Our history will never be erased or forgotten. As much as white supremacy has tried to erase us, our greatness will live on.
PBS has announced plans to premiere the documentary “Tulsa: The Fire and the Forgotten” on May 31th, the 100th Anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, which is considered one of the worst incidents of racial violence in American History. We mentioned the erasure of incidents of white terror because despite the devastation wreaked in Tulsa, the massacre is rarely mentioned in textbooks. Watch a trailer for the doc below:
Directed by Jonathan Silvers, and reported by The Washington Post’s DeNeen L.Brown, Tulsa: The Fire and the Forgotten looks back at the explosion of violence when the once prosperous neighborhood known as “Black Wall Street” was destroyed by a mob of white residents. Hundreds of Black-owned businesses and homes in the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma, were burnt to the ground, killing an estimated 100-300 Black residents and leaving an estimated 10,000 Black residents homeless. This 90-minute documentary, narrated by Emmy-winning journalist Michel Martin (Amanpour and Company contributor and weekend host of NPR’s “All Things Considered”) also chronicles present-day public efforts to memorialize the Tulsa Race Massacre and other racial violence around the country, and how Black and white communities view such efforts.
“Stories have power and if they’re told, they can change the future and they can provide some healing. So my goal here would be to finally find answers for some of the descendants of the victims, and if they do find bodies, put those souls to rest,” said Brown. “This spring, the City of Tulsa plans to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the massacre, as descendants of survivors demand reparations for what was lost and protest against current oppression and racism.”
Inspired by her own personal connection to Tulsa, Brown investigates the deadly assault and racial atrocity (which has gone without punishment by the law) as she explores issues of atonement, reconciliation and reparation in the past, present and future through the historical lens of white violence and Black resistance. Brown sits down with descendants of Greenwood residents, business owners and today’s community activists for an honest conversation on the community’s demands for reparations and the efforts to revive the Black district of Greenwood through education, technology, business development and more.
“The Tulsa Race Massacre is an atrocity that is often overlooked in our history,” said Lesley Norman, executive producer for The WNET Group. “With this documentary, we hope to examine the true history of race relations in America while paying respect to the lives lost and celebrating those fighting towards a better future for Black Tulsa residents and for African Americans across the country.”
Tulsa: The Fire and the Forgotten features interviews with civil rights activists, lawyers, Black community leaders, archaeologists, anthropologists and historians, including Greg Robinson II (Community Activist and Descendant), Kristi Williams (Community Activist), Regina Goodwin (Oklahoma State Representative – Tulsa House District 73), G.T. Bynum (Mayor of Tulsa), Amy Brown (Deputy Mayor), Rev. Robert Turner (Pastor, AME Church), Dreisen Heath (Investigator, Human Rights Watch), Nicole Austin-Hillery (Director of US Programs, Human Rights Watch), Dr. Joshua Freeman (Historian, CUNY), Greg Brown (Community Organizer), Rev. Floyd Brown (DeNeen Brown’s father), Marc Carlson (Archivist, University of Tulsa Library), Michael Mason (Publisher, This Land Press), Francis Shelton (Mayor of Boley, Oklahoma), Henrietta Hicks (Historian, Boley, Oklahoma), John Raphling (Investigator, Human Rights Watch), Betsy Warner (Historic Researcher), Hannibal Johnson (Historian), Tyrance Billingsley II (Founder, Black Tech Street) and Drew Diamond (former Tulsa Police Chief). In addition, producer Eric Stover, founder of the Human Rights Center at University of California, Berkeley School of Law, who has investigated numerous acts of genocide and mass murder over many decades, speaks with Tulsa natives and surveys the current excavation and search for mass graves. The documentary also features a moving performance from Tulsa native artist Majeste Pearson, who is scheduled to perform the Black national anthem on the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre.
As Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum cautions in the film, “It is terrifying because you realize that it could happen today. It is an instance of hatred overpowering the rule of law in a community…I hope that people see that it’s never too late to try and do the right thing. The investigation that we’re doing right now, we shouldn’t be doing it. The city should have done this 98 years ago.…We as a community are trying to do right by our neighbors in 2020 and 21.”
Up to 300 black residents massacred at once. Could this really happen today? We pray that isn’t the case but we are slowly being killed one by one in acts of state-sanctioned violence AKA police shootings. Hopefully this special will help open people’s eyes who aren’t aware of some of the atrocities acted out on our communities.