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In a heated exchange, Oklahoma Superintendent of Public Instruction Ryan Walters suggested students shouldn’t be taught that race played a role in the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. The comment came during the question and answer portion of a Republican Party-sponsored meeting in Norman on Thursday.

An audience member asked Walters how teaching about the Massacre doesn’t fall under his “definition of CRT”.

Walters, Oklahoma’s state superintendent, called it “critical race theory” to teach that the Massacre happened “because of their skin color”.

Throughout his time in office, Ryan Walters has repeatedly said anyone teaching what he considers “CRT” would risk having their teaching license revoked.

“That is critical race theory,” Walters argued. “You’re saying race defines a person – I reject that.”

“You be judgmental of the action, of the content of the character of the individual – absolutely,” Walters continued. “But let’s not tie it to the skin color and say that the skin color determined it.”

The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre occurred when white Klan members and vigilantes stormed the Black community of Greenwood. Over the course of two days, the mob shot, looted and burned nearly 40 blocks of homes and businesses. In all, more than 300 were killed, 10,000 were left without shelter and millions of dollars in generational wealth was destroyed.

During the attack, witnesses recalled seeing planes flying over Greenwood, dropping explosive turpentine bombs to ignite more buildings. The Massacre marks the first time in American history that bombs were dropped on US soil.

As detailed in Victor Lukerson’s new book Built from the Fire, white anger and resentment fueled the attack. The same pattern also played out in massacres across the nation, with white mobs violently attacking prominent, thriving Black communities.

Every credible historical account of the Tulsa Race Massacre acknowledges white hatred toward the Black community as the cause.

Leaders across the country quick to condemn Walter’s comments on the Tulsa Race Massacre

Reaction to Walters’ comments swiftly spread online after first being reported by The Frontier’s Brianna Bailey. By Friday morning, Bailey’s initial Tweet had more than 1.6 million views.

“I’m sure in his opinion, the Civil War and the Holocaust had nothing to do with race either,” state representative Monroe Nichols tweeted. “[Ryan Walters] is a notorious sympathizer of the darkest moments of history and all those who perpetuated them.”

Amy Spitalnick, the CEO of the national Jewish Council of Public Affairs based in New York, also publicly condemned Walters’ comments.

“This isn’t arbitrary or accidental,” Spitalnick wrote. “It’s part of a deliberate effort to whitewash history and normalize extremism and hate.”

Deborah Gist, the superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools, reacted in almost disbelief to Walters’ words.

“Despite repeated evidence to the contrary, I have to hold out hope that this could not possibly have happened,” Gist said, referencing Ryan Walters’ quote.

“No matter what anyone says or does, Tulsa will continue teaching a full, honest and complete history of our city…”

Bailey provided both audio recordings and transcripts of the exchange. Sandra Valentine, an attendee at the meeting, also posted a video of Walters’ comments to social media.

After his initial statement, Walters was asked twice to clarify.

“How does the Tulsa Race Massacre not fall under your definition of CRT?” the attendee pressed.

“I answered it,” Walters said, smiling. “That’s my answer.”

Nate Morris moved to the Tulsa area in 2012 and has committed himself to helping build a more equitable and just future for everyone who calls the city home. As a teacher, advocate, community organizer...

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