A brigade of community leaders and representatives of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission made a recent trip to Alabama in order to learn how best to tell the story of the massacre and its lasting impression on the city of Tulsa.
The group traveled to Montgomery, Alabama, to visit the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the Legacy Museum of African American History and the Rosa Parks Museum to formulate ideas to effectively present the race massacre to the public leading up to the event’s 100th anniversary in 2021 and beyond.
The planned project, according to Sen. Kevin Matthews, would involve renovation and expansion of the Greenwood Cultural Center to compliment the John Hope Franklin Center of Reconciliation, ranging from $9 million to $25 million.
“We learned how they addressed race relations and the horrors that African Americans experienced in Alabama and throughout the United States,” said Matthews, the chairman of the Centennial Commission about the trip sponsored by the George Kaiser Family Foundation. “It gave us a good perspective.”
City Councilor Phil Lakin, part of the group that went on the two-day trip, described being moved by everything he experienced during the tour while learning about the levels of racism, hatred and segregation African Americans endured through the visual images on display at the multiple sites.
“None of the museums were exactly like the others,” Lakin said of the memorials that documented the historical events. “It was a moving experience for me.”
The many exhibits at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice — which displayed the history of lynchings throughout the country, and the accompanying Legacy Museum of African American History that documented slavery and racism — provided guests with an intimate look at what those periods were like, Lakin said.
That experience, he said, was something he hoped could be replicated in a facility that would be constructed in the Greenwood District by 2021.
“We have to tell this story the right way,” Lakin said. “We owe it to everyone to honor what happened and do it the right way. We have to get people to truly understand what happened and learn from it so it doesn’t happen again.”
Matthews, who wants Tulsa to have “a world-class” facility to commemorate the events of 1921, agreed with the assessment that a similar Tulsa Race Massacre museum would need to have a lasting, emotional impact on those who view its contents.
He suggested the use of video, holograms and an app to enhance the reality of the massacre — a story, Matthews said, that hasn’t been properly told.
“Other states have documented the trauma that has taken place across the country with race relations to give a better perspective how to display and teach around the issue of the race massacre,” Matthews said. “The commission itself is motivated by the fact that we’re coming up on the anniversary of the race massacre. Very little has been done to tell the story. The whole idea of the commission is based on that fact.”