*Tom Hanks penned an op-ed published Friday in the New York Times in which he calls on educators to teach about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, saying it”too often left out” of American history.
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.
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.
“I never read a page of any school history book about how, in 1921, a mob of white people burned down a place called Black Wall Street, killed as many as 300 of its Black citizens and displaced thousands of Black Americans who lived in Tulsa, Okla,” Hanks wrote. “My experience was common: History was mostly written by white people about white people like me, while the history of Black people — including the horrors of Tulsa — was too often left out.”
He also noted that there are similar events he never learned about in school.
“Should our schools now teach the truth about Tulsa? Yes, and they should also stop the battle to whitewash curriculums to avoid discomfort for students,” Hanks wrote.
Tom Hanks asks in a guest essay: “How different would perspectives be had we all been taught about Tulsa in 1921, even as early as the fifth grade? Today, I find the omission tragic, an opportunity missed, a teachable moment squandered.”https://t.co/bTrZcD40te
— The New York Times (@nytimes) June 4, 2021
Hanks believes “the truth about Tulsa, and the repeated violence by some white Americans against Black Americans was systematically ignored, perhaps because it was regarded as too honest, too painful a lesson for our young white ears.”
The actor notes that the whitewashing of history contributes to the brainwashing of Americans who believe racism isn’t deeply rooted in the US, and by omitting the truth about this country’s dark past, “white educators and school administrators” are “placing white feelings over Black experience – literally Black lives in this case,” Hanks writes.
“So, our predominantly white schools didn’t teach it, our mass appeal works of historical fiction didn’t enlighten us, and my chosen industry didn’t take on the subject in films and shows until recently,” he added.
Hanks said it’s the entertainment industry’s responsibility to “portray the burden of racism in our nation for the sake of the art form’s claims to verisimilitude and authenticity.”
“America’s history is messy but knowing that makes us a wiser and stronger people,” Hanks said, highlighting World War II, the civil rights movement and the publishing of the Pentagon Papers. He concluded: “Each of these lessons chronicles our quest to live up to the promise of our land, to tell truths that, in America, are meant to be held as self-evident.”
Read his full essay here.