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State to Introduce Curriculum for Tulsa Race Massacre Ahead of Centennial

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Students across Oklahoma will learn the same things about the Tulsa Race Massacre ahead of its centennial.

While state law requires instruction on it, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said facts about the massacre have not been taught as they should have been.

"So, some of the things we’ve done to ensure that lives long beyond the 100-year anniversary is to embed in our academic standards the teaching of the race massacre," Hofmeister said.

Statewide curriculum for the Tulsa Race Massacre is modeled on a teaching plan Tulsa Public Schools developed and will be part of new state social studies standards due out in April.

Teachers will be trained on how to implement it over the summer, meaning students will be taught from it starting in the 2020–2021 school year. Hofmeister said the curriculum with one- and five-day teaching plans is merely a framework, so teachers will be free to adapt it as needed.

The standards come as the City of Tulsa puts money toward Greenwood Cultural Center improvements and area development. Mayor G.T. Bynum said things might be a lot different today if Tulsa had always tried to keep the race massacre a visible part of its past.

"This isn’t something that you just read about in history books and think, ‘Oh, well, that’s something that happened 100 years ago. It could never happen again.’ That’s exactly what people in 1921 in Tulsa probably thought, too," Bynum said.

State Sen. Kevin Matthews said the goal with improvements to the Greenwood Cultural Center is to make it the national site for learning about the Tulsa Race Massacre. Matthews said his hope is it can also feature Oklahoma's original black towns and become part of the Civil Rights Trail.

U.S. Sen. James Lankford has worked with Matthews on preparations for the Tulsa Race Massacre centennial and said Tulsa needs to be ready for that.

"Just over a year from now, the entire country will pause for a little while at the end of May and the first of June and will look at Tulsa and will ask the question, ‘What has changed in race relations in Tulsa in 100 years?’" Lankford said.

Lankford and historian Hannibal Johnson produced a half-hour video about Greenwood to help with the efforts.


Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.