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Tom Hanks admits some of his past films contributed to whitewashing history

Actor argues in favour of more education about the Tulsa massacre in new essay

Clémence Michallon
New York City
Friday 04 June 2021 22:49

Related: Joe Biden commemorates Tulsa race massacre

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Tom Hanks has acknowledged the entertainment industry’s role in whitewashing history – including in some of the films he’s starred in.

The actor penned a detailed essay published on Friday by The New York Times, stressing the need for more education about the Tulsa massacre.

The Tulsa massacred occurred on 31 May and 1 June 1921, when a white mob descended upon the Greenwood district in Tulsa Oklahoma, burning it down, looting it, and attacking residents of the historically Black neighborhood. As many as 300 people were killed, and thousands were displaced.

“By my recollection, four years of my education included studying American history,” Hanks wrote. “... But for all my study, I never read a page of any school history book about how, in 1921, a mob of white people burned down a place called Black Wall Street, killed as many as 300 of its Black citizens and displaced thousands of Black Americans who lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma.”

Hanks described his experience as “common”, noting that “history was mostly written by white people about white people like me, while the history of Black people — including the horrors of Tulsa — was too often left out”.

“Until relatively recently, the entertainment industry, which helps shape what is history and what is forgotten, did the same,” he wrote.

“That includes projects of mine. I knew about the attack on Fort Sumter, Custer’s last stand and Pearl Harbor but did not know of the Tulsa massacre until last year, thanks to an article in The New York Times.”

President Joe Biden on Tuesday marked the 100th anniversary of the massacre, stating: “Some injustices are so heinous, so horrific, so grievous, they cannot be buried, no matter how hard people try. Only with truth can come healing.”

In Tulsa, survivors of the massacre and descendants of victims are still fighting for reparations.

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