Death Marks the Spot


To commemorate the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre, which decimated a Black community from May 31 to June 1, 1921, a new building will glow where the ruins smoldered. It is home to Greenwood Rising: Black Wall Street History Center, designed by Selser Schaefer Architects, a Tulsa firm, with exhibitions by Local Projects, a Manhattan company known for the 9/11 Memorial & Museum among other immersive installations. The center opens to the public in June.

Rectangular openings scattered along the lightweight concrete exterior will be lit by LEDs, programmable in multiple colors. In the galleries, artifacts, photos and films will span two centuries. The context of American racial violence will be represented in displays of slave shackles and a bloodstained Ku Klux Klan robe. Chairs will be arranged in a simulation of a family-owned barbershop in the Greenwood neighborhood, where Black Wall Street power brokers had congregated. Painted and neon signs will advertise stores and other businesses that had thrived nearby.

One room will be devoted to a video evoking the firestorm. Buildings will crumble as the soundtrack quotes survivors’ reminiscences of losing relatives, friends, homes and livelihoods. In the final galleries, visitors can post reflections about ways to combat contemporary racism.

Phil Armstrong, the project director for the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, said the dayslong 1921 assault was long considered “Tulsa’s dirty little secret,” barely discussed among locals. (The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture has devoted a new website to its holdings about the subject.) He expects more artifacts and stories to surface from friends and relatives of eyewitnesses and victims, he said, after the center opens and sheds further light on the subject.