Film recalls Tulsa race riot

Sunday, October 19th 2008, 9:52 pm
By: News 9

By Jeffrey Smith, for NEWS 9

TULSA, Okla. -- It's been called the darkest day in Oklahoma's history.  On Sunday, hundreds turned out to see the premiere of a new film about the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot.  The documentary was made to open eyes about how far the city has come and how much progress is still needed.

The documentary, titled Before They Die, premiered on Sunday afternoon just blocks away from where the riot started.  Dozens of survivors, who lived through it, attended the premiere. 

It was the worst race riot in U.S. history:  87 years ago, a white mob of 2,000 descended on the Greenwood District in downtown Tulsa.

Tulsa Race Riot survivor Otis Clark, who's now 105-years-old, remembers it all.

"We didn't have nothing to protect ourselves.  We had to run. I got shot at," Clark said.

Long considered the economic center for blacks, Greenwood was burned to the ground.  Clark was 18-years-old at the time.

"They burned it up.  We had to go to Claremore for the night to get out of the danger.  When I come back, I found out that everything, all our little property, my grandparents' home and everything was burned up, right there on Archer Street," Clark said.

The riot lasted for two days.  Officially 39 people were killed, but most historians agree that dozens more died.  Some experts say as many as 300 perished in the riots.

The filmmaker said it's a powerful tool in the fight against racism.

"This is much bigger than Tulsa. This is American history," producer Reggie Turner said.

The producer said the fight against racism is still ongoing.

"For 87 years, these people have been ignored," Turner said.  "Tulsa is still a segregated and divided community."

The film will be taken to New York, Chicago, and other big cities.  Turner said it's a pointed example of the need for reparations.

"These are living survivors. Survivors are always victims, and victims are always entitled to compensation," Turner said.

The rpdocuer also said the wounds from the riot are still seen on the faces of many, and facing the past is the only way to embrace the future.

All the proceeds from the film's screenings will go directly to the survivors.

Several years ago the state provided for two-thirds of the cost to build a memorial park in Greenwood.

Just last week, the Tulsa City Council approved $500,000 to cover the final costs in getting that memorial built.