Lesson Objectives:

  • Students can describe how Tulsa segregated neighborhoods, and how state laws treated Black Americans differently because of racial discrimination, causing them harm.
  • Students can describe Black Wall Street, part of the African American Greenwood District, and how the businesses flourished prior to and following the Tulsa Race Massacre.
  • Students can describe how racism led to the Tulsa Race Massacre and how the Race Massacre impacted the people living in the Greenwood District.

Standards & Essential Content:

Oklahoma Social Studies Practices for Grades 2 to 3.

  • 4.A.2-3.1 Locate and paraphrase the main idea and supporting details of a text (e.g. primary and secondary sources.)
  • 4.A.2-3.2 Use graphic features of a text, such as photographs, titles, headings, subheadings, charts, and graphs, to understand content.
  • 4.A.2-3.3 Acquire new academic vocabulary; relate new words to prior knowledge, and apply vocabulary in social studies.
  • 4.B.2-3.1 Identify the author’s purpose, including what the author wants to answer, explain, or describe in primary and secondary informational texts.
  • 4.B.2-3.3 Ask and answer questions to clarify information and engage in collaborative discussions about appropriate topics in social studies.

Tulsa Public School’s Essential Content

  1. Black Wall Street
  2. Tulsa Race Massacre
  3. Greenwood District
  4. Segregation
  5. Racial discrimination
  6. Diversity

Social Justice Standards:

  • JU.3-5.12 I know when people are treated unfairly, and I can give examples of prejudiced words, pictures and rules.
  • JU.3-5.13 I know that words, behaviors, rules and laws that treat people unfairly based on their group identities cause real harm.

Lesson Materials:

Estimated Time to Instruct Lesson:

The lesson plan is designed to be taught over three instructional days- there are breaks noting Day 1, Day 2, and Day 3.

Before You Begin:

Have you considered your own racial identity? Your comfort levels with critical conversations about race? How will you manage strong emotions? Do you have strategies for checking in with students? The Let’s Talk resources below can help.

Teacher Resources:

Teaching hard history, talking about race, and historical summaries on the Tulsa Race Massacre and Black American history in Oklahoma are covered in the resources below. These resources provide background information for personal knowledge.


The terms below are words teachers should be prepared to explain within the text. Teachers can introduce the terms diverse/diversity and discrimination in the opening activity, The Sneetches. Note to Tulsa Public School Teachers: The terms discrimination and segregation may have been introduced to students in 2nd grade, during Domain 12 instruction of CKLA.

Black Wall Street Greenwood District Entrepreneur Elevator Operator
Equality Racial Discrimination Rampage Segregation
Racism Shoeshine Boy Mob Assembled
Riot Massacre Raided Diverse/Diversity

Getting Ready for the Lesson:

Establishing Norms & Community Agreements

Prior to reading Up from the Ashes teachers should create a safe space to have critical conversations about race. Classes should establish/review norms, even create a community agreement or provide students with sentence frames for agreeing or disagreeing with their peers. Click here for tips on establishing norms from Let’s Talk- Facilitating Critical Conversations with Students by Learning for Justice, formerly Teaching Tolerance.

Day 1: Teacher Slide Deck

Introducing Essential Vocabulary: Discussing Discrimination using the Sneetches*

Students will watch The Sneetches by Dr. Seuss and engage in a class discussion about the video. During the discussion teachers will introduce the words diverse/diversity and discrimination. First, students will apply these words to the story of the Sneetches. (Show slide 2 “Sneetches”)

*Addressing Concerns with the Dr. Seuss Video: Some of the materials from Dr. Seuss have been removed from libraries and are no longer printed. According to a statement from Dr. Seuss Enterprises, this is because these stories portray people in ways that are “hurtful and wrong.” The Sneeches is not one of the removed stories.

Knowing some books were removed, why isThe Sneeches used in this lesson?

The curriculum committee who wrote this lesson wanted a video to introduce to the concepts of diversity and discrimination to students before talking about segregation in Tulsa and the Tulsa Race Massacre. Further, they wanted those terms to be introduced using fictional creatures in a format our 3rd graders can easily understand. For this reason The Sneeches video was selected.

Following our pilot of this lesson, teachers provided feedback on the use of the video. They commented on how both students and teachers relied on the Sneeches examples of discrimination when they were debriefing segregation in Tulsa. The video provided everyone with a common example, as well as language to use in their discussion. For these reasons the curriculum committee determined this video was suitable for use.

Discussion Questions: (Slides 3–7)

  • What makes the Star-Belly Sneetches different from the Plain-Belly Sneetches? (Slide 3)
    • What makes the Star-Belly Sneetches and Plain-Belly Sneetches similar?
  • How did the Star-Belly Sneetches treat the Plain-Sneetches? (Slide 4)
    • What did the Star-Belly mother tell her Star-Belly child?
    • What happened when the Plain-Belly child tried to play ball with the Star-Belly child?
  • Why did the Star-Belly Sneetches think they were better than the Plain-Belly Sneetches? (Slide 5)
  • When the Plain-Belly Sneetches were able to put stars on their bellies, what did the Star-Belly Sneetches do? (Slide 6)
    • Why do you think the Star-Belly Sneetches wanted to remove their stars?
    • Did stars on their bellies make any of the Sneetches better?
  • What did all of the Sneetches learn after Mr. McBean left? (Slide 7)

Teachers should present the term diverse to students, then ask the following questions. (Slide 8)

  • At the beginning of the story, how were the Sneetches on the beach diverse? (Slide 9)
  • At the end of the story, were the Sneetches more or less diverse? How so? (Slide 10)

Teachers should present the term “discriminate” to students, then ask the following question. (Slide 11)

  • How did the Star-Belly Sneetches discriminate against the Plain-Belly Sneetches? (Slide 12)
  • How are the students in our school diverse? (Slide 13)
  • How are students in our class diverse? (Slide 14)

Day 2: Teacher Slide Deck

Opening Activity: A strategy for coming into difficult classroom conversations is to have students journal before moving into the lesson. Use these prompts before beginning the read aloud.

