What Black Women Filmmakers Dawn Porter, Deborah Riley Draper, and Salima Koroma Are Teaching Us About Tulsa and the “Future of Black Freedom” This Juneteenth and Beyond
By Ronda Racha Penrice
Because the official centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre happened over Memorial Day weekend, culminating in the first-ever appearance of a sitting U.S. President acknowledging the tragedy, many falsely assume that chapter of American history is over. That’s why Dawn Porter’s Rise Again: Tulsa and the Red Summer, which premiered June 18 on National Geographic and Hulu, just in time for Juneteenth, is important.
What happened in Tulsa is so much more than one horrific tragedy in a Black community in Oklahoma. That’s one of the key points Porter makes in Rise Again. “There is this mythology that the racism that we see today is somehow different from the past,” she shared during a virtual conversation with the African American Film Critics Association. By highlighting the many other race riots/massacres of the Red Summer of 1919, as NAACP leader James Weldon Johnson termed it, preceding the Tulsa Race Massacre in 1921, Porter, with Rise Again, firmly debunks the false narrative that anti-Blackness was an aberration in Tulsa. Instead, it was quite the fixture in the nation.
Sadly, on May 31 and June 1, 1921, it was Tulsa’s turn to witness the ugliness. As one would expect, the community dubbed “Negro Wall Street” in real-time probably did not imagine that this type of racial terrorism would hit them. When Black men showed up armed at the jail, their intention was to prevent the lynching murder of 19-year-old Dick Rowland who was being held for rumored sexual impropriety with the 17-year-old white elevator girl Sarah Page. Mary E. Jones Parrish, in her 1922 book originally titled Events of the Tulsa Disaster (recently re-issued from a 1923 version of it as The Nation Must Awake spearheaded by her great-granddaughter and journalist Anneliese Bruner) in what’s acknowledged as one of the earliest and most in-depth, first-person accounts of the tragic event from the Greenwood community, hinted at the community taking their relative comfort for granted.