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“Going Back to T-Town” with Carmen Fields! The Tulsa Massacre and The Ernie Fields Territory Big Band.

This Week on The Jimmy Tingle Show…

I talked to journalist, producer and author Carmen Fields about her PBS Documentary “Goin’ back to T – Town” about the 1921 “Tulsa race massacre” in the Greenwood district of Tulsa, OK also known as Black Wallstreet.

A native of Tulsa, Carmen and I also discuss her new book “Goin’ Back to T-Town” about her father’s legendary and groundbreaking Jazz ensemble “The Ernie Fields Orchestra”. It is a great interview on perseverance, innovation and overcoming racial barriers for both for her dad’s music and her hometown of Tulsa, OK.

Carmen will be discussing her new book at The Harvard Book Store on August 1st in Cambridge, Mass with legendary radio and podcast host of “Open Source” Christopher Lydon.

Carmen’s Bio

Carmen Fields has been a fixture in the greater Boston journalism community for over 30 years. Her experience includes both print and broadcast journalism, journalism education and both corporate and non-profit media relations. She has also served as community relations director for National Grid, the second largest electric and gas utility in the United States. Fields currently produces and hosts the monthly public affairs program called “Higher Ground” at WHDH-TV/Boston’s Channel 7. Additionally, she has established a consulting business in media and community relations.

When the news program she anchored at WGBH ended in the early 1990’s, Fields became the press secretary for Suffolk County District Attorney Ralph C. Martin II, where her astute media practices helped establish his name and share the work of the office with the public. After a five-year tenure, that included Martin’s first successful political campaign, she became Senior Director of Communications for the United Way of Massachusetts Bay, the largest funding entity of human services outside state government.

Earlier in her career she was a reporter, columnist and assistant city editor at the Boston Globe newspaper. She was part of the team awarded a Pulitzer Prize for public service for coverage of Boston school desegregation. As a broadcaster she was nominated for six regional “Emmy” awards and winning two— “KKK in Boston” and Best Target Audience programming, “Urban Update.” Among many other awards and citations for professional and civic service, Carmen Fields was awarded an honorary doctorate in Humane Letters from Salem State College. The Needham, MA resident is married to Lorenz J. Finison, PhD. They have a daughter who lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.

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Please note, this Transcript is AI Generated. It has not had the discerning ears of a real human to edit it, as such, there are bound to be a few errors.

Carmen Fields 0:00
In some instances, they go into a particular town, and they would be a white dance on Friday night, and the black dance Saturday night. And there’s one story in the book where the black dance had been one night and the next night, the when the white patrons came, they broke all of the glasses in the bar, because they didn’t want to drink out of the same glasses that black people had drunk out of.

Jimmy Tingle 0:35
Hey, everybody, this is Jimmy. Welcome back to another episode of the Jimmy tingle show. We have a very special guest this week. Yes, we do. I know I say that every week. But it’s true. All of our guests are very special. This young lady common fields has been a fixture in the greater Boston journalism community for over 30 years. Her experience includes both print and broadcast journalism, journalism, education, and both corporate and nonprofit media relations. Her 1993 documentary going back to T town recently re aired on PBS.

The show is about the Tulsa, Oklahoma, and the historic 1921 race massacre, which destroyed Black Wall Street. Her new book is going back to T town about her father Ernie fields journey as a jazz man in the 1920s across the entire country, including the Deep South, and has just been released in his coming up to a bookstore near you. We’ll get to that in the show notes. And during our conversation, please welcome to the show, my buddy, the one and only common fields Hello common. How are you?

Carmen Fields 1:42
Hey there, Jimmy. I am great. And I’m so honored to be in your company for this special conversation.

Jimmy Tingle 1:49
Well, cool. Thanks so much for joining us, Carmen. So tell us first off. Tell us about how did you get involved with creating a documentary about the Tulsa race riots of the 1920s. And and why is it being revered. Now we came out in 1993 Originally, but it’s been it was just re aired on public television.

Carmen Fields 2:10
It was a part of the series called the American experience, which is a very popular PBS series. When it was initially commissioned. The executive producer wanted a look at the interior of segregation. But she didn’t want to go to the deep south or Atlanta or the place in Mississippi, the places you always think of when you think of segregation or rigid segregation. And Tulsa, Oklahoma became the typical place to look at. Well, I was assigned and given a fabulous crew that included Sam Pollard, who’s a very well respected documentarian and his partner, Joyce Vaughn, and we started researching.

