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The Centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre

Historic photo of Little Africa on Fire

Just over 100 miles away, 100 years ago today, a white mob attacked and murdered members of the Black community in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, also known as Black Wall Street. They set fire to homes and businesses and caused thousands of people to be homeless. All of this because a young Black man was arrested under suspicion of harassing a white woman, an accusation which police dropped after investigating the case.

This terrifying episode of racial violence came to be known as the Tulsa Race Massacre and for many decades was not taught or discussed in the state of Oklahoma, or in the South, and remained little known nationally. Through the dramatization of the events in HBO’s 2019 series Watchmen, PBS’ Tulsa: The Fire and Forgotten Examines the Tulsa Race Massacre 100 Years Later, and the efforts of the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, interest in learning more about the city’s history has intensified. There is more awareness of what happened in Tulsa but still so much to learn about race relations in America from this terrible event.

Crystal Bridges and the Momentary are dedicated to being spaces for learning and reflection. We want to honor the lives lost in Tulsa in commemoration of the centennial of a tragic moment in our country’s and region’s history and provide resources that may inspire hope and activism against racism.

 

Here are ways you can continue learning about the Tulsa Race Massacre and its aftermath:

Hannibal Johnson
Hannibal B. Johnson

Attend a lecture by Hannibal B. Johnson at Crystal Bridges, June 18

Hannibal B. Johnson is an author, professor, attorney, and the Education Sub-Committee Chair of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission.

He will be giving a free Spotlight Talk at Crystal Bridges on Friday, June 18 at 7 p.m. Reserve your seat, come to the event, and learn more in this lecture commemorating Black Wall Street and the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.

In the meantime, learn more about Black Wall Street before and after the massacre in the video below, narrated by Johnson. This video can also be found on Tulsa2021.org.

Explore the history at Tulsa2021.org

The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission is a group of committed city leaders dedicated to leveraging the event’s history through programming to commemorate and educate citizens. They have developed a comprehensive website called Tulsa2021.org that provides information about the Commission’s efforts since late 2016 as well as curriculum, literature, and other resources to learn more about the Tulsa Race Massacre and its history. 

The Greenwood Art Project, supported by the Commission, also has a series of upcoming community events and an exhibition coming up this summer.

Visit museums and cultural centers in Tulsa

Tulsa, Oklahoma is just two hours west of Northwest Arkansas. Consider taking a trip to Tulsa to learn more about the Tulsa Race Massacre, Black Wall Street, and other events in the city where it all took place. There are several museums and cultural centers to visit, including a new center opening this summer that is dedicated to the Tulsa Race Massacre: Greenwood Rising.

a) One of the Commission’s biggest efforts in pursuing its mission is the development of Greenwood Rising, a state-of-the-art history center honoring the legacy of Black Wall Street before and after the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Greenwood Rising will have a limited preview opening from June 2-12. It will then close to complete construction. Their tentative grand opening date is scheduled for July 3. 

Check out the video below from Tulsa2021.org to learn more about the creation of Greenwood Rising and hear from a few Commission members:

b) The Greenwood Cultural Center also offers resources and programming to learn more about these events and to pursue their mission of preserving African American heritage and promoting positive images of the African American community by providing educational and cultural experiences, promoting intercultural exchange, and encouraging cultural tourism.

Faith Ringgold, United States of Attica
Faith Ringgold (American, b. 1930). United States of Attica, 1972. Offset lithograph, 21 5/8 x 27 3/8”. Courtesy of the artist and ACA Galleries, New York, NY. ©️ 2020 Faith Ringgold / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Seen in From the Limitations of Now exhibition at the Philbrook Museum of Art.

c) Visit Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, which currently has two exhibitions on view inspired by Greenwood history. Views of Greenwood presents nearly 50 photographs of the Greenwood District by three Oklahoma photographers who, over the last 50 years, have explored change, loss, and resilience within the neighborhood. From the Limitations of Now reflects on “the important ways art and literature allow us to examine America’s past and picture a future in which, in the words of renowned Oklahoma author Ralph Ellison, ‘we are able to free ourselves from the limitations of today.’” 

Crystal Bridges and the Momentary are committed to being an antiracist institution and acknowledges the history of inequality in museums. Collectively and as an institution, there is still significant work to do. We’re dedicated to supporting staff and the community with tools and resources that may inspire activism and learning, alongside the ongoing work of examining the collection, exhibitions, and programs that are presented. Learn more about our commitment and efforts HERE. To learn more about preserving Arkansas history and legacy, visit these organizations:

 

Cover photo credit: Wikimedia. Postcard in the collection of McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa. This image is used with permission of Department of Special Collections and University Archives, McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa.