For years, Americans talked little about the killing of hundreds of people in Tulsa, Oklahoma, nearly a century ago. When they did talk about the violent incident they called it the Tulsa race riot.
The incident happened over a period of 16 hours, from May 31 to June 1, 1921. It took place in a part of Tulsa where Black Americans operated successful businesses. Mobs of white people attacked Black locals and businesses in an area known as “Black Wall Street.”
An estimated 300 people died. Hundreds more were injured, and thousands were left homeless. Black Wall Street was destroyed.
Under new rules developed by teachers, Oklahoma students are urged to consider the differences between calling the incident a “riot” and a “massacre” — the violent killing of many people. Yet Oklahoma’s state laws use the word riot when describing the violence.
The state’s new education guidelines are taking effect as a national discussion on racial injustice brings attention to how Black history is taught in schools.
There is no national set of rules on how to teach Black history in the United States. A small number of states have laws requiring that the subject be taught in public schools. Each state sets its own education requirements. History classes often make note of slavery, the rise of Jim Crow laws and the civil rights movement.
Some experts and educators say Black history lessons spend too much time telling about violence and suffering, instead of the systemic parts of racism and white supremacy. But others say past unrest and injustices are not explained enough.