Well, the interior segregation is one thing, but in Tulsa, you couldn’t look at it without taking into account that in 1921, the black side of town was literally destroyed by racist marauders across that, and little did we know that very little had been done to tell at that time and that tragedy. So we, we put the program together, it aired in 1993. And in 2021, which marked the 100th anniversary of the massacre, PBS, in their wisdom, decided to re air the documentary, because across the nation, there was all of this interest in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I mean, CBS and ABC and New York Times The Wall Street Journal. What happened in Tulsa 1921?

Well, I was delighted to know that they were re airing it this year, because may 31, is when the massacre occurred. And so all during the week of May 31. They saw fit to aired on different platforms again, and I’m deeply deeply honored. And it the race massacre was told in the words of people who had actually experienced it. And also the interior of segregation was expressed by those who had lived it after the massacre and when Tulsa got the black side of town Greenwood district was rebuilt. So it was an all encompassing look at it. How we live the way we were.

Jimmy Tingle 5:03
So your relationship with Tulsa is that you grew up there. Is that correct?

Carmen Fields 5:08
That is correct. That’s where I was born and raised, and was a product of the segregation of the day at graduate of Ralph J. Bunche. Elementary School, Marian Anderson, Jr. High School and Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Jimmy Tingle 5:23
Okay. And all those schools were segregated at the time.

Carmen Fields 5:26
That’s correct. That the ambassadors in the 60s to fit and how you how you knew Yes, that’s the 50s and 60s. Yes.

Jimmy Tingle 5:37
And so it’s, it’s, it’s quite a statement that you made a film in the early 1990s, that has the staying power to be released 30 years later. It certainly wasn’t on everybody’s radar until recently Correct.

Carmen Fields 5:53
Until very recently. And I like to say in part, thanks to the 1993 film, the city fathers began reexamining what had happened. There had been gossip, that there were mass graves of black bodies in a cemetery. And the mayor decided to have a team of archaeologists search the burial ground, and they have found some remains. And as we speak, DNA processing is is underway. There has been a movement, there are still about three or four survivors who are in there. 100 plus one is 100.

And that just celebrated her 109th birthday, another gentleman is 107. And there’s a movement for some reparations for them as survivors, and also for the community as a whole. What what form that will take is still under discussion, are we talking about scholarships? Are we talking about home loans? Or are how? Because the the word reparations is a very loaded word, nowadays. But that documentary started the ball to row rolling on wanting to know more, learn more, and, and teach.

Jimmy Tingle 7:27
That’s really a fascinating story common tell me growing up in Tulsa, Oklahoma as a kid or as a teenager. Did you hear anything about this? This riot, this massacre in 1921? Was that something that was a folklore or did you know anybody there

Carmen Fields 7:45
it was, it was almost like a myth. If it was mentioned, it was whispered, very surreptitiously. It was not something that was out in the open. And I’m not sure of why that was whether there was fear of repercussions. But no, it was not in our textbooks that we had at the time. And very little very seldom, in fact, it was mentioned so little I you know, it wasn’t a part of my consciousness until we began to work on the documentary. And thankfully, my parents who who are had been in Oklahoma for a long time, they weren’t a part of the 1921 events.

But when we wanted to talk to people that could help us understand what happened, went to my mother and father’s friends, our church members, we pulled together photographs, we there’s a big outreach to the black community at large to help us tell the story. And it was anchored in, in large part by John Hope Franklin, the distinguished historian who grew up in Tulsa, and whose father was a lawyer and had encouraged and guided the victims to rebuild Tulsa blacktail to the Greenwood district. And he was able to give a voice and a context that was very valuable to the documentary.

Jimmy Tingle 9:26
So it really helped you in your perspective and your ability to get people on camera talking about this having grown up there with a personal connection to your parents. And just briefly for the audience. Black Wall Street tell us what Black Wall Street was because that term kept coming up. What was Black Wall Street?

Carmen Fields 9:45
Well, it was believed that the Tulsa, Black Wall Street was one of the if not the most prosperous black business district in the country. There were Are grocery stores there were dry cleaners, there were chili parlors, there were hotels, the whole shootin match a very thriving community that because of segregation, we didn’t have to go outside for any services. Only thing we had to go outside of our community for was to work. And Tulsa was an oil boom town. So the service industry was very thriving. And many people came to Tulsa to get jobs working as housekeepers and porters and all of that that supported a booming oil industry at the time.

