Former Rocket Russell Westbrook's ‘Tulsa Burning’ documentary probes historic race massacre
Houston Rockets guard Russell Westbrook handles the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Friday, Nov. 1, 2019, in New York. Photo by Mary Altaffer, STF, AP

Former Houston Rocket and NBA triple-double machine Russell Westbrook has taken his activism to another level with his role as executive producer of the two-hour documentary Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre. The film commemorates the 100th anniversary of the tragedy—one of the greatest acts of violence in American history–by taking a deep dive into the event.

The Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma was once the home to the prosperous and bustling mecca known as Black Wall Street. It was the epicenter of entrepreneurship, ingenuity, and renaissance for the Black community. There were theaters, hotels, a funeral parlor, a library, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and a place of worship.

However, starting on May 31, 1921 and going on to the next day (June 1), a white mob instigated a massacre by firing into homes and bombs dropped from the air. The attack resulted in 100- 300 deaths, a stretch of blocks burned down, and the destruction of Black Wall Street. The perpetrators were never brought to justice.

Tulsa Burning: 1921 Race Massacre examines the long-lasting effects of that desecration through the eyes of historians, city leaders, and activists, including the Tulsa Historical Society & Museum, the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation, the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, and the Historic Vernon A.M.E. Church, among others.

Along with executive producer Westbrook, this project has Emmy-Award winning director Stanley Nelson (Freedom Riders) and Peabody and duPont-Award winner Marco Williams (Two Towns of Jasper) guiding the ship.

“The Tulsa Race Massacre was not something I was taught about in school or in any of my history books,” Westbrook said in a statement in February. “It was only after spending 11 years in Oklahoma that I learned of this deeply troubling and heartbreaking event. This is one of many overlooked stories of African Americans in this country that deserves to be told. These are the stories we must honor and amplify so we can learn from the past and create a better future.”

The documentary is described as “an in-depth, sobering look at the tragic events of a century ago and focuses on a specific period, from the birth of Black Wall Street, to its catastrophic downfall over the course of two bloody days, and finally the fallout and reconstruction.”

Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre will air Sunday, May 30 at 7 PM central on The HISTORY® Channel. The network is also partnering with WNYC Studios to launch a new six-part podcast series Blindspot: Tulsa Burning on Friday as complimentary audio content.