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Tulsa: The Fire and the Forgotten
(DVD / NR / 2021 / PBS)

Overview: One hundred years after the destruction of the Black-owned Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma, one of the worst incidents of racial violence in U.S. history, residents and descendants examine the history of the 1921 tragedy and its aftermath.

Through the historical lens of white violence and Black resistance, the film explores vital issues of atonement, reconciliation and reparation.

DVD Verdict: Memorial Day and the subsequent Tuesday in the United States this year also marked the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, a tragedy that was already receiving renewed attention in recent years and so now it seems there are several twin TV and streaming documentaries being released on the subject.

There’s this one, Tulsa: The Fire and the Forgotten, from PBS; a two-parter The Legacy of Black Wall Street from Oprah Winfrey’s TV channel and also on Discovery+; even two separate ones produced by rival basketballers amidst the NBA playoffs!

Most of us didn’t learn about it at school, that’s for sure. Both the PBS and CNN docs begin by mentioning how the Tulsa massacre was intentionally erased from the history books, but they say this as though it’s an isolated Oklahoma problem.

History lessons in primary and secondary education throughout most of the U. S. and the rest of the world is assuredly atrocious. I know it was for me. Anyways, one may read more on how poorly we’re being taught in popular texts such as Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, or read real history books and academic articles - not textbooks.

Sorry, but I am not going to try to retell the particulars of the violence from the government-sanctioned white mob that murdered dozens to hundreds of Africans Americans and burned down the Greenwood District of Tulsa, what was one of the richest neighborhoods in the country - earning it the name of Black Wall Street.

Besides, this and the CNN and History Channel docs do a better job on this history that I could ever do, including the prior history of Oklahoma as the territory for forcibly relocated Native Americans, including those who owned black slaves, before the discovery of oil in that formerly discarded land attracted white industry and settlers to take much of that territory, too.

The strength of the PBS doc is in comparing Tulsa 1921 to the city today, particularly in regards to race relations. The result sometimes comes across as too fragmentary and some episodes are worse than others, in truth.

What seems to be little more than an advertisement for an African-American tech start-up, for instance, is a relatively poor inclusion. More on point is coverage of the shooting of Terence Crutcher and the protests over painting Black Lives Matter on a Greenwood street, including their running up against a Blue Lives Matter march and, with historical comparison to Tulsa’s past racial intimidators, today’s white armed militia showing up to such an event.

The search and excavation of mass graves is handled well, as in the other movies, and two of them at least seem to be good political publicity for Tulsa’s mayor, who has supported these efforts (the History Channel one actually shows him being asked a politically-tougher question regarding reparations).

More unique to this picture is the examination of the legal battle for criminal justice and reparations from the massacre. Oklahoma’s refusal to take up suggestions for such from a report on the massacre are covered, as are lawsuits from the survivors and descendants.

Florida’s settlement over the Rosewood race massacre of 1923 is mentioned as the only instance of such reparations, although, nationally, the case of some compensation for the interment of Japanese Americans comes to mind, as well.

Overall, it is and important and interesting history, even if handled more effectively here on this PBS iteration than the aforementioned others elsewhere. [CA] This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.

Official PBS Purchase Link