Jimmy Tingle 10:43
So let’s talk now about your dad, because you have a new book on out called going back to T Town. And this is about your father Ernie fields experience as a jazz musician in his travels throughout the entire United States, including the deep south during the 1920s. Tell us about that. Common Well, let

Carmen Fields 11:06
me clarify one thing about the documentary and the title of the book, the documentary was titled going back to T Town, and that’s goI N apostrophe. And that comes from the lyric of my father’s very first recording, T Town blues, which was recorded in New York City in 1939. And that was part of the track the musical track of the documentary featured his music. Okay, fast forward, you know, 25 years or more. And I liked that title for a different reason. Because, although his travels took him all over the country, and I mean, I documented Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Washington, up into Canada, Mississippi, Tennessee, he always returned to T Town, or Tulsa,

Oklahoma, where he was married to my mother for 67 years before he passed, educated his family and his children. And so that represents the full circle of him going back to T Town always. And I just was fascinated by the stories he used to tell and took an opportunity, particularly during the pandemic I had started on the book long before the pandemic and when my father was still alive, getting him to retell the stories, taught him how to use a tape recorder so that when I wasn’t visiting, he could if he had memories that came, he could record them down, and I could transcribe them later.

But the more research I did, the impact that he had, and his name wasn’t a household word, but he was a contemporary of the cap, Callaway is, and the Duke Ellington and count bases who were his friends and colleagues. But I wanted his story to stand on its own as a part of jazz history.

Jimmy Tingle 13:20
Wow. And so did he start playing as a young kid there in Tulsa. And just to get into it, I mean, he found his calling with jazz music.

Carmen Fields 13:29
Well, believe it or not, he was trained at Tuskegee University, which was the Tuskegee Institute. It was called at that time, which was the bastion of trade training for the black community that was Booker T. Washington’s main state. So he had gone to Tuskegee, and trained as an electrician came back to Tulsa, he was raised in a different community and all black community called Taft, Oklahoma. But when he finished Tuskegee, he settled in Tulsa because he had a job on Greenwood Avenue with an electric company.

And he was out on a trouble call and heard some young man rehearsing. And he thought that sounded good. He had not been trained as a musician, although he’d been a part of the band while he was at Tuskegee. And he started gigging with these young men and long story short, since he was a little older and seemed to have a little more training. They asked him to be their leader. And since he was the leader, he named the orchestra after himself. And that’s how he feels orchestra was born.

Jimmy Tingle 14:48
Very smart businessman orquesta I

Carmen Fields 14:54
love that in the butt as you can Imagine traveling with 616 or 17, African American musicians around the country in a bus could be very dangerous and precarious at best, because there are all these unspoken and spoken rules and regulations, and you never weren’t quite sure when you were going to make a misstep. But thankfully, by the grace of God, he maneuvered quite handily, and his organization, I learned in my research was a real important training ground for musicians. I have in the back of the book of what I call a roll call some 100 or more musicians who had come through his organization. Some went into obscurity, others gain fame in their own right. Some started their own musical organizations.

\But I wanted to give homage to the importance of the so call territory bands and what they represented for generations of musicians. Those who are students of jazz may recognize the name of Freddie Green, who was the guitarist and a longtime Count Basie mainstay. He had been in the Ernie fields orchestra, Leroy Cooper, a baritone saxophone player, was a mainstay with Ray Charles orchestra, but he had been in the early fields organization, many who were there for years, decades, and some for as short as one day.

The great basis Cecil McBee tells the story of being invited to fill in one day, and he was just out of high school in Tulsa, Tulsa, Oklahoma. And he gets his he couldn’t cut the mustard because he didn’t get invited back to sit in anymore. But those are the characters known and unknown, who cycled through the Ernie fields organization.

Jimmy Tingle 17:05
And obviously, just going to Tuskegee Institute, and being formally trained and educated, I assume gave him a huge advantage, and an inside track on organizational skills and how to put together an orchestra and how to create more than just himself as a musician. Those are a lot of important skills to have. And that it sounds like that he was able to have influence way beyond his own musical input

Carmen Fields 17:35
without a question, and but a lot of it was on the job training too, on how to have booking and strategies for current negotiating contracts, I was greatly influenced by a white Country and Western great by the name of Bob Wills, who gave him some tips on booking strategies, web to ask for a guarantee and a percentage of the gate, as opposed to just a guarantee, or just a percentage of the gate. So he learned he was like a sponge and learned and apply that to keep his organization working do they

Jimmy Tingle 18:19
perform for white audiences and black audiences, merely black audiences,

Carmen Fields 18:24
white and white and black audiences. And in some instances, they go into a particular town, and it would be a white dance on Friday night, and the black dance Saturday night. And there’s one story in the book where the black dance had been one night and the next night, the when the white patrons came, they broke all of the glasses in the bar, because they didn’t want to drink out of the same glasses that black people had drunk out of.

