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Open your eyes and indulge in Black History.

That is what I did as soon as I arrived in Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

Born and raised in New York, NY schools do not teach about the history of Tulsa. In the United States, the history of institutional racism and the contributions of African Americans have been disguised. I had a profound knowledge of the Tulsa Race Massacre, but was unaware of how deep Tulsa history went. Therefore, when I came to Tulsa, I viewed many important facts of my history for the first time.

I felt lost as if a part of me was incomplete. Not knowing about my history, how could I enlighten others when I was never properly taught myself?

Therefore, I made it my job to be engulfed in the history, culture, and the beautiful Tulsa atmosphere. 

Tulsa Race Massacre
African Americans outside the entrance to a refugee camp in Tulsa, Oklahoma, after being displaced by the city’s race massacre of 1921. |
American National Red Cross Photograph Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

Survivors of Tulsa Race Massacre embody the spirit of Black power

When people think of Tulsa, the first thing that comes to mind is the Tulsa Race Massacre. People have a general overview of the Massacre, but are incognizant of all the facts and horror during those two days. I, myself, was one of these individuals.

Although the Massacre took away loved ones and families, the Greenwood community managed to find the good in the center of all the bad. When White people attempt to tear us down and belittle our spirits, we rise above and exemplify the power of being black.

As three survivors are still alive today, Viola Fletcher (108), Hughes “Uncle Red” Van Ellis (101), and Lessie Benningfield Randle (107), they are living proof of finding hope amid agony and suffering.

Fletcher, the oldest Tulsa Race Massacre survivor, stated, “People were falling and bleeding, crying and howling. I saw houses and burning cars. You could hear airplanes flying over the top. Somebody told us, “Hurry up, leave. They’re killing all the Black people.”

The Tulsa Race Massacre happened over 101 years ago, yet survivors and victims’ families have not received compensation for the damages they endured. 

mass grave tulsa massacre
Palpable frustration and anger filled the air as members of the community watched the City of Tulsa rush through a reburial of 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre victims. (Photo by Mike Creef / The Black Wall Street Times)

Still no justice 101 years later

Not only did the Tulsa Race Massacre affect them physically, but also mentally, as Fletcher told TODAY, “Every evening I kinda had a feeling it’s time to run… I hardly sleep at night and look like I lost my appetite. I only eat a few times, it doesn’t ever leave your mind. Not mine.”

Hughes, also underwent the same trauma, “I can’t sleep at night… I wake up about four times a night, some nights I’ll be up 30 or 40 minutes before I lay back down. There’s things in my mind.”

Hughes says, “I’m looking for better things in life, before I leave this life.” After everything they endured from the Ku Klux Klan, the state of Oklahoma should compensate every family of the massacre, the better things start with reparations.

As if murdering innocent black people wasn’t enough, the Ku Klux Klan also decided to take measures further, setting fires to homes, dropping bombs, and burning down businesses, tarnishing the hard work of many Black individuals.

tulsa race massacre
The Tulsa Race Massacre destroyed more than 1,200 homes and over 200 businesses.

Intergenerational trauma lingers

After coming to Oklahoma, I realized why Black people never received justice. The reason is that the federal government and law officials were working with the Ku Klux Klan. Therefore, when Black people sought change, Whites would pretend change was happening, but in actuality, it was an ongoing cycle of racial injustice and discrimination.

Hughes asserts, “We built the United States, black people did, and we don’t get no credit for that.” From all of our handwork to outstanding achievements, Black people are the foundation of America. Even after enduring an ongoing battle of systemic racism, Black people still managed to rise above the hardships and structural inequities faced daily. 

Consequently, Oklahoma attempted to abolish the history of the Tulsa Race Massacre, however, the narratives and intergenerational trauma of the survivors ensure that this event is unforgotten, reminding individuals of the embedded racism and the cruelties of law officials. Both May 31st and June 1st of 1921 will forever be memorialized, as Black people are still targeted by law enforcement and subjected to racial profiling even 101 years later, showcasing that nothing has changed.

Sydney Anderson

Hello, my name is Sydney Anderson and I am from the Bronx, New York. I am a junior at Delaware State University, majoring in mass communications with a concentration in convergence journalism. At DSU,...