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Multiple documentaries explore history of Black Wall Street and Tulsa Race Massacre

Multiple documentaries explore history of Black Wall Street and Tulsa Race Massacre

  • Updated

If you assign a series of storytellers to one story, each of them will put their own stamp on that story.

How will their stories be the same?

In what ways will those stories branch out to be different than the others?

That’s what we’ll find out when a tale long untold — the story of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre — is explored in a series of documentaries that have been crafted in conjunction with the centennial of the race massacre and the destruction of Tulsa’s Black Wall Street.

ABC News Live’s documentary special, “Tulsa’s Buried Truth,” premiered Tuesday and is available on demand on Hulu. The documentary spun out of reporting for the primetime newsmagazine “Soul of a Nation” and the podcast “Soul of a Nation: Tulsa’s Buried Truth.”

Among other documentary projects related to the Tulsa Race Massacre:

  • A Russell Westbrook-backed documentary (“Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre”) will debut May 30 on the History Channel. You can see it earlier at Circle Cinema. A May 22 screening sold out in days, so a second free screening has been added May 27. Tickets are available at

“We are thankful to our partners at the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission in helping create such incredible demand for this film,” Circle Cinema programmer Chuck Foxen said. “As tickets sold out so fast for May 22, we approached the History Channel about a second screening and they were happy to give more Tulsans a chance to see this important documentary on the big screen.” (Editor's note: The second screening also has sold out.)

  • A PBS documentary, “Tulsa: The Fire and the Forgotten, will premiere May 31. The film was directed by Jonathan Silvers and was produced and reported by the Washington Post’s DeNeen L. Brown, who has Oklahoma roots.
  • CNN set a May 31 premiere date and a June 5 encore date for the LeBron James-backed documentary “Dreamland: The Burning of Black Wall Street.” Beginning June 1, the film will be available on demand via cable/satellite systems, CNNgo platforms and CNN mobile apps.
  • Actor, director and producer Tim Reid, best known for his Venus Flytrap role on the television series “WKRP in Cincinnati,” is coming to Tulsa for a free June 5 film event that World Stage Theatre Company is hosting in partnership with the Tulsa Race Massacre Commission and Circle Cinema.

Reid’s Greenwood documentary (“Legacy of a People: The Day They Bombed the Promised Land”), and his feature film (“Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored”) based on a book by Tulsan Clifton Taulbert, will be shown at Circle Cinema.

  • Filmmaker Dawn Porter’s documentary “Rise Again: Tulsa and the Red Summer” will premiere June 18 on National Geographic and will be available on Hulu the next day. Spearheading the investigation of mass graves in Tulsa, Brown (also a key figure in the PBS documentary mentioned above) helps to recount events that unfolded during the Tulsa Race Massacre while also exploring the early 20th century period known as the Red Summer, when multiple acts of white supremacist terrorism and race riots took place across the U.S.

Brown was born in Oklahoma and said she lived in Tulsa for a while as a child. Her paternal grandmother was born in Boley. Her father is a Baptist minister in Tulsa.

Brown hasn’t seen all of the race massacre documentaries, but she suggested that, in general, the intent of the documentary filmmakers has been to uncover this piece of history so people can understand what happened during the massacre — and what led up to it — so that it becomes part of the conversation in our country’s history.

“So the goal would be to dive back in history and try to figure out what happened, and then report the truth in the films so that mass audiences can understand this period in history when racial massacres occurred,” she said.

The Tulsa World screened advance previews of the History Channel’s documentary (a film in 10 acts) and the PBS documentary. The search for mass graves at Oaklawn Cemetery is a common denominator. The late Dr. Clyde Snow, a forensic anthropologist, said this in the PBS documentary: “The objectives of our investigations are to put our findings in the historical records, so that the revisionists can’t come along in a generation or two and say ‘this never happened.’ It’s hard for a revisionist to argue with a skull with a gunshot wound in the head.”

Many of the same individuals are interview subjects in both documentaries, but one difference is how much time the documentaries devote to what came before the race massacre and what has happened in decades since.

“There’s no question that on the centennial — May 31 and June 1, 2021 — the eyes of the world will be on Tulsa,” author and attorney Hannibal B. Johnson says near the end of the PBS documentary.

“The operative question will be how has Tulsa changed over the course of this 100 years. My perspective is that the Centennial Commission wants the world to know that Tulsa has acknowledged its history and is working on the slow and arduous process of healing that history. We are not there yet. We are working on it.”

In addition to documentaries about the race massacre and Black Wall Street, the short film “Black Wall Street: An American Nightmare” will be screened June 13 and June 14 at Circle Cinema.

It might be categorized as a “what-if” film. In the film, it’s 1905 and an exhausted O.W. Gurley, future founder of Black Wall Street, takes a nap. He is suddenly transported 115 years into the future to the year 2020. In this nightmare, Gurley sees the struggle his community is facing, and maybe, just maybe, he can change the future from the past.

See a clip from the ‘Goin’ Back to T-Town’ documentary

The documentary "Goin' Back to T-Town" was written by former Tulsan, Carmen Fields.


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