Greenwood and Deep Deuce

The best thing about being a reporter and writer is the challenge of constant learning on a broad, almost limitless scope. Subjects today included federal water policy, the vote on a 2008 immigration bill, the state’s drug laws and the date what is now U.S. 169 linked Owasso to Tulsa. I also had occasion to check the spelling of Trixie Belden, dig up the Oklahoma National Guard’s after-action reports following the Tulsa Race Riot and glance over a poll on wind power in Oklahoma.

Anita Arnold is the one who really took me to school today, though. We had two lengthy phone conversations today related to a piece I’m writing for Oklahoma Today about Oklahoma City’s Deep Deuce and Tulsa’s Greenwood district, the historic black neighborhoods in the state’s two largest cities. I’m fairly familiar with Greenwood and its history but know considerably less about Deep Deuce.

Anita is the executive director of BLAC, Inc., an Oklahoma City organization originally founded more than forty years ago to promote music and arts in the public schools, and particularly Douglass, the city’s historically black high school. We talked — or rather, Anita talked and I listened — about the great musicians Deep Deuce turned out in its glory days.

Although now Deep Deuce is applied to an area north of Bricktown east of downtown Oklahoma City,  it was, strictly speaking, only the 300 block of NE Second Street. In that one block was crammed the business district that was for decades the beating heart of black Oklahoma City. Here Charlie Christian and Jimmy Rushing first made music and Ralph Ellison dreamed of becoming a composer and conductor, unaware his path led instead to acclaim as a writer.

Deep Deuce, like Greenwood, has had something of a revival in recent years after decades of decline. Also like Greenwood, this reawakening is not without controversy and even resentment. There is a feeling among some  African Americans have been pushed aside, that outside money is capitalizing on their heritage.

The irony is not lost on them.

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