History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history. James Baldwin, 1980 From: “Black English: A Dishonest Argument” in James Baldwin and Randall Kenan The Cross of Redemption: Uncollected Writings Vintage (September 6, 2011)

To mark the centennial anniversary of the Tulsa massacre, NMAAHC has created the Tulsa Collections Portal offering greater access to the museum’s objects, documents, period film and dozens of hours of survivor’s memories.

Nearly a century after the massacre, people continue to learn about, struggle with, understand and work to repair wrong done by the Massacre, and its legacy in subsequent generations of systemic racism. A closer look into NMAAHC Tulsa-related collections shows us that they not just help all people remember the past but they also make demands on us in the present, provoking questions:

  • What responsibility do we have to confront a violent racist past and what is the role of museums in this reckoning?
  • “Do our words matter when identifying events as a “riot” a “massacre” or “pogrom?”
  • “Can objects and collections related to racial violence transcend those moments of violence and be transformative for people in understanding ourselves and our society?”
  • “Is the language of reconciliation absent when isolated from other questions of social justice.”
  • “Is repair or are reparations always or only about money?”   
  • Can we heal without respecting and remedying past pain and continuing wrongs?”

These questions and more require work individually and collectively and do not come with easy answers. They demand more than a onetime engagement but rather reveal a process that commands ongoing work with similar histories that continue to shape our present, as we make imperative the need to uphold the dignity, full freedom and equality of Black lives.

Written by Paul Gardullo, originally published in Smithsonianmag.com - Artifacts from the Tulsa Race Massacre

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