Tulsa kicks off dedication ceremonies ahead of race massacre centennial
Tulsa’s historic Greenwood district held two dedication ceremonies on Saturday. Two benches, as well as a surviving tree, were dedicated.
Addison Kliewer, Oklahoman
The 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre is coming soon to a TV near you.
Oklahomans will be able to tune into at least five new documentaries that will be televised to coincide with the upcoming centennial of the 1921 tragedy.
For those who prefer to take in history through fantastical fiction, two series streaming on HBO Max offer opportunities to see a recreation of some of the darkest days in Oklahoma’s complicated history.
The Tulsa Race Massacre was one of the worst episodes of racial violence in U.S. history. Between May 31 and June 1, 1921, mobs of white residents attacked, set aflame and ultimately devastated the Greenwood District, which was at that time one of the wealthiest Black communities in the United States, earning it the name “Black Wall Street.”
The deadly tragedy was covered up for decades and omitted from history books even in Oklahoma, but the centennial commemoration includes numerous art exhibitions, music projects and film showcases as well as these television tune-in opportunities:
1. ‘Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre’
When it’s premiering: 7 p.m. May 30.
Where it’s airing: The History Channel.
Executive produced by NBA superstar and Oklahoma Hall of Famer Russell Westbrook, this documentary is directed by Peabody and Emmy Award-winning helmer Stanley Nelson (“Freedom Riders”) and Peabody and duPont Award winner Marco Williams (“Two Towns of Jasper”).
The film will chronicle the birth of Black Wall Street to its catastrophic destruction over two bloody days in 1921 to the fallout and reconstruction. It also will follow Tulsa’s current grave excavation efforts at Oaklawn Cemetery, where unmarked coffins of victims who were killed and buried during the massacre have been recovered.
Rare archival footage and imagery from 100 years ago will be paired with commentary and interviews with sources from the Tulsa Historical Society & Museum, the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation, the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission and the Vernon AME Church.
Through its “Save Our History” initiative, the cable network is helping to preserve the Vernon AME Church, the only standing Black-owned structure from Tulsa’s Black Wall Street era. Funds from the grant will help restore the refuge room in the church basement where Black citizens of Tulsa sought safety during the race massacre.
As a companion piece to the documentary, The History Channel is partnering with WNYC Studios to launch on May 28 a six-part podcast series “Blindspot: Tulsa Burning,” produced in collaboration with local public radio KOSU.
“The Tulsa Race Massacre was not something I was taught about in school or in any of my history books,” said Westbrook, a former OKC Thunder star who now plays for the Washington Wizards, in a statement.
“It was only after spending 11 years in Oklahoma that I learned of this deeply troubling and heartbreaking event. This is one of many overlooked stories of African Americans in this country that deserves to be told. These are the stories we must honor and amplify so we can learn from the past and create a better future.”
2. ‘Dreamland: The Burning of Black Wall Street’
When it’s premiering: To be announced.
Where it’s airing: CNN.
Westbrook isn’t the only NBA superstar making a Tulsa Race Massacre documentary. LeBron James and his business partner Maverick Carter are executive producing “Dreamland” through their SpringHill Company in partnership with CNN Films.
“Dreamland” is directed and produced by Salima Koroma, who helmed the 2016 documentary “Bad Rap,” about Asian American rappers, including Awkwafina.
In a 2021 Sundance Film Festival virtual panel, Koroma said she wants her documentary’s depiction of Black Wall Street to evoke the same sense of wonder she felt when viewing the fictional Wakanda in the Marvel film “Black Panther.”
“When people hear about Black Wall Street, they think about the destruction, the loss, the sadness, the death. And I think that when we tell stories about Black people in America, we tend to go to that. When I think about Black Wall Street, I think about the wonder, the beauty, the ambition, the color,” she said. “A lot of the stuff was burned … so how do we bring this place to life?”
“Dreamland” will blend archival media, contemporary interviews and narrated letters and diaries.
Expected to premiere as early as this month, the documentary will tell the stories of the descendants of the race massacre’s survivors and reveal the findings of the archeological search for the mass graves.
CNN Films will be the North American television distributor for the feature doc, and HBO Max has acquired streaming rights to the film.
3. ‘Red Summer’
When it’s premiering: June
Where it’s airing: National Geographic.
