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Reflections on the Centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre

We remember:

Little Rose Beauty Salon;
Vernon A.M.E. Church;
R.T. Bridgewater, Physician;
Earl Real Estate Co.;
C.L. Netherland, Barber;
W.J. Tate, Electrician;
Hulit Dillard, Shoe Shiner;
Bell and Little Cafe;
Hotel Gurley;
The East End Cabaret;
Hardy & Hardy Restaurant;
J.E. Hardy, Public Notary;
Oquawka Cigar Store;
S.G. Smith Insurance;
A.S. Newkirk, Photographer;
Dixie Theatre;
East End Doughnut Shop;
Madam Warner’s Dress-Making Parlor;
H.O. Abbott, Printer;
Tulsa Waffle House; 
Welcome Grocery;
E.I. Saddle, Lawyer;
Little Pullman Cafe;
Liberty Plumbing Shop;
The Tulsa Star;
Dreamland Theatre;
Red Wing Drug Store;
Williams Confectionery; 
Mount Zion Baptist Church; and
more than 70 Black-owned businesses, 1,400 Black-owned homes, and 10,000 Black residents.

We remember a thriving community of Black doctors, teachers, dentists, lawyers, pastors, restaurateurs, retailers, real estate agents, dressmakers, bankers, printers, photographers, journalists, barbers, hoteliers, grocers, husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, friends, neighbors, and civic and community leaders. In that remembrance, we see Black excellence, entrepreneurship, and economic prosperity building a strong foundation for generational wealth, health, and community.

Unspeakably, we also remember a thriving “city within a city” burned to the ground, its residents driven from their homes, beaten, imprisoned, and murdered; their homes and businesses looted and set ablaze.

We remember the dream and promise of that thriving Black community ripped away cruelly, violently, and senselessly in an act of state-sanctioned terrorism.

We remember nearly 100 years of white silence, denial, and refusal to name the event for what it was: a massacre, whose death count is still unknown, that destroyed 40 square blocks of Black-owned homes, businesses, and social centers and robbed two generations of Black Tulsans of the foundation of their family legacy and the opportunity to grow generational wealth.

During this centennial year of the Tulsa Race Massacre and the destruction of Greenwood, we mourn these painful losses, and we commemorate the lives that were lost. We also celebrate the thriving community that was built and the resilience that was shown in the face of horrific acts of violence--physical and economic. 

We must emerge from this reflective weekend with renewed resolve to be relentless in seeking truth, justice, restoration, and reconciliation for Black Tulsans. 

Writer Lois McMaster Bujold said: “The dead cannot cry out for justice. It is a duty of the living to do so for them.”

Across the next 100 years - and beginning without delay - let us hold that duty sacred and teach our children the hard and painful truths that too many of their parents and grandparents were willfully and shamefully denied. Let this hard history be a catalyst for our children to drive change in the world when they leave our care, and for their sake, let us be the advocates and leaders our community needs and deserves.

Author and historian Hannibal Johnson says: “We don’t get to be the best community we can be unless we address the wounds of the past.” 

These wounds - as meaningful today as a century ago - are our shared responsibility to tend and heal. White leaders and allies must elevate and demand space for Black voices, listen humbly, and recognize that centuries of racial trauma and oppression are not easily or quickly overcome. We must leverage the privilege that white skin affords to dismantle the very systems that sustain it. 

Johnson asks a simple, but powerful, question of Tulsans as we work toward reconciliation in this centennial year: “What are you doing, what is your role, and what’s your responsibility?” 

How will we choose to respond?