On May 31st, 1921, a mob of white supremacists, protected by the National Guard, burned down 35 city blocks of black-owned homes and businesses and an all-black school in Tulsa, Oklahoma, killing as many as 300, injuring over 800, and leaving an estimated 6,000 people homeless.
Contemporary reports downplayed the deaths, but three mass graves have since been tied to the event. To date, there have been no reparations, and not one member of the mob was convicted of any charges for the deaths, injuries, or property damage, even though they ousted the mayor of Tusla by force and took the city in a coup. In the aftermath, white city developers tried to force through a law banning black people from owning property in the city center, allegedly for fire prevention.
The anniversary of this tragedy is coming up, and the people of Tusla want to ensure it is commemorated. The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission was formed to spearhead that commemoration, dedicated to projects which would educate and honor the losses suffered that day.
“Watchmen,” the 2019 HBO series flexibly based on Alan Moore’s 1986 comic series, is set in an alternate-reality modern-day Tulsa, and it features flashbacks to the Tulsa Race Massacre, setting its tone of vicious racism and corruption. The flashbacks were many American’s first introduction to the events of that tragedy.
Damon Lindelof, the creator and executive producer of Watchmen, isn’t just using history for shock value, as Moore did Vietnam in the original comics. That raising of awareness is part of why he made the show in the first place. And it is why he’s donating $19,021 to the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, challenging other philanthropists to match his donation.
So far, Oklahoma Humanities has risen to Lindelof’s challenge. Their money will go towards opening the Greenwood Rising history center, a permanent exhibit to honor the anniversary in May.