One hundred years ago, one of the worst instances of racial violence in U.S. history erupted in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
On May 31 and June 1, 1921, a white mob attacked the city’s Greenwood district, dubbed the “Black Wall Street,” and inflicted two days of terror. It’s not known exactly how many people died, but historians estimate that hundreds were killed. Several dozen city blocks were destroyed. Thousands of residents were left homeless. Low-flying planes and machine guns were among the weapons used to devastate the prosperous Black community.
For decades, the white establishment tried to erase the story from school lesson plans, local newspapers and history itself. Then in 2019, the Emmy-winning HBO series “Watchmen” sparked a wave of interest in the little-known tragedy.
The show inspired by a comic book depicted chilling scenes of what happened there. Viewers were shocked to realize that the assault on Greenwood was a real event grounded in horrifying facts.
Of course, there is much more to the story of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre and efforts to uncover its truths. Timed to the centennial commemorations, five documentaries will provide detailed accounts of what happened and why it’s relevant now. They include:
Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre,” from director by Stanley Nelson (“Freedom Riders”) and executive producer and NBA star Russell Westbrook (8 p.m. Sunday, History Channel).
• “Tulsa: The Fire and the Forgotten,” produced and reported by Washington Post journalist DeNeen Brown (9 p.m. Monday, PBS)
• “Dreamland: The Burning of Black Wall Street,” made in collaboration with NBA star LeBron James’ Springhill Entertainment company. (9 p.m. Monday, CNN).
Tulsa 1921: An American Tragedy,” anchored by Gayle King (10 p.m. Monday, CBS).
• “The Legacy of Black Wall Street” (10 p.m. Tuesday and June 8, OWN; streaming on Discovery+).
And that’s not counting “Rise Again: Tulsa and the Red Summer,” which arrives June 18, the day before Juneteenth celebrations of the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans, on the National Geographic network. Or a new podcast called “Blindspot: Tulsa Burning.” Or the new book by a University of Michigan lecturer that earned good reviews in the New York Times.
It’s an outpouring of remembrance that is long overdue. Here are four of the storytellers who are bringing the Tulsa race massacre into the spotlight and revealing how relevant it remains today.
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The reporter: DeNeen Brown
When DeNeen Brown was visiting her father in Tulsa in 2018, “I said to my dad, ‘Let’s go have lunch on Black Wall Street.’”
While eating at a soul food cafe in the heart of Greenwood’s historic district, she saw a changing landscape that started her on a journey to the PBS documentary.
Says Brown of the moment, “I see a minor league baseball stadium. I see a luxury apartment complex high-rise. I see a yoga studio. I see a yogurt shop. These are all the signs of gentrification, which I actually had written about in D.C.”