Oklahoma leaders have announced the story of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre will be added to the curriculum of all schools in the state.
Considered one of the most horrible and racially motivated attacks on African Americans that occurred in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the riot was spurred after a 19-year old black shoeshiner by the name Dick Rowland was accused of raping a 17-year old white female elevator operator called Sarah Page.
A white mob about 10,000 of them eventually attacked and destroyed the properties of the black inhabitants living in Greenwood, which was at that time the most affluent African American community in the United States.
It was even known as the “Black Wall Street” as it was home to highly successful and profitable black-owned businesses.
The mob charred businesses, homes, and churches and after the smoke cleared, more than 35 blocks were destroyed. It is believed that at least 100-300 people, mostly blacks, were killed while a thousand more were left homeless and others left unaccountable in the two days of fighting.
This part of history has, however, been blotted out of the curriculum for decades in classrooms across the state.
State Sen. Kevin Matthews said at a news conference Wednesday that the killings remained “Tulsa’s dirty secret”.
In the meantime, schools have begun teaching about the massacre and the state’s education department will be releasing a curriculum framework this April to encourage those efforts, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said at the same news conference, CNN reports.
Hofmeister said the framework will give teachers “extra support and resources” during lessons on the massacre.
“What we want to ensure is that … we are teaching in a grade-appropriate level those facts that have not been taught in a way they should have been taught in Oklahoma,” she said. “This is … our history and we should know it.”
Beginning this fall, students right from elementary school to high school will learn about the massacre, officials said.
Despite being a superintendent of Tulsa Public Schools, Deborah A. Gist who run a pilot on the teaching materials that is about to go statewide said it was not until she began teaching students about the massacre that she learned of the story.
“What I’m deeply committed to in Tulsa Public Schools is making sure that never happens again,” she said.
The massacre at Tulsa happened nearly a century ago and very soon the entire country will “pause … and will look at Tulsa and will ask the question ‘what has changed in race relations in Tulsa in 100 years,’” Sen. James Lankford said at the newsconference. “It’s a reasonable question,” he added.
The only way to progress as a community is to teach about what happened years ago.
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said that going forward, the question is “how we can use this horrible tragedy to instruct and inform and make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.”
“This isn’t something that you just read about in history books and think that’s something that happened 100 years ago, it can never happen again,” he said, adding “That’s exactly what people in 1921 in Tulsa probably thought too.”
“This is an incredibly important thing for us to have moving forward in our city.”
He added that he hopes to see more “black ownership of business in Greenwood and in Tulsa” in the future.