Jimmy Tingle 18:58
Man. I bet there’s some heartbreaking stories in the book or are there some heartbreaking stories like that

Carmen Fields 19:05
there are and there’s, there’s great stories of overcoming as well. And I you know, I stress my father was not a bitter man. He did not begrudge anyone he considered himself blessed by his experiences and that he was alive to tell the story. But yes, when you think of it, in today’s terms, what they had to put up with not knowing whether they could get something to eat, whether they can use the restroom facilities. It gives you pause for thought

Jimmy Tingle 19:40
the name of the book again common is going back to T Town. You gotta you got one with you. I got one hold it up. Oh, there you go. Back to T Town the Ernie fields, territory Big Band. That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Good looking guy there.

Carmen Fields 19:58
Thank you. Thank you. When you laugh have a real good block.

Jimmy Tingle 20:02
Yeah, you are when you were growing up, did you? Like my dad’s out there? You know, making music all over the country? I mean, was that pretty cool?

Carmen Fields 20:11
youth is wasted on the young, I was more than cool. I was more embarrassed that. Like, why can’t he come home with a briefcase or? Yeah, right five o’clock, like other people’s debt.

Jimmy Tingle 20:27
Right? Right. But now, of course, you have immense respect and admiration for what he did without a question. And that’s how most of us out with our parents still, no matter what they do, you know, later in life, we really tend to appreciate them. So where can people get this book is the book out now? The book

Carmen Fields 20:44
is out now. It’s available for orders, or at Oh, you Amazon or Barnes and Nobles. And I’m headed back to T Town for Juneteenth celebrations and some book signings the mid in mid June.

Jimmy Tingle 21:03
Well, that’s fabulous. Well, you can get the book, as you heard folks, you, it’s all in the show notes, there are links to where you can get the book, you can order it online. And you can get the documentary if you want to order the documentary from PBS. it was the first documentary about the Tulsa massacre. it really brought to light as a part of our history that nobody really knew about or discussed publicly, until Carmen’s documentary.

So it’s a really great contribution you made to the country to American history common. So thank you for that. And what a great tribute to a dad to write a book about his trials and tribulations in his victories, and all the success that he had. And the way he was able to help other musicians is really fantastic. So, folks, you can get the book. It’s all in the show notes. But

Carmen Fields 21:52
if they want to know more about Ernie fields, Ernie fields that org is a website that was established by one of my dad’s fans about 10 years ago. And Ernie, the Ernie fields legacy book, one is the Instagram account where you can see all of the information over the last year or so leading up to the book release. So join us on Instagram, Ernie fields legacy book one.

Jimmy Tingle 22:25
So Carmen, you’re going to be at the Harvard bookstore on August 1. Is that correct? That’s

Carmen Fields 22:30
correct. Harvard bookstore in Cambridge. And I’m excited that my former co anchor Christopher Lydon is going to be the moderator leading the conversation about my dad and his ups and downs in the jazz industry.

Jimmy Tingle 22:45
Wow. That is going to be a great interview. Folks, if you can see common and Christopher Lydon live at the Harvard bookstore on August 1, I highly recommend that you will not be disappointed. Komen has a fantastic story, obviously about her dad, and his experience as a jazz musician back in the 1920s.

And Christopher Lydon is a jazz connoisseur. He understands everybody and everything about American jazz. He’s a fabulous interviewer. Much better than me, and you will thoroughly enjoy that evening, August 1, Harvard bookstore, Harvard Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Carmen. It’s been a pleasure to have you today. I hope to see you on August 1. If I’m in town. I’d love to stop by and see you and Christopher in action. Oh, Carmen, thank you so much for joining us today. Congratulations on the film. And congratulations, of course on the book. It’s been an honor and a pleasure to talk to again, it’s great to catch up to Carmen and I go way back. She’s been to many of my shows. I’ve been on her shows when she was a television producer and host here in Boston. So it’s great to catch up. And great to have you on the Jimmy tinggal show. Hey, man,

Carmen Fields 23:49
thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And thank you

Jimmy Tingle 23:53
everybody for joining us. Please go to the show notes where you can get the PBS special you can get otter Carmen’s book, going back to T Town with Ernie fields and his jazz story. And it’s all about America. Ladies and gentlemen. Keep the Faith calm and great to see you

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