Tom Hanks: My Industry Ignored Tulsa for Too Long

He says he had never heard of race massacre before last year
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 4, 2021 9:00 AM CDT
Tom Hanks: Schools Must Teach the Truth About Tulsa
This photo provided by the Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library, The University of Tulsa shows the ruins of Dunbar Elementary School and the Masonic Hall in the aftermath of the June 1, 1921, Tulsa Race Massacre in Tulsa, Okla.   (Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library, The University of Tulsa via AP)

(Newser) – Tom Hanks considers himself a reasonably well-informed "lay historian"—he has appeared in more than a few historically based movies and TV shows—but he had never heard of the Tulsa Race Massacre before last year. In an opinion piece at the New York Times, the actor says the 1921 massacre and other acts of anti-Black violence were ignored for far too long. The history he learned in school, he writes, "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." And until recently, "the entertainment industry, which helps shape what is history and what is forgotten, did the same." That includes his own projects, Hanks writes. He says he believes educators may have considered Tulsa "too honest, too painful a lesson for our young white ears."

Hanks says teaching the truth about the massacre, in which white mobs burned an area known as Black Wall Street and killed up to 300 of the city's Black residents, might convince more Americans that systemic racism exists. "How different would perspectives be had we all been taught about Tulsa in 1921, even as early as the fifth grade?" he asks. "Today, I find the omission tragic, an opportunity missed, a teachable moment squandered." Hanks says "historically based fiction entertainment must portray the burden of racism in our nation for the sake of the art form's claims to verisimilitude and authenticity"—and schools should start teaching the truth about Tulsa. "America’s history is messy but knowing that makes us a wiser and stronger people," he writes. (Read the full piece.)

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