Courtesy of Watchmen
Published 10/21/2019 | Reading Time 2 min 29 sec
By Nehemiah D. Frank, founder and executive editor
The opening scene of HBO’s newest miniseries, Watchmen, accurately portrays the Greenwood race massacre; it’s the first time America can vividly perceive what exactly transpired from May 31 to June 1, 1921, in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The high-budget and quality of the first episode may have even triggered some Tulsa residents because while the scene of raining squids is completely fictional, the violence that unfolded some 98-years-ago of the White racist mob pillaging, massacring, and dropping bombs on the city’s Greenwood District is factual.
Thirty-six square blocks of Tulsa’s famed Black Wall Street neighborhood was completely destroyed. Today, some 300 plus murdered victims lie in mass graves throughout the city.
If you haven’t seen the first episode, you may want to watch it before you continue reading this personal analysis.
The first spoken line of this masterpiece of an episode comes from a young Black boy who’s attending a black-owned movie theater, in the Greenwood District, where his mother is the pianist.
The young boy watches the black and white, silent film while living in an alternate reality, where a Black law enforcement officer in the movie he’s watching becomes the Black savior of an all-White church congregation.
At the end of the film, the boy declares, “If we want justice today, trust in the law,” a far cry from the actual reality of the day and of today because in 1921 America and in 2019 America a Black person would never utter that line.
The boy’s mother, seemingly aware of the social chaos and racial tension boiling from outside of the theater, emotionally plays the piano while her son watches on.
Then suddenly, her husband abruptly enters the empty theater.
The scene then takes the characters to the outside street, which is presumably Greenwood Ave, where all hell is breaking loose. Klansmen can be seen gunning down Black business owners and pedestrians, while simultaneously setting Black businesses ablaze.
A middle-aged Black woman is struck in the back by a flying bullet. She stumbles to the ground and dies; A Black store owner runs outside his business and is shot in the chest.
Black bodies litter the street.
A scene of the young boy holding a motionless child, who’s presumed dead, parallels an accurate depiction of the nameless Black child standing with a motionless infant in hand.
The family escapes to a garage where they meet an acquaintance. The father tells his son not to suck his thumb, symbolizing the father’s desire for his son to grow up quickly and to remain keenly aware of the growing danger that lurks beyond the garage doors. He places his son into the crate, gives him one last look, and closes the top. There isn’t enough room on the vehicle for the boy’s mother and father to ride along.
The garage doors swing open, and the vehicle begins driving. Pressing his face against the box’s floorboards, bullets pierce holes into the crate. Innocently he sits up, peeps through one of the bullet holes, and sees a plane flying low over the building where his parents are hiding. Then suddenly that building explodes.
The boy awakes hours later to a flipped-over vehicle in the middle of the night just outside of town. The adults he road along with are dead. The only survivors of the crash are himself and a little baby wrapped in what appears to be an American flag.
It is a powerful scene full of symbolism that brought me to tears.
As the founder and executive editor of the Black Wall Street Times and as a descendant of the massacre, I’d like to extend praises to director Nicole Kassell, writer Damon Lindelof, and HBO for this incredible portrayal and to all appearances accurate depiction of the chaos that ensued during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. On behalf of our staff — we thank you.
Nehemiah D. Frank is the founder and executive editor of The Black Wall Street Times, an educator, TEDx alum, blogger for EdPost, Tulsa World community advisory board member, and Tulsa Press Club board member.