Norman was a “sundown town” in the 1960s during the early years of the civil rights movement.
Historically, these American towns practiced a form of segregation by excluding non-white residents after sunset.
Last January, Norman Mayor Breea Clark issued a proclamation publicly apologizing and condemning historical sundown town practices in Norman. That appropriately renewed our city’s commitment to building an inclusive community dedicated to equality and justice for all residents.
Still, our nation struggles with race. In demonstrations against police brutality and racism following the killing of George Floyd, Norman is having meaningful, peaceful protests.
To expand upon this theme, we wish to emphasize the fine art of listening in our United States.
Minorities in our country have experienced a justice system that doesn’t always treat them equally as the law is written. These issues aren’t going away without meaningful change.
It’s paramount for the suffering to feel like they’re being heard, and we don’t think that’s happening enough now. People have a passionate desire for expression, and a strong need for their perspectives to be recognized.
Consider this recent Norman Transcript quote from one tired protester.
"This has gone on for too long,” the protester said Tuesday in Norman. “If you don't see the issue, that's the issue. I'm tired being followed around the store like I'm about to steal something; I'm tired being scared when a cop comes up behind me when I'm doing absolutely nothing wrong. I'm tired of fearing for my own brother's life. There should be no reason you should be scared because of something you were born with."
This sincere conversation should start with whites talking less and listening more. After getting everyone to the table, our civil dialogue can’t just be symbolic. Trust isn’t going to be earned until people really stop hurting.
We hope the disenfranchised muster the patience to trust the listeners to pay sincere attention. Give listeners the strength to comprehend and, ultimately, the wisdom to follow through to reach consensus in our fractured society.
We can’t solve this situation overnight. Progress is slow, and later means never.
Dr. George Henderson, who accepted Norman’s sundown town apology proclamation, made history with his bride as the first African-American couple to buy a house in Norman in 1967.
At the time of accepting the apology last January, Henderson said the only race that matters is the human race.
To find our way out of America’s race conundrum, our nation must realize our diversity going forward. His strong message urges a need to stop subdividing ourselves as our society.
“We need to stop asking them and forcing them to choose a side, because they are part of all sides,” Henderson told the city last January. “And when that happens, then Norman is truly inclusive.”