressed property but it was owned by people who were in many cases trying their best to keep property.
A change is gonna come, people, a change is gonna come. One of the big questions that began my whole research and action into this several years ago was this, “Will I be a part of this change?” When the centennial comes, will I participate in the remembrance with resentment, with skepticism, with an open heart, with action, with change in my own life?” The question is for you, when a change is gonna come, will you be part of this change?