The infamous 121 Tulsa Race Massacre, which took place in Tulsa’s affluent Greenwood District, more commonly known as Black Wall Street for its cluster of black-owned businesses and self-reliance, has long been exempt from textbooks. What we know of the massacre was often recounted from first-hand accounts and historian documents. Now, Oklahoma is finally ready to acknowledge its dark and racist past by teaching students about the deadly massacre that claimed the lives of hundreds of blacks.
According to reports, Oklahoma’s education department will provide the basis for the curriculum beginning in April. It will be officially incorporated into lesson plans starting in the fall.
“What we want to ensure is that we are teaching at a grade-appropriate level those facts that have not been taught in a way they should have been taught in Oklahoma. This is our history, and we should know it.” State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister stated at a news conference on Wednesday
Deborah A. Gist, the superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools, revealed that although she was once a student of the same school system she now oversees, she was never taught about the massacre until she became an educator.
“What I’m deeply committed to in Tulsa Public Schools is making sure that never happens again,” she said.
Founded in 1906, Greenwood was developed on Indian Territory, the relatively large area where Native American tribes had been forced out. Many African Americans who had been former slaves of the tribes, and integrated into tribal communities, were able to acquire land through the Dawes Act, the U.S. law that gave land to individual Native Americans. After the civil war, many black sharecroppers who were fleeing racial oppression also relocated to the region in search of a better life.
Racial animosity had been brewing for some time in the early 1900s once the affluent lifestyles of blacks in the area attracted white racists, who were not pleased with African Americans being able to succeed with limited assistance from whites. The tension came to a head when a 19-year-old shoe shiner, Dick Rowland, was accused of attempted sexual assault of a 17-year-old white elevator operator by the name of Sarah Page. An angry mob of white citizens swarmed the courthouse, demanding that authorities hand over Rowland so that they could punish him the way that they saw fit. As word of a possible lynching began to spread, approximately 75 armed blacks returned to the courthouse, where they were met by a mob of 1,500 whites. The two groups clashed, ultimately leading to the black men retreating to Greenwood.
The mob of angry white men then invaded Greenwood, viciously burning down businesses, looting homes and killing innocent black people on the spot. The riot resulted in millions in property damage. The Rebuilding of Greenwood depended solely on the help of the NAACP, and other black townships in Oklahoma. Also, donations from black churches also assisted in the badly bruised town. However, many businesses, such as the Tulsa Star newspaper, never recovered.