Tulsa, Okla., prides itself on preserving culture. The Philbrook Museum, tucked inside a posh neighborhood, boasts an impressive collection of Native American art. The Woody Guthrie Center's salute to the folk legend will only become more enticing when it expands next year to honor Bob Dylan. Just a half-hour drive away lies the Will Rogers Memorial Museum, and it's the best way of getting to know one of the country's most beloved storytellers.
But this oil-boom town has fallen woefully short of looking back at its ugliest, yet most significant, moment in time.
Several TV programs attempt to make up for that deliberate oversight this week on the 100th anniversary of the Black Wall Street massacre, the worst single incident of racial violence in American history.
"Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre," premiering at 7 p.m. Sunday on the History Channel, provides a thorough history of events leading up to the death of hundreds of residents of the 40-block Greenwood neighborhood where Blacks were thriving. The filmmakers document how frustrated racists took a minor incident — a young Black man bumped into a white elevator operator — and used it as an excuse to flex their muscle.
HBO's "Watchmen" uses the tragedy as the springboard for its superhero series, but there's nothing quite like seeing actual photos of the devastation and hearing testimonials from the survivors. Branford Marsalis provides the soundtrack. If you know next to nothing about what happened back then, this is a good place to start.
"Tulsa: The Fire and the Forgotten," airing at 8 p.m. Monday on PBS, focuses more on the current state of the city and how it has never fully recovered from the killings. Its musical highlight is a soaring version of "Lift Every Voice and Sing" from Majeste Pearson.
Both documentaries feature many of the same figures, most notably the Rev. Robert Turner, who spends every Wednesday in front of City Hall calling for reparations. They both also show how civic leaders are slowly trying to make amends by building proper memorials and trying to identify the bodies dumped into mass graves. Most viewers will agree: It's not enough.
Other TV specials spotlighting the centennial include "Dreamland: The Burning of Black Wall Street" (8 p.m. Monday, CNN), produced by LeBron James and his business manager, Maverick Carter. The documentary "Blood on Black Wall Street: The Legacy of the Tulsa Massacre," hosted by MSNBC's Trymaine Lee, is available on Peacock, NBCNews.com and NBC News Now.
I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Tulsa last fall, although I was disappointed the city didn't do a proper enough job of teaching tourists about its past. Granted, several of the sites were closed due to the pandemic, but it was clear that much more needs to be done. The town should emulate nearby Oklahoma City, which has erected a breathtaking memorial to those who perished in the 1995 bombing of its Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
Perhaps these TV specials, as well as President Joe Biden's scheduled visit on Tuesday, will put even more pressure on the town to step up its game.
If Tulsa can shine a bright spotlight on Dylan, it can certainly do the same for those Black citizens who watched their dreams go up in smoke.