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Front Line Soldiers: The Civil Rights Activists In Tulsa

Posted at 9:58 PM, Feb 06, 2020

TULSA, Okla. — It was a different time then, but despite the time that has passed, Bobby Eaton remembers his and his friend's fight like it was yesterday.

"We stood up against racism that destroyed many people's lives," Eaton said.

Eaton was one of the people who participated in the civil rights movement in Tulsa.

"I didn't join the civil rights movement," said Eaton. "I was the civil rights movement as was most black folk on this side of town."

For Eaton, it started when he was in 7th grade, and he heard a question during his older bother's speech.

"From the east and to the west and from the north and to the south rises the one question, ‘when will the negro be given his right for place in American society?'," Eaton recalled. "That opened me up to studying, at that age of just 13 years old, race."

However, he says, racism was something he noticed but could never quite place during his earliest memories of childhood.

"When I was a kid, me and my siblings would hop in the car with my mom and dad, and we'd go on down to Greenwood," said Eaton. "There was always so much to do and see, but sometimes we would be driving other places and we'd pass by the amusement park, and we'd always ask my dad to go but he would tell us that there wasn't any time."

For a bit that response worked, but that didn't last for long.

"I noticed we had time to sit outside in the car and drink soda pop but we never had time to go to the amusement park," said Eaton. “We couldn’t have entered through the gates of the amusement park being that we were black."

That didn't sit well with Eaton, because the community he knew and loved, Greenwood, was open to anyone.

"The negro part of town often times was referred to as ‘n***** town,’ Greenwood. Yet, come Saturday if you go down to Greenwood [chuckle] you would see as many Caucasians down on Greenwood as you would black people."

As Eaton grew up, he continued to learn more about the injustices outside of Greenwood and Lansing communities.

"We tolerated racism to a very small degree based upon the environment in which you traveled each and every day," said Eaton. "Back at that time that was just black life, at that time it was negro life.”

As Eaton grew up, he and his friends would hang out at his fathers barbershop.

"It was just a magnet, people would come here whether they wanted a hair cut or not,” said Eaton.

For Eaton and his like minded colleges, Joe Eaton's Barbershop became much more than a hub for community, it became a place to facilitate change.

"It was the headquarters for C.O.R.E. the Congress for racial equality where we planned all of the demonstrations and all that in Tulsa," said Eaton. "We would be so excited to act on all of the ideas and demonstrations we had talked about."

Eaton remembers how dangerous it was for him and his friends to fight for equal rights for the people of color in the United States, but fighting for equality in Tulsa.

“Only about 20 to 25,000 black people across the width and breath of the United States of America where involved in the Civil Rights struggle the movement who were there on the front line," said Eaton. “Policeman told us to be careful and to not stop in a desert place when they put the lights on you, drive to a place where there are people because they are trying to kill you.”

Decades have passed since their last C.O.R.E. meeting, but Eaton remembers those who fought for equality with him every day.

“I’m still alive, but all my bodies, the front line soldiers, have passed," said Eaton. "They died during the struggle, they didn’t get to see what little did bits after the movement."

To educated the Tulsa community, Eaton and his son, Bobby Eaton Jr. are working together to refurbish Joe Eaton's Barbershop and make it a history museum.

"This place is still standing here and we are getting ready to put it back as it should be," said Eaton. "So this will be a historical place that people can come to because it’ll have all the pictures up of who participated and the next generation will know."

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