A century ago, from May 31 to June 1, 1921, the affluent Black community in Greenwood, Tulsa, also known as “Black Wall Street,” was viciously attacked by a mob of white men and the Oklahoma National Guard. Known as the Tulsa Race Massacre, the white residents not only incinerated the district’s 35 city blocks, but they killed as many as 300 Black men, women and children, according to the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum.
To mark this centennial event and to ensure that no one ever forgets this history of Greenwood, the city of Tulsa and cultural institutions across the nation have rolled out a series of educational resources, films, exhibitions and more, to engage and educate the public. Below, Colorlines shares 10 ways to honor those who perished, the survivors, and descendants who are continuing to keep their neighborhood’s legacy alive.
- Engage in Tulsa City County Library resources: This organization collects, organizes and archives materials on all things related to Tulsa history, which they make available in-person and online. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Tulsa, the library will host a series of exhibits called “TCCL Remembers: Commemorating Tulsa’s Race Massacre,” which seeks to educate the public on the racial and political causes and effects of the event.
- Listen to the new Motown collective album: Available May 28, three days before the anniversary, a new hip-hop album, “Fire in Little Africa”, features 21 songs recorded at the Greenwood Cultural Center, over the span of five days by local Oklahoma artists, to honor the event. A documentary featuring the recording process and the community of musical artists in Tulsa will also accompany the project.
- Watch an update on Reparations: In September 2020, nearly 100 years after hundreds of Black Tulsans were murdered, the Justice for Greenwood Foundation announced a lawsuit against the City of Tulsa and six defendants at the Greenwood Cultural Center. This past February, 11 Tulsans, made up of survivors, survivors’ kin and historic institutions, revisited the suit to hold accountable and to recover “unjust enrichment” from those who have benefited from the “exploitation of the Massacre for their own economic and political gain,” according to the suit. While the case is ongoing, Justice for Greenwood’s site also includes historical information on the slaughter. Check out their most recent town hall event here.
“The Greenwood community continues to fight against the erasure of our history and the whitewashed narrative promoting Tulsa as a tourist attraction, instead of the reality that our city still suffers from the initial and continued harms of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre,” said Tiffany Crutcher, founder of the Terence Crutcher Foundation, which was established in 2017, to activate law enforcement, policy makers and community members to recognize and rectify bias and harm against Black men and youth by raising awareness and providing resources. Crutcher continued, “As we gather for the centennial of this tragedy, we will honor the victims, descendants, and the last three living survivors and their century-long fight for justice and accountability. Our survivors’ lawsuit and their race for justice couldn’t be more urgent as we race to ensure they receive reparations in their lifetimes.”
- Track the progress of the re-interment process: In March 2021, Tulsa’s local news Channel 8 reported that the 1921 Graves Public Oversight Committee recommended a full excavation and analysis of the Original 18 site at Oaklawn Cemetery. The goal of this excavation is to identify the remains and then place them in a permanent burial and memorial site. The City will reportedly hire a funeral director and provide financial support for further research. Stay updated on the City’s progress, here.
- Listen to the “Soul of a Nation: Tulsa’s Buried Truth” podcast: Presented by ABC Audio, which labeled the massacre, “the most violent attacks in American history, and also one of the least talked about.” For decades, the bodies of victims remained unknown until 2020, when at least 12 coffins were unearthed by a team of archeologists and forensic anthropologists. Now, the podcast seeks to answer what happened in the hopes of finding justice for those who survived and for the descendants of those who didn’t. Listen to the podcast trailer.
- Attend the Black Wall Street Legacy Festival: From May 29 through June 19 (Juneteenth), survivors and descendants are hosting a series of events dedicated to the 1921 massacre with events, dedications and programs curated by Black Tulsans. Review a full calendar of events, as well as a visitor timeline that begins in 1865 with Juneteenth emancipation and spans to 2021 with the reimagining of Black Wall Street.
- Watch “Greenwood Rising: #TulsaTriumphs”: “An entire group of people invading their own city,” says the voice over, at the start of this short historical video by the Oklahoma Center for Community and Justice and Atria Creative. Within eight-minutes, “Greenwood Rising: #TulsaTriumphs” provides an audio/visual primer on the history of the Tulsa massacre with archival images, that includes documentation from 1921 to current interviews with Tulsa advocates and residents, such as Reverend Dr. Eric Gill, pastor of operations at Met Church Tulsa in Reservoir Hill, three miles from the historic Greenwood District.
- Celebrate Black Oklahoma: The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission resource for all things related to Black Oklahoma, and includes information on a new history center, art projects, education initiatives, business development and more. For out of towners looking to visit Greenwood for the Tulsa commemoration, the site also provides information about local accommodations. On May 31, tune into the commission’s nationally-televised “Remember & Rise” event, headlined by EGOT-holder John Legend.
- Discover why words matter: The Library of Congress finally followed the advice of educators when they agreed to change their language from “Tulsa Race Riot” to “Tulsa Race Massacre”, in March 2021, after being pushed by a group of University of Oklahoma Libraries professionals to get the language right. Review the full press release.
- Watch “Tulsa: The Fire and the Forgotten”: On May 31, PBS will premier the 90-minute documentary, which explores the city’s history of anti-Black hate and the community’s resilience despite this discrimination. Narrated by NPR’s Emmy Award-winning journalist Michel Martin, the film chronicles current public efforts to commemorate the Tulsa Race Massacre and will feature interviews with descendants, historians, religious leaders, community activists, and more.
N. Jamiyla Chisholm manages creative content at Barnard College and is the author of the upcoming memoir “The Community.” As a journalist, she focuses on culture, gender and sexuality, and history.