Standing in a circle inside the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park looking at a statue depicting an African American man with his hands up — depicting an example of race humiliation — a group of area teachers were taking notes.
It was during a workshop that introduced them to the history of the Greenwood District and 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
One of the educators in attendance was Sequoyah-Claremore High School special education teacher Lindsey Johnson. She and 15 other teachers from across the state who signed up for the workshop were part of an introductory event hosted by Oklahoma State University-Tulsa on Thursday. The overall mission of the event was to institute strategies for teachers to implement the delicate material in their classrooms once school resumes.
“I need to teach it,” said Johnson, who admitted she only became familiar with the story of the race massacre, also known as the Tulsa race riot, as a history class blurb two decades ago. “In order to teach it, I need a solid understanding of it and all the players involved.”
The three-day workshop, which began on Tuesday, was part of an initiative by OSU-Tulsa to offer educational programming about the race massacre with Greenwood acting as the backdrop for teachers to learn about the area’s history, according to program facilitator Shanedra Nowell.
The goal of program, Nowell said, was to equip instructors with all the perspectives of the race massacre and the impact it had on Tulsa, a historical event with which most of the teachers and many Oklahomans like them were only vaguely familiar.
The crash-course lessons included teachers embarking on a guided tours of the Greenwood Cultural Center, “The Black Wall Street Mural” and hearing from the likes of Anna Myers, the author of “Tulsa Burning,” and Jennifer Latham, who wrote “Dreamland Burning.”
Gathering information about an event which occurred nearly 100 years ago wasn’t the only aspect of the project, however. Teachers were also required to craft their own curricula and engage in dialogue about Greenwood and its evolution.
During a discussion session led by John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation program committee member and Tulsa Community College professor Dewayne Dickens, one teacher asked would any form of reparations be possible for families and individuals affected by the massacre.
“It makes it real,” Nowell said of the totality of the activities. “This (the race massacre) happened in this place. If they bring their students here, they will see that this place is real.”
Kiah Rhoads, a recent OSU graduate, grew up in Cleveland, Oklahoma, a city she described as lacking diversity. She was excited to have the opportunity to expand her knowledge of the race massacre and communicate its importance to be taught despite the horror attached to it.
“So many people denied it happened. They say we shouldn’t talk about it because it’s inflammatory,” Rhoads said, who will begin her tenure at Jenks West Intermediate School in the fall. “It breaks my heart to hear that. We teach the Holocaust. We teach the Trail of Tears. We teach western expansion in general. Why aren’t we talking about this? Why aren’t we talking about something that happened right here at home that still has such a big impact?
“This isn’t a north Tulsa or downtown Tulsa thing. It’s an everywhere thing.”