Tulsa World Coverage: 1921 Tulsa race massacre

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Bystanders mill about as smoke from burning buildings rises in the air in the aftermath of the Tulsa race riot on May 31, 1921. Courtesy/Beryl Ford Collection

Timeline: The 1921 Tulsa race massacre

One of the worst race riots in the nation’s history occurred in Tulsa over a 14-hour period on May 31-June 1, 1921. Dozens of people were killed, hundreds were injured and thousands were left homeless. Most of the segregated black district, known as Greenwood, was destroyed. Although the riot itself lasted only a few hours, its repercussions are still felt today. View the timeline here.

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Jamaal Dyer, project manager with 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, stands along Greenwood in Tulsa. Tulsa World file

Tulsa Race Riot Centennial Commission announced

Tulsa may get an unusual amount of attention in 2021, the 100th anniversary of the city’s deadly race riot. It’s not exactly cause for celebration, but city leaders would like something constructive to show the rest of the world.

“We can’t rewrite the past, but we can build a brighter and more prosperous future,” state Sen. Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa, said at the formal announcement of a Tulsa Race Riot Centennial Commission. Read the full story here.

'Commemorate' but not 'celebrate': Race Riot Centennial Commission discusses plans for 2021 event

The Rev. Jamaal Dyer, the commission’s project manager, said he knows many people wonder why the anniversary of the May 31-June 1, 1921, riot should be observed at all. It remains one of the deadliest and most destructive episodes of racial violence in U.S. history, with dozens killed, thousands left homeless, and the Greenwood business district and most of the surrounding neighborhoods burned to the ground.

Dyer said it is important to “commemorate” the riot but not “celebrate” it.

“It’s not just African-American history. It’s American history, and we should all work towards making sure it doesn’t happen again,” he said. Read the full story here.


Monica Basu (left), state Sen. Kevin Matthews and Glenda Love Williams, all members of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, gather at the Greenwood Cultural Center on Friday. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

'One of our greatest gifts if we just tell the story': Fundraising campaign aims to expand, remodel Greenwood Cultural Center

Has Tulsa ever properly told the story of the 1921 race massacre?

State Sen. Kevin Matthews would argue no.

“It’s a shame to me that we have the Tulsa exhibit in the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., and in just two years, more than 5 million visitors have been there,” Matthews said. “And we are not telling the story effectively right here where it happened.”

If Matthews and his colleagues on the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission have anything to say about it, that’s about to change. Read the full story here.

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Tulsa historian Hannibal Johnson speaks to students at Booker T. Washington High School about Black Wall Street and the 1921 race massacre at Booker T. Washington High school in Tulsa on Wednesday. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World

'Truth, balance and fairness telling the story': Hannibal Johnson helps keep legacy of 1921 race massacre alive in Tulsa

In a classroom tucked away on the second floor of the spacious Booker T. Washington High School, a large group of students were intently exploring a piece of American history that has been — for the better part of a century — unfamiliar to most.

Anthony Cherry, the school’s African-American studies teacher, was discussing with his teenage students the events of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre as part of a class assignment.

“When I was their age, I had no idea this history existed,” Cherry said. “I went to school in Tulsa and I never once got a lesson about it.” Read the full story here.

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The meeting, originally slated for 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Greenwood Cultural Center, will be rescheduled at a later date MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World file

1921 centennial commission to replace 'riot' with 'massacre' in official title

The 1921 Race Riot Centennial Commission is changing its name to the 1921 Race Massacre Centennial Commission.

Sen. Kevin Matthews acknowledged that there has been some controversy about what the event should be called. Historically, it’s been known mostly as a riot, race war or even uprising, but recently historians and others have been more inclined to describe it as a massacre. Read the full story here.

'The name is to heal wounds of people here now': Commission chairman says no link between name change, restitution efforts

In explaining why the former 1921 Race Riot Centennial Commission is now the 1921 Race Massacre Centennial Commission, Chairman Kevin Matthews said Thursday that the word “riot” prevented property owners at that time from collecting on insurance claims.

Later, Matthews said the change does not signal a renewed effort to recover restitution for the death and destruction rained on Tulsa’s African-American community almost a century ago.

“The name is to heal the wounds of people here now,” Matthews said, “to turn that tragedy into triumph.” Read the full story here.

Mike Strain: We changed how we refer to the 'Tulsa Race Riot.' Here's why.

The reader was angry, and part of that frustration was over the choice of a single word. It wasn’t a surprise. Editors in our newsroom had debated this question just a few weeks earlier:

Should we call it the Tulsa Race Riot or the Tulsa Race Massacre?

