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.

Five charred pennies from the Tulsa Race Massacre

"Riot pennies" charred during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Owned by George Monroe. 

 

Gift of Scott Ellsworth

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.

The chair has curved arm rests. The arm rests are attached to the chair back and seat with oval-shaped, metal cleats.
Gift of Vanessa Adams-Harris, citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation

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

Photograph of a group of people outside a house.

The Princetta R. Newman Collection of Family Photographs

Princetta R. Newman's collection of photographs documents life in Tulsa and the businesses of Black Wall Street, particularly the Jackson family and their funeral home, the oldest business in North Tulsa.
View collection about The Princetta R. Newman Collection of Family Photographs
A typed document titled "The Tulsa Race Riot and Three of Its Victims"

B.C. Franklin Collection

A collection of materials relating to the legal work of B.C. Franklin in the aftermath of the Tulsa Race Massacre. The collection includes an unpublished manuscript titled “The Tulsa Race Riot and Three of Its Victims.”
View collection about B.C. Franklin Collection
Photograph of a woman sitting on a piano bench.

Don Thompson Tulsa Survivors Photography Collection

This collection of portraits by Don Thompson documents survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre in their later years and captures images of the Greenwood neighborhood following years of economic decline.
View Collection about Don Thompson Tulsa Survivors Photography Collection
A group of boys playing football.

W.D. Williams Collection

W.D. Williams was a high school student in Tulsa during the Massacre. This collection chronicles his family's experiences as victims and survivors, as well as his life as a student at Hampton Institute and as a teacher in Tulsa.
View Collection about W.D. Williams Collection
A view of the Tulsa skyline

Gaylord Oscar Herron Photography Collection

Herron’s photographs of Tulsa in the 1960s and 1970s provide a portrait of Tulsa’s Black community grappling with the effects of urban renewal. Included are portraits of individuals and groups as well as images of Greenwood.
View Collection about Gaylord Oscar Herron Photography Collection
Eddie Faye Gates with Ron Ross holding a campaign bumper sticker.

Eddie Faye Gates Collection

Gates has been instrumental in recording the history of Black Tulsa and keeping the memory of the Massacre and its legacy unburied. This collection documents the legal battle for reparations and the lives of Black Tulsans.
View Collection about Eddie Faye Gates Collection
Film still of a group of women in white dresses posing around a man.

S.S. Jones Home Movies Collection

This collection of home movies by Rev. S.S. Jones documents Black communities in Oklahoma from 1924 to 1928. The films depict residents at work and in their homes, as well as activities at local schools, businesses, and churches.
View Collection about S.S. Jones Home Movies Collection

This video features survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre recalling their experiences on that day and after. Included are Olivia Hooker, Eldoris McCondichie, Jimmie Lily Franklin, Eunice Jackson, Clyde Eddy, and John Hope Franklin. The voices of survivors bearing witness to this history have pushed the city and the nation toward a more truthful understanding of the past. Their act of bearing witness is an indispensable element of justice and reconciliation.

Gift of The Tulsa Project, Inc. (Reginald Turner, J.D. Clement & The Lomax Company)

RELATED COLLECTIONS AROUND THE SMITHSONIAN

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.

CATALOGING NOTES

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.

Top image: Photographic print of the Greenwood district in Tulsa, Oklahoma, before 1921. Gift of the Families of Anita Williams Christopher and David Owen Williams. 2011.60.5
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