Editor’s Note: One hundred years ago today, after an attempted lynching of a black teenager accused of raping a white woman was blocked, an enraged white mob numbering in the thousands swarmed the affluent neighborhood. and predominantly African-American from Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In two days, more than 300 women, children and men were murdered by mobs. In addition, around 800 people were injured and thousands of businesses, homes and churches were razed to the ground by bombs dropped from planes and a rampaging horde comprising law enforcement and KKK members.
Largely absent from the history books and suppressed in popular culture for decades, the 1921 racial massacre of Tulsa in recent years has become a milestone for the brutal realities of white supremacy in America. Today, veteran actor Steven G. Norfleet, who appeared in the portrayal of Assault in HBO’s Emmy winWatchmen, examines the hidden history and legacy of Tulsa 1921 in a guest column for Deadline.
In the famous HBO series Watchmen, I am describing a World War I veteran trying to protect his family during the Tulsa Race Massacre in 1921.
The creative team of Watchmen Carefully constructed detail after detail to portray a true meaning of this horrific event, showing gunshots fired at unarmed black men and women and businesses set on fire with people still there. From prayer before filming such heartbreaking material to racing through chaos while holding my son, played by Danny Boyd Jr., there was a sense of heaviness on set that day.
The details of the set-up quickly reminded me that, as we re-enact this event for a limited series, what you see in the opening scenes of WatchmenThe first episode of absolutely happened 100 years ago. The role opened my eyes to how little I knew about my own history.
It forced me to seek out and recognize the truth that was not voluntarily told to us.
Even though I remember how little black history was taught in my early school years, I am grateful to the people who now choose to tell it through entertainment. We’re in a time where education and television are really linked, and I think that’s one of the best ways to learn. Without the knowledge of our history, we are deprived of the basis of how to approach our future.
In all transparency, writing this column as we approach the centennial of the horrors of May 31 and June 1, 1921 in Oklahoma leaves me with a bittersweet feeling.
The sweetness comes from the gratitude that what began as another acting job has helped increase knowledge of our true American history for millions of people around the world. Bitterness is reminded that this is our American history. That is black history and sadly history keeps repeating itself. We should not have to commemorate the deaths of over 300 black people who were killed just because they were black and had been successful. We should visit a still standing Black Wall Street where our black ancestors created opportunities for themselves and where generations to come have allowed the Greenwood neighborhood to thrive.
Our story is Viola Fletcher, a living survivor of the Tulsa Race Massacre who recently testified before a House subcommittee praying for justice one day. Our story is the African American men who fought in the world warI for their country; a country filled with racism and hatred towards blacks.
Our history holds the power to help our brothers and sisters today to fight for change, to fight for justice, to fight for what is and should be right. People like Stacey Abrams who swallowed her governor’s defeat in 2018 and devoted her soul to fighting for voter rights in Georgia and beyond. Ben Crump who fought tirelessly for victims of racial and police brutality such as Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. These are the examples of Black Wall Street.
I find a certain fulfillment in seeing this country remember the lives lost in the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. I pray that the victims and the families of the victims have found some peace in knowing that our country is finally making peace. light on what has only been briefly discussed. My wish is for this light to become brighter and brighter. Brighter in the many cities where similar events have occurred. Then even brighter in the eyes of people who need to see such injustice. We should never shy away from what is true and what is undeniably true is history.
I want to thank every black person who led the way for me. Black Wall Street doctors and lawyers are kings and queens to me.
I could only imagine how beautiful the community of Greenwood looked with so many shades of black and brown. Recognizing the horrible moment is essential, but remembering what the community was and represented before it was destroyed is just as important, if not more. Black history has many scars, but it certainly comes with a lot of joy. This once rich community can show what is capable of being reborn. We can come together and create environments of thriving black people who want nothing more than to support each other.
Along with opportunities to learn more about our history, we must also learn from it. We must challenge ourselves to ensure that such exasperating moments are never repeated. Individually, we should check whether we are contributing to the solutions of America’s problems; and realizing that there are many ways you can play your part. Saving police brutality, voting, supporting your local black businesses are just a few ways to keep Black Wall Street’s legacy afloat. Having these difficult conversations with people who may not think like you is essential in helping to change the perspective of someone who
fair may not know better. What may seem like a small step could help set the stage for real change.
I am proud to write this article in the hope that it will inspire you to research more, listen more, pay more attention to what has been going on for over 100 years. Expressing my gratitude to the schools in Oklahoma who are fighting to teach their students about the Tulsa Massacre can make you make a difference.
Mention of Carlos Moreno’s new book Greenwood’s victory may cause you to buy it once it drops, wondering what else in this historic town has not yet been recognized. This article you are reading may be the reason you google for “1921 Tulsa Race Massacre” and that alone is progress.
Now being in the time that marks 100 years since racism and bigotry struck Tulsa with utter and fatal force, let us recognize the heartache and pain of remembering this moment and the strength of knowing that we will no longer allow never let that happen again.