May 30, 2021

Tulsa Massacre 100th Anniversary

A still shown in Tulsa Burning, Stanley Nelson's new documentary, of the Greenwood section of Tulsa.

African-American filmmaker Stanley Nelson has dedicated his career to documenting the history of Black Americans (and Native Americans) in such films as Freedom Riders (2010), the story of Black men and women, accompanied by whites, who boarded buses together in order to desegregate interstate transport, and Freedom Summer (2014), about the Mississippi voter registration drive in the summer of 1964. Most recently, his Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2015) chronicled the formation and history of that political party, including its continued influence on the radical left. 

 In Tulsa Burning, Nelson depicts the present search for the bodies of Black men and women killed during that Oklahoma massacre in 1921, who were buried in mass graves, and the circumstances that led to the white mob violence that leveled the Greenwood section of Tulsa. Dubbed "Black Wall Street," it was one of many all-Black communities that were founded when African-Americans migrated north during Reconstruction. 

With a brilliant score by Branford Marsalis, scores of archival photographs, and interviews with the family members of those murdered at Greenwood, and other family members of Blacks who survived, Nelson provides a comprehensive picture of the massacre, its cover-up in the white press (the Black press reported it), and the lingering effects of the seizure of Black land after the massacre. The latter has led to a demand for reparations in Tulsa, as it has across the United States, in Black communities and among Native Americans. 

"In the News" (to the right of this column) provides links to Part I of my past on-camera interview with Stanley Nelson, and my print interview with Marco Williams, a Black filmmaker who executive produced Tulsa Burning.