In a test Lamenting the long neglect of the Tulsa racial massacre, Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks said that “white educators and school administrators” in the US had “omitted the volatile issue for the sake of the status quo, placing sentiments whites over black experience – literally Black lives in this case ”.
Amid a national reckoning over systemic racism, this week saw a series of events to mark the centennial of a white mob riot in Oklahoma City in 1921. Up to 300 people were killed and Greenwood, a neighborhood so prosperous that was nicknamed “Black Wall Street”, it was burned.
Joe Biden visited Tulsa on Tuesday and delivered an emotional speech to a crowd, including three survivors.
The massacre, the president said, had been “seen vaguely in the mirror” for a long time.
But not anymore. Now your story will be known in plain sight. “
Biden presides over a bitterly divided country in which protests against racism and police brutality and a concomitant push for reform have fueled fury on the political right.
Hanks, 65, is the most beloved star of historical epics such as Saving Private Ryan and News of the World, and producer of Band of Brothers and The Pacific. You can find a wider audience for your appeal.
Calling himself “a secular historian who talks too much at dinner parties,” Hanks wrote for the New York Times that four years of his own education “included studying American history,” from when he had “read history for pleasure and watched documentaries.”
“Many of those works and those textbooks were about whites and the history of whites,” he wrote. “The few black figures – Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr – were the ones who accomplished much despite slavery, segregation, and institutional injustices in American society.
“But despite all my study, I never read a page from any school history book about how, in 1921, a white mob set fire to a place called Black Wall Street, killed 300 of its black citizens, and displaced thousands of people. . Black Americans living in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “
Hanks said he and his industry were part of the problem, having helped “shape what is history and what is forgotten.” He said he learned of the Tulsa racial massacre from a Times piece published in July of last year, as protests inspired by the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer flowed through a tense and violent summer.
In a historic education that touched cornerstones like the Boston Tea Party, the rise of Teddy Roosevelt, and the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti, Hanks wrote: “Tulsa was never more than a city on the prairie.
“The Oklahoma Land Rush got a few paragraphs… but the burning of the black population living there in 1921 was never mentioned. Nor… was it anti-black violence on a large and small scale, especially between the end of Reconstruction and the victories of the civil rights movement.
“… Many students like me were told that the lynching of African Americans was tragic, but not that these public killings were common and often praised by local newspapers and law enforcement.”
Hanks wrote about noticing racial tensions as a child in Oakland, California, while taking lessons on “the Emancipation Proclamation, the Ku Klux Klan, the daring heroism of Rosa Parks and her common decency and even the death of Crispus Attucks in the Massacre of Boston”.
“Parts of American cities had been on fire since the Watts riots in 1965,” he wrote, “and Oakland was the home of the Black Panthers and the recruiting center for Vietnam War-era recruits, so the story unfolded before our eyes … The problems were innumerable, the theoretical solutions, the lessons few, the headlines continual.
“The truth about Tulsa, and the repeated violence of some white Americans against black Americans, was systematically ignored, perhaps because it was considered too honest and painful a lesson for our young white ears. So our predominantly white schools didn’t teach it, our mass-appeal historical fiction didn’t enlighten us, and my chosen industry didn’t address the issue in movies and shows until recently.
“It appears that white educators and school administrators (if they knew about the Tulsa massacre, because some surely didn’t) omitted the volatile topic for the sake of the status quo, placing white sentiments over the black experience – literally, lives black in this case.
“Today, I find the tragic omission, a missed opportunity, a wasted teaching moment.”
Hanks made indirect mention of current controversies in academia and politics over the teaching of history.
In one prominent example, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is under pressure for its denial of tenure to Nikole Hannah-Jones, who won a pulitzer prize for the Times Project 1619, on the first arrival on American soil of enslaved people from Africa, in Virginia that year.
“When people hear about systemic racism in America,” Hanks wrote, “just the use of those words provokes the ire of those whites who insist that since July 4, 1776, we have all been free, we were all created by Just like any American. We can become president and hail a cab in Midtown Manhattan regardless of the color of our skin, yes, American progress toward justice for all may be slow but it remains relentless.
“Tell that to the centennial survivors of Tulsa and their descendants. And teach the truth to the white descendants of those in the mob that destroyed Black Wall Street. “
Hanks praised some entertainment industry products, including Watchmen, an HBO series about Tulsa.
“Should our schools teach the truth about Tulsa now?” I ask. “Yes, and they should also stop the battle to cover up the curricula to avoid inconvenience to the students.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism