Songlamplus – If you haven’t heard of the Tulsa Race Massacre or Black Wall Street, here’s your chance to rectify that.
Black Wall Street, also known as Greenwood, was once a thriving business district and community for Black people in Tulsa, Oklahoma, established in 1906. But on May 31, 1921 that all changed when a white mob set the community ablaze, which historians believe killed 300 people, leveled 35 city blocks, destroyed 191 businesses, and displaced around 10,000 Greenwood residents.
Monday marks the massacre’s 100th anniversary. Rumors and media reports that a Black 19-year-old, Dick Rowland, had assaulted a white 17-year-old, Sarah Page, in an elevator in Tulsa, Oklahoma sparked the massacre. A conflicting Chicago Tribune report at the time noted Rowland had just tripped on Page as he entered the elevator. Rowland was arrested and authorities brought him to the city’s courthouse, where white people threatened to lynch him. Black men gathered at the courthouse to try to protect Rowland. Someone shot a gun and, soon after, a group of white men marched into Greenwood with weapons and started a spate of violence, looting homes and lynching Black residents. According to Tulsa World, charges against Rowland were later dropped, possibly after a written request by Page.
This bloody rampage was largely wiped from history books for a long time. However, in the last few years, people have been raising awareness about this horrific event — it was also spotlighted in HBO’s Watchmen in 2019, driving new search interest on the topic.
As the Tulsa Race Massacre gets national attention once more on its centennial, some states have recently begun banning schools from teaching certain concepts of race. Oklahoma passed such a law in early May, as have Utah and Arkansas.
Here’s a list of free, virtual resources to help you learn about Black Wall Street, the Tulsa Race Massacre, and honor the victims and survivors.
1. Tulsa Historical Society & Museum
Established in 1963, the Tulsa Historical Society & Museum has a rich and diverse collection of artifacts, from photographs to books and even building furnishings, that shed light on Tulsa’s history, both inspirational events and those that cast a shadow.
Its online exhibit about the massacre walks audiences through the lead up, the aftermath, and and contemporary attempts to investigate the event, including the possibility of mass graves for the victims.
It offers audio recordings from those who witnessed and survived the massacre, such as Virginia Waters Poulton, a white woman whose family hid their Black domestic servant Lily after she ran to their house afraid for her life during the massacre, and William Danforth Williams, a Black man who recalls the mayhem after the first shot was fired at the courthouse where Rowland was being held.
Photos from the museum also give a glimpse of the people and places that contributed to Tulsa’s vibrancy before 1921, the massacre itself and those who were complicit in it, and efforts to rebuild the city. (Warning: Some photos show dead bodies.)
Archival materials also help piece together the 1921 massacre, including newspaper clippings and artifacts such as an identification card, which African Americans were required to wear or carry in the city until July 7, 1921. Police could arrest any Black person found on Tulsa’s streets without one.
The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, which teaches Oklahomans and the nation about the rich history of Greenwood, has curated lesson plans that provide cultural context from before, during, and after the massacre, on its website. The nonprofit Greenwood Rising will take up the commission’s work in July and will later operate a history center under development to commemorate Black Wall Street and the victims of the massacre.
Two of the commission’s education chairs, Hannibal Johnson and Dr. Karlos K. Hill, whose Ph.D is in history, will speak about the massacre on Thursday during a livestream. The free virtual event, called the National Day of Learning, presents an opportunity to learn more about the massacre and its impact on Oklahoma. African American studies professor and activist Dr. Cornel West, whose doctorate is in philosophy, will give the keynote speech.
The Greenwood Cultural Center’s aim is to keep the memory of Black Wall Street alive, educate the public about the massacre, and teach about the city’s resurgence following this tragic event. It also wants to “preserve African-American heritage and promote positive images of the African-American community,” according to the center’s website.
It has a variety of online resources, such as a game that looks like Minecraft designed for 11- to 13-year-olds to “visit” the thriving businesses that made up Black Wall Street, a video about Greenwood entrepreneurs who survived the massacre, and a learning series to teach children about the event and encourage “difficult conversations about race relations in America.”
You can also read accounts from survivors about their individual experiences before, during, and after the massacre and watch a video where CNN visits the Greenwood Cultural Center to delve into Black Wall Street’s history.
The Oklahoma History Center (a division of the Oklahoma Historical Society) challenges its audience to re-examine Tulsa’s history, the pervasive racism that led to the massacre, and the scars left behind by it.
The history center’s almost 30-page document on the Tulsa Race Massacre explores the early days of Tulsa before Black Wall Street was established, factors that contributed to the massacre like white supremacy and Jim Crow segregation laws, media bias that painted a picture of Black people in Tulsa as criminals, and also includes activities to help people further analyze the massacre’s causes.
Recently, an Oklahoma History Center curator also discussed why he thinks the history of the massacre has been hidden for so long in this local news report.
The Tulsa City-County Library offers online videos that explore the history and legacy of the Tulsa Race Massacre.
For example, this presentation examines the historical trauma following the massacre via an artistic showcase of singers, poets, dancers, and actors. In another video, panelists use the HBO show Watchmen as a lens to examine the event.
You can access all past videos and stay up to date on future virtual events at the Tulsa City-County Library website.
All of these resources help shine a light on a dark chapter in America’s history and can be used as a call-to-action in support of anti-racism work.