The Efforts To Share Lessons Of Tulsa’s Once-Hidden Past With Oklahoma Students

Wednesday, April 28th 2021, 10:28 pm

TULSA, Oklahoma -

As we approach the 100-year anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, a bright light is now shining on a dark part of Oklahoma history. That is especially true for school children who are now required to learn about the massacre.

The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Commission, along with the Oklahoma History Center, has developed an in-depth curriculum that is now being used in several Oklahoma schools.

The 1921 attacks on Greenwood nearly destroyed the thriving business district known as Black Wall Street. The death toll has been disputed for years but the bombing and burning of the prosperous community left nearly 300 Black Tulsans dead and many homeless.

For decades, an event that left a horrific scar on the state was never mentioned in our history books or taught in Oklahoma classrooms.

“This is something our kids need to know,” explains Dr Christina Kirk a teacher at Star Spencer Middle School in Oklahoma City. “They definitely need to know it and they need to know more than as a mark on a timeline. There’s a whole story there. There are lives, there are people.”

Dr. Kirk started teaching about the massacre shortly after she became a teacher back in 2017.

“Most of them don’t believe it until you see the pictures,” Dr. Kirk said. “The idea that something so horrific could happen in our own state does not easily resonate with them until you’re showing the pictures and you’re reading the survivor stories.”

The race massacre was part of the state's academic standards since the early 2000's. But the 1921 Commission curriculum now offers educators guidelines and resources to go more in-depth with lesson plans and provides links to photographs, videos, oral history interviews and historical documents.

“[We] adopted as soon as it came out in 2018 as part of Oklahoma history curriculum and part of U.S. history curriculum,” said Oklahoma City Public Schools Deputy Superintendent Jason Brown.

“I think as we’re exposed to the real history, good and bad, of the state of Oklahoma in this way, we begin to understand why people think the way they do, why they believe the way they do, because it does make up our identity,” said OKCPS Superintendent Dr. Sean McDaniel. “I think that’s important. If we just erase pieces because we don’t like them or we don’t want to face it or we don’t want to admit to it, it cheats all of us. Because then we are robbed of the true identity of our state.”

The biggest lesson, however, goes beyond dates and numbers of those killed, arrested and left homeless.

“The impact if hugely felt in this state, even still today, and especially among African Americans. So, for me, yes, I take it extremely personal,” said Brown. “Not only that we teach it but demonstrate its impact and emphasize its impact on our state today.”

Those lessons became personal for Dr. Kirk and her class when one of her students came forward saying their family was a part of the massacre.

“It gave him a sense of pride,” said Dr. Kirk. “He couldn’t wait to share that information with his classmates. We were able to research his family members on the list of those who perished and find his great uncle. It was special for the class.”

Before the pandemic, Dr. Kirk even took her students on a field trip to Tulsa and the Greenwood area. A powerful first-hand perspective of what hate can do.

"It's definitely important to just know what happened in your state and just know the lessons that were learned after the race massacre that still apply to today," said Dr. Kirk.

“Our students have to learn to discern information and that words truly matter, that some really bad things can happen from misinformation and just sharing an inaccurate perspective about people or a group of people,” said Brown. “I think that’s an extremely important 2021 lesson.”

The curriculum is online for anyone see and use. Click here to see it.