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'This is still being suppressed': OU professor's book of recovered photos preserves history of Tulsa Race Massacre

Once a gathering place for the city’s Black community, Mount Zion Baptist Church stands empty with smoke billowing from it, shortly before being burned to the ground, in an image from the Tulsa Race Massacre. 

Today, it continues to act as a place of community for its members, who meet in a large building similar to the one in the image. But its members haven’t forgotten its history. 

Sharlene Johnson, chair of Mount Zion’s joint board, said when the church started in 1909, it was held in a one-room frame building. Construction began on a larger building, on the same land the church is on now, in 1916. The first services were held in the new building in April 1921 — two months before white Tulsans would burn the building to rubble.

Johnson said all of the Greenwood District was attacked because of racism and bigotry, but Mount Zion was a special target because white rioters wrongly believed it to be the headquarters and ammunition storage for the Greenwood community. She said she learned about the Tulsa Race Massacre growing up in Chicago, but when she moved to Oklahoma in 1977, she found that event wasn’t taught locally. 

“This is your history, it’s national history,” Johnson said. “But it wasn’t taught here, it was ignored for years and years. … This is a history that you can’t keep silent.” 

After half a century without pictures of the massacre readily available, OU professor Karlos Hill compiled images like the ones of Mount Zion and others as part of his latest project, “The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre: A Photographic History.” His photobook is centered on the experiences of Black survivors and is intended to contextualize images taken by white participants.

In his research on the massacre, Hill has seen countless images depicting destruction, damaged buildings and, simultaneously, the wrecking of the hopes and dreams of a prosperous Black community. But in his mind, one stands out from the rest — an aerial image of a smoky sky above a smattering of buildings, with a caption scratched across the bottom of the picture. 

Read entire article at OU Daily