The Tulsa race riot of 1921 remains one of the ugliest, most depressing chapters in American history that tellingly often goes ignored in our history classes. Once upon a time, and despite the many economic limitations endured by African Americans during the 19th and early 20th century, the Greenwood section of Tulsa, Oklahoma was considered the “Black Wall Street.” An area where people of color could thrive and achieve even middle class and wealthy ideals.
That is until likely hundreds of these citizens were killed by white neighbors who attacked their neighborhoods, burned their homes, and even dropped balls of fiery turpentine on their houses. In the aftermath, 10,000 African Americans were turned essentially into refugees as they abandoned their homes and communities.
The history of this tragedy is often glossed over, but now Tim Story’s production company, The Story Company, and Zero Gravity are looking to give it the big screen, narrative treatment. As broken in Deadline, the companies are developing a film on the subject which Story (Ride Along, Fantastic Four) is slated to both direct and produce. Christopher Kubasik will meanwhile write the screenplay, which is reportedly “inspired” by Corinda Marsh’s Holocaust in the Homeland.
The tragedy has been the subject of films and literature before. HBO famously made a documentary about in 2000 called Lynching of 1921: A Hidden Story. Oprah Winfrey’s OWN is also still developing a miniseries on the events.
The riots took place between May 31 and June 1 in 1921 after racial tensions in the city of Tulsa exploded following the alleged claim that a young black man had tried to rape a white elevator operator over Memorial Day weekend. Shortly thereafter, a white mob formed with the highly probable intention of lynching the accused, when a group of armed black men confronted the white crowd. Confrontation turned into hostility and members of both parties were killed after shots were fired. In the aftermath, racial tensions exploded into anarchy as white neighbors, agitated by not only the violence but the success of an affluent black community, descended on Greenwood in the thousands. Thirty-five blocks and more than 1,200 homes were destroyed. Stores were looted, and burning turpentine were dropped on black residents as makeshift bombs.
More than 800 people were administered to hospitals, thousands of black residents were arrested, but the official Oklahoma record only recorded 39 deaths (murders). The American Red Cross meanwhile estimated the death toll as over 300, which historians now agree is the more likely number.