My great-grandmother, Rebecca Brown Crutcher -- a woman who was the picture of Black excellence -- lived and worked in the Greenwood community. But in 1921, she fled in fear of her life as White Tulsans burned her neighborhood to the ground.
What was once the wealthiest Black neighborhood in America became charred ash
in a matter of hours. 10,000 Black residents were left homeless -- and an entire generation of Black Tulsans were robbed of their wealth and prosperity they had built. To this day, not one person has ever been held accountable and not a single cent of reparations has been paid to the survivors or the victims' descendants.
Without this necessary reckoning with the past, we're already repeating it. As Oklahoma and many around the world are preparing to mark the centennial of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, last month, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed a law
criminalizing peaceful protesters and giving immunity to drivers who "unintentionally'' kill or injure protesters. This law is, according to
the count kept by the International Center for Not-For-Profit Law, just one of 81 anti-protest bills introduced in 34 states during the 2021 legislative session alone -- most of them framed as a response to last summer's Black Lives Matter protests. But instead of tackling the root causes of these nationwide protests against police brutality, racism and anti-Blackness, many lawmakers are attempting to intimidate, malign and criminalize peaceful protesters.
Laws like this one will undoubtedly have painful and long-lasting consequences in Oklahoma and the rest of the nation. Black, brown and Indigenous people will surely be locked up, ripped apart from their families, and may lose their jobs for exercising their First Amendment right to peacefully assemble in a protest. They will surely receive harsher punishments for protesting police brutality and racial injustice than, for instance, White protesters demonstrating for gun rights or for their desire to control a woman's body.
This isn't the only bill introduced in Oklahoma this session that's followed the Tulsa Race Massacre's sinister legacy of suppression and erasure of Black Oklahomans. Half a dozen bills have already been introduced to restrict absentee voting and require identification to vote, echoing the growing trend of voting restrictions around the country
. Historically in our state as elsewhere, these tactics have been used to disenfranchise
Black and brown, poor and older communities and people with disabilities, with the precedent being set in one state and spreading like wildfire to the rest of the country.
On May 7, Governor Stitt signed HB 1775 into law, which will prohibit Oklahoma schools from teaching critical race theory
-- or in other words important lessons about systemic racism and diversity. The measure is meant to essentially stifle important discussions about, among other things, the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, the Trail of Tears and the Osage murders in classrooms and beyond. Erasing our history, yet again, will have devastating consequences. And Oklahoma isn't alone -- bills banning or restricting
the teaching of critical race theory have been drafted in Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and West Virginia and already passed in Utah, Arkansas, Idaho and Tennessee.
Bills like HB 1775 attempt to obscure the fact that heinous instances of racial violence, from slavery to Jim Crow laws to the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, are not blemishes on our history but consequences of discriminatory systems that continue to harm Black people today.