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The cast of Dreamland: The Burning of Black Wall Street learned Thursday that their acclaimed documentary was now an Emmy award-winning feature. Dreamland, a CNN film produced by LeBron James, won the award for outstanding graphic design and art direction.
Named after the famed Dreamland Theater that once sat as an icon in the middle of Greenwood, the film delved into the history of the Tulsa Massacre, while exploring the ongoing fight for justice today.
For those who participated in the creation of the film, this win was about more than an award. This was about uplifting the story of the survivors and the descendants.
Tulsa community leaders “went through hell” to get Greenwood’s story told.
“This made me think about all the hell we had to go through just to tell our story,” Kristi Williams, one of the now Emmy-winning Tulsans who took part in the documentary, told the Black Wall Street Times.
“We got shut out of meetings. We got blackballed. But we kept going and we kept telling our story no matter what,” she said.
Williams recalled the now decades of work she and others in the community have been doing to protect Greenwood’s story.
That work included fighting alongside Chief Egunwale Amusan to push city leaders to change the name of Brady Street. The roadway that cut through the heart of downtown carried the name of Tate Brady, an architect of the massacre. In 2019, the city finally replaced the street name with Reconciliation Way.
Community members also worked for years to ensure official references to the attack call it a massacre. Shortly after the massacre, when white supremacists burned Greenwood to the ground, the event was deemed a “riot”. Not only does the term “riot’ imply fault on both sides, it also precluded many Greenwood residents from receiving insurance claims, hindering recovery. It was not until a few years before the centennial that massacre became the attack’s official title.
The fights to make these seemingly common-sense shifts were long and difficult. Williams and others personally suffered for being unapologetically outspoken in the need for change. Some lost their homes, others lost their career and all had a negative light cast upon them.
But for Williams, this moment is vindicating.
“We got an Emmy!” she exclaimed. “It’s 2022 and we got an Emmy!”
“I’m overjoyed – and it also feels like a big f–k you to all the people who tried to shut us down.”
“We got to tell the world our story”
Williams, Amusan and others featured in the film are descendants of survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Their ancestors fled the life they had built in Greenwood when murderous white mobs rushed in to destroy it.
For generations, the history of Greenwood was swept under the rug. As the centennial approached, an effort emerged from outside organizations to capitalize on its history. But because of their relentless persistence, Williams and others were there to tell the true stories of those who suffered on that June night got told.
“[Dreamland] gave us an opportunity to tell the story on the ground as descendants who are impacted,” Williams said. “Our story, our way.”
As the descendants and the three still-living survivors of the Greenwood massacre continue their fight for justice, Williams has a message for those in power with the opportunity to make things right.
That includes paying reparations.
“How do you want your story to be told?” she asks. “Do you want to just write history, or do you want to right history? What side of history will you be on?”
Descendants find comfort in knowing the story of their ancestors will “last for generations”
Despite the incredible obstacles and the enormous work still to do, Greenwood community leaders in Dreamland know the story of their ancestors will now live on in its fullest and purest form.
“This is the most beautiful part about telling your stories,” Williams said. “Our stories of the work we’ve done will last for generations.”
“You don’t need a big crowd of people to make change,” she continued. “Sometimes it was just me and Chief. But we stayed who we are and we never bowed down to the status quo – we kept pushing.”
Williams says she and other community members have “been through hell, but we finally see some light at the end of the tunnel.”
“Our story is finally being told and the world will finally see it and hear it,” she said. “This Emmy is for the survivors and the ancestors of Greenwood.”
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