Actor Tom Hanks wrote an op-ed Friday arguing that the Tulsa race massacre should be taught in grade school so that “White descendants of those in the mob” can learn the truth about the 1921 tragedy.
In a piece for The New York Times, the two-time Oscar winner said that while he considers himself a “lay historian,” he only learned recently about the Tulsa race massacre, when White residents torched what was then known as Black Wall Street, leaving as many as 300 Black people dead, though the exact number is unknown.
“My experience was common: History was mostly written by White people about White people like me, while the history of Black people — including the horrors of Tulsa — was too often left out,” Mr. Hanks wrote. “Until relatively recently, the entertainment industry, which helps shape what is history and what is forgotten, did the same. That includes projects of mine. I knew about the attack on Fort Sumter, Custer’s last stand and Pearl Harbor but did not know of the Tulsa massacre until last year, thanks to an article in The New York Times.”
Mr. Hanks, who grew up in Oakland, Calif., said Tulsa “was never more than a city on the prairie” to him until he learned what happened there a century ago.
“The truth about Tulsa, and the repeated violence by some White Americans against Black Americans, was systematically ignored, perhaps because it was regarded as too honest, too painful a lesson for our young White ears,” he wrote. “So, our predominantly White schools didn’t teach it, our mass appeal works of historical fiction didn’t enlighten us, and my chosen industry didn’t take on the subject in films and shows until recently. It seems White educators and school administrators (if they even knew of the Tulsa massacre, for some surely did not) omitted the volatile subject for the sake of the status quo, placing White feelings over Black experience — literally Black lives in this case.
“How different would perspectives be had we all been taught about Tulsa in 1921, even as early as the fifth grade?” he continued. “Today, I find the omission tragic, an opportunity missed, a teachable moment squandered. When people hear about systemic racism in America, just the use of those words draws the ire of those White people who insist that since July 4, 1776, we have all been free, we were all created equally, that any American can become president and catch a cab in Midtown Manhattan no matter the color of our skin, that, yes, American progress toward justice for all can be slow but remains relentless. Tell that to the century-old survivors of Tulsa and their offspring. And teach the truth to the White descendants of those in the mob that destroyed Black Wall Street.”