TULSA, Okla. (KFOR) – Oklahoma students across the state will soon learn about one of the darkest moments in state history in the classroom.
Tulsa Race Massacre
The Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma was once called the “Black Wall Street,” a 35-block radius in the segregated community thriving with hundreds of businesses.
But, on June 1, 1921, the entire area was burned down as a result of a riot that began after a black man was accused of assaulting a white woman.
White residents attacked the community, killing hundreds of black residents and injuring 800 others.
Despite it being one of the worst instances of racial violence in the United States, the massacre was mostly swept under the rug.
“For decades, Oklahoma schools did not talk about it. In fact, newspapers didn’t even print any information about the Tulsa Race Riot. It was completely ignored. It was one of those horrible events that everyone wanted to just sweep under the rug and ignore,” U.S. Senator James Lankford said.
Search for victims
As the 100th-anniversary approaches, community leaders have pushed for justice for the dead.
Recently, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum proposed using $100,000 from the city’s budget to search for the mass graves of the victims.
Months ago, Bynum said crews would search Oaklawn Cemetery, Newblock Park, The Canes, and Rolling Oaks Memorial Gardens for possible mass graves.
“If we can identify a place where there are bodies, we have a responsibility to look into that,” Mayor Bynum told KJRH.
In October, scientists and forensic archaeologists used ground-penetrating radar to search for anything unusual in the cemeteries. Archaeological experts say a few anomalies were found that might indicate they are the sites of mass graves.
Now, city leaders in Tulsa say a tentative plan is in place to break ground in April in an effort to give families some closure. In the coming weeks, crews will remove the top layer of soil in order to determine if human remains exist there.
Teaching the history of the massacre
While the search for the victims continues, Oklahoma educators are working to make sure that what happened to them is not forgotten.
Even though the massacre happened in the Sooner State, it was ignored and not taught in most classrooms across Oklahoma.
“It wasn’t taught about, no one was ever held accountable,” said Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum.
Tulsa Public Schools Superintendent Debra Gist says that she grew up in Tulsa, but never learned about the massacre. In fact, she says she was teaching in Florida when she first heard about it.
She says she doesn’t want that to happen to any Oklahoma student again.
“This is our history, and we should know it,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister.
Over the past two years, Tulsa Public School teachers were the only educators who underwent extensive training to teach about the massacre.
Now, state leaders say that extensive curriculum will soon be rolled out to districts across Oklahoma.
Officials say for the first time, the framework of the curriculum will give each teacher extra support and resources in order to properly teach the cause, history, and aftermath of the Tulsa Race Massacre.
The new curriculum will be released in April, and will be taught in elementary school classrooms through college.