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LOVECRAFT COUNTRY Examines the Tragic Tulsa Race Massacre
Spoilers ahead for the Lovecraft Country episode “Rewind 1921”

The penultimate episode of Lovecraft Country’s first season continues to build up towards a deadly battle between the Freemans/Lewises and their magic-wielding white counterparts. In an attempt to save Dee’s life, Hippolyta sends Tic, Leti, and Montrose through a time portal to 1921 Tulsa to retrieve the Book of Names. Unfortunately, they arrive on the eve of the Tulsa Race Massacre, a real-life racial violence tragedy.

The History of Tulsa Race Massacre

In 1906, a wealthy Black Arkansas native named O.W. Gurley moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma. He purchased 40+ acres of land for Black people to have a thriving place of their own. By 1921, more than 10,000 of Tulsa’s Black residents resided in the city’s Greenwood neighborhood. Greenwood was a hub of hope and prosperity in an otherwise segregated and perilous world. There were shops, entertainment and cultural centers, a post office, schools, and more.

The busy area of Greenwood Avenue a.k.a. Black Wall Street was a place where the powerful Black dollar could circulate within the community. This put money directly into the Black people’s pockets, helping them build wealth and ownership. Many people were living affluent lifestyles, which garnered contempt from some white Tulsa residents.

According to History.com, things took a deadly turn in spring of that year. On May 30, Dick Rowland, a Black teen, rode an elevator with Sarah Page, a white elevator operator. She ran out of the elevator screaming for no discernible reason while Rowland left the scene. A nearby clothing store clerk assumed Page was hurt by Rowland, sparking a rumor about him sexually assaulting her and leading to his arrest on May 31.

A group of white residents asked the sheriff to hand Rowland over to hang him. The sheriff did not comply and tensions grew as Black and white men gathered outside the courthouse. The verbal altercations became physical as people started firing their weapons. It led to Black residents retreating to Greenwood for safety.

White Tulsans, some with weapons from the city, came into Greenwood shortly after sundown and began to wreak havoc. They burned property, stole, and shot people on sight throughout the night. By the morning of June 1, hundreds of people were injured, thousands were displaced from their homes, and a disputed amount of Black people (ranging from approximately 26 to 200) died.

The Aftermath

The Tulsa Race Massacre’s (also known as Tulsa Race Riot or Tulsa Massacre) aftermath led to thousands of Black people’s arrest and/or detainment. The charges against Rowland were magically dropped hours later after concluding that he likely bumped into Page or stepped on her foot. Rowland reportedly left Tulsa and never came back. A Tulsa Tribune front page story about the riots disappeared along with many other archive documents. There were no ceremonies nor land markers acknowledging the lives lost.

It was clear that Tulsa wanted to pretend that this horror never took place. Many people were able to rebuild and recover. But some residents spent years trying to come back from the emotional and/or physical damages as segregation continued to rear its ugly head. The Black community’s Tulsa Star publication never recovered from the event along with countless other businesses. It led to a general loss of wealth and stability for some that impacted generations of Black families. Many people chose to either stay silent about their trauma or quietly share information among family and friends.

It took over 50 years before scholars began to dig deeper into the event’s of that night. In the ’90s, searches began to locate mass graves of victims based on oral histories. This later led to the establishment of the Race Riot Commission (now known as the 1921 Race Massacre Commission) in 2001 to uncover the truth behind that fateful night. In 2012, a bill that would require Oklahoma high schools to teach about the Tulsa massacre did not pass. However, as of 2020, an expansive curriculum about the massacre is a part of Oklahoma school districts.

The Tulsa Race Massacre is garnering national attention through television shows. In 2019, the HBO series Watchmen introducing this horrific event to millions of people for the first time. Now Lovecraft Country is framing this terrible tragedy through the eyes of its main characters and their ancestors.

How the Tulsa Race Massacre Shows Up in Lovecraft Country

In “Rewind 1921,” the entire crew comes together in the aftermath of Dee’s scary experience. She’s dying and, according to Hippolyta, the best shot at saving her is getting the Book of Names from Tic’s maternal family. Unfortunately, the book was destroyed in the Tulsa Race Massacre which killed most of Dora’s family. George, Dora, and Montrose were inadvertently spared because they were at a park across town.

Fortunately, Hippolyta is a genius who knows how to control the portal after spending about 200 years on an alternate Earth. She fixes the machine and drops them off back in 1921. Tic, Montrose, and Leti arrive in 1921 Tulsa on the eve of the massacre. It’s a particularly disturbing trip for Montrose because he’s taken back to his abusive childhood and very specific memories of what happened that day.

