Oklahoma will finally teach the Tulsa Race Massacre in its schools

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Story at a glance

  • The Tulsa Race Massacre, largely unknown, will be taught in Oklahoma schools.
  • A new framework and teacher training provided by the state will support a comprehensive study of the event.
  • Both lawmakers and education officials advocated for this implementation.

Oklahoma legislators and officials announced a new initiative for public school education to include lessons on the Tulsa Race Massacre.

Speaking with local news outlet KFOR, Oklahoma Senator James Lankford discussed the history of the de facto embargo placed on the tragedy. 

“For decades, Oklahoma schools did not talk about it. In fact, newspapers didn’t even print any information about the Tulsa Race Riot. It was completely ignored. It was one of those horrible events that everyone wanted to just sweep under the rug and ignore,” he said. 

The massacre occurred on June 1, 1921, in the historic freedom colony Greenwood District. It was an affluent commercial hub for the city that was also known as the “Black Wall Street.” 

After a riot that broke out when a local black man was accused of assaulting a white woman, the district lit aflame, scorching the entire area. White residents besieged Greenwood, looting and eventually setting fire to the businesses in the district. Then-Governor Robertson declared martial law, which resulted in the confinement of black Tulsa residents for up to eight days as National Guard troops quelled the violence. 

According to official estimates, approximately 300 people died during the massacre, the majority of them black. 

To this day, no one is certain of the exact details of what truly went on during the Tulsa Race Massacre aside from scores of injuries and deaths. Committees and other public programs have been launched in recent years to bring restorative justice to those who died, notably with current Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum allocating about $100,000 to search for the mass graves of victims in various sites. 

Because of the relative mystery surrounding the massacre, no one was formerly held accountable, making it difficult to explain. Now, Oklahoma educators will change that by talking about it in classrooms. 

The Tulsa Public School Superintendent, Deborah Gist, told KFOR that she was raised in Tulsa and didn’t hear about the massacre until moving out of state. 

For the first time, a new framework will be given to teachers to effectively teach about the massacre. This includes “extra support and resources in order to properly teach the cause, history, and aftermath of the Tulsa Race Massacre,” KFOR stated. 

In addition to the new format, Tulsa Public School teachers have been studying and training for the past two years both about the massacre and how to teach it. 

The new lessons will follow a 2018 pilot introduced in Tulsa schools, but will now be launched statewide, according to KRMG Radio

Many people have been recently introduced to the Tulsa Race Massacre by HBO’s new series “Watchmen,” which includes a scene set there.