white and Black casualties. Not many people in the UK have heard of the Tulsa Race Massacre – is it better known in America? Only fairly recently. I’ve been researching and writing about the massacre off and on for 45 years, and I still regularly hear from people who say, “Why haven’t I ever heard of this before?” The Watchmen series introduced the massacre to millions of television viewers worldwide. Why isn’t it better known? Initially, the massacre was front page news across the United States. Indeed, the massacre was even mentioned in London newspapers. But the white politicians and businessmen who ran Tulsa soon realised that the massacre was a big public relations problem, and so they planned to bury it. And that is exactly what they did. Official records were stolen, incriminating articles were cut out of newspapers, photographs were seized. For 50 years, the city’s white newspapers went out of their way to not mention the riot, while researchers who attempted to look into, talk about, or write about the massacre were threatened – some even with their lives. But the massacre wasn’t discussed, at least in public, in the African American community either. Some survivors suffered from PTSD as late as the 1990s. And many survivors didn’t want to burden their children and grandchildren with the painful stories of what they had endured. So they just didn’t talk about it. So for 50 years the story of the massacre was actively suppressed. During the past 50 years, we’ve finally been getting the story out again. It’s been a long haul. But we’re getting there. What happened after the riot and what is its legacy? Tulsa was then touted as being the Oil Capital of the World, and Greenwood rebuilt itself. In less than two years, there were again two and three-storey brick buildings along Greenwood Avenue. Many old-timers told me that the Greenwood of the 1930s and 1940s was even bigger than the one that had existed before the massacre. And pride among the African American community skyrocketed. They had fought to defend their district, and after it had been destroyed, they rebuilt it again. But there were also undeniable losses. It’s been recently estimated that had the massacre not occurred, there would be an additional $851M in generational wealth in Greenwood today. That represents decades of university fees, childcare payment, books for children, down payments on houses, seed money to create new businesses. Then, Greenwood was attacked once again, beginning in the 1960s, by the forces of urban renewal. An eight-lane interstate highway was built right through the Greenwood commercial district, while racist practices prevented African Americans from securing home and business loans. Today, while the heart of Greenwood Avenue is experiencing a renaissance, including the construction of a brand new, stateof-the-art museum, Tulsa’s African American citizens are burdened with significantly higher rates of poverty than their white neighbours on the other side of town. What has recent research uncovered? Nearly 25 years ago, I launched a search for the unmarked graves of massacre victims, most of them African American, who were hastily buried by the white authorities while their family members were still being held under armed guard in detention camps. Well, after getting a lot of help, and after interviewing some 300 survivors and eyewitnesses, this past October we discovered a mass grave in Oaklawn Cemetery in Tulsa of what we believe contains the remains of at least a dozen African American massacre victims. On June 1, our team of archaeologists and forensic scientists will begin exhuming the remains. The scientists will study the bones for clues as to the age, gender and ethnicity of the victims, as well as to seek to determine the causes of death. The surrounding soil will be carefully sifted for bullet fragments and other artefacts, while DNA will likely be extracted in order to attempt to identify some of the victims by name. The remains will then be buried with honour, and an appropriate memorial will be constructed. Ninety-nine years after the riot, also in May, the murder of George Floyd reignited debate around race and racism in America. Can better understanding the Tulsa Race Massacre lead to a better understanding of the issue today? Yes, absolutely. The famous African American historian Dr John Hope Franklin – who grew up in Tulsa and whose father was a survivor of the massacre – once remarked that in the aftermath of the tragedy, “Tulsa lost its sense of honesty.” Well, even though there’s been real progress made in terms of Americans gaining a fuller sense of our past, we still have a long way to go. I know that the same is happening in the UK. It isn’t easy to do, especially after people have been taught one version of history all their lives to learn that, in fact, our past was significantly different. But it’s important that, as best as we can, we tell it like it was, the good and the bad and the in-between, without pulling any punches. A century on, is there a way to pay a fitting tribute to the victims? There are many ways to do so. The first is to learn about, and tell, their stories. The second will be to properly honour the dead, which is what we are doing now. And the third way, in my opinion, is to pay some form of restitution to the remaining survivors and their descendants. There is no doubt whatsoever that the citizens of Greenwood in 1921 were let down by their city, their state, and their country. Even the insurance companies refused to honour their claims. We need to do something to right this wrong. Courtesy of INSP.ngo / The Big Issue UK bigissue.com @BigIssue Page 12

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