The Tulsa Race Massacre
It has been 100 years since one of the deadliest race-motivated murders in U.S history. Labeled the ‘Tulsa Race Massacre’, 300 Black men, women and children were killed in 1921 between May 31st and June 1st. A white mob burned down the Tulsa, Oklahoma neighbourhood of Greenwood—a.k.a. ‘Black Wall Street,’—after allegations arose that a Black man had allegedly raped a young white woman. The unfounded assault claims were later dropped but not before gun raids, aerial attacks and bombings led by white residents decimated Greenwood.
The massacre left Black Wall Street in shambles and the once affluent neighbourhood of middle and upper-class Black residents never recovered. The Tulsa Massacre wiped out generations of Black wealth and to this day, remains largely ignored in U.S history.
Tulsa History Hidden
Though many Americans are now learning more about the Tulsa Massacre, largely in part because of journalists, activists and community leaders speaking more on the tragedy, it is still not widely known among Oklahoma locals. In fact, a survey by The Oklahoman found that of 305 Oklahoma residents questioned, 83 percent said they had never received a full lesson on the Tulsa Race Massacre while in school.
Of those residents, 61 percent said they first heard of the Tulsa Massacre through news media and others cited friends, families, movies and television shows as their first introduction to the dark history of Tulsa.
However, this is unsurprising to many Black activists and historians. After the 1921 massacre, the event was quickly covered up and buried as many white residents and public officials did not care to seek justice for its Black residents.
“The local officials went through the motions of investigating what happened,” he said. “The grand jury’s version came out and it blamed local African Americans, for being confrontational, for being too ostentatious in their economic success. and for generally stepping out of their place,” said Susquehanna University’s professor of history, Ed Slavishak, in a Daily Item interview.
Slavishak noted that in the eyes of an all-white jury, “The African American community had brought it on themselves.”
Delayed Turn of Events
It was not until 2002, decades after the massacre, that the Oklahoma Education Department mandated public schools teach about the Tulsa Race Massacre.
Even then, Oklahoma’s state superintendent of public schools, Joy Hofmeister, says the 2002 mandate allowed for vague notions of the massacre.
Schools in Oklahoma were told to teach the “evolution of race relations in Oklahoma” and provided the Tulsa Massacre as a brief example of that topic, allowing schools to avoid the subject altogether.
Essentially, the fall of Black Wall Street was never taught in schools. Mention of the Tulsa Massacre was left out of America’s history books and erased from classroom discussion.
Oklahoma public schools have since expanded academic standards on teaching the massacre and in 2019 adopted a curriculum compiled by the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission and the Oklahoma History Center.
However, the fight to teach future generations about the atrocities of the past continues to rear its ugly head. Just last month Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a law restricting public-school teachers from incorporating lessons that would make an individual “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race or sex.”
Some Oklahoma residents and teachers have criticized the bill, calling it a means to keep the history of Tulsa in the dark and in the closet. Others like James Taylor who teaches seventh grade in Oklahoma City, says the new law addresses those who cross the line. “It doesn’t say you can’t talk about racism; you just can’t say all white people are racist,” said Taylor.
Though 100 years have passed since the Tulsa Race Massacre, the atrocities of 1921 remain a stain on Oklahoma’s history and something not easily removed, no matter how school restrictions, legislation and state officials may try to hide it.