Retired McAlester educator doesn't want history to repeat itself

·3 min read

May 28—A retired McAlester educator believes students can grow through learning more about the Tulsa Race Massacre.

Primus Moore said more should be done to educate students about what historians call the nation's worst race massacre, which merits just three sentences in a history text for juniors at McAlester High School. The school supplements instruction with videos and materials — but Moore said more should be done statewide.

"I really don't think it's enough," Moore said. "I think it's a start; it's a beginning."

The Tulsa Race Massacre began May 31, 1921, and lasted less than 16 hours with an angry white mob destroying 1,200 Black homes and businesses in the previously flourishing Black community of Greenwood along what was known as Black Wall Street.

A commission report lists 38 official deaths, but the death toll is now estimated between 100 and 300 with bodies quickly buried in mass graves without documentation.

Moore graduated in 1965 as the class president of L'Ouverture School, the public school Black students attended from 1908 to 1968 — when 115 L'Ouverture High School students integrated with McAlester High School.

But Moore said he didn't learn about the Tulsa Race Massacre until 1966 at Langston University, Oklahoma's only historically black college or university, while talking with a roommate from Tulsa.

Moore said he couldn't believe it at first. It was the first time he heard about Black Wall Street and what historians now call the nation's worst race massacre.

"We were all shocked that it happened and that it wasn't taught," Moore said.

Moore graduated from Langston in 1969 and went on to a decades-long career in education that started in Gary, Indiana — where he remembers meeting Civil Rights Era leaders including Jessie Jackson, Andrew Young, John Conyers, Muhammad Ali, and Coretta Scott King.

Now, Moore and fellow L'Ouverture alumni Herbert Keith now lead an effort to restore the former school building at 1401 E. Cherokee Ave. now called the L'Ouverture Historical Center.

Volunteers and organizers made progress in cleaning the building and Moore hopes the soon-completion of a 501c3 nonprofit application will take the restoration efforts another step forward.

Moore is also a part-time teacher at McAlester's Parker Intermediate Center.

The MPS Afro-Student Union started a scholarship this year in both the names of Moore and James Brown, the late longtime MPS educator who died following complications from COVID-19.

Moore said preserving and teaching history helps prevent tragic events like the Tulsa Race Massacre from happening again.

"It's about teaching history so it doesn't repeat itself," Moore said.

Moore said he was upset when Gov. Kevin Stitt signed House Bill 1775 into law to prohibit instructors from teaching that "one race or sex is inherently superior to another," and that "an individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist or oppressive."

Supporters of the bill said some students are taught they should feel guilty for something that happened in the past. Opponents criticized the bill as being divisive and attempting to erase the existence of minorities.

Moore said he believes Black history in Oklahoma is also part of the state's history.

"When you talk about Black history, it's American history is what it actually is," Moore said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Contact Adrian O'Hanlon III at aohanlon@mcalesternews.com