Debate over 1921 Race Riot Commission Curriculum brings important historical topic to forefront

Posted at 9:20 PM, Feb 26, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-27 06:42:20-05

TULSA - A debate over the new curriculum created to teach Oklahoma studentsabout the 1921 Race Riot has brought an important conversation to the forefront. 

John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park tells a story, one of a people and their accomplishments, their hope burned to the ground. 

“You can’t really understand the history of this state unless you look at it and look at the role race has played," said Booker T. Washington High School Teacher John Waldron. 

Last week Senator Kevin Matthews and the 1921 Race Riot Commission unveiled a curriculum to teach Oklahoma students about the city's historical shift.

“One of the first questions on the curriculum is, 'is it a riot or a massacre?'" said Senator Matthews.

A conversation that's been happening for years, that also found its way back to Greenwood this weekend. 

After sponsoring beautification efforts throughout Greenwood the commission signed a bridge with its original name; but after getting feedback from the community it decided to cross out 'riot' and replace it with 'massacre.' 

However, what neither side of this debate is ok with is whoever decided they wanted to erase the story all together. 

“"What happened was indeed a true massacre," said Tulsa resident Kristy Williams. 

Tulsans worry the true context can get lost in that one word. 

“That was not a riot. A riot is what you see when they lose hockey games," she said. 

Waldron said the word is significant. 

“I think the suggestion that it was a riot is that it originated in Greenwood.”

He said it implies somehow the people of Black Wall Street destroyed their own community. 

“The violence was mostly committed in Greenwood against Greenwood by people from other parts of town.”

Senator Matthews said he's open to working on the curriculum. 

“That’s the most important thing, that we’re educated about what happened so we’re not doomed to repeat it," he said. 

Educators like Waldron say getting it right is imperative. 

“The past isn’t dead, it’s not even the past if we’re not willing to have a conversation about it.”

He said what we should all want is to make sure reconciliation is reached so Tulsans can eventually say despite the hard lessons of the past, "we survived."

Senator Matthews said anyone can join the Race Riot Committee or give input. 

He invited constituents to a public forum this Thursday at 6 p.m. at the Rudisill Library Regional Library.

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