Tulsa Race Massacre: When Katrina Eaton’s 12-year-old son Isaac came home and talked about what he had learned at school, she could hear the emotion in his voice.
His instructors at Tulsa’s Carver Middle School had taught him about a racial massacre in the city a century earlier, when a white mob came on Tulsa’s Black Greenwood district, murdering hundreds of people, destroying many prosperous businesses, and displacing others.
Eaton learned something from the training as well.
As the nation prepares to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre — widely regarded as one of the country’s deadliest acts of racial violence — schools in Oklahoma are working to ensure that locals are aware of the tragedy. The initiative represents a 180-degree turn after years of quiet or poor teaching on the subject, according to many.
“We have to educate this and face the horror of what I feel we’ve been too humiliated to talk about in the past,” Joy Hofmeister, the state Education Department’s superintendent, said. “We can’t turn away from the truth.”
Hofmeister grew raised in Tulsa and didn’t find out about the slaughter until she was an adult, according to her.
Since 2002, the state has included the Tulsa racial massacre in its academic standards, but the standards do not specify what instructors should teach or how they should teach it, resulting in little, if any, time spent on the subject.
That changed in 2019, according to Hofmeister, when the state Education Department included what was to be covered and how into the requirements of the state’s academic standards at various grade levels.
Since then, the Education Department has offered more tools to assist teachers in delivering the courses.
He claimed he made pupils read firsthand narratives and images, such as reports from the American Red Cross and other on-the-ground groups. Then he invited them to discuss their feelings, ideas, and responses in general.
“When you see these images of what appears to be Europe after WWII, I mean, these buildings that are nothing but shells,” he remarked. “Then they start thinking about how you can just get on the freeway and be there in five minutes — it’s like a tsunami of shock.”
He favors included the tragedy in school curricula and providing instructors with incentives to do so by including it in the state’s academic requirements.
“I mean, the last time you took global history was probably when you were in tenth grade. You’ll be able to do this for the rest of your life “he stated “Any time history gets re-enforced for you, it’s really essential.”
This school year at Cleveland Bailey Elementary School in Midwest City, Melani Ford didn’t shy away from educating her preschool kids about Greenwood. She claimed she informed them about a community near Tulsa that was burned down many years ago.
“I think that occurred here in Oklahoma, and we haven’t recovered from it,” Ford, 33, a Black man, said.
Others may be afraid to discuss the district or the historical event with young children because it is such a “heavy issue” and they don’t know how to talk about people being slain, according to Ford.
Adults might begin by giving bigger notions of what happened and emphasizing, “We’re not happy about it,” she added, for younger pupils.
“History isn’t always pretty,” she remarked, “but we need to know what occurred and why it happened so we can do better.” “I believe it’s essential to recognize that, yeah, there was a group of individuals that did that, and we need to make sure we don’t repeat ourselves,” she says.
However, some people are concerned that some of the work made in presenting a more full picture of the state’s history may be lost.
Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, signed a bill last month prohibiting the teaching of concepts or courses that cause individuals to “experience pain, shame, grief, or any other type of psychological distress” because of their race or gender. It also prohibits the promotion of ideas such as “anyone is inherently racist, sexist, or tyrannical, whether deliberately or unintentionally, because of his or her ethnicity or sex.”
“We need policies that bring us together, not tear us apart now more than ever,” Stitt said in a message on Twitter. “As governor, I am certain that no public dollars should be used to define and separate young Oklahomans based on their ethnicity or gender. This measure protects public education in this way.”
The law goes into force on July 1st.
Teaching about the Tulsa race riots and the Greenwood District is still required in state and national history classes. Critics of the rule fear that it will have a “chilling effect” on schools seeking to teach difficult historical issues concerning race or gender.
When it comes to the timing of the law, Eaton says it’s “definitely twisting the dagger in the wound.”
The bill, according to Greenwood District state Rep. Monroe Nichols, “puts huge pressure on educators to get it right, but it’s unclear what getting it right truly means.”
“I believe the statute was drafted in such a way that there is so much uncertainty,” Nichols, a Black man, said. Because of the new statute, Nichols withdrew from the Tulsa Race Massacre Commission in 1921.
“I believe it’s incredibly essential to understand these things not only to be informed about it but to comprehend what it means, as far as what we have to do moving ahead,” he said of his 13-year-old son, who has studied about the atrocity at school.
Naomi Andrews, a mother of four students in grades six through nine, said: “They’re inventing a universe that doesn’t exist in reality. Students and teachers who would teach it are being kept in the dark.”
Susan Foust, a recently retired librarian who assisted teachers in developing the fifth-grade curriculum for studying the Tulsa race tragedy, concurred.
“It has to be said. Teachers must also be the ones who teach it “she stated, “To tell us that we can’t talk about racism and that we have to make it such that no one feels bad — I mean, there has to be some understanding of human nature and the need for communities to support one another.”