National Geographic Documentary Films has partnered with prolific documentarian Dawn Porter — who last year released “Good Trouble: John Lewis” and “The Way I See It” — and Trailblazer Studios on a feature documentary that sheds new light on a century of intense racial conflict.
“Red Summer” will premiere in June to commemorate both the Tulsa Race Massacre centennial and Juneteenth, when the last enslaved Black people in Texas received news of their emancipation.
“I’m interested in following the evidence where it leads while giving a voice to those directly affected by the tragic events in Tulsa and throughout the Red Summer. This is the time to tell this story, which is not only about Black victims, but also about Black resistance,” Porter said in a statement.
“Sadly, the racism motivating the Red Summer has not been eradicated. It is clear we must acknowledge these wrongs if healing is to begin.”
Porter serves as producer and director with Lauren Capps as story producer. Washington Post journalist and Oklahoma native DeNeen Brown will report on the search for a mass grave in Tulsa.
“In Tulsa, there is an increased urgency to properly honor Black people who were murdered during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Black activists in Tulsa have been working for years to bring national attention to this horrific chapter in U.S. history,” Brown said in a statement. “As the city recognizes the 100th anniversary of the massacre, Tulsa finds itself at a point of inflection to learn from its horrific history and bring justice to survivors and descendants.”
4. ‘Tulsa: The Fire and the Forgotten’
When it’s premiering: 8 p.m. May 31.
Where it’s airing: PBS (OETA in Oklahoma), pbs.org and the PBS Video app.
Brown also will report for PBS’ new documentary, directed by Jonathan Silvers and narrated by Emmy-winning journalist Michel Martin. It focuses on present-day public efforts to memorialize the race massacre and other racial violence across the country — and how Black and white communities view such efforts.
As the country continues to reflect on recent incidents of social injustice like the 2020 murder of George Floyd, the 90-minute feature examines the Tulsa Race Massacre in this light, exploring issues of atonement, reconciliation and reparation.
The documentary includes interviews with community activist and Tulsa Race Massacre descendant Greg Robinson II, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, state Rep. Regina Goodwin, Vernon AME Church Rev. Robert Turner, historian Hannibal Johnson and more.
5. ‘Tulsa Race Massacre: 100 Years Later’
When it’s premiering: 7 p.m. May 31, with an encore at 10 p.m.
Where it’s airing: OETA.
OETA’s one-hour documentary blends historical accounts of the massacre and the art of local creatives to paint a full picture of the Greenwood District — from the past to the present and to aspirations of a bright future.
It also delves into how Greenwood continues to suffer from redlining policies and the construction of a highway.
Tulsa Race Massacre in historical fiction
Where to see it: Streaming on HBO Max.
The first episode of HBO’s 2019 acclaimed limited series depicts the Tulsa Race Massacre, and the show’s premiere introduced many people to the horrific event for the first time while setting the scene for its fantastical, fictionalized exploration of real-life social issues, particularly racism.
Adapted from the trailblazing 1986-87 DC comic book by writer Alan Moore and artist Dave Gibbons, the series takes place in Tulsa in an alternate history about 30 years after the graphic novel’s 1980s events.
“Watchmen” won 11 Primetime Emmy Awards last fall, including outstanding limited series, which creator Damon Lindelof dedicated to the victims and survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre.
In partnership with Magic City Books, the Black Wall Street Legacy Festival will welcome Lindelof and Emmy Award-winning “Watchmen” writer Cord Jefferson for a shared experience, conversation and screening on May 30. For more information, go to blackwallstreetlegacyfest.com.
2. ‘Lovecraft Country’
Where to see it: Streaming on HBO Max.
Based on Matt Ruff’s novel of the same name, “Lovecraft Country” follows Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) as he meets up with his friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollett) and his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) to embark on a road trip across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his missing father (Michael Kenneth Williams). This begins a struggle to survive and overcome both the racist terrors of white America and the terrifying monsters that could be ripped from a Lovecraft paperback.
Although the series features fantastical elements like magic spells, enchanted relics and time travel, with its ninth episode that debuted last fall, “Lovecraft Country” became the second acclaimed HBO series (after “Watchmen”) to recreate the Tulsa Race Massacre.
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