When Randy Krehbiel published “Tulsa, 1921 Reporting a Massacre,” he didn’t receive the hate mail and criticism that most would expect.
Instead, his intense reporting altered the way he viewed things.
“I had to really stretch my reporting muscles to understand why these people believe what they believe,” Krehbiel said. “In other words, sometimes it’s not what people believe, it’s why they believe it. Because why people believe something informs what they believe.
“Some people would come into these meetings or I talk to them and they have these firm beliefs that, to me, are so outlandish. The first impulse is to kind of dismiss them thinking, ‘These people are crazy.’ Then you find out that this is their frame of reference. Maybe, to them, it’s not so crazy.”
Krehbiel, a Tulsa World reporter for over 40 years, scoured through thousands of pages of documents to formulate his book, which details the events of the Tulsa race massacre.
The event is widely considered one of the worst racially-motivated events of American history, yet also one of the least known.
But through so much unknown, Krehbiel started to see things through a different lens.
“What I learned is really how important it is to listen to other people and where they’re coming from,” Krehbiel “As just kind of a basic white guy who grew up on a farm in western Oklahoma and went to OSU and wasn’t terribly immersed in the life of Black Oklahomans, I had to learn their point of view. It really stretched me to become more understanding of different people and to understand there’s no such thing as a monolithic group.”
Krehbiel brought up while Oklahoma is heavily viewed as a conservative state, 35-40% of resdidents wouldn’t put themselves in that category.
But it goes back to “why” people believe in something. Krehbiel recalled a story that didn’t have to do with these events but illustrates his points.
He was talking to a group of African Americans who lived in North Tulsa. He asked them what they thought an issue was.
They said they didn’t like the government moving the 911 call center from downtown to North Tulsa, close to Carver Middle School, after 9/11.
The government’s justification was that the first target to be hit in Tulsa would be downtown, so moving the call center was in an effort to preserve the 911 call center. But the group thought the call center would be to be the target of a bombing, and subsequently, the middle school.
“I really didn’t think that anybody ever making that decision had ever given that a moment of thought,” Krehbiel said. “But that explains it. First of all, you think, ‘Wow, what sort of impression do they have of the city’s leadership if they would do something so cold-blooded?’ And they really believed that.
“That’s one of the things that I came to understand. There are such things as objective facts, but people can look at the same facts and honestly arise at different conclusions.”
Looking at all this, seeing not only what people say, but why they say how, and that they believe something can certainly shape the way one thinks.
It wasn’t some scary, traumatizing event that shifted Krehbiel’s mindset, it was years and of reporting.
“As I’m reading all these newspapers and the documents and all that, you come to understand that these people had 1000 indignities inflicted on them every day,” Krehbiel said. “It wasn’t like the bad guys are over here and the good guys are over here, either racist or not racist. Almost everybody was racist, it was just a matter of how they expressed it.”