Document Type



Boston University Law Review




Over one hundred years have passed since the 1921 brutal massacre of Tulsa’s African American community. This notorious attack came at the hands of a white mob and with the government’s blessing. With numerous centennial commemorations behind us, what has been learned? The answer to this question is crucial to preventing similar atrocities in the future.

One lesson is how important it is to tell the story—to honor the voices of those who lived through one of the most infamous government-sanctioned racial attacks in U.S. history. Knowledge is power.

Another lesson is how pernicious the law can be in silencing those voices. In many ways things have come full circle. The law has morphed over time to mute the stories and squash the resilience of the survivors: from the crushing use of violence and intimidation to destroy Black Tulsa; to the antiseptic use of zoning regulations, segregation mandates, urban renewal policies, and systemic discrimination to prevent rebuilding; to the cramped use of the statute of limitations to escape accountability; to the deceptive use of antidiscrimination law in public schools to quash meaningful discourse about the Tulsa Race Massacre itself. There is a through line of silencing that goes from 1921 to the present, with law leading the way.

This Article reveals how the Tulsa Race Massacre survivors continue to demonstrate tenacity in response to government obstructionism. One hundred years later, the survivors continue to demand that the legal system hear their cries for justice. Chameleon-like, the law changes to meet the times, only to be outmatched by the resilience of Black Tulsa.


Originally presented at the 16th Annual Lutie A. Lytle Black Women Law Faculty Workshop