Black History through Lovecraft’s Eyes
Tonight, I saw a thriving Tulsa before the 1921 riot, and I wept. Last week, I saw every detail of the day Black Chicago mourned Emmett Till’s gruesome death. In the weeks prior, I’ve seen the very real horrors of segregation, experimentation, abuse, sundown towns, and nearly every other challenge this America has imposed on Black life throughout its history on her soil. Although the images have been laced with fictional storylines of magic and mayhem, the stories of our people—my people—have remained authentic.
I started watching HBO’s Lovecraft Country a few weeks after its premiere. Usually very selective in my dabbles with fantasy and horror, I was intrigued by the chatter of viewers who were taken with the show’s content being centered around a Black cast. I can’t say with 100% confirmation that Lovecraft is the first show of its kind, but the social media consensus clearly demonstrates that I, and many others, have never seen anything like it before. I have never seen a plot encapsulate so many genres and still manage to capture Black lives and resilience so beautifully. As a history buff, and one who cherishes Black history more than most, I love how the writers refrain from repeating the common practice of absentmindedly mentioning history while framing characters’ stories; instead, the creators behind Lovecraft Country take clear steps to write the characters’ stories into the events of our history.
I’m writing this post from my couch right after watching Season 1, Episode 9. While I’ve gotten used to feeling all types of emotions during the show each week, I wasn’t expecting to be so stricken by the images of the thriving Black area of Tulsa, Oklahoma that’s often remembered as, “Black Wall Street.” Most of us know the story of Black Wall Street. It was an independently-run Black community which was burned in a race riot May 31 – June 1, 1921. The neighborhood had its own doctors, schools, banks, churches, movie theaters, homes, insurance agencies, and public safety authorities, which were owned and operated by and for Black people. In a country that was still making every effort to minimize and oppress the descendants of its formerly enslaved, these African Americans were thriving in a space that they created and maintained with zero reliance on whites. And then, like always, white supremacy wasn’t satisfied until it saw to the area’s demise.
I’ve been familiar with the story of Black Wall Street for years, but seeing this visual representation of it brought a new, unexpected feeling of sorrow. Maybe it’s because watching the buildings, businesses, and beautifully independent Black people come alive in color, rather than the usual century-old photos in black and white, hits differently. Perhaps it’s because we always talk about the destruction, but never see the delight in how Tulsa’s Black residents lived beforehand; students getting ready for a prom or residents taking a casual stroll down the street, for example. Or maybe it’s Montrose’s chilling monologue that gave us the biographies and names of people lost in the attack, that we never hear. It could even have to do with the fact that 99 years after the Tulsa race riot, my city is in its own racial turmoil and across the nation, we are still trying to create our own safe spaces while convincing folks that Black Lives, dreams, talent, and voices do Matter. Whatever it was, seeing the upstanding, well-dressed, and content characters in Lovecraft’s recreation pulled at my heartstrings. Lovecraft Country is profound in that way.
This was just one episode, but the entire show is amazing. From the subtle details to the magical special effects, to the stories that hit close to home and all of the underlying commentary on role of institutional racism in America, it’s all so good. I highly recommend that you watch if you haven’t already.
I don’t have some catchy refrain to end this post with, but for my Black readers, I do suggest these things: prioritize yourself, your health, and your sanity in these times. Take a break from the news, take a breather from social media, and do something that helps you escape for a few moments. I’ll post my watchlist soon in case you need some inspiration.
Love y’all. Take care.