Dr. Scott Ellsworth is a professor of Afroamerican and African Studies at the University of Michigan and author of Death in a Promised Land, the first comprehensive history of the Tulsa massacre. He was also one of the lead scholars for the Tulsa Race Riot Commission and a key player in the battle to secure reparations for survivors. According to him, the lasting trauma of the massacre is also intrinsically tied to the silencing of survivors.
“For 50 years, the story was actively suppressed in Tulsa, and it was deliberately kept out of the White newspapers. The people who brought it up were threatened with their jobs; they were threatened with their lives,” he says. The story of the massacre indicts White America, which is why it was buried for so long. Without the perseverance and openness of the survivors of the riot, he says, there would be no mainstream acknowledgment of what happened in 1921.
“Many Tulsans are just happy people are talking about [the massacre] at all,” adds Dr. Alicia Odewale, assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Tulsa. Odewale is currently working on a research project called Mapping Historical Trauma in Tulsa from 1921-2021 that reanalyzes historical evidence to visualize what happened to Greenwood during the massacre and in the years that followed it. “Ninety-eight years later, almost all of the massacre survivors have passed on, and it’s up to their descendants and the people left alive today to carry on their legacy.”