Discuss Prompt: (slide 16)

  • Why did the Star-Belly Sneetches think they were better than the Plain-Belly Sneetches? Were they better? Why or why not?

Presenting Read-Aloud & Discussion Questions: Below are questions to ask students during the read-aloud. To help identify when to ask the question, page number, and corresponding quote from the story have been added. Additional supports or background information to enhance student understanding of the text have been included, when necessary.

The Up from the Ashes book does not have page numbers. For the purpose of our lesson the pages have been numbered (and labeled the books distributed to Tulsa Public Schools teachers according). Page 1 started on the first page of the story’s text beginning with “My name is James.” Each page after is numbered, including pages that have illustrations but no text.

Note: The book is copyrighted in 2000 before a shift in nomenclature from race riot to race massacre occurred. In Tulsa Public Schools we use the name Tulsa Race Massacre. While reading the book teachers are requested to use the term massacre in place of riot.

Page Number Quote from the Story Discussion Questions & Supports to Enhance Student Understanding of Text
4 “The year I am telling you about is 1921.” How long ago was 1921?

Support: This was a time when Americans owned cars, radios, and phones for the first time.

4 “Because of all the oil, money, and people, Tulsa has been nicknamed ‘The Magic City.’” Why was Tulsa called the “Magic City”?
5 “There is one part of town for white people and another part of town for black people. They are separated by railroad tracks”

(Slide 17: Segregation)

(show slide 11 again if needed)

(Slide 18: race)

Discussion Questions:

Why were people separated by skin color?

How do you think they felt about this? (black and white Tulsans)

How is this similar to how the Star-Belly Sneetches treated the Plain-Belly Sneetches? What word did we use to describe this treatment? (Answer: Discrimination)

During discussion: Introduce the concepts of segregation and racial discrimination. To do so, teachers may choose to use the supports below for talking points.


To understand why white people and black people lived in different parts of town we first need to learn two new ideas.

During the time of Black Wall Street, black Americans and white Americans were separated by law, this is called segregation. Segregation is a type of discrimination. For instance, if there were a rule or law that kept Star-Belly Sneetches from being around Plain-Belly Sneetches, that would be segregation.

Laws were written so that people were separated from each other by the color of their skin. For example, white Americans drank from water fountains labeled “whites” and black Americans drank from different fountains labeled for them. This was because whites felt superior to people of color, even though this is not true. Another example is children were separated by skin color to determine which schools they would attend. Black children and white children went to different schools. An additional example would be that black Americans were not allowed to be served in white restaurants. When people are kept separate by laws it is called segregation. The rules that separated black and white Americans favored white people — so white people had better drinking fountains, could get better jobs, and were allowed to do things black Amerians were not allowed to do. This hurt black Americans.

The second idea we need to review is discrimination. When there is unfair treatment of an individual or group of people based on their race, or another characteristic, it is called discrimination.

An example of discrimination is: girls are able to play with the big toy during recess, but no boys can, because girls are favored. This is discrimination against boys.

Or, if students with glasses were favored only they would be allowed to take PE classes. This is discrimination against students without glasses. These are examples of discrimination because one group is being treated unfairly.

When people made the rules that kept black Americans from all the opportunities of white Americans because of their race, it is called racial discrimination.

5 “Mama says that some black people came here with the Indians.” Note: The Oklahoma Social Studies Standards use the term American Indian, which is nomenclature the Tulsa Public Schools Indian Education Department has approved. You may want to reference Am I Using The Right Word from the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian if there are questions about the correct term to use in the classroom.
8 “Black Wall Street is a place where black people provide for their own and do business with one another. I’ll tell you a little bit about some of the people and their businesses.” What is Black Wall Street?

How did black Americans treat each other there?

16 “In Greenwood, we have everything that they have in the white part of town, maybe more. Mama says that Greenwood has a spirit and soul of its own.” How did Jimmy feel about Greenwood?

What kind of place was Greenwood? What did Mama mean when she said that Greenwood has a spirit and soul of its own?

Note: Teachers should end the read-aloud on page 16 at the end of paragraph 3.

Closing Activity: Students need time to process and reflect on these conversations. They need time to let the emotions that may have arisen during the discussion recede. In closing, allow students time and space to debrief. Below is one strategy from Learning for Justice, formerly Teaching Tolerance’s Let’s Talk guide.

  • Drawing- Drawing can provide students with a valuable opportunity for personal reflection and emotional processing. Student artwork can be shared or kept private. A drawing prompt could be “Pretend you were asked to design a magazine cover of Greenwood District and how you imagined it from James’ description.” Optional – students working in small groups or pairs may help to facilitate the learning.

The Closing Activity came from page 37 of Let’s Talk.

Day 3: Teacher Slide Deck

Opening Activity: (Slide 20) To review the story from the last lesson, begin by asking students to watch the first 45 seconds of this video capturing footage of the Greenwood District, asking them to compare it to the story, and to review vocabulary from the previous lesson, such as Black Wall Street, Greenwood District, segregation, and racial discrimination. The video will automatically