• New Smithsonian exhibit to chronicle Tulsa Race Riot


    WASHINGTON, D.C. - Quick facts: 

    • A new exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., will chronicle the Tulsa Race Riot.
    • The riot took place over 24 hours in 1921.
    • At least 300 people are believed to have been killed.


    It’s one of the darkest days in Tulsa and U.S. history, yet you may not have read about it in school books.

    The Tulsa Race Riot took place over a 24-hour period beginning May 31, 1921.

    At least 300 people are believed to have been killed and hundreds more injured.

    Almost every building in the bustling Greenwood district of Tulsa burned to the ground.

    The neighborhood was the wealthiest black neighborhood in the nation, dubbed the “Black Wall Street.”

    A new exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., documents the events of that day with pictures, videos, artifacts and eyewitness accounts.

    It’s more than just an exhibit to John W. Franklin, the director of Partnerships and International Programs, and the newly opened museum sitting in the shadows of the Washington Monument on the National Mall.

    It’s a documented history of his own family. 

    Franklin’s grandfather was an attorney in Tulsa at the time of the riots.

    In 2015, a 10-page letter written by his father a few years after the riots was discovered. It’s one of the last eyewitness accounts of an event that was scrubbed from history books for decades.

    “He describes planes dropping these turpentine bombs on the buildings, the destruction was over in 24 hours and the buildings burned from the bottom down,” said Franklin. “The history was suppressed, not discussed and the first public discussion really began in the 1990s.”

    When asked what it was like for him to read the letter the first time, Franklin said he wept.

    “It’s such a sad story of people of promise that lost everything,” said Franklin.

    Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Lankford met with Franklin for the first time at the museum. His staff said the senator didn’t know the exhibit existed and he wanted to learn more about it.

    “It's an important part of who we are as Oklahomans,” said Lankford. “It changed forever the race relations in our state, and our state still tries to figure out how to be able to respond to what happened to us almost a century ago now.”

    At the turn of this century, the state of Oklahoma released a 200-page report detailing the events of that day for the first time. In the report, the authors said they believe reparations should be made to survivors and their descendants.

    Franklin said they still haven’t come because a court case was dismissed for being outside the statute of limitations and insurance companies never paid any claims.

    “Unfortunately, none of their insurance claims were honored,” said Franklin. “So none of the people who lost everything ever received any replacement of their buildings, their homes or their goods.”

    The museum is now preparing to show a full exhibit during the centennial remembrance in 2021.

    Franklin is asking anyone with documents, pictures, video or artifacts of Greenwood from that time to contact them to include the exhibit.


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