Suggested Age range: 6–11 (1st–5th grade)

Goals: After going through these lessons, students will be able to: Understand how Tulsa’s Greenwood formed as a neighborhood

  • Define and recognize resiliency as it relates to Tulsa’s Greenwood community
  • Describe how words and actions and attitudes can hurt others
  • Discuss how students can see each other better as fellow human beings.
  • Recognize when people are being treated unfairly
  • Personally reflect on resiliency in their own lives

Materials needed:


  • Quartey, Amanda. O.W. Gurley. Rourke Educational Media. 2021.
  • Anthanio-Williams, Shameen. Tulsa Girl. Self published. 2016.
  • Henderson, Tara. Aamila’s adventure: Remembering the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Rose Dog Books. 2021.

*A note on the format of this lesson: This lesson is heavily grounded in stories. The first is a biography, the second is based on interviews with a survivor, and the third is fiction but features real places. Children will be able to understand historical events by being exposed to other children and their stories. Each of these books touches on the events of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, but each book has been selected because it tells a fuller version of the story and because it does not start out by accentuating the violence.

*A note on these books: These are all recently published books and as such may not be widely available yet. We strongly recommend that local school libraries purchase them or that you personally purchase them for your classroom library.

Lesson Plan

Part 1: READ The book OW GURLEY by Amanda Quartey

Why: Provides some context for the founding of Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood as well as what it was like in this community pre-1921.

*Note the excellent reading strategies suggestions at the book’s beginning. Be sure to point out that while this book is called “O.W. Gurley,” the land that eventually became Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood was purchased in his wife Emma’s name.

Comprehension Questions:

– Why did O.W. and Emma Gurley come out to Oklahoma?
– How much land did the Gurleys buy? What did O.W. want to do with it?
– List a business or two that existed in Tulsa’s Greenwood district.
– What nickname did Tulsa’s Greenwood earn due to its successes?
– Where did Gurley move after the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre?

Discussion Questions for students:
Allow Students to answer freely and without shame.

  • What is legal segregation? How did it affect Greenwood?
    (Teacher prompt: legal segregation involved laws that mandated where people of different races could live. It also enforced separation in the areas of schools, restaurants, recreation, and churches, among other things.)
  • Who do you think that segregation benefitted the most?
    (Teacher prompt: Segregation is designed to benefit the status quo for the group in power – in the case of legalized racial segregation, segregation was largely designed to benefit white people.)
  • Do you think people naturally tend to segregate from each other?
    (Teacher prompt: Allow students to answer this and allow for a variety of responses.)
  • What is ironic (unexpected) about segregation and the Greenwood neighborhood pre-1921?
    (Teacher prompt: It forced people to create a self-sustaining community where people supported local businesses almost exclusively, ironically causing the neighborhood to thrive.)
  • Do you think that this book should be called Emma Gurley instead?
    (Teacher prompt: allow students to answer freely and give reasons to support their answer.)

Part 2: READ Tulsa Girl by Shameen Anthanio-Williams

Why: because this book provides a true story of a child who demonstrates resilience.

Comprehension Questions:

  • How old is Olivia in this story? Why doesn’t she want to go to school?
  • What ultimately helps her decide to go to school?
  • Is Olivia’s story based on fiction or non-fiction?
  • Are there days you don’t want to go to school?
  • How can you be brave like Olivia?

Discussion Questions:

  • How was Olivia’s family disrespected?
  • What do you think that the “Greenwood spirit” is? How does Olivia demonstrate this as a child? As an adult college professor?

Part 3: READ Aamila’s Adventure by Tara Henderson

Why: because it demonstrates that the Greenwood community was not destroyed. It features some of the ways it was rebuilt, including the current popsicle shop located on Greenwood Ave. (A business that children will very much relate to.) The book shows how the Greenwood community demonstrated resilience.

Comprehension Questions:

  • Why is Aamila visiting Tulsa?
  • Where do her Grandparents take her?
  • What is an HBCU and why were they necessary?
  • Was Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood fully destroyed in the 1921 Massacre?
  • What kinds of businesses exist currently in Greenwood’s Greenwood district?
  • What exists on downtown sidewalks to help remember the businesses that were there in 1921?

Discussion Questions:

  • Plaques in the sidewalk exist to help us remember many of the businesses that were destroyed. Why is it important to remember them?
  • What else besides businesses deserves to be remembered in Tulsa’s Greenwood district? (People? Homes? Churches?)

Part 4: Wrapping up

All of these books were written and illustrated by black authors. Why is that important? Who do you want to tell your story one day? Why did you choose that person?

Imagination Exercises:

  • What would life have been living in the neighborhood of Greenwood in 1921?
  • What would you have eaten?
  • What kinds of movies would you have watched?
  • Where would you have gone to school?
  • How would segregation affected you if you lived in Tulsa in 1921?

Optional Online Archives Exploration activity: Older Students can use the find feature in the digital Tulsa Star archives to research ads that may give some clues about what life would have been like. (To successfully complete this exercise, students will need to know how to use a search bar as well as zoom in on text. Suggested search terms include: food, church, school, family, neighborhood, recipe, restaurant, cafe, bank, theater

Personal Reflection or Journaling Exercise:

  • Are there ways that you treat people with disrespect? On the playground? At home? What is one way you can work to change that this week?
  • Are you experiencing a difficulty in your life? How can you work through that without hurting others?
  • Are there ways that the story of Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood can help inspire you to work through a hardship in hopes for a better future?