President Biden is commemorating the centennial of “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history,” according to the Oklahoma Historical Society, and until two years ago, most Americans had never even heard of it.
June 1 marks the 100th anniversary of the day the Tulsa Race Massacre came to a close, a harrowing event in which a white mob destroyed the Greenwood district, a prosperous Tulsa neighborhood known as “Black Wall Street.” Over 35 city blocks were burned to the ground, hundreds of civilians were killed and survivors were forced to leave.
The story was not reported by Tulsa papers at the time, leading to decades of silence in both the American media and education system. Many historians believe that the tragedy was actively suppressed.
That is until two popular television shows shed light on a chapter of American history that previous generations had preferred remain in the dark — HBO’s “Watchmen” and “Lovecraft Country” — while simultaneously developing their own themes and characters.
Adapted from the groundbreaking graphic novel of the same name, “Watchmen” imagines an alternate timeline in which superheroes act as outlaws throughout history. Premiering on October 20, 2019, the show kicked off with a shocking recreation of the events of May 31 and June 1 and set the tone for the series in the process.
The episode opens on a young Black boy watching a silent movie. Suddenly, sirens begin blaring in the distance and the theater takes a massive blow. The boy runs out to find that the town is under attack. With the help of a kind stranger, he narrowly escapes the city in an outbound truck.
Later that night, the boy wakes up in a field with a gash in his forehead. He quickly sees that the drivers had been shot, leading the truck to tip over and conceivably throw him into the grass. He hears infant cries and finds a baby girl in the wreckage. With the baby in his arms and the city burning in the distance, the shot recalls Superman escaping the ruins of Krypton.
Many viewers, like @ZaackHunt on Twitter, were shocked to find that the pilot’s opening sequence was not a part of the superhero series’s fictional universe. Instead, it provided an invaluable educational opportunity.
“Lovecraft Country,” a horror drama series in which a man travels across Jim Crow-era America to find his missing father, premiered last year. Aptly titled “Rewind 1921,” the show’s ninth episode directly involves its three main characters in the real life events.
Leti, Tic and Montrose travel back in time to Tulsa just before the riots. While Tic and Leti are focused on finding their friend Dee, Montrose is haunted by his own firsthand memories from the massacre and his fear of living the day over again. Leti encounters the mob herself, narrowly escaping as the shoot at her. The episode ends with a family the friends encounter having to live the historic day not being able to escape to the future and having to live the historic day as it happened. Their sacrifice adds weight to the protagonists’ mission going forward.
During his speech on Tuesday, President Joe Biden acknowledged how history had forgotten the events that transpired in Tulsa for year.
“My fellow Americans: this was not a riot,” Biden said. “This was a massacre — among the worst in our history, but not the only one. And for too long, forgotten by our history. As soon as it happened there was a clear effort to erase it from our memory — our collective memories.”