Thoughts of Tulsa

The television show Watchmen recently concluded its first season with the amazing Regina King as its protagonist. Viewers saw the Greenwood Massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma visually recreated with its depiction of the horrifying, violent destruction of the thriving African American neighborhood of Greenwood (“Black Wall Street”) in an act of terrorism by racist white residents in 1921. The death toll was never truly known and estimated to have been in the hundreds, something that has only recently been corroborated with the discovery of possible mass graves from the Massacre last week by the State of Oklahoma Archaeological Survey.

Many viewers expressed that it was their first time hearing about it. You can read about what happened in an illustrated account created by The Atlantic in conjunction with the show. For me, it is always the first that I think of, along with the massacre and destruction of Rosewood, Florida in 1923. Like Rosewood, for a long time there was silence about what was happened (in Rosewood’s case until the 1980s), so bringing this history to light is important.

image: HBO

Watchmen is a fictional television show based upon what is considered an iconic graphic novel by Alan Moore, but all season long, it has touched on the hold place and memory has on us, particularly when it is a place of pain. I’m still processing the themes I saw: family connections, the police, white supremacy, and resistance. Although it is a fictional depiction, the show is bringing awareness to what happened in Tulsa and has people thinking and talking about it.

vernon ameimage: Vernon Chapel AME Church

One of the things that I love about my job is interacting with the public. I had the opportunity to talk to Rev. Robert Turner of Vernon Chapel AME Church in Tulsa again on Friday. It was burned down during the 1921 Massacre, only its basement remaining, and immediately held church services. Rebuilt by survivors, their names are inscribed upon its stained glass windows, windows that Rev. Turner is concerned could be damaged or even lost. Due to urban renewal and policies that cut highways through communities of color, a highway now runs just behind the church, rattling its historic windows. The church is in need of restoration and stabilizing of those windows.

While at a symposium about Shockoe Bottom in Richmond, Virginia–another place of African American pain, remembrance and resistance, I heard Dr. Shawn Utsey, psychologist and professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, speak about historical trauma and challenging forgiveness and reconciliation. His interest is in how trauma manifests in victims of racial violence. Dr. Utsey said that he had a chance to talk to survivors of the Greenwood Massacre, he asked them what they would like other to know:

“That we rebuilt.”




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