I’d never heard of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 until seeing an article last year about a search for graves of victims in the Oklahoma city.
As the 100th anniversary of the tragedy approached last month, some of the journalists in our newsroom still knew nothing about the massacre, in which as many as 300 people died and more than 35 square city blocks of a wealthy Black neighborhood were destroyed by a white mob.
On June 1, we asked in our daily poll question: Did you learn about the Tulsa Race Massacre in school?
Of the 265 responses through Sunday, 82% said they hadn’t and 14% said they didn’t recall learning about it. Just 4% said that, yes, they had learned about the Tulsa Race Massacre in school.
Three days later, we asked a related question: Should the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 be included in U.S. history classes or other high school courses?
Among the 313 respondents, 64% answered yes, 29% said no and 6% weren’t sure.
Results of the first poll were distressing; they showed that the massacre wasn’t even mentioned in the vast majority of local schools.
Results of the second poll were even more troubling. How could nearly 3 in 10 respondents possibly believe that the massacre shouldn’t be part of basic U.S. history curriculum?
Perhaps many people believe the massacre wasn’t historically significant. Or maybe they think American history courses should focus on positive aspects of our nation’s past.
Either way, the June 4 poll results indicate a gross misunderstanding, among a large minority of our community, of the value of learning about all strands — noble or shameful — of our country’s history.
If we’re not honest about who we are and the historical forces that have molded us, we have no hope of becoming a better collective people.
The Tulsa Race Massacre isn’t the only tragedy perpetrated by white supremacists that’s routinely ignored in U.S. history courses.
Here’s another one; some of you might have heard about it before, most likely in the aftermath of the January insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. The vast majority of us, though, never learned about it in school.
In 1898, white supremacists destroyed Black-owned businesses and forced the local government of Wilmington — then North Carolina’s largest city — to resign at gunpoint. As in Tulsa 23 years later, as many as 300 Black residents died.
Those who survived were stripped of both voting rights and civil rights. Leaders of the Wilmington coup faced no consequences.
When the massacre of 1898 was taught in North Carolina history courses, it often included the false claim that the Black population of the city had started a race riot, which was then quelled by white residents.
By the way, a statue of Charles Aycock, an organizer of the white supremacy campaign in 1898 and later a governor of North Carolina, stands today at the U.S. Capitol.
You can bet that few of the rioters at the Capitol in January had learned in school about the tragedy that befell Wilmington a century before.
If they had, perhaps they would have matured into citizens who would never have considered joining the January insurrection.
Scott Underwood is the editor of the (Anderson) Herald Bulletin. Send comments to [email protected].