Atticus and Montrose Freeman Lovecraft County stand together in living room

Eli Joshua Ade/HBO

Lovecraft Country‘s exploration of the Tulsa Race Massacre by observing two neighboring families is such an interesting and heartbreaking perspective. Viewers get to see them going about their normal day with their own sets of problems, concerns, tension, and words left unsaid. Young Montrose runs off after his father beats him in the front yard for being “feminine.” George and Dora are teens who wish they could go to a school dance together. Everything by all accounts is their version of normal—no magic, no monsters, and nothing usual.

These kids don’t know that when they leave home there will be no home and/or family to return to. Their parents and relatives don’t know that hours later they will be fighting for their lives before being burned alive their own homes. Yes, the episode does have its fantasy element with Tic, Leti, and Montrose’s involvement but it makes viewers feel like they are getting an inside look into this unspeakable act of hatred and violence.

Leti ends up inside Dora’s family home. The residents are trying to piece together what’s happening outside and one person connects the rising violence to “that mess with Dick.” Leti manages to convince Tic’s great-grandmother Hattie that she’s an invincible person from the future who needs the book to save Diana and protect Tic.

Tic and Leti stand outside Victorian era home as Tic places his bloody hand on a monster

Courtesy of HBO

She doesn’t seem too shocked at this revelation but we will never know how much she knew about magic. Hattie’s realization that she’s destined to die in the house, acceptance of her fate, and final prayers and hopes for her future relatives is perhaps one of the most heartbreaking moments in the series so far.

“When my great great grandson is born, he will be my faith turned flesh…I’m ready. I hope the good Lord is…pray with me.”

It speaks to what it may have felt like for countless Black people as they faced imminent death. Will things be better for the future? Why do I have to die now in this horrible way? Leti lives through that trauma, weeping with the Book of Names in her hands as she watches Hattie become engulfed in flames.

Many people think of time-traveling as fun and adventurous. But for Black people, going to the past usually ends with pain. Tic and Leti’s world in 1955 isn’t much different from the one they are in 34 years earlier. They have to hope that when they die, their son George will get to exist in a better world.

Montrose’s Realizations and History Lessons

From a character-building perspective, we get to further understand Montrose’s immense pain. Going to 1921 Tulsa is like ripping a scab off of a wound. He sees a vibrant neighborhood that he knows will go up in flames and looks at many people he knew for the last time…again. He comes to terms with how he became just like his father in the worst way. And Montrose relives a gut-wrenching secret moment.

Montrose watches himself meet Thomas, a boy he is in love with, at the park. He rejects Thomas out of fear only moment before a group of white rioters show up and shoot Thomas in front of Montrose. Older Montrose wants to step in and save Thomas because watching him die as a kid had a profound negative impact on his life. He believes that perhaps he will be a better person and father if this didn’t happen.

Atticus and Montrose Stand together in Lovecraft Country Rewind 1921 episode Tulsa Race Massacre

Eli Joshua Ade/HBO

However, Tic stops him and says things cannot change lest they risk messing up the future. Tic gets a first-hand window into his father’s life, thereby gaining a deeper understanding of why he became such a hardened man. It’s another moment of truth and difficult healing for the pair. However, there’s a chance to experience something incredible. It turns out Tic is the mysterious savior with a baseball bat whom he and George always remembered from that night.

Later on, Montrose stands outside of the portal waiting for Leti. He begins to speak a powerful monologue as Greenwood Avenue bursts into flames and violence continues on the streets. Montrose faces the street and speaks the names of people who lost their lives that day.

“Peg Leg Taylor’s last stand on Standpipe Hill. God, that was something. Still they burned down Briar’s tailor shop… A.C. Jackson, best Negro surgeon in all of America, shot in the face…Phelps took in Negros, hid them in the basement. Commodore Knox, they did him in the worst…”

Through his monologue, we learn about real people like Horace “Peg Leg” Taylor, A.C. Jackson, and Commodore Knox, all men who are a part of Tulsa Race Massacre history. Peg Leg is known for his victorious stand with a machine gun. Legend suggests he died during a single-handed defense stand down but Taylor allegedly survived the night.

The myths and legends around him continue to this day. Famous surgeon AC Jackson and Commodore Knox are both confirmed deaths. And Mr. Phelps, a white man, and his wife Ruth took in Black people fleeing from the violence. It’s vital for Montrose to speak their names and honor their legacies in that moment so we as viewers can know those stories. We can say and remember their names so no one forgets.

In the end, Hippolyta holds the portal long enough for them to return to 1955 safely. But, they are certainly no longer the same people after this experience. Tic, Leti, and Montrose have encountered unthinkable horror and events ripped from a sci-fi book but traveling back in time to the Tulsa Race Massacre is equally as traumatic. The experience will hopefully give them the determination to triumph and, in a sense, avenge the violence against their ancestors while liberating themselves too.

Featured Image: Eli Joshua Ade/HBO