University of Oklahoma to hold 3-day symposium on 100-year anniversary of Tulsa Race Massacre

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NORMAN, Okla. (KFOR) – The University of Oklahoma will reflect upon one of the deadliest and most horrific acts of anti-black violence in the nation’s history during a three-day symposium on the Tulsa Race Massacre, 100 years after the massacre occurred.

The symposium, titled ‘Reflecting on the Past, Facing the Future’, will be held April 8-10 and feature both in-person and virtual events open to the public, which include keynote presentations, plenary talks and a premiere performance by the OU School of Dance, according to a University of Oklahoma news release.

Tulsa Race Massacre
Tulsa Race Massacre, Courtesy: Oklahoma Historical Society

The events will be livestreamed to reach a larger audience amid COVID-19 capacity limitations and safety protocols.

“This year marks the 100-year anniversary of one of the most horrific tragedies in our nation’s history, which regrettably took place in our own state,” said OU President Joseph Harroz Jr. “It is our hope that this symposium inspires reflection and meaningful dialogue – critical steps that will help foster an inclusive culture on our campus and in our communities.”

The Tulsa Race Massacre occurred over an 18 hour period from May 31 to June 1, 1921, as a white mob attacked Black community members and set fire to homes and businesses in the predominately Black Greenwood neighborhood in Tulsa.

In this 1921 image provided by the Library of Congress, smoke billows over Tulsa, Okla. For decades, when it was discussed at all, the killing of hundreds of people in a prosperous black business district in 1921 was referred to as the Tulsa race riot. Under new standards developed by teachers for approaching the topic, students are encouraged to consider the differences between labeling it a “massacre” instead of a “riot,” as it is still commemorated in state laws. (Alvin C. Krupnick Co./Library of Congress via AP)

The casualties were enormous.

“In the wake of the violence, 35 city blocks lay in charred ruins, more than 800 people were treated for injuries and contemporary reports of deaths began at 36. Historians now believe as many as 300 people may have died,” the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum website states.

The symposium will cap off the university’s yearlong initiative to educate and provide the community an opportunity to reflect on the Tulsa Race Massacre’s upcoming centennial, according to the news release.

The Office of the President, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Coordinating Committee are hosting the symposium.

Tulsa Race Massacre
Tulsa Race Massacre. Courtesy: Oklahoma Historical Society

The news release included the following symposium event schedule:

Thursday, April 8

The first day of the symposium will begin at noon on Thursday, April 8, with an opening ceremony, followed by three panel discussions featuring a number of authors, scholars, and OU students and faculty. Thursday’s events will be held both in-person at the Thurman J. White Forum Building on the OU Norman campus with capacity limitations in place, and streamed online on OU’s YouTube page.

Friday, April 9

All sessions slated for Friday, April 9, will be held virtually on Zoom. Two-term U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy K. Smith will present the symposium’s keynote talk, and a panel discussion will cover the theme of memorialization and the Tulsa mass graves investigation. Two plenary talks will be delivered by Scott Ellsworth and Hannibal B. Johnson, both of whom have written extensively on the Tulsa Race Massacre and Tulsa’s Greenwood District. Each session will include an audience Q&A.

Also on Friday, members of the OU School of Dance will perform I Dream of Greenwood – a dance choreographed by Haitian-American artist, producer, writer and lecturer Marie Casimir and OU School of Dance graduate student J’aime Griffith. The dance, inspired by the personal accounts of children who survived the Tulsa Race Massacre, will move through the dreamscapes of those who inherited both the rich legacy of a thriving community and the trauma of one of the worst single acts of racial violence in American history.

Saturday, April 10

Smith will lead off Saturday’s events with a virtual craft talk for writers. The symposium will conclude in Tulsa’s Greenwood District at Fulton Street Books, with authors and artists sharing readings from World Literature Today’sspring 2021 issue, “Redreaming Dreamland,” which reflects on 1921 and African American multicultural vitality in the 21st century. The issue features internationally renowned writers, as well as authors from Oklahoma.

Go to ou.edu/tulsa1921/centennial-symposium for a detailed listing of all symposium events and speakers.

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