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PBS to rebroadcast 1993 documentary about Black Wall Street on Monday

PBS to rebroadcast 1993 documentary about Black Wall Street on Monday

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In 1993, the PBS series “American Experience” aired “Goin’ Back to T-Town,” an hourlong documentary that gave an overview to the rise, destruction and resurrection of the north Tulsa neighborhood that had earned the title “America’s Black Wall Street.”

As the 100th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre approaches, “American Experience” will rebroadcast the documentary at 8 p.m. Feb. 8 on most PBS stations.

The film, produced by Sam Pollard and Joyce Vaughn, was written by Tulsa native Carmen Fields, a journalist and media consultant now based in Boston, Massachusetts. Actor Ossie Davis is the film’s narrator.

Cameo George, executive producer of “American Experience,” said in a statement: “‘Goin’ Back to T-Town’ is a film that was made for the series nearly 30 years ago, and yet it remains shockingly relevant today. Being able to pull this film out of the vault for rebroadcast is a special opportunity and a reminder of the unique legacy of the series.”

When the film premiered in 1993, the Tulsa World’s review called it “a slick and intelligent piece of documentary filmmaking that should intrigue longtime Greenwood aficionados and newcomers to the story, alike.”

That story includes pointing out that the true legacy of Greenwood was not the destruction visited upon the community in 1921, but how it had managed to thrive before and after the massacre.

As the Tulsa World’s review states, “Greenwood had been founded before statehood, and the residents dug in and refused to be crushed by the oppressive Jim Crow laws which the new legislators passed among their first orders of business.”

The film features interviews from many Oklahomans who witnessed the history of Greenwood first-hand, including such notables as the late John Hope Franklin, revered historian and scholar; local historian Currie Ballard; and Oklahoma Eagle publisher James Goodwin.

“But,” the World’s review stated, “it’s the words of the show’s less prominent interview subjects that really make ‘Goin’ Back to T-Town’ sing. Robert Fairchild, Rosa B. Skinner, Maxine Horner, Mabel Little, Joe Burns and Hobart Jarrett are among the many Tulsa residents who help recall a time when ‘the whole shooting match’ was in Greenwood, when the area was a complete business district that adapted the iron curtain of segregation into a profitable self-sufficiency.”

While the events of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre take up a fair amount of the documentary’s running time, the World’s review said, “The documentary’s finest moments take place during the recounting of how Greenwood rebuilt and persevered, becoming recognized as the largest Black business section in the United States only 15 years after it had been put to the torch.”

However, this period of prosperity fell victim to the integration and urban renewal policies of the 1960s, along with the construction of Interstate 244 through the heart of the community.

As Goodwin says in the film: “I don’t think racial segregation is a good thing. But the quality of our lives, in many respects, was better in the days of segregation, and the challenge today is to make it as good or better.”

Video: National Park Service considers nomination to put Tulsa's Greenwood District on National Register of Historic Places

National Park Service considers nomination to put Tulsa's Greenwood District on National Register of Historic Places

Tulsa Race Massacre: This is what happened in 1921

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