Human Rights Center contributes to new doc on Tulsa Race Massacre

May 31, 2021

At the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre—one of the worst incidents of racial violence in American history—Tulsa: The Fire and the Forgotten will premiere on PBS stations nationwide on Monday, May 31, 9pm EDT (pbs.org for times in other regions). The documentary, co-produced by UC Berkeley Human Rights Center Faculty Director Eric Stover, examines this deadly assault in the context of recent police violence, including the May 25, 2020, killing of George Floyd.

 “The Tulsa Race Massacre should be seen and remembered in the context of other global atrocities and racial violence,” said Stover, who collaborated with Director Jonathan Silvers and Washington Post reporter DeNeen Brown to make the film. “This documentary tells a story once erased from American history, sharing the resistance, hopes, and quest of Black communities seeking truth and justice,” said Stover. 

Known as the Tulsa Race Massacre, a mob of white residents set fire to “Black Wall Street” in the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma, on May 31–June 1, 1921—killing more than 100 Black residents and leaving some 10,000 without homes. This explosion of racial violence was followed by silence, as no one was punished for the crimes committed.  

In Tulsa: The Fire and the Forgotten, Stover talks about the importance of the city’s efforts to find and exhume the graves of victims—even a century later. Washington Post reporter Brown interviews descendants of the massacre as well as activists working to revive Black Wall Street and seek reparations and justice for the crimes. 

In anticipation of the centennial of the massacre nearly three years ago, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum announced that the city would search for the graves of the massacre victims. The city has since undertaken two excavations with a third planned for June 2021. 

Stover, who teaches law and public health at Berkeley, has worked with forensic teams to investigate numerous acts of genocide and mass murder over many decades. Stover said: “We conduct these investigations for three reasons: to support the right of families of the disappeared to know the fate of their loved ones and give them a burial, collect evidence to hold perpetrators criminally accountable, and establish an historical record. The search for physical remains in any atrocity is a tangible and welcomed step toward truth and justice.” 

With the support of Human Rights Center Associate Director Andrea Lampros, students in the Human Rights Center Investigations Lab contributed research to fact check Tulsa: The Fire and the Forgotten.