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.

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. 

The Tulsa Massacre of 1921

The first audiobook on this list, The Tulsa Massacre of 1921 is a short but comprehensive history of that shameful event, chronicling how it started, the damages caused, and the aftermath. With its historical audiobooks, Charles River Editors aims to educate and inform, but the narrative style will draw listeners in and keep them riveted for every second of 76-minute run time. Narrator Stephen Platt reads the devastating story with the right amount of gravity while still maintaining an engaging tone. If you're unaware of the details of the Tulsa Race Massacre, this listen is an excellent starting point.

Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921

Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 is another brief but important audiobook exploring the essential details of this horrible tragedy in American history. This title focuses on how racism led to the destruction of a prominent Black community, and how the intense realities of the Tulsa Race Massacre were underreported and ultimately hidden from the public. Daniel Morrison's narration highlights every detail in this history, and underscores just how important it is for all Americans to remember it now.

The Burning

For a more detailed account of the Tulsa Race Massacre, turn to The Burning by Tim Madigan. With compelling prose, Madigan recreates the town of Greenwood—one of the wealthiest Black communities in America at the time—when it was its most prosperous, right before the massacre. Madigan's narrative excels at examining how the tension built in the time leading up to the events of May 31 and June 1, 1921. The audiobook also details the agony of those 18 hours, and the impossible path to recovery that followed. The Burning is by no means an easy listen, but it is a necessary one. Narrator Bill Andrew Quinn provides a compelling delivery that emphasizes the painful realities of the massacre.

Tulsa 1921

In 1921, Greenwood was referred to as Black Wall Street because of its status as one of the most prosperous Black communities in the United States. This proud community was all but destroyed after the events of May 31 and June 1, when a white mob, fueled by rumors that a young Black man had attempted to sexually assault a white teenage girl, attacked the homes, businesses, and people of Greenwood. In this audiobook, reporter and Oklahoma native Randy Krehbiel takes a deep, difficult, and essential look at the Tulsa Race Massacre. From his perspective as an Oklahoman reporter, the author analyzes local newspaper accounts of the massacre. In doing so, Krehbiel opens up a frank discussion about how publications like Tulsa World and the Tulsa Tribune contributed to the white justifications of the carnage. Tulsa 1921: Reporting a Massacre looks at all that was taken from a community and how, despite systemic racism and lack of outside assistance, the Black community in Greenwood prevailed.

Black Wall Street

Black Wall Street is another informative audiobook from Charles River Editors. This listen focuses on the history of the Greenwood district, a 36-square block section of northern Tulsa that was called Black Wall Street because of the wealth and prosperity of its Black residents. In the decades following the Tulsa Race Massacre, the Greenwood community was able to rebuild but, tragically, never quite recapture the level of success and prosperity it saw prior to the violence enacted there. This audiobook seeks to educate listeners about a community that is such an important part of Black history in America. Stephen Platt, who also narrates The Tulsa Massacre of 1921, lends his accomplished, steady voice to this title.

Black Birds in the Sky

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.

 

Watchmen Podcast

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. 

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