Tom Hanks has penned an essay on the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa race massacre, saying American schools aren’t doing enough to educate students on the event.
The massacre took place in the Oklahoma city across May 31-June 1, 1921, with as many as 300 Black Americans killed. In his essay for the New York Times, Hanks said he and many others were never told about the massacre in school, with American History classes instead devoted to topics like how Britain’s Stamp Act helped lead to the Boston Tea Party.
“For all my study, I never read a page of any school history book about how, in 1921, a mob of white people burned down a place called Black Wall Street, killed as many as 300 of its Black citizens and displaced thousands of Black Americans who lived in Tulsa,” he wrote.
“My experience was common: History was mostly written by white people about white people like me, while the history of Black people – including the horrors of Tulsa – was too often left out. Until relatively recently, the entertainment industry, which helps shape what is history and what is forgotten, did the same.”
Hanks suggests the massacre was possibly ignored by schools “because it was regarded as too honest, too painful a lesson for our young white ears”, and wonders how different perspectives would be if it were taught to young kids. Praising recent representations of the massacre in shows like Watchmen and Lovecraft Country, the actor said it is now time for its history to be shared in schools.
“Should our schools now teach the truth about Tulsa? Yes, and they should also stop the battle to whitewash curriculums to avoid discomfort for students,” he wrote.
“America’s history is messy but knowing that makes us a wiser and stronger people. 1921 is the truth, a portal to our shared, paradoxical history.”
Last week, US President Joe Biden became the first sitting president to visit the site of the massacre, calling for Americans to be honest about the events which unfolded 100 years ago.
“For much too long the history of what took place here was told in silence, cloaked in darkness. But just because history is silent it doesn’t mean that it did not take place and, while darkness can hide much, it erases nothing,” Biden said.
“Some injustices are so heinous, so horrific, so grievous, they can’t be buried, no matter how hard people try. So it is here: only with truth can come healing and justice and repair.”