Film Recalls Race Riot

Sunday, October 19th 2008, 4:56 pm
By: News On 6

By Jeffrey Smith, The News On 6

TULSA, OK - It's been called the darkest day in Oklahoma's history.  On Sunday, hundreds turned out to see the premiere of a new film about the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot.  The documentary is hoping to open eyes about how far the city has come and how much progress is still needed.

The documentary is called Before They Die and it premiered on Sunday afternoon just blocks away from where the riot started.  The filmmaker says it's a powerful tool in the fight against racism.

It was the worst race riot in U.S. history:  87 years ago, a white mob of 2,000 descended on the Greenwood District in downtown Tulsa.

105-year-old Otis Clark remembers it all.

"We didn't have nothing to protect ourselves.  We had to run. I got shot at," said Tulsa Race Riot survivor Otis Clark.

Long considered the economic center for blacks, Greenwood was burned to the ground.  Clark was 18 years old at the time.

"They burned it up.  We had to go to Claremore for the night to get out of the danger.  When I come back, I found out that everything, all our little property, my grandparents' home and everything was burned up. Right there on Archer Street.

The riot lasted for two days.  Officially 39 people were killed.  But, most historians agree that dozens more died.  Some experts say as many as 300 perished in the riots.

"This is much bigger than Tulsa. This is American history," said producer Reggie Turner.

A new documentary debuting in Tulsa revisits that day.  Dozens of survivors who lived through it attended the premiere. 

The producer says the fight against racism is still ongoing.

"For 87 years, these people have been ignored," said producer Reggie Turner.  "Tulsa is still a segregated and divided community."

The film will be taken to New York, Chicago, and other big cities.  Turner says it's a pointed example of the need for reparations.

"These are living survivors. Survivors are always victims. And, victims are always entitled to compensation," said producer Reggie Turner.

Turner says the wounds from the riot are still seen on the faces of many and facing the past is the only way to embrace the future.

Turner says the proceeds from his screenings will go directly to the survivors.

Several years ago the state provided for two-thirds of the cost to build a memorial park in Greenwood.

Just last week, the Tulsa City Council approved $500,000 to cover the final costs in getting that memorial built.

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10/18/2008  Race Riot Documentary Set To Premiere