*This month marks the 100th anniversary of theTulsa Race Massacre of 1921. On May 31 and June 1, 1921 angry white supremacists destroyed the Black community of Greenwood in Tulsa, killing as many as 300 people, destroying more than 1,000 homes and burning Black businesses. An estimated 8,000 people were left homeless and the victims were never compensated. The incident was hidden from history for decades but is now recognized as the single worst episode of racial violence in the United States.
Per press release, the bulk of the history we know about the events came from an eyewitness account a woman wrote and published a year later. Mary Parrish was reading in her home when the Tulsa race massacre began on the evening of May 31, 1921. Parrish’s daughter, Florence Mary, called the young journalist and teacher to the window. “Mother,” she said, “I see men with guns.” The two eventually fled into the night under a hail of bullets and unwittingly became eyewitnesses to one of the greatest race tragedies in American history.
The Nation Must Awake: My Witness to the TulsaRace Massacre of 1921, publishing in May from Trinity University Press for a wide audience for the first time, is Parrish’s first-person account, along with the recollections of dozens of others, compiled immediately following the tragedy. Spurred by word that a young Black man was about to be lynched for stepping on a white woman’s foot, a three-day riot erupted that saw the death of hundreds of Black Oklahomans and the destruction of the Greenwood district, a prosperous, primarily Black area known as Black Wall Street.
The murdered were buried in mass graves and millions of dollars worth of Black-owned property was burned to the ground. No government agencies protected Black residents during the massacre and no rioters were prosecuted for crimes committed.
Parrish’s book Includes an afterword by her great-granddaughter Anneliese M. Bruner and an introduction by the late historian and activist John Hope Franklin and New York Times bestselling author Scott Ellsworth, author of The Ground Breaking: An American City and Its Search for Justice. The testimonies shine light on Black residents’ bravery and the horror of seeing their neighbors gunned down and their community lost to flames. Although the story is a hundred years old, elements of its racial injustices are still being replayed in the streets of America today.
We caught up with Ms. Bruner to dish about the book, what she hopes teachers and students learn from it, the book’s role in the current debates about racial justice, and her thoughts about efforts to rebuild Greenwood. Check out our conversation via the clip below.
Ny MaGee is a screenwriter and freelance reporter from Chicago -- currently living in Los Angeles and covering A-list entertainment for various outlets, including Emmys.com. She has worked for: Miramax, MTV & VH1, The Jim Henson Company, Hallmark Channel, Paramount Pictures, and for iconic indie film producer Roger Corman.
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