That question, over one word, can lead to uncomfortable conversations in our city, the kind you see associated with changing the name of Lee Elementary. Read the full story here.

'Race riot is a euphemism': Teachers learn why Tulsa race massacre is more accurate term

As the centennial of the Tulsa Race Riot approaches, some are now calling it the Tulsa Race Massacre.

That new description for the two-day event in 1921, which left at least 37 Tulsans — most of whom were black — confirmed dead, and destroyed what was known as Black Wall Street, was on display at a four-day Tulsa Public Schools seminar for more than 50 teachers this week. The program is titled “Tulsa Race Massacre Institute” and is aimed at helping teachers learn about the city’s darkest days and how to teach it. That name reflects the growing opinion that the nearly 100-year-old event has been incorrectly named.

So why the change? Read the full story here.

Community leaders praise Tulsa race massacre survivor Olivia Hooker who 'represented all that was the best of humanity'

A memorial service for Olivia Hooker did not mourn her life, but instead celebrated the many contributions she made to society and challenged others to continue her work of seeking justice.

As a 6-year-old girl in 1921, she survived the Tulsa race massacre.

During the massacre on May 31, 1921, the Hooker family home was ransacked by a white mob while she and her siblings hid. Her father’s successful clothing store, Samuel D. Hooker and Son, was destroyed, along with the rest of Tulsa’s thriving black Greenwood District. Read the full story here.

Olivia Hooker, Tulsa race massacre survivor and 'one of the drum majors for justice,' dies at 103

Olivia Hooker, among the last known survivors of the Tulsa race massacre, died at her New York home.

Hooker, 103, was 6 years old at the time of the 1921 massacre in Tulsa’s Greenwood District. In one of her last interviews, Hooker told how she and her siblings were covered with a large tablecloth. Her mother instructed them to remain silent while a white mob ransacked their home.

“It was horrifying for a little girl who was only 6 years old trying to remember to keep quiet,” Hooker said. Read the full story here.

Listen here: Tulsa race riot survivor, 103, shares her story for new NPR podcast series

Dr. Olivia Hooker, as a 6-year-old girl, remembers being covered with a large tablecloth along with her siblings and instructed by her mother to remain silent while a white mob ransacked their home.

"It was horrifying for a little girl who was only 6 years old trying to remember to keep quiet," Hooker said.

That was one of the stories the now 103-year-old survivor of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot shared as part of an NPR and Radio Diaries podcast series called "Last Witness." Read the story and listen to the full segment here.

Tulsa race riot survivor remembers her mother asking militia 'Why are you shooting the victims?'

I traveled to the charming but unassuming neighborhood of Juniper Hill in White Plains to speak with a living legend too few people know about.

Her name is Olivia J. Hooker, and she is a sharp and glorious 103 years old. Not only was she the first African-American women to join the Coast Guard, not only was she a psychology professor and activist, but she is one of the last known survivors of the Tulsa race riot of 1921.

There was no news peg for my conversation with Dr. Hooker, no milestone, no major anniversary, but it is my philosophy that when life affords you the opportunity to sit at the elbow of a historical figure who has lived through things you’ve only read about, you take it. Read the full story here.


The city of Tulsa could examine Oaklawn Cemetery for possible mass graves from the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

Tulsa Race Riot Commission looked for mass graves 20 years ago; here's what happened

Twenty years ago, Bob Brooks and others began a two-year search for mass burial sites connected to Tulsa’s 1921 race massacre that for most of its history has been known as the Tulsa Race Riot.

They didn’t find anything, but they did locate a spot on the south side of Oaklawn Cemetery that Brooks thinks would be a good place to start if the investigation is reopened. Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum indicated an interest in reopening the search. Read the full story here.

Mass graves from the 1921 Tulsa race massacre? Mayor plans to re-examine the issue

Mayor G.T. Bynum made public his plan to re-examine whether there are any mass graves from the 1921 Tulsa race massacre.

But Bynum has been thinking about it for years. Six years. He and former City Councilor Jack Henderson met with former state archaeologist Bob Brooks in about 2012 to discuss his excavation work more than a decade earlier on behalf of the Tulsa Race Riot Commission.

“I always thought, if I am ever mayor and in a position to have executive authority, that I would do something about it,” Bynum said. “Because I think if there are mass graves there, the citizens of Tulsa deserve to know and the victims and their families deserve to know it.” Read the full story here.


