100 Years Later, Uncovering the Truth About the Tulsa Race Massacre
The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 was one of the most despicable moments in US history, and it remained obscured for decades. In a growing selection of new books and podcasts, the story of what truly happened is coming to light.
May 21, 2021
The Tulsa Race Massacre was a tragedy that occurred over a period of 18 hours (May 31 to June 1, 1921) in Tulsa, Oklahoma. During this time, a mob of white residents attacked the Greenwood neighborhood in Tulsa, which was predominantly a space for Black families and businesses. To this day, the Tulsa Race Massacre is considered one of the worst incidents of racial violence in the history of the United States. More than 1,000 homes and businesses were destroyed. During those harrowing hours, somewhere between 75 and 300 people died.
Until very recently, the Tulsa Race Massacre was more commonly referred to as the “Tulsa Race Riots”—but to call what happened in Tulsa a “riot” is to code the massacre with language that conceals who the true victims were. In an interview with Tulsa World, Kevin Matthews, chairman of the 1921 Race Massacre Centennial Commission, explained, “...the word ‘riot’ gives the connotation that you burned your community down...We didn’t do this to our own community. We had it burned down by others."
As we approach the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, learning the truth about what really happened in Tulsa is more important than ever. For so long, this violent part of American history was swept under the rug. While the realities of those 18 hours in the Greenwood community still haunt Tulsa, Oklahoma, many Americans are unaware of the extent of the violence that occurred. At the time, the news did not report much on the massacre, and what little was written about the tragedy was downplayed. The following audiobooks and podcasts aim to give listeners a fuller understanding of the Tulsa Race Massacre while honoring the victims whose stories deserve to be remembered.
Black Birds in the Sky is author Brandy Colbert's forthcoming YA nonfiction book about the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. While this account of the Tulsa Race Massacre is appropriate for younger listeners, Colbert does not shy away from the devastating acts of racial violence that occurred in Greenwood in 1921. In this listen, Colbert asserts that the Tulsa Race Massacre is important to learn about and remember because of what this tragedy tells us about the history of racism and violence in America. What happened in Tulsa reflects white resentment of Black achievement, the horrifying power of racist thought in America, and how media coverage (or lack thereof) shapes public perception—issues that have shaped America's past and continue to affect Black Americans’ fight for justice. This audiobook will be available in October 2021.
If you're looking for a different, fictional perspective on the Tulsa Race Massacre, you'll want to watch the HBO series Watchmen. The first episode starts with the Tulsa Race Massacre, and the events of that horrific moment in history set the stage for how racial conflict will play a major role in the show. In the Watchmen Podcast from BleedTV, hosts Zac, Jake, and Cash discuss the Tulsa Race Massacre connection (especially in Episode 1) and much more.
Lovecraft Country Podcast
Another HBO television series, set in the 1950s Jim Crow South, recently took on the Tulsa Race Massacre. In its 9th episode, Lovecraft Country travels back to 1921 and dumps its characters right in the middle of the horrors of those 18 hours in Greenwood. BleedTV's Zac, Jake, and Cash are back to discuss the Tulsa Race Massacre and its connections to the show in the episode "Rewind 1921."
Emily Martin has a PhD in English from the University of Southern Mississippi. She currently lives in Hattiesburg, MS, where she works as a contributing editor for Book Riot.