As protesters fill the streets in response to the seemingly endless stream of murders of Black people at the hands of law enforcement and the ongoing lack of justice for the victims, all eyes are on Tulsa as a city with its own complicated history of racial violence and mob rule juxtaposed next to images of Black wealth and prosperity. There is even more regarding black Tulsans and racial violence that have raised people’s awareness of the city: the upcoming centennial of the historic Tulsa Race Massacre on May 31, 2021; the City’s renewed search for mass graves from the massacre restarted in 2019; the murder of a unarmed Black male –Terence Crutcher– by Tulsa police in 2016; the targeted shooting of Greenwood residents by two White gunmen in 2012; and the current president’s plans to launch a right wing rally in Tulsa on the Juneteenth holiday weekend.
We believe that it is important to take a step back and try to understand the roots and reverberations of racism and racial violence that have plagued this city for over 100 years. To do so means asking a few questions. How did Tulsa become the site of what many consider the most heinous case of racial violence in America? Was the historic black community of Greenwood really a mecca of Black wealth and was it completely destroyed by the Massacre? Is there a connection between past and present day incidents of racial violence in Tulsa? How did racial dynamics in the city differ from the All-Black Towns that emerged on the frontier landscape in what was Indian Territory? What did it mean to be Black in Oklahoma after Emancipation and what does it mean now? Can archaeology be used as a tool to recover lost stories, reclaim land, take back the narrative, or actually change a racist social climate?
We created #TulsaSyllabus so that activists, members of the press, the general public, students and scholars can become better informed not only about what happened in Greenwood in 1921 but also about the many contexts that shaped the community before and after this horrific event. The varied sources on the #TulsaSyllabus, which is organized thematically, are not exhaustive. Rather, it is a guide and entré for understanding the background to the Tulsa Race Massacre and the larger story of the Greenwood District. The syllabus also offers commentary on both past and present-day race relations in Tulsa and the larger state of Oklahoma from statehood in 1907 to now. Comprised of diverse sources, the #TulsaSyllabus provide multiple vantage points that come from works in non-fiction and scholarly readings; news media, past and present; multi-media sources; governmental and nongovernmental reports; and artistic works addressing race in Tulsa and black Oklahoma more broadly as well as racial formation, racial terror and placemaking for black people in the United States. As anthropologists, we bring in special attention to the archaeology and cultural anthropology of black Oklahoma. We also intentionally feature the work of local Tulsa authors and creative artists, highlighting wherever possible the voices and views of Black men and women.
This resource is intended to help students, researchers, activists, educators, the press and general public gain a better understanding of how race and racism is manifest in Tulsa, why the city of Tulsa continues to be divided along racial lines in terms of physical space, socio-political boundaries, economic prosperity, and lingering historical trauma. Ultimately, the list helps us understand race in America, through the focus on one city in one state.
Alicia Odewale and Karla Slocum
June 19, 2020