In a diptych at left a burning Mount Zion Baptist Church during the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. At right pedestrians walk to a Tulsa Drillers game past the Mt. Zion Baptist Church for a 1921 race riot then and now story May 25, 2016. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

Then and now: Scenes from the Tulsa race riot

Multimedia Producer Mike Simons took historic photos taken during the riot and found the locations. He photographed what each one looks like now. View the gallery here.


A a mural commemorating Black Wall Street is painted on the side of the Inner Dipsersal Loop and can be seen in the parking lot of the Greenwood Cultural Center at 322 North Greenwood Ave. July 31, 2018. MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

Mural near Greenwood Cultural Center honors Black Wall Street

Against a black backdrop, the north-facing wall of Interstate 244 in the Greenwood District says “Black Wall St.” in large, white-framed block letters, each of which depicts a part of Tulsa’s black history.

The “K,” which first attracts the eye, includes imagery of the burning of buildings on Black Wall Street during the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, with flames and smoke trailing up to the concrete barrier of the highway. The first “L” contains an eagle in a nod to The Oklahoma Eagle, Tulsa’s black-owned newspaper, while the “T” — which drew arguably the highest interest for photo-ops on Friday — shows off the hornet mascot associated with Booker T. Washington High School.

“We know that black is beautiful, so we might as well have a mural that is also beautiful and that complements us,” State Rep. Regina Goodwin told the audience at the Greenwood Cultural Center Friday afternoon, where community leaders publicly unveiled the display, simply named “The Black Wall Street Mural,” 97 years after the Tulsa Race Riot took place. Read the full story here.

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People gather to take part in a march from Black Wall St. to Reconciliation park as part of the ceremony to honor John Hope Franklin on the 97th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre on May 31, 2018. JOSEPH RUSHMORE for Tulsa World

Photo gallery: Marchers head from Black Wall Street to Reconciliation Park on 97th anniversary of Tulsa Race Massacre

Multiple organizations dedicated John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park as a national Literary Landmark in 2018.

The dedication coincided with the anniversary of the Tulsa Race Riot — referred to by several at the ceremony as a massacre.

“Dr. (John Hope) Franklin reminded us that, in a historical sense, race matters, and it deserves more than subtextual treatment,” Tulsa author Hannibal Johnson said.

Leading up to the park’s dedication, dozens gathered at Greenwood Avenue and Archer Street to march through the revitalized area of northeast downtown Tulsa to the park. View the gallery here.

Hazel Smith Jones (copy)

Hazel Smith Jones was believed to be the last survivor of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre still living in Tulsa.

'She spoke the truth': After years of not talking about it, Tulsa race riot survivor Hazel Jones opened up, providing a public face for survivors

When Hazel Jones’ daughters were growing up, they never heard a word about the Tulsa Race Riot.

“For safety, my mother had been told not to talk about it by her father. And she didn’t for years,” said Yolanda Mitchell, one of Jones’ two girls. “We were nearly grown before we learned about it.”

That all changed for Jones, though, later in her life. When riot survivors began organizing to raise awareness and push for reparations, Jones started to speak up with them. Read the full story here.

Tulsa Race Riot June 2, 1921 Paper

The front page of the Tulsa World on June 2, 1921, a day after the race riot. Tulsa World archives

Tulsa Race Riot: 96 years ago, a volatile combination exploded outside the Tulsa County Courthouse

Accounts vary as to who or what actually ignited the riot that began outside the Tulsa County Courthouse 96 years ago. The one reported and apparently generally accepted at the time involved a law officer, a black man and a gun. Read the full story here.

Black History Month: Destruction and devastation brought by 1921 Tulsa Race Riot

On May 30, 1921, a black man named Dick Rowland entered an elevator operated by a young white woman and shortly afterward, a scream was heard and Rowland ran out. White Tulsans believed he had tried to assault the woman, although there was no conclusive evidence. What followed was the worst race riot in American history. Read the full story here.

Black History Month: Mabel B. Little survived Tulsa Race Riot and became matriarch

The granddaughter of former slaves, Mabel B. Little moved to Tulsa from Boley, eventually opening her own beauty shop business in 1917. Little and her husband were instrumental in helping to rebuild Mount Zion Baptist Church, which had been destroyed in the Tulsa Race Riot. Read the full story here.

Black History Month: B.C. Franklin, attorney who lost it all, helped victims regain strength after 1921 Race Riot

Franklin, a lawyer who disputed the Oklahoma Supreme Court, helped rebuild the Greenwood area after the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. Read the full story here.

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