In Oklahoma, the massacre largely wasn’t discussed until a commission was formed in 1997the violence. For decades, called it the Tulsa race riot, when it was discussed at all. Students now are urged to consider the differences between calling it a “massacre” or a “riot.”
How an event is presented can make a difference, Wagner-Pacifici said. That could include whether it’s connected to other historical moments and what parts are emphasized or downplayed.
“All sorts of political forces and actors will kind of move in, to try to name it and claim it, in order either to tamp it down in its impact or to elaborate it in its impact,” she said.
She pointed to a current example:by a predominantly white mob at the U.S. Capitol. Some Republicans have attempted to minimize or even deny the violence, and on Friday GOP senators blocked the creation of a bipartisan panel to investigate the attack.
word of unrest that started on May 31, 1921, and ran through the night and the next day made it to news outlets. Front-page stories and accounts from The Associated Press spoke of a “race clash” and “armed conflict.” But the aftermath — of a community shattered —- was relegated to inside pages at best before being swept under the rug.
In one example, a story weeks later well inside the pages of The New York Times reported in passing that a grand jury in Oklahoma had determined the catastrophe was due to the actions of armed Black people and the white people who got involved were not at fault.
It just shows that remembering is never just actually about remembering, Wagner-Pacifici said.
“It’s always motivated,” she said. “Who remembers what about the past, who allows a past to be remembered, to be brought back to life and and in what ways … it’s absolutely fundamental to who you decide you want to be in the present.”