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Oklahoma's James Lankford seeks national designation for site of Tulsa Race Massacre

People walk by a mural for Black Wall Street in the Greenwood district during centennial commemorations of the Tulsa Race Massacre, Sunday, May 30, 2021, in Tulsa, Okla.
John Locher
People walk by a mural for Black Wall Street in the Greenwood district during centennial commemorations of the Tulsa Race Massacre, Sunday, May 30, 2021, in Tulsa, Okla.

U.S. Sen. James Lankford on Thursday introduced bipartisan legislation to establish Tulsa’s historic Greenwood District as a national monument.

The legislation is long overdue, said Reuben Gant, executive director of the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation, who has been advocating since 2010 for the national designation for the site of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

He said he’s hopeful the proposed change will help tell the story of the massacre in a way that puts Black history front and center.

“Black history is an integral part of American history, and to tell our history and the story of our history in its truthfulness and totality, it includes all of us,” Gant said.

The Greenwood District, also known as Black Wall Street, was the site of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, in which a white mob destroyed the affluent Black neighborhood.

Although an official count reported only 36 people died in the massacre, unofficial estimates indicate hundreds of people were killed. Thousands were left homeless after roughly 35 blocks of the district were burned and destroyed.

Lankford was joined by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, of New Jersey, in filing the legislation.

“The Historic Greenwood District/Black Wall Street area in North Tulsa deserves its place among our nation’s significant historic locations,” Lankford said in a news release. “I have worked with my friends in North Tulsa to secure designations on the National Registry of Historic Places and on the Civil Rights Trail. Now, we are one step closer to establishing a national monument.”

If the legislation is approved, Gant said there is a three-year process in which the secretary of the interior will consult with community residents and leaders to develop a management plan for the area that will be submitted to Congress.

State Sen. Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa, praised Lankford’s bill.

“I think it’s very exciting that our U.S. senator would acknowledge the Greenwood area in that way,” he said.

Raymond Doswell, director of the Greenwood Rising museum in Tulsa, said Lankford’s legislation is the result of a yearslong collaborative effort involving many community members.

He’s optimistic the legislation will pass, and the designation will bring greater national attention to the history of the Greenwood District.

“Many leaders here in the area are very hopeful that it continues to be something in terms of elevating the story of Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Race Massacre,” Doswell said.

National monuments are areas that are protected by the federal government due to their historic or scientific interest. The U.S. has more than 125 national monuments that include parts of national parks and various historic sites.

The newest national monument honors Emmett Till and recognizes his mother’s efforts to share the story of her son’s lynching through activism and education.

Oklahoma Voice is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oklahoma Voice maintains editorial independence.

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Oklahoma Voice