Story at a glance
- Anywhere between 39 and 300 black Americans were reportedly killed in the 1921 Tulsa race massacre.
- Nearly a century later, the city and its past has come into the spotlight after President Trump announced a visit.
- Now, calls for reparations to survivors and their descendents are gaining momentum.
Until the series premiere of “Watchmen” on HBO, many Americans had never heard of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, even as possible mass graves were identified in Oklahoma. After 99 years of silence, Oklahoma legislators and officials announced that one of the worst acts of racial violence in the country would be taught to students in the state where it occurred.
But as awareness spread and the discussion of racial violence exploded into the national spotlight after the police killing of George Floyd, Tulsa made headlines once again, after President Trump announced a rally in the city during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“The visit is galvanising people,” Damario Solomon-Simmons, a civil rights lawyer who represents the last known survivor of the massacre living in Tulsa, told The Guardian. “We are all very concerned about Trump coming to Tulsa as he creates violence and intimidation among his supporters, but on the other end it has put the spotlight on the massacre.”
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A petition started three weeks ago has nearly met its goal of 15,000 signatures and calls for reparations for survivors, descendants and surviving institutions of the Greenwood Community. Addressed to the state of Oklahoma, city of Tulsa and U.S. Congress, the petition also calls for state legislation “to clear legal hurdles, such as the statute of limitations, to civil claims related to the massacre.”
In the comments of the online petition, some listed their reasons for signing. Others called for additional action, including revisions to educational curriculum to include the history of the black community in Tulsa and the massacre itself.
“I’m the granddaughter of a woman who fled Tulsa. This is justice,” wrote Kristina Lee.
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The Human Rights Watch (HRW) joined the call for reparations in a case published on May 29. In addition to recommendations for state and local authorities, HRW directly addresses the U.S. Congress and federal government, calling for the passage of legislation and implementation of federal programs. A current House resolution, “The Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act,” provides for the collection of data and study of persistent racial disparities in the United States.
“I think people are starting to understand that Tulsa as a city, that the United States as a nation, can’t move forward until we are honest not only about the 1921 massacre but about how things have gone in the last 100 years. The oppression didn’t end in 1921 – it continued over the past century,” Solomon-Simmons told The Guardian.
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