Today marks the 99th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre, one of worst acts of racial violence in American history. In the 1921 attack, mobs of white residents attacked and ultimately destroyed the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at that time the wealthiest black community in the United States, known as “Black Wall Street”. The story of that community and its violent end is the subject of a documentary produced by LeBron James & Maverick Carter’s SpringHill Entertainment. It is directed and executive produced by Salima Koroma (Bad Rap).
This year, the anniversary comes amid nationwide protests for racial justice over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died while being restrained by a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Koroma underscored the symbolism in unveiling the project on Twitter:
“The Tulsa Race Massacre is not just a black story but American history. The fabric of this country is soaked in racism and today 99 years later, we’re still fighting for change,” she wrote. “That’s why I’m partnering with SpringHill Entertainment to tell the story of Black Wall Street.”
SpringHill’s official Twitter handle retweeted Koroma’s announcement, providing some background how the timely project came together only weeks ago as Koroma pitched the documentary to the company in April. “We knew we had to empower her to tell that story,” the company said, using the #BlackLives Matter hashtag. Added James, “Absolutely Empower (Salima Koroma)!”
On May 30, 1921, Memorial Day, Dick Rowland, a 19-year-old black man working as a shoeshiner, rode the only elevator of a nearby building to use the top-floor restroom, designated for black people. The only other person in the elevator was Sarah Page, a 17-year-old white girl who was the elevator operator on duty. What happened inside the elevator was never officially established — one of the most circulated versions involves Rowland tripping and instinctively grabbing Page’s arm, prompting her to scream — and Page did not press charges, but the low-key accident ignited the simmering racial tension in the city.
On June 1, 1921, white rioters descended on Greenwood, looting and burning black houses and businesses. Martial law was declared and the National Guard was brought in. When it was all over, 35 city blocks had been burned down, over 800 people were treated for injuries. At the time, 36 deaths were reported, most of them African American. Historians now believe as many as 300 people may have been killed, according to .the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum.
“We are still here fighting for the same things,” Carter wrote on today’s anniversary, referring to the ongoing George Floyd protests. “Thank you (Salima Koroma) for partnering with us on telling this American story which remains to be an American problem Not just a black problem.”
The Tulsa race massacre, which had seen largely overlooked for decades, recently entered popular American culture when the horrific event was depicted in the opening scene of HBO’s The Watchmen.