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Tulsa Race Massacre: Black Lives in Tulsa

Posted at 8:02 AM, Jun 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-01 09:18:28-04

TULSA, Okla. — "This history is uncomfortable."

Death, destruction, and a century's worth of generational trauma.

"Has anything changed?" asks Vanessa Hall-Harper, Tulsa City Councilor. "Well, not much in my opinion."

The legacy of the Tulsa Race Massacre lives on because of the time that's passed.

"The number of businesses that were kept off the number of direct descendants that did not get to receive the passing on of their family's business, that would lead to generational wealth that was capped off and destroyed," says Phil Armstrong, project director for the Centennial Commission.

In just the last year, community members painted the words 'Black Lives Matter' on Greenwood Avenue protesting the killings of Black Americans at the hands of police officers.

"The reality that African American kids growing up in this city, at least in the predominantly African American part, are expected to live 11 years less than kids elsewhere," says Tulsa Mayor GT Bynum.

The City of Tulsa, compelled to remove that mural, because the artwork lacked a permit.

READ MORE:City of Tulsa removes Black Lives Matter mural in Greenwood District

Hall-Harper took a different view.

"Tulsa being the only major city in this country to remove its 'Black Lives Matter' mural, but again, I think that shows the true nature, the true spirit of Tulsa when it comes to the Black community," says Hall-Harper.

Laws didn't change in Tulsa but are changing in Oklahoma.

At the end of April, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed into law a bill to protect drivers 'fleeing from protests' in the event they injure or kill someone.

READ MORE: Oklahoma governor signs bill to crack down on protesters

Something hotly debated as it made its way through State Legislature.

"We just magnify the problems with this type of legislation," says Senator Kevin Matthews.

Another bill, fresh with the Governor's signature, is House Bill 1775.

It's a law, opponents say, will make it harder to teach the Tulsa Race Massacre, but the bill's author, Representative Kevin West, says will protect students.

READ MORE: Gov. Stitt signs bill limiting race, gender curriculums in Oklahoma schools

"A lot of curriculum is specifically directed to make certain people feel discomfort or guilt or anguish, and that's what we're trying to eliminate."

Tulsa's elected officials are divided on the issue.

"I know there are some folks who think that this prevents the teaching of history," says Mayor Bynum. "I don't agree with that. When you read the bill, it's very clear that's about the interjection of opinion."

"I think [HB] 1775 is the greatest effort I've seen in a long time to ensure that division remains part of Tulsa forever," says Representative Monroe Nichols. "As opposed to us making big steps to move past it."

As leaders struggle over how to tell future generations what happened in Tulsa, residents of the Greenwood District have rebuilt again and again through the years.

Monday, May 31, 2021 marks the Centennial of the deadly massacre.

"There's no question that the massacre still a part of us," says Dr. Scott Ellsworth, author and historian.

Tulsa is looking for ways to heal and learn the lessons of history.

"For people who say, oh, that can never happen again. Well, I mean, I never would have thought there would be an attack on the Capitol," says Rep. Nichols. "I think the lesson that we always have to come back to, is really why it's so important for us to be honest and true in our conversations about very difficult, very divisive issues in our country."

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