Best of the States


Multiformat team delivers expansive AP coverage during centennial of Tulsa Race Massacre

This photo provided by the Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library, The University of Tulsa shows A man stands in the ruins of what is described as his home in the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Okla., in the aftermath of the June 1, 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, in a photo provided by the University of Tulsa. On May 31, carloads of Black residents, some of them armed, had rushed to the sheriff’s office in downtown Tulsa to confront whites who were believed to be planning to lynch a Black prisoner. Gunfire broke out. and over the next 18 hours, white mobs carried out a scorched-earth campaign against Greenwood. Some witnesses claimed they saw and heard airplanes overhead firebombing and shooting at businesses, homes and people in the Black district. More than 35 city blocks were leveled, an estimated 191 businesses were destroyed, and roughly 10,000 Black residents were displaced from the neighborhood. Most historians and experts who have studied the event estimate the death toll to be between 75 and 300. Victims were buried in unmarked graves that, to this day, are being sought for proper burial. (Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library, The University of Tulsa via AP)


With the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre months away, text and visual journalists from AP’s Race and Ethnicity, Central Region and Enterprise teams embarked on a plan to dig deeper into the story of the atrocity, beyond just covering the centennial events.

New York-based writer Aaron Morrison and Chicago-based multiformat journalist Noreen Nasir, both covering race and ethnicity, and Oklahoma photographer Sue Ogrocki teamed up in Tulsa weeks ahead of the anniversary to explore the city and meet descendants of massacre survivors, who opened up about the horrific event and how it continues to impact their families and the community a century later. Among those they met was the family of Ernestine Alpha Gibbs, who survived the massacre and died 18 years ago at age 100.

Her relatives showed Morrison,Nasir and Ogrocki photo albums and VHS tapes of Gibbs describing how a white mob in 1921 leveled Greenwood,the Black section of Tulsa. A thriving business district was destroyed,more than 1,000 homes were burned and as many as 300 people killed. Gibbs and her family temporarily fled the city but returned. She recalled it in a 1994 home video: “Even though the riot took away a lot, we still graduated.”

Morrison’s powerful writing and the striking visuals of Nasir and Ogrocki were the foundation for a three-part series of stories about the lost wealth and racial inequality that Black Tulsans endured and that infused this past weekend’s commemoration. The stories included some special multimedia moments: audio of Gibbs’ daughter reading her mother’s personal account of the massacre for the first story of the series, and drone images by Ogrocki for the second piece that artfully show how the Greenwood community has been cut off from Tulsa by a freeway.

Other enterprise stories leading up to the actual massacre anniversary dates — May 31 and June 1 — included Oklahoma legislative writer Sean Murphy’s piece about how Black Tulsa residents still struggle to have a political voice, and Oklahoma writer Ken Miller’s story about descendants of Black victims of the massacre preparing to resume a search for remains believed to have been buried in mass graves. Washington writer Ellen Knickmeyer wrote of the Greenwood economy booming before the massacre, in part because of post-Civil War treaties that compelled Native American nations to share wealth with their freed Black slaves. New York-based race and ethnicity writer Deepti Hajela and Oklahoma sports writer Cliff Brunt delivered stories that examined how history books and law enforcement each depicted the massacre. Entertainment writer Jonathan Landrum wrote a story on the release of numerous documentaries on the tragedy.

The coverage was not without breaking news. The appearance by President Joe Biden to commemorate the massacre (covered by White House writers Jonathan Lemire and Darlene Superville) seemed like it would be the biggest update to the schedule,but that would change when organizers for the headline “Remember & Rise” event — to feature John Legend and Stacey Abrams — canceled because of “unexpected circumstances with entertainers and speakers.” Oklahoma’s Murphy worked his political and racial injustice sources, resulting in a story about how an agreement couldn’t be reached over monetary payments to three survivors for their appearance at the event. The story also highlighted the broader debate on what reparations can mean for victims and descendants of racial violence.

Other spot coverage included stories by religion writer Peter Smith on church services marking the centennial and the dedication of a prayer wall in the Greenwood neighborhood.

Las Vegas photographer John Locher traveled to Tulsa as well,seeking out events like a drive-in movie theater showing a documentary about the massacre. His photos complemented both enterprise and spot coverage.

Jerry Schwartz,Tom McCarthy,Tim Jacobs,Amy Shafer,Gary Fields,and Mona Malone edited the enterprise stories for the Tulsa package. Doug Daniel,Sally Stapleton,Chris Sundheim,Andrea Thomas,David Aguilar,and Dirce Toca edited the spot stories.

Andale Gross and Adam Causey were enterprise and spot story coordinators,respectively. Kim Johnson and Patrick Sison were photo coordinators for the project,which also included historic photos from the Department of Special Collections,McFarlin Library, The University of Tulsa.

The visual presentation for the stories on lost wealth and racial inequality were overseen by Raghu Vadarevu and Samantha Shotzbarger. They also created the Tulsa Race Massacre hub,collecting all the coverage.

Alex Sanz helped with video coordination and edits,and Alina Hartounian and Josh Cornfield put together the social plan. Combined,the stories drew some 250 downloads on AP Newsroom,almost 100,000 pageviews on the AP News site,and about 40,000 Facebook interactions.

For sweeping enterprise and spot coverage that raises awareness of this grim milestone in American race relations,the team of Morrison,Murphy,Miller,Ogrocki,Nasir,Knickmeyer,Hajela,Brunt,Landrum,Locher,Smith,Shotzbarger, Superville and Lemire earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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