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Editor’s Note | Tulsa’s Lessons on the Importance of Remembering the Past

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TULSA, Okla.—A group of white men were laughing together over beers outside a sports bar in the historic Greenwood District in Tulsa, Okla. Despite the jovial atmosphere nearby, The Oklahoman Editor for Opinion & Community Engagement Clytie Bunyan reminded me, “We’re on sacred ground.”

It was June 12, 2024, and I was in the Sooner State for the American Press Institute’s Local News Summit focused on journalism and rural community engagement, where I met Clytie.  She kindly took me a tour of the historic site of Black Wall Street—a once prosperous Black business district that thrived in a time of severe racial oppression. There, 103 years ago in 1921, a white mob massacred the neighborhood’s Black residents and business owners, dumping many of their bodies in unmarked mass graves.

The massacre, known historically as the “Tulsa Race Massacre,” began after Dick Rowland, a 19-year-old Black man, entered an elevator that Sarah Page, a 17-year-old white girl, was operating on May 30, 1921. It’s not clear what happened, but reporters said she screamed, and the two ran out of the elevator.

Though Page refused to press charges, local news coverage demanded blood. The next day, the white-owned Tulsa Tribune ran an article with the headline, “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in Elevator.” Within 24 hours, Black Wall Street was on fire as the armed white mob murdered hundreds of Black residents and displaced thousands more while destroying homes and businesses across 35 blocks.

After a white mob destroyed their place of worship in the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, Black congregants rebuilt Mt. Zion Baptist Church in the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Okla. Photo by Ashton Pittman ” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/www.mississippifreepress.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/06/Mt-Zion-Baptist-Church_cred-Ashton-Pittman.jpg?fit=300%2C200&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/www.mississippifreepress.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/06/Mt-Zion-Baptist-Church_cred-Ashton-Pittman.jpg?fit=780%2C519&ssl=1″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/www.mississippifreepress.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/06/Mt-Zion-Baptist-Church_cred-Ashton-Pittman.jpg?resize=780%2C519&ssl=1″ alt=”Mt. Zion Baptist Church” class=”wp-image-43951″ srcset=”https://i0.wp.com/www.mississippifreepress.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/06/Mt-Zion-Baptist-Church_cred-Ashton-Pittman.jpg?resize=1024%2C682&ssl=1 1024w, https://i0.wp.com/www.mississippifreepress.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/06/Mt-Zion-Baptist-Church_cred-Ashton-Pittman.jpg?resize=300%2C200&ssl=1 300w, https://i0.wp.com/www.mississippifreepress.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/06/Mt-Zion-Baptist-Church_cred-Ashton-Pittman.jpg?resize=768%2C512&ssl=1 768w, https://i0.wp.com/www.mississippifreepress.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/06/Mt-Zion-Baptist-Church_cred-Ashton-Pittman.jpg?resize=1536%2C1024&ssl=1 1536w, https://i0.wp.com/www.mississippifreepress.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/06/Mt-Zion-Baptist-Church_cred-Ashton-Pittman.jpg?resize=1200%2C800&ssl=1 1200w, https://i0.wp.com/www.mississippifreepress.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/06/Mt-Zion-Baptist-Church_cred-Ashton-Pittman.jpg?resize=1568%2C1045&ssl=1 1568w, https://i0.wp.com/www.mississippifreepress.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/06/Mt-Zion-Baptist-Church_cred-Ashton-Pittman.jpg?resize=400%2C267&ssl=1 400w, https://i0.wp.com/www.mississippifreepress.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/06/Mt-Zion-Baptist-Church_cred-Ashton-Pittman.jpg?w=2000&ssl=1 2000w, https://i0.wp.com/www.mississippifreepress.org/wp-content/uploads/2024/06/Mt-Zion-Baptist-Church_cred-Ashton-Pittman-1024×682.jpg?w=370&ssl=1 370w” sizes=”(max-width: 780px) 100vw, 780px” data-recalc-dims=”1″>After a white mob destroyed their place of worship in the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre,

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