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Programming Review: History’s ‘Tulsa Massacre’ Spotlights a Forgotten Tragedy

Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre
Tulsa Burning is a deep dive into the events of the 1921 massacre that destroyed the city’s Greenwood neighborhood. (Image credit: History)

History commemorates the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa, Oklahoma, race massacre with a powerful and poignant documentary that examines arguably the worst racial incident in U.S. history.

The documentary, Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre, doesn’t sugarcoat what happened a century ago to Black residents of Tulsa’s Greenwood District, but rather skillfully dissects the events that led up to the burning by white supremacists of more than 35 blocks of what was then known as Black Wall Street. The documentary uses excellent and rare footage that summarizes the mood of the period — including graphic footage of lynchings that occurred in Oklahoma at the time as well as around the country — along with images and video from the brutal massacre itself, in which historians estimate as many as 300 Black people were killed. 

Among the highlights of the documentary are interviews with some of the survivors who provide a chilling account of what really happened, as well as the disappointment over the lack of accountability from local law enforcement officials and elected leaders to punish those who devastated one of the most prosperous African-American communities in the country. As one historian painfully remarked early in the documentary,  not one person has been arrested or held accountable for the incident. 

History also successfully weaves the racial unrest of the 1920s with today’s Black Lives Matter movement while showcasing Tulsa’s 2020 efforts to uncover the bodies of African-Americans killed during the massacre. 

Basketball star Russell Westbrook, who played for the Oklahoma City Thunder during his first 11 years in the NBA, serves as executive producer of the documentary, which offers a fascinating, entertaining and informative account of one of the most tragic, yet still largely unknown, moments in America.