- Tom Hanks says the Tulsa Race Massacre is “too often left out” of American history.
- Hanks first learned about the dark event in 2020.
- The Oscar winner said until recently, Hollywood has also ignored Black history, including “projects of mine.”
- The star says “whitewash curriculums” are “placing white feelings over Black experience.”
On the 100th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, Tom Hanks is encouraging people to educate themselves on the dark event that he says is commonly ignored and “too often left out” of American history.
In 1921, a white mob burned Tulsa, Oklahoma’s “Black Wall Street” to the ground, killing an estimated 300 Black Americans, wounding 800 more and forcing thousands from their homes. The Oklahoma Historical Society refers to it as “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history.”
Hanks, who considers himself a “lay historian” through his education, personal research and work in “historically based entertainment,” said he “never read a page of any school history book” on the massacre.
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That changed nearly a century later when the prolific actor came across a 2020 New York Times article following the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“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,” Hanks, 64, wrote in a guest essay for the Times Friday. “Until relatively recently, the entertainment industry, which helps shape what is history and what is forgotten, did the same. That includes projects of mine.”
Hanks believes “the truth about Tulsa, and the repeated violence by some white Americans against Black Americans, was systematically ignored, perhaps because it was regarded as too honest, too painful a lesson for our young white ears.”
The actor says such curriculums that “whitewash” history falsely lead Americans to believe racism isn’t as deeply rooted in our country as it is, and by omittingteaching aboutthe massacre, “white educators and school administrators” are “placing white feelings over Black experience – literally Black lives in this case.”
“So, our predominantly white schools didn’t teach it, our mass appeal works of historical fiction didn’t enlighten us, and my chosen industry didn’t take on the subject in films and shows until recently,” the “Forrest Gump” star said.
Hanks said it’s the entertainment industry’s responsibility to “portray the burden of racism in our nation for the sake of the art form’s claims to verisimilitude and authenticity.” He applauded recent examples like “Watchmen” and “Lovecraft Country.”
“America’s history is messy but knowing that makes us a wiser and stronger people,” Hanks said, highlighting World War II, the civil rights movement and the publishing of the Pentagon Papers. He concluded: “Each of these lessons chronicles our quest to live up to the promise of our land, to tell truths that, in America, are meant to be held as self-evident.”
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