Renowned historian, professor and filmmaker Dr. Henry Louis Gates says he will trace the roots of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre survivors.
A genealogist and professor of African American Studies, Gates is the director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research at Harvard University. He is best known as the creator and host of the popular PBS show “Finding Your Roots.” On the show, Gates traces the ancestry of guests who have included actress and director Regina King, hip-hop artist and actor LL Cool J and Oklahoma native and law Professor Anita Hill.
Gates recently met with the three survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and vowed to trace their family trees and feature them on “Finding Your Roots,” which is in its ninth season.
Once known as Black Wall Street, Tulsa’s Greenwood District area was a prosperous Black community until May 31, 1921, when a white mob burned and destroyed the 30-block historically Black district. An estimated 300 people were killed during the massacre.
Survivors Viola Ford Fletcher, 107, Hughes Van Ellis. 101, and Lessie Benningfield Randle, 107, spoke with Gates in Tulsa on April 8, The Oklahoma Eagle reported. Gates was in Tulsa for the 85th season of the Tulsa Town Hall’s 2021-22 season at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center.
His meeting with the survivors was organized by Oklahoma State Rep. Regina Goodwin.
Survivors and their descendants a lawsuit in 2020 in Oklahoma state court against the City of Tulsa, demanding that it “repair the damage” caused by the attack.
Gates said he will include a segment on “Finding Your Roots’’ that traces the ancestry of the three survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre. He plans to first collect DNA samples from the survivors and then research their family histories.
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“We’ve never traced sectarians before,” Gates said during a radio interview on Joe Madison’s SiriusXM show, “The Black Eagle.” “At their age, the survivors are close to Reconstruction and even our collective slave experience.”
In 2021, Tusla commemorated 100 years since the race massacre. “We are only just beginning as a nation to confront the multiple meanings and implications of this horror of American history,” wrote Religion News writer Cheryl Townsend Gilkes in an opinion piece.
“Unspoken and unspeakable, the Greenwood Massacre is a painful bulwark in the broken soul of America. These survivors of the Tulsa Massacre were part of a larger, trauma-filled history of oppressions: Multiple trails of tears to Oklahoma made room for slavery in the deep South,” wrote Gilkes.
She continued, “In earlier generations, an estimated 1.5 million African Americans were chained and marched in coffles into the deep and western South, including Oklahoma and Mexico’s Texas. Tulsa’s Greenwood is a rock in a river of America’s internal migrations, and the massacre in turn helped to send many thousands north in the Great Migration as refugees in their own land.”
Photo: Carolyn Roberts, daughter of Tulsa Race Massacre survivor Ernestine Alpha Gibbs, holds family photos of the Gibbs’ family business during an interview, April 11, 2021, in Tulsa. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)