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Pick of the Day: “Rise Again: Tulsa and the Red Summer”

“Rise Again: Tulsa and the Red Summer” spotlights people and events that have been “disappeared by history,” as one interviewee puts it. Dawn Porter’s latest documentary revisits the 1921 Tulsa Massacre, which saw hundreds of Black people murdered and thousands left homeless and displaced. Long omitted from history books and popular culture, the Tulsa Massacre is finally starting to be talked about more widely, and recent depictions in series such as “Watchmen” and “Lovecraft Country” are helping to raise much-needed awareness around this devastating tragedy.

An investigation into the events leading up to this important moment of U.S. history — and why it’s been so overlooked –“Rise Again: Tulsa and the Red Summer” assumes no prior knowledge about the Tulsa Massacre and will serve as a harrowing primer for those unfamiliar with the two-day slaughter. Award-winning journalist DeNeen Brown acts as a guide in the doc. “I really believe that my mission as a Black woman is to tell the stories of people who might not be presented in the newspaper, and as a Black reporter I think it’s so important that our stories be told,” she explains. She’s committed her life to telling stories about the history of the U.S. — a country that’s denied Black people “their very existence as humans.”

“Rise Again” follows Brown as she recounts the events that led up to the Tulsa Massacre, including 1919’s Red Summer, which saw as many as 26 cities experiencing race riots and massacres. As Cameron McWhirter, an author of a book about the Red Summer, explains, “In the breadth of American history, the vast majority of race riots were white mobs attacking Black people, individuals, or communities.” White mobs were responsible for the Tulsa Massacre, but Porter is painting a broader picture beyond this event and the individual racists to blame for it. She’s exploring the impact of white supremacy and its ongoing impact.

“Any time there is a perception that Black people are rising economically, socially there are those individuals and forces that seek to put a stop to it,” observes historian and author C.R. Gibbs in the doc. Tulsa’s Greenwood District was known as Black Wall Street at the time of the attack, and ranked as the wealthiest Black community in the United States. This act of terror was very much designed to send a message.

During the attack families had to decide whether to risk being shot at outside or remain in their homes and risk being burned alive. Afterwards, survivors were held in camps while the bodies of hundreds of victims were buried in mass graves. As Reverend Dr. Robert Turner emphasizes, “That is a sobering fact — you can not only rob, burn, kill people, but you don’t even want to give them the dignity of giving them a proper burial?”

Like “Rise Again,” Brown refuses to let this history — and these people — stay buried in anonymity. Both are committed to ensuring that this story, which has largely gone untold, is acknowledged and reckoned with. Others are committed to doing the same — including Salima Koroma and dream hampton, who both have documentary projects about the Tulsa Massacre in the works.

As long ago as 100 years may sound, the doc emphasizes that “Red Summer-like behavior is happening today.” The evidence is all around us. Besides being an indictment of country that was and remains inundated with anti-Black racism, “Rise Again” is also a testament to resistance and resiliency.

“Rise Again: Tulsa and the Red Summer” premieres at 9/8c today, June 18, on National Geographic.