Breaking a Century of Silence: A Historiography of the Tulsa Race Riot


  • Joshua D. Mackey Wichita State University


Tulsa Race Riot, speaking to power, primary resources, historical records, oral history


The events of May 31 through June 1, 1921 had been obscured by a lack of official records and a culture of silence for the better part of a half-century. Thanks to the diligent work of amateur journalists and historians like Mary E. Jones Parrish, and civil servants like Maurice Willows of the American Red Cross, we have a historical record to work with. Writers like Ed Wheeler and Scott Ellsworth pioneered investigation into the riot, conducting Interviews and collating their findings into some of the first works dedicated to the act. Thanks to the efforts of Don Ross and the other members of the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, the prevailing narrative preserved by Parrish and Willows persisted into acceptance as the official story. Historians working during the commission drafted three distinct histories, built upon past work on the subject and serving different purposes: either to humanize the victims and perpetrators of the riot, make the case for reparations, or examine the context surrounding the riot's remembrance in the city.