Tulsa Objects in the NMAAHC Collection
Welcome to the National Museum of African American History and Culture’s Tulsa collection online.
In late May 1921, the thriving African American community of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, suffered the deadliest racial massacre in U.S. history. It was one in a series of actions of racist violence that convulsed the United States in towns and cities beginning with the period of Reconstruction in the late 19th century. In Tulsa, as in all of these massacres, white mobs destroyed Black communities, property, and lives. A century after the riot, the people of Tulsa and the nation continue to struggle to reckon with the massacre’s multiple legacies.
The National Museum of African American History and Culture collects materials to help fill the silences in our nation’s memory around events such as the Tulsa Race Massacre and its reverberations, preserving and sharing wider stories of Black communities in Oklahoma, and centering the testimonies of survivors and their descendants.
This portal is a platform for exploring NMAAHC’s objects related to Tulsa, which give voice to stories of violence and destruction often only through fragments – small objects, images, and testimonies – that can illuminate the fuller lives of people who suffered tragic loss, rebuilt their lives and community, and strove for resolution and repair. Through the lens of Tulsa, these collections illustrate the history and continuing impact of racial violence in the United States as well as the potential and power of reckoning, reconciliation, and repair. Confronting this past through its material provides us opportunities to understand our present and better shape our future.
SEARCHING ONLINE RECORDS
Use this guide to search the NMAAHC collection for objects relating to Tulsa and the Tulsa Race Massacre.
African Americans in Oklahoma and the History of Greenwood
The Greenwood District of Tulsa was one of more than 50 all-Black settlements formed throughout Oklahoma between 1865 and 1920. Black communities in what would become Oklahoma began in the mid-19th century with the forcible removal of over 100,000 Native Americans along with the African Americans they enslaved and free Black relatives who traveled with them along the Trail of Tears to Indian Territory. After Emancipation, these African Americans settled together for mutual security. Economic opportunities with the Land Run of 1889 brought more African American settlers and Black communities like Greenwood began to grow. Explore Greenwood before 1921 or learn about other Black Oklahoman communities in the NMAAHC collection, such as Muskogee, and the all-Black settlements Rentiesville, Boley, Langston, and Tatums.
Tulsa Race Massacre
Examine artifacts and images related to the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, which destroyed the thriving community of Greenwood, leaving several hundred dead and thousands homeless. Photo postcards of the Tulsa Race Massacre were widely distributed following the massacre in 1921. Like postcards depicting lynchings, these souvenir cards were powerful declarations of white racial power and control. Decades later, the cards served as evidence for community members working to recover the forgotten history of the massacre and secure justice for its victims and their descendants.
The Tulsa Race Massacre was not an isolated incident. Episodes of racialized violence occurred with systematic routineness across the United States after Reconstruction. Learn more about these events through objects in the collection related to the 1908 Springfield Race Riot, the 1917 East Saint Louis Race Riot, and the 1923 Rosewood Massacre. Beyond these mass incidents, this time period saw an overall system of terror and extra-legal acts of violence, primarily through lynching.
Please note some of the images are graphic and disturbing, but we include them as important evidence in the historical record.
America’s Black Wall Street
Dubbed “Black Wall Street,” Greenwood was one of the most prominent and prosperous African American communities in the United States with churches, schools and community organizations as well as around 200 Black businesses by 1921. Virtually all of Greenwood was destroyed in the massacre. Black Tulsans worked hard to successfully rebuild, with B.C. Franklin leading the fight against city zoning laws designed to limit reconstruction following the devastation. Greenwood suffered another setback with the city’s decision to bisect Greenwood Avenue with an interstate bypass that dismantled the concentrated community in the 1970s. Explore businesses in Greenwood before and after 1921.
The Legacy of the Massacre
At the heart of this history are stories of strength, spirit, and perseverance as life continued in Tulsa following the 1921 massacre. Explore collections relating to life in Tulsa in the mid-to-late 20th century. In particular, churches in Greenwood served as sites of refuge and resilience amidst the trauma, silence, and racism faced by the community.
As life continued, so did the fight for justice. In 2001, after an in-depth investigation, the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 released a report calling for reparations to be made to the massacre survivors, their descendants, and the larger Greenwood community. Explore objects relating to the Tulsa Reparations Coalition and the legal fight for reparations and economic justice. An interracial movement in the city for education, justice, truth, and reconciliation persists a century after the massacre.
Power of Place: Riot and Resilience in Tulsa, Oklahoma
In the Power of Place exhibition, the museum tells the story of the Tulsa Race Massacre and its aftermath through objects, images, and first-hand accounts of survivors.
Bentwood armchair from a church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, late 19th-early 20th century.
Possessions looted by whites survived the destruction, and often remained with their families for many years. As generations passed, some objects were returned. This chair, reportedly looted from a Black church, reappeared with an anonymous note testifying to its history.
COLLECTIONS: TULSA AND BLACK OKLAHOMA
The Princetta R. Newman Collection of Family Photographs
B.C. Franklin Collection
Don Thompson Tulsa Survivors Photography Collection
W.D. Williams Collection
Gaylord Oscar Herron Photography Collection
Eddie Faye Gates Collection
S.S. Jones Home Movies Collection
RELATED COLLECTIONS AROUND THE SMITHSONIAN
- View images of Greenwood pre-1921 as well as the Harold M. Anderson Black Wall Street Film finding aid and blog post from the National Museum of American History
- Find books about Tulsa and the 1921 Race Massacre in the Smithsonian Libraries collections
- Listen to the Smithsonian's Sidedoor podcast on the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre
- Explore Native American communities in 19th century Oklahoma, objects related to the Trail of Tears, or objects related to Tulsa, Oklahoma, at the National Museum of American Indian
INDIVIDUALS AND ORGANIZATIONS FROM TULSA
The NMAAHC collection holds objects relating to individuals and organizations associated with the Tulsa Race Massacre and its aftermath. The list below contains a selection of such individuals from within our online collection. This list will continue to expand as we add more materials online. Click on a name to learn more about the person and explore related objects.
The Gap Band
Jack's Memory Chapel
W.D. Williams (Survivor)
Vernon A.M.E. Church
George Monroe (Survivor)
Eddie Faye Gates
John Hope Franklin
S.M. Jackson (Survivor)
Booker T. Washington High School
B.C. Franklin (Survivor)
The Oklahoma Eagle
Eunice Jackson (Survivor)
The collecting, processing, and cataloging of Tulsa objects is an ongoing process. This page will be updated as more objects are added to the online collection. Please contact us at NMAAHCDigiTeam@si.edu with any corrections, additional information, or feedback.