During the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, the Greenwood District, one of the wealthiest Black communities in the United States, was burned to the ground by a white mob, many of whom had been deputized by the city. Over the course of 18 hours, as many as 300 people died in the worst single act of racial violence the country has ever seen. But for Black Tulsans, the story didn’t end with the massacre. The emotional trauma and economic loss were passed down for generations.
When NBC News correspondent Trymaine Lee and video journalists Nirma Hasty and Brock Stoneham set out to examine how the massacre affected the transfer of generational wealth in Tulsa, one of the most surprising aspects of the story was that Greenwood had, in the words of one survivor, “built back really better” than it was before the massacre. So why had Black Tulsans departed their former neighborhood, and how had 35 blocks of “Black Wall Street” been squeezed into a single city block with hardly any Black business ownership?
NBC News’ documentary, Blood on Black Wall Street: The Legacy of the Tulsa Massacre, took a multi-generation approach to those questions, revealing that the massacre was just the first part of a story that’s been ongoing for 100 years–with each generation fighting its own battle against systemic racism. What began with the “conspiracy of silence” that relied on the trauma of survivors in the immediate aftermath of the massacre continued into the era of Jim Crow, even as the survivors’ children, like Bobby Eaton Sr., began the Civil Rights movement in Tulsa despite his father’s fear the massacre would repeat itself. Bobby Eaton Sr.’s own son explained how after Greenwood rebuilt, the government’s policy of so-called Urban Renewal constructed an overpass through Greenwood, literally demolishing the thriving business district a second time. Today, Black Tulsans can’t even afford to rent on Greenwood Avenue, forced out by gentrification, spurred in part by the city’s effort to commemorate the massacre’s centennial.
This 44-minute documentary lets Black Tulsans tell their own story, weaving together video and photographic archives of survivors, most of whom have already passed, with interviews and verité footage of their descendants, still living in the aftermath. The documentary follows their fight to preserve the story of what happened for the next generation and their continued fight for justice, including reparations from a city that may be starting to acknowledge its past, but isn’t willing to pay for it.
Blood on Black Wall Street proves that what’s history for one person is lived trauma for another and aims to give voice to citizens who were silenced for too long, people like Joi McDondichie, whose grandmother, 9 years old during the massacre, had once been too frightened to tell even her granddaughter what she lived through. Today, Joi is proud enough to demand of the massacre and of us, “Don’t tell it white, tell it right.” We hope we lived up to that call.