This month marks 100 years since the Tulsa Race Massacre - the deadliest racial massacre in American history. At the end of May, 1921 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, white residents - spurred on by an alleged incident involving a young Black man and a white woman and exacerbated by prevailing racism - began destroying and attacking the thriving African American community of Greenwood. Over the course of twenty-four hours, thousands of Black-owned businesses and homes were vandalized, more than 800 people were injured, and at least 36 people were killed (although historians now speculate that many more African Americans died during these attacks). Local officials and law enforcement failed to adequately stop or prosecute any of the criminal activity perpetrated by white Tulsans on the Black community, and offered little assistance in the rebuilding of the Greenwood district following the massacre. African American survivors, however, remained resilient, challenging legislation that hindered redevelopment of their community, seeking aid from the Red Cross and other outside organizations, and working together to rebuild destroyed homes and businesses.
Black-and-white photograph of North Greenwood Ave. in Tulsa, Oklahoma, circa 1920. The photograph was taken looking North down the avenue from East Archer Street. The Williams Building - an office and residential building owned by prominent Black citizens, John and Loula Williams - is visible on the left side of the photograph. Across the street the east side of N. Greenwood Ave. is visible. 2013.79.14c, Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of the Families of Anita Williams Christopher and David Owen Williams.
Historic collections from Tulsa, now held in the National Museum of African American History and Culture, "help fill the silences in our nation’s memory around events such as the Tulsa Race Massacre and its reverberations, preserving and sharing wider stories of Black communities in Oklahoma, and centering the testimonies of survivors and their descendants." Objects, photographs, letters, and more "give voice to the stories of violence and destruction...that can illuminate the fuller lives of people who suffered tragic loss, rebuilt their lives and community, and strove for resolution and repair. Through the lens of Tulsa, these collections illustrate the history and continuing impact of racial violence in the United States as well as the potential and power of reckoning, reconciliation, and repair. Confronting this past through its material provides us opportunities to understand our present and better shape our future."
Through transcription, we can bring these stories even further to the forefront of American history and memory. Learn more and join in by exploring the projects and information below, and check out a spotlight from Smithsonian Magazine on the power of transcription as we #RememberTulsa.
Collections Deep Dive with NMAAHC Curator and Historian Dr. Paul Gardullo
Join the Transcription Center team and National Museum of African American History and Culture Curator and Director of the Center for the Study on Global Slavery, Dr. Paul Gardullo, on Monday, May 24 from 1 pm - 2 pm EST for a free webinar discussing the history of the Tulsa Race Massacre and the importance of transcribing related collections held by the Museum.
Related Transcription Projects
W. D. Williams Collection
William Danforth Williams was a high school student in Tulsa during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. His parents, Loula and John Williams owned the Dreamland Theater and several other Greenwood businesses that were destroyed during the massacre. This collection chronicles W. D.'s life as a college student and football player at the Hampton Institute, the continued pain and grief his family endured as victims and survivors, and his long career as a teacher at Booker T. Washington High School.
Funeral Programs (and one 90th Birthday Celebration program) of Tulsa Survivors and Prominent Black Tulsans
Programs from the funerals of seventeen Tulsa Race Massacre survivors are included, as well as one program from a survivor's birthday celebration. The majority of these programs were collected by educator and activist, Eddie Faye Gates, who has been instrumental in recording the history of Black Tulsa and keeping the memory of the Tulsa Race Massacre and its legacy unburied. You can learn more about Gates and other materials in her collection, from the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
B. C. Franklin's Unpublished Manuscript, "The Tulsa Race Riot and Three of Its Victims"
Buck Colbert “B.C.” Franklin (1879–1960), the son of a formerly enslaved man, was one of the first Black attorneys in Oklahoma. In the aftermath of the 1921 Race Massacre, Franklin, whose home and office were destroyed, worked out of a tent representing clients and fighting against the city’s zoning laws designed to prevent Tulsa’s Black community from rebuilding their homes after they were destroyed. Franklin wrote this manuscript on August 22, 1931, ten years after the Tulsa Race Massacre. The manuscript recounts the events of the Massacre as witnessed by the author, including an account of Franklin witnessing three men being killed by the mob.
Click here to help transcribe Franklin's manuscript.
Booker T. Washington High School Ephemera
Tulsa’s Booker T. Washington High School was founded in 1913. Located in the Greenwood neighborhood, the school served Tulsa’s African American population until it was desegregated in 1973. The school escaped destruction during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and was used by the American Red Cross as the headquarters for relief activities in the aftermath of the Massacre. These objects represent the resiliency of the Black community in Tulsa in the decades following the Massacre.
Learn More about the History of Tulsa, Its Black Community, and the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre
Additional related collections and historical background on the Tulsa Race Massacre can be found on the National Museum of African American History and Culture's online collection page.
The Tulsa Historical Society and Museum features an online exhibition, including photographs, oral histories, and other historical documents and information on the Tulsa Race Massacre.
Find books about Tulsa and the 1921 Race Massacre in the Smithsonian Libraries collections. Listen to the Smithsonian's Sidedoor podcast on the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Explore Native American communities in 19th century Oklahoma, objects related to the Trail of Tears, or objects related to Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the National Museum of the American Indian and the National Anthropogolical Archives.