U.S. history curricula for K-12 classrooms have smoothed the rough edges of hard facts for students. But the lack of a full accounting of past triumphs and disasters, especially regarding Black communities, doesn’t do justice to the full scope of history.
There have been accounts of textbooks that didn’t teach Civil War history beyond the dates of secession and reunification. And, over the years, textbooks have described the five-year war as a trade issue, leaving out that human trafficking of Black people from Africa made the cotton industry so profitable, for both the Union and the Confederacy.
But, over the last few years, thanks to decades of work by historians, educators, activists and documentarians, Black U.S. history is slowly making its way into the mainstream as the American people continue to demand a reckoning with the past. Nikole Hannah-Jones who created the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which takes a fresh investigative-journalism approach to the history of slavery in the United States, won a Pulitzer Prize for the multimedia report.
In 1980, Juneteenth, was first celebrated as a state holiday in Texas. Now, the anniversary of Juneteenth — June 19, 1865 — is celebrated in cities across the country. Summer 2020 marked the 150th anniversary of the liberation of the approximately 250,000 remaining enslaved U.S. citizens in Texas who were finally declared free from their oppressors in the re-United States of America, two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect.
And, over the last two years, the history of the Tulsa Race Massacre made it all the way to Hollywood, and to global financial news platforms.
Black Wall Street: The Tulsa Race Massacre
The 100th anniversary of the massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma, comes on May 30, 2021, and it will not pass unnoticed this year. The horrific event, once called a race riot in history books (if it was mentioned at all), decimated Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood, also known as Black Wall Street, because of the thriving oil-boom community’s prosperity. The devastation which tore through 35 city blocks, was touched off by an accusation of assault by a white teenageer in a downtown elevator. An estimated 300 people, mostly Black, died in the resulting violence.
For many, their first encounter with this tragic history was in the opening scenes of HBO’s Watchmen series which premiered Oct. 2019. After the show’s airing, there was a sudden increased demand for information about what happened, even as some took to social media didn’t believe it was real. Thankfully, resources were already available online, and we still can talk to first-hand witnesses of the massacre. The media jumped to post new articles on the subject, while other journalism outfits, like Vox, continued to follow the impact on Black businesses a century later.
Discover Your Own Triumphant Black History
Black history is composed of many unsung heros and triumphs undimmed by time. To celebrate and honor our past, is one reason why the Black History in Two Minutes video podcast was created by Robert F. Smith, with Harvard University Historian Henry Louis Gates Jr., and filmmakers Dyllan McGee and Deon Taylor as executive producers.
Those who want to learn more about their own history can pay a virtual visit to the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s (NMAAHC) Center for the Digitization and Curation of African American History. The Center, made possible by a grant from Smith, helps visitors to research and record family genealogy using digital technology.
As Lonnie Bunch, Founding Director of NMAAHC wrote, “there is no more powerful force than a people steeped in their history.”
For more information on Black Wall Street and the events of 1921, there are any number of mainstream media short videos online:
- Forbes: “Black Wall Street And Its Legacy In America”
- Bloomberg: “Black Wall Street’s Tragedy Didn’t End in 1921”
As well as longer documentaries:
- PBS: “Greenwood and the Tulsa Race Riots” (2019)
- CNN: “DREAMLAND: The Rise and Fall of Black Wall Street” (in production)
For an indepth look into the historical context of the Tulsa massacre, these two books top most recommendation lists:
- “Black Wall Street: From Riot to Renaissance in Tulsa’s Historic Greenwood District,” by Hannibal B. Johnson.
- “Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921,” by Scott Elsworth.