The Tulsa Massacre occurred between May 31 and June 1, 1921, when mobs of White people swarmed the successful Black neighborhood, attacking Black residents and burning businesses of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Now, 100 years later, people are finally learning what actually occurred during one of the most violent racial attacks in America. Survivors of the massacre have sat down with government officials all week leading up to this moment, hoping to gain reparations or some sort of justice for what transpired 100 years ago.
The most alarming piece to this part of history is that the media and White people have made several attempts to erase the series of unfortunate events all together. There are many people who had never even heard of the first prosperous African-American community which was recognized as Black Wall Street. The community was made up of Black-owned flourishing businesses, homes and one of the finest hotel establishments the nation had seen at that time.
It was only after a Black man was falsely accused of assaulting a White woman that White rioters gunned down Black residents, looted their homes and set fire to all of the establishments block by block. There were nearly 1,000 buildings destroyed and an estimated 300 people killed. Thousands were left homeless and the entire community that was once seen as a symbol of a Black dreamland was now left in ruins and nearly eradicated from history books.
Though survivors of the Tulsa Massacre are still wondering how justice can be served, there are several documentaries and films that better explain the events that changed their lives forever. Take a look at the films and television specials that you can view on various networks to become more familiar with a moment in history that would otherwise be forgotten.
1. DREAMLAND: The Burning of Black Wall StreetSource:Primetimer
This new documentary, produced by LeBron James’ and Maverick Carter’s The SpringHill Company, explores the history of Black Wall Street and the violent events of 1921 in Tulsa, Okla., when mobs of white residents, spurred by an accusation of inappropriate behavior by a Black man against a white woman, destroyed the 35-block Greenwood District.
2. Tulsa Burning; The 1921 Race MassacreSource:History
This documentary is co-directed and executive produced by Emmy-winner Stanley Nelson (Freedom Riders) and famously executive produced by NBA superstar Russell Westbrook. The story is introduced by Rev. Turner and later details the unbelievable tale about how Black people migrated to Tulsa to build the successful business district that sustained Black wealth in the community until the deadly violence ensued known as the Tulsa Race Massacre.
The documentary features archival footage of Greenwood photos and inspired commentary from experts like The New York Times columnist Brent Staples and historian Scott Ellsworth. The enlightening film is also paired with a six-part podcast produced by The History Channel and WNYC Studios in collaboration with KOSU public radio in Oklahoma, dubbed Blindspot: Tulsa Burning.
3. Tulsa: The Fire and the ForgottenSource:Thirteen
This documentary film debuted on PBS. It is the result of longtime Washington Post journalist DeNeen L. Brown, whose reporting on the Tulsa Race Massacre has spread word about the history of the attack. Brown, whose father currently lives in Tulsa and is a pastor at a Baptist church in town, is shown interviewing descendants of attack victims and experts leading the modern effort to find and disentomb unmarked graves.
Tulsa: The Fire and the Forgotten focuses on the attempts to find where the victims of the Tulsa Race Massacre were buried. There’s some discussion about how forensic scientists and archaeologists scan underneath the ground for anomalies that may lead them to mass grave sites. The hope is that any discoveries may reunite descendants with their murdered family members while allowing the fallen to be properly interred and mourned.
4. The Legacy of Black Wall StreetSource:OWN
The two-part, two-night documentary The Legacy of Black Wall Street debuts June 1 and June 8 to OWN and Discovery+. The documentary specifically focuses on the people who built the community of Greenwood and those who still live there today.
The network says it:
“The film tracks the rise of Black Wall Street in Oklahoma’s Greenwood District up until the tragic 1921 Tulsa race massacre that destroyed the 36-block booming business epicenter. The commemorative documentary special shifts the narrative from the massacre itself to amplify the voices of those Black pioneers then who went West to build their American dream, weaving their stories with the inspiring modern-day Black pioneers now who continue the path to healing and rebuilding the rise of the Black community who presently occupy Greenwood.”
5. Rise Again: Tulsa and The Red SummerSource:National Geographic
The documentary was directed by Dawn Porter, and also focuses on Washington Post journalist and Oklahoman DeNeen L. Brown’s work.
National Geographic describes the film:
“Award-winning Washington Post journalist and Oklahoma native DeNeen Brown is at the heart of the film, reporting on the search for a mass grave in her native state. Digging into the events that led to one of the worst episodes of racial violence in America’s history, Brown reveals insights into racial conflict incidents that erupted in the early 20th century. Between 1917 and 1923, when Jim Crow laws were at their height and the Klu Klux Klan was resurging across the nation, scores of Black homes and businesses were razed, and hundreds of Black people were lynched and massacred with impunity.
Brown’s reporting highlights the revived call for justice for victims and survivors. Following a 2018 investigative report, Brown explores the current new anti-racism movement in the context of the Tulsa Massacre and the Red Summer. With access to family members of those killed, city officials, archeologists, and historians, the film reveals the decades-long effort by descendants and community members to find victims’ bodies and unearth truths that have been suppressed for nearly a century. Rise Again: Tulsa and the Red Summer also untangles the role the media played in covering events at the time in order to reveal the full extent of the nation’s buried past.”
The documentary explores the failed efforts to sue the government for failing to protect the community. The film also shows how graphic photos of the massacre were turned into postcards and later mailed by White people of the neighboring communities.
It’s the painful information that leads to justice, healing and hopefully, rebuilding the once thriving community of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
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