As 21 first graders folded colorful strips of construction paper to make purple, blue and orange daisies, teacher Danielle Page painted a careful picture of Oklahoma’s dark history.
“We had already talked about segregation and MLK so we brought that back into the conversation,” Page said. “We talked about how black people had started their own businesses and were flourishing in Tulsa, and that white people didn’t like that they were successful so they destroyed everything they had built.”
For most students, and some educators, at Southgate Elementary School in Moore, this was their first time learning about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
In Moore, students don’t learn about one of the deadliest acts of racial violence in U.S. history until high school, which has been a statewide requirement since the early 2000s. All Oklahoma students began learning about the violence white mobs perpetrated against Tulsa’s predominantly black Greenwood neighborhood this school year following new requirements from the State Department of Education.
Inspired by the 100-year anniversary, an email from Moore Public Schools social studies coordinator David Burton encouraged all 35 schools to honor the centennial through art projects that incorporate flowers “as symbols of healing, compassion and condolences for those impacted by the events of May 31-June 1, 1921.” Schools were not required to participate.
On a hallway in Highland West Junior High a collection of paper flowers make the shape of the school’s initials. At Southmoore High School, flowers hang behind the large glass windows at the school’s entrance accompanied by information about the massacre.
At Southgate Elementary, a floor-to-ceiling hallway display combines more than 500 flowers made by students across the school and a poem written by a paraprofessional who works with special education students.
Stacie Cole came up with flower designs for each grade and created the hallway display.
Cole, 50, grew up in Oklahoma but didn’t learn about the massacre until this year.
Cole did some online research after being asked to coordinate the project by her assistant principal. She became even more curious about the massacre after overhearing another teacher talking about it in the break room during lunch.
“She was so passionate and it just made me feel very sad about what I didn’t know,” Cole said. “Here we are 100 years later and we’re still dealing with the same problems.”
Pre-kindergarten and kindergarten students made flowers out of coffee filters and decorated the edges with pastel colors.
Lessons of various depth and detail were taught to students in first, third, fourth and fifth grades as they worked on their flowers. Only second grade classes did not participate.
Burton said kid-appropriate material about the massacre was more widely available this year making it easier to bring the lessons to elementary students. The district purchased copies of Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre and Opal’s Greenwood Oasis, which were both published in February and feature colorful illustrations.
Burton said the materials will be used to bring lessons about the prosperous Greenwood neighborhood, once known as “America’s Black Wall Street,” and the destruction of it to students across the district.