By Russell Contreras, Dion Rabouin,

Activists, scholars, and families of survivors are working to unearth the horrors of a 1921 race riot that destroyed a thriving, middle-class Black community and killed 300 in Tulsa, Okla.

Why it matters: Following the death of George Floyd, communities of color are demanding the U.S. finally confront episodes of racial violence that have been forgotten, dismissed, or denied to address systemic racism. The Tulsa Race Massacre was one of the nation’s worst. And survivors want reparations.

The details: On May 31, 1921, a white mob descended on Greenwood, a successful black economic hub in Tulsa, following unsubstantiated rumors that a Black teen assaulted a white woman.

  • City officials deputized members of a white mob who randomly shot and killed innocent Black residents.
  • In 24 hours, the mob torched 35 blocks of Black-owned businesses, churches, homes, a library, a school, and a hospital.
  • The vigilantes wiped out Greenwood’s vibrant Black economic hub, known as “Black Wall Street.”

No one was charged in the mass killing of Black people. The city later prevented many Black residents from rebuilding by refusing to sell them construction materials. Many moved into makeshift tents.

The intrigue: Phoebe R. Stubblefield, a University of Florida forensic anthropologist, is among the scholars excavating Tulsa’s ground for evidence to document the massacre.

  • She told Axios scholars are combing through surviving basements of burned homes and exploring the ground of the African Methodist Church downtown to examine charred coins and residue.
  • Researchers recently found a mass grave at Oaklawn Cemetery that some believe are victims of the race riot.
  • “It corroborates the historical account of what occurred and the written account. We still have three other sites to investigate for our mass graves narrative,” said Stubblefield, who had an aunt whose Tulsa home burned during the massacre.

Between the lines: Activists, writers, and families are saving oral histories to keep the public from forgetting the massacre. It’s rarely taught in Oklahoma public schools.

  • Survivors and descendants of victims will host a “Black Wall Street Legacy Festival” in May to draw attention to the 100th anniversary of the attack.
  • The last known massacre survivors — 106-year-old Lessie Benningfield “Mother” Randle, 106-year-old Viola “Mother” Fletcher, and 100-year-old Hughes Van Ellis — are scheduled to lead a procession at the event.
  • A children’s book, A Promise Deferred: The Massacre of Black Wall Street, co-written by inclusion expert Dr. Tamecca Rogers and her son, Keith Ross, seeks to educate children about the riot and the community that once stood.

PBS is set to release a new documentary, Tulsa: The Fire and the Forgotten, tackling present-day public efforts to memorialize the massacre and racial terror.

What they’re saying: “The saddest thing to me is when Black people come from other places in the country and they come to Black Wall Street and point to the direction of Greenwood and they say, ‘Is this it?'” Nehemiah Frank, a massacre descendant and editor of The Black Wall Street Times.

  • “And we have to tell them, ‘Yes, this is it.’ Just these two buildings that were left of what was there.”

Frank and other descendants are pressing for reparations from the city and state for a massacre that left generations in poverty.

  • “There’s been continuing harm that is a result of the failure to address the massacre,” Laura Pitter, a deputy director for New York-based Human Rights Watch, told Axios.
  • Human Rights Watch and lawyers for descendants published a report last year documenting the impact of the Tulsa Race Massacre and the systemic racism that followed.

Where it stands: Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said reparations would “divide” the city, and instead supports developing property where Black Wall Street once stood.

Don’t forget: The Tulsa Race Massacre has generated more interest after it was depicted in two HBO series, Watchmen and Lovecraft Country.

  • The U.S. in 2019 marked the 100th anniversary of Red Summer — a series of similar race massacres where white mobs across the country destroyed Black communities from Chicago to Elaine, Ark.


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  1. The Typical One Sided Article. Lets say these Names & Remember: Cash Gernon, a 4 year old red headed boy, kidnapped & Butchered by Darriyann Brown, an Black/African decent on May 18, 2021. Not a Peep out of the media! Lets try December 24, 2010, Jonathan Foster, another White/European boy, kidnapped & Roasted Alive by Romana Nelson, another Black/African decent. Why do we Not hear about REAL CRIMES!

  2. That thing that happened in Tulsa a century ago was not nice. No, not nice at all. I stipulate to that. It was awful. Just like everything else that happens, it did not happen in a vacuum, and it did not happen on a whim or on a thousand whims. it was the culmination of a very long train of events. In other words, it had a historical context.

    Now the corporate fake news establishment is blowing this Tulsa thing in our faces again at the same time that it is blowing up its favourite drug overdose death a year ago in Minneapolis. Why? The cabal's chattering class wants to showcase how awful white Americans were and still are. What does that do to improve the popular image of anyone? Not very much? No, try not at all. How much love does it generate? CNN and the rest of the vipers want everyone to just hate on all white people again, both the dead and the living.

    Do not look to hateful leftwing fascist propaganda as a source of honest or balanced history lessons. Better yet, do not look to that disgusting political pornography for anything. If you want to learn true history, consider every source and every allegation on its credibility. For example, yes the negro section of Tulsa was burned by white people and more than a thousand coloured people were murdered. Why did they do that? Obviously, something like that does just not suddenly happen out of the blue. A cycle of hate and resentment was building over a period of time. How? Why? Alack, there be truths that are politically incorrect.

    Mine own ancestral home is far away in Essex, England. My favourite musicians are in or from Ireland and Scotland and specialize in the traditional music of those countries. Many of the songs are based on the pain suffered by previous generations through the centuries. The You Tube comments sections are under those songs on its website are rife with hateful comments on old England and the English, both past and present. They would have you believe that cruel England is to blame for all of the world's problems back to the time of Edward First or whenever. They show how hate can just regenerate over and over and over as long as people are willing to regenerate it. Real people in modern times periodically suffer violence from it. One of them was a Canadian girl who just happened to be in the wrong place when an irish Republican Army bomb blue up and killed her. We do not have to do this.

    • Oh lets not play the Violin to loud, Quentin. They for one are fudging the numbers in todays news to fit a narrative. It was originally reported in 1921 30 blacks & 10 white died. Also lying to the Core about "Ariel Bombing." The Fire Department investigation report stated in 1921, "The burning of Greenwood was ignited by ground fires coming into contact with stock pile of ammunition in the black area."


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