Tulsa Massacre Lesson Plans

The Tulsa Massacre, sometimes known as the Tulsa Race Riots, was a shocking event in 1921. Perhaps equally shocking is the fact that this event is rarely covered in classrooms. It’s not easy to look back at troubling events, but they are part of our history and should not be ignored.

High School Lesson Plan

Subject: History, Social Studies, Civics

Time Allotment: Two 50-minute class periods

Learning Objectives:

  • Students will be able to identify the historical context leading up to the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921.
  • Students will be able to analyze the events of the massacre and its immediate aftermath.
  • Students will be able to understand the long-term impact of the massacre on the Greenwood community and the city of Tulsa.
  • Students will be able to critically evaluate the legacy of the massacre and its relevance to contemporary issues.

Day 1: Introduction and Context

Ask students to write down what they know about the Tulsa Race Massacre. Discuss prior knowledge and misconceptions.Discuss the question posed by the exhibit in Tulsa Historical Society’s museum, shown below.

Discuss the historical context of the massacre, including:

  • The rise of Jim Crow laws and racial segregation in the South after Reconstruction.
  • The economic prosperity of Greenwood, also known as “Black Wall Street,” a thriving African American community in Tulsa.
  • The racial tensions and injustices faced by Black residents in Tulsa.


Discussion: Facilitate a discussion about the historical context and how it might have contributed to the outbreak of violence. Encourage students to analyze the sources and consider the perspectives they represent.

Day 2: The Massacre and Beyond

Review: Briefly review the key points from the previous day’s lesson.
Discuss the events of the Tulsa Race Massacre on May 31st and June 1st, 1921, including:

  • The alleged incident that triggered the violence. On Monday, May 30, 1921, a 17 white girl named Sarah Page, an elevator operator at the Drexel Building, said that a 19 year old Black man named Dick Rowland had assaulted her in the elevator. The story was printed by the Tulsa Tribune on Tuesday of that week. Rowland was arrested. There was talk of lynching Rowland, and mobs from the white and Black sections of town met at the jail. Fighting broke out, with gunfire.
  • The scale and brutality of the attack on Greenwood. On Wednesday morning, the white mob, estimated at 10,000 or more, attacked the Greenwood neighborhood with machine guns. Murder, burning, and looting took place. The Chief of Police requested help from the National Guard, and martial law was declared at 11:00 that morning. Although the total number of deaths is not known, it was in the hundreds.
  • The role of local authorities and the destruction of  the community. The neighborhood was destroyed. The Red Cross set up tent camps to shelter the former residents, and churches provided for people whose homes had been destroyed, but $1.8 million in property damage including 1,250 homes laid waste to the area. In 2013, the Tulsa police officially apologized for their failure to protect Greenwood in 1921.

Aftermath and Legacy: Explore the immediate and long-term consequences of the massacre, including:

  • The loss of life and property.
  • The displacement of Black residents from Greenwood.
  • The suppression of the event’s history for decades.
  • The ongoing efforts for justice and reparations.

Contemporary Connections: Discuss the relevance of the Tulsa Race Massacre to contemporary issues such as racial profiling, police brutality, and systemic racism. Encourage students to reflect on how understanding this historical event can inform their understanding of present-day social and racial justice movements.

Wrap-up: Conclude the lesson by summarizing the key points and encouraging students to continue learning about the Tulsa Race Massacre and its lasting impact.
Extension Activities:

  • Students can research the lives of individuals impacted by the massacre, either victims or survivors.
  • Students can create a timeline of events leading up to and following the massacre.
  • Students can compare and contrast the Tulsa Race Massacre to other historical instances of racial violence in the United States.
  • Students can research and present on the efforts for justice and reparations for the massacre.


  • Provide additional support for students who struggle with reading by offering audio recordings of primary sources or simplified versions of texts.
  • Offer opportunities for students to express their understanding through different modalities, such as writing, art, or presentations.
  • Challenge advanced students to conduct independent research and present their findings on specific aspects of the massacre.


  • Participation in class discussions and activities.
  • Written analysis of primary sources.
  • Reflective essay on the legacy of the Tulsa Race Massacre.
  • Group presentation on a specific aspect of the massacre or its aftermath.
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