Tulsa librarian lived through history, helps others learn

PHOTO: Rudisill library Tulsa Race Massacre exhibit
Posted at 1:15 PM, May 31, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-31 14:15:16-04

TULSA, Okla. (KJRH) — Inside the walls of the Rudisill Library stands an exhibit of Tulsa’s dark history.

Alicia Latimer is more than just a librarian; she’s lived through her part of history.

“I was born in Mobile, Alabama. Coretta Scott King was my cousin, so Martin Luther King was my cousin,” said Latimer.

She witnessed violence during the civil rights era firsthand.

“I grew up in the time when those little girls were blown up in Alabama in that church,” she said.

Alicia’s family moved to Oklahoma City when she was in the third grade. That’s when she says a teacher changed her life, but she didn’t know the teacher already changed history.

“Clara Luper was my teacher when I was 14 years old, but I didn’t know who she was,” said Latimer.

Luper led the first known sit-in during the civil rights era at Katz Drug Store in Oklahoma City.

Latimer graduated from Oklahoma State University and got married.

“I was married ten years when my mother-in-law mentioned to my husband in passing conversation one day, ‘that’s when they burned down all of north Tulsa.’ And I said, ‘what???’” Latimer said.

Another history lesson, her husband’s family descended from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

Latimer used her knowledge of the massacre and her skills as a librarian to educate those who had never heard about it or knew very little.

“The YWCA approached me and said, could the library help with creating a 1921 race massacre kit,” she said.

That was in 2007.

“That was an ingenious idea because it wasn’t being taught in the Tulsa Public School System,” she said.

It’s not just the stories in the book, but the ones she was told about that this librarian holds on to, including: was the massacre something bigger than an elevator incident?

“That land that the Greenwood District was on was valuable,” Latimer explained.

Was it a plan?

“There were messages given to people in surrounding communities in advance that said don’t be in town this date,” she said.

And what about the stories of those who survived?

“She fell in the street and pretended she was dead. And the people came and picked up and threw her on the top of a truckload of dead bodies,” said Latimer.

A story she heard from the daughter of a descendant about how her mother made it home after her community burned to the ground.

TONIGHT on 2 News at 10p, hear Latimer's story and how you can learn more about Tulsa's history.

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