Before the 1960s, there were not any official attempts to preserve African American history in America. The Oklahoma Historical Society ignored donations from the Black community, leaving Black communities responsible for preserving their own history. The inauthentic ways that cities go about preserving history for neighborhoods like Deep Deuce parallel the same issues with the methods of gentrification: the culture and community of the neighborhood are excluded, and African American communities are not given a seat at the table for decision making.
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What makes a neighborhood a neighborhood? Or a community a community? Does preserving the buildings/architecture of an area and putting up signs stating, “Deep Deuce Historic Jazz District” make it Deep Deuce? Mindy Fullilove’s book, Root Shock, examines the effects of urban renewal and the destruction of communities of color. She writes “places—buildings, neighborhoods, cities, nations—are not simply bricks and mortar that provide us shelter.” Fullilove explains how humans become connected to their locations, and that the spaces around us are filled with emotions, life, and memories. When an individual’s neighborhood is destroyed, they experience root shock. Fullilove states that even if a neighborhood is recreated to mirror its predecessor, it can never repair the damage the destruction caused. This begs the question: is it appropriate to advertise modern Deep Deuce as “Deep Deuce Historic Jazz District” when the original Black neighborhood has been destroyed? And replaced by White businesses that are now profiting off of the name, history, and aesthetic of the original community, while also actively excluding African American people from the neighborhood?
"This once was an African American community...it doesn't look like it anymore, does it?"
At the start of the 20th century, many Black families moved to downtown OKC to seek warehouse jobs. In response, residential segregation laws were created (this was one of the first cities to create residential segregation laws) to prevent African American people from living past 2nd st. The area that became Deep Deuce was forged out of racism that created physical barriers between White and Black communities.
Though racism and segregation played a large role in the creation and destruction of Deep Deuce, few people in the city know anything about this aspect of the history of the neighborhood. Many people who were born and raised in Oklahoma City never learned anything about the area's history. It is not commonly taught in Oklahoma schools, and there is a limited amount of easily accessible information to be found about it online.
Deep Deuce, Early 1930s
What does it mean to historically preserve an African American neighborhood in an American city? What kind of meaning does the word "preserve" have when there was no effort made to preserve the original history simply because it was Black history? When the same type of people that called the neighborhood "blight" now wear its history like it belongs to them? When the preservation excludes Black business owners and Black culture? When the city continues to hold back resources from the Eastside community and gentrify the area without trying to help the community that is already there?
HOW LOCAL WEBSITES MARKET DEEP DEUCE
When it comes to tourism and marketing for businesses in Deep Deuce, the people creating this content heavily use the neighborhood's African American history to draw people into the area. They proudly describe it as historically significant, a center for jazz, and a hub of African American culture.
TREMENDOUS HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE AMAZING HISTORY AMERICA'S ORIGINAL JAZZ DISTRICT CENTER OF CULTURE RECAPTURING GLORY DAYS TRANSFORMED RENAISSANCE VIBRANT REVIVAL
The excerpt to the right comes from a 2018 blog post titled, "The 5 Best Neighborhoods in Oklahoma City." It starts by describing how to fit in the area. The first statement speaks to a large part of the area being home to business people, with the iron and lint roller implying that they are well put together and professional. The third qualification states, "Aren't focused so much on knowing your neighborhood as much as you are on knowing yourself." This shows a disconnection between the current population and the actual neighborhood. Similar to the other websites, descriptions of the area always vaguely explain surface-level qualities of Deep Deuce, never mentioning race or segregation as part of the history even though it played a huge part in the creation, evolution, and fall of the community. Although the purpose of these travel blurbs and blogs are not to dive into the complexities of America's racial history, there is still a subtle erasure of the truth. Even Deepdeucedistrict.com, a website about the area, makes no mention of anything about race or segregation.
Deep Deuce wasn't always desired or sought after by the city. This page from the Oklahoma City African American Discovery Guide talks about 2nd Street being treated like a "step-child" by the city. Though there were passionate people interested in preserving and restoring the district in the past, they were unable to get the support they needed.
This letter shows the distrust between a member of the local African American community and those who engage with Black history. It states, "They are asking us to bring any history we have about the deep deuce area, and turn it over to the white man that don't give a "hoot" about our history unless he can make a dollar." This expresses the mistrust of White people exploiting and profiting off of Black history.
Flyer preserved at the Oklahoma Historical Society
okc business owner
"I noticed that a lot of businesses that were either in Bricktown or Deep Deuce were pushed out. Whether that was through rent increases, just modifying the area—they weren’t allowed to stay. Prices weren’t affordable or there were complaints on things like, a noise complaint, for example. But if you have bands playing at a facility, then it’s not going to be like a little quiet place. And I think that removing the culture from Deep Deuce was important. And that meant making it look more suburban, including the noise level, and the type of people they decided they wanted to be a part of Deep Deuce. And I think that’s unfortunate because it takes away from the culture. Kinda like going to New Orleans and just seeing pictures of jazz musicians and not hearing jazz music in the streets."
Deep Deuce at Bricktown Apartments uses jazz as a marketing theme for their apartments, stating on the window that they have "jazzy new interiors."
They want the history
They want the buildings
They want the jazz
They want the musicians
They want the authors
They want the streets
They do not want the culture or the people
Chaya Fletcher speaks about her experiences as the only Black business owner (at the time) in Deep Deuce. Her restaurant, Urban Roots, has since closed its doors in 2015.
"It's different being the only Black business owner considering the history. We weren't readily accepted, you know, I think the neighborhood has done a really good job saying, it's Deep Deuce, all that jazz, and uses that history to sorta make it a vibrant cool area, but there's not much homage played into that history. Besides the placards on the sidewalk, we don't have any sorta interaction with how that history plays into what is happening now...I don’t think it's talked about as much as it should be. And I don't think we honor it like we should. For me it's our sense of purpose, it's our history. We don't teach it in our schools, our children don't know. If you don't know where you come from, you don't know where you're going."
Looking at 20th century history, Oklahoma City's White communities, the local, state, and federal government, business owners, and the housing industry all worked together to enforce segregation. They denigrated the neighborhood, calling it blight and a slum, even though it was thriving and self-sustained at its prime. They used language to dehumanize African American families, calling them dangerous and a financial risk. They used urban renewal to destroy 713 homes for one project, and built a highway through the middle of the community. They didn't care what happened next, providing little to no support for those forced out of their homes and neighborhood. They didn't want equality so they used land as a way to keep African American people out of White neighborhoods and cut them off from the resources they needed.
"My sister actually owned a restaurant, Urban Roots. She opened it in . It was on Walnut in Deep Deuce. We did have a lot of challenges with surrounding businesses coming into that area. Often times, the police would be called about noise, even though they have live music as well. Or like the tax commission or ABLE commision would be called. So, it was very apparent that we were not wanted in that area."
owner of lillian timbers farms
okc business owner
How can historical preservation of an African American neighborhood be done better and more authentically in your opinion?
"It should, and have to, include businesses of color…It’s like taking Greenwood in Tulsa and turning it into an all-White neighborhood and area, when historically that’s not what Greenwood was. Same thing with Deep Deuce is what’s happened. I think that businesses of color should be allowed to be there. I think as far as that plan, there should be rent on loan purchase agreements that are much more flexible and affordable in the purchasing of those options for those tenants. Because if you raise the rent an exuberant amount, for example, $5000 a month, but you have forced them to take their business elsewhere where they can’t generate that kind of revenue fast enough to meet the rent, then how can they survive? And [survive] well? I think there should be a financial break there and give them a chance to grow in order to be successful."
Krystle owns Sage & Elm Apothecary