Teaching Tough History: An Interview with Carole Boston Weatherford

Educator Resource

Teaching Tough History: An Interview with Carole Boston Weatherford, author of Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre

We recently spoke with author Carole Boston Weatherford about teaching tough history using picture books. Her book Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre is a beautiful and moving example that depicts of the vibrancy of the Greenwood District, the racially motivated destruction of Black Wall Street and the resilience of a Black community.

About the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921

The Tulsa Race Massacre was one of the most severe incidents of racial violence in U.S. history. It occurred on May 31 and June 1, 1921, when mobs of white residents attacked Black residents in the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The massacre left somewhere between 30 and 300 people dead, mostly African Americans, and destroyed Tulsa’s prosperous Black neighborhood known as “Black Wall Street.” More than 1,400 homes and businesses were burned, and nearly 10,000 people were left homeless. Despite its severity and destructiveness, the Tulsa Race Massacre was barely mentioned in history books until the late 1990s, when a state commission was formed to document the incident.

Watch the Interview

Carole Boston Weatherford on teaching young people about the trauma of racism in U.S. history:

“We adults cannot let our own discomfort about discussing these issues to deny children the truth… Children deserve and demand the truth.”

“My books tend to largely be introductions and to make kids want to find out more on their own. So, they are designed to provoke questions and sometimes those questions are tough questions, but that’s to be expected. We want our children to think.”

Using Picture Books to Teach Tough History

Experts have long endorsed using picture books to introduce children to sensitive and difficult topics. The comforting format, use of illustrations and segmented prose contribute to the effectiveness of picture books; allowing children the time to process information and generate questions. Picture books are not simple texts. As works of fiction and non-fiction, picture books can be wonderfully complex and can present difficult concepts in approachable formats. The length can be an asset for readers or teachers with time constraints, while still promoting critical thinking and inquiry. Picture books can be used in elementary, middle and high school classrooms as source evidence, question generators, concept introductions and discussion topics. Or they can simply be enjoyed for their prose and illustrations.

We've gathered a few resources below to help you bring this history to your classroom and demonstrate how picture books are useful tools when teaching young people about the trauma of racism in U.S. history.

Classroom Resources

Inquiry: The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921

The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center is developing a Social Justice Curriculum that will be released Summer of 2022. We're sharing an inquiry from that curriculum that addresses the question, "Why has the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 been silenced in history books, curriculums, and classrooms?" This inquiry is designed for 8th grade or high school classrooms. View and Download→

Dramatic Reading

Watch a dramatic reading of Unspeakable: The Tulsa Race Massacre provided by The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and read by Tamar Greene, who portrays George Washington in Hamilton on Broadway.  Watch here→

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s Tribute to Black Wall Street

The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra present their tribute to Black Wall Street. The video features two compositions. One is a tribute to Hal Singer, a jazz saxophonist and band leader who was born in Greenwood, OK in 1919 and survived the Tulsa Race Massacre. The second, Jubilee, is a composition celebrating Black Wall Street and its inspiration for a brighter future. Watch here→

Development of this educational resource was made possible by the generous support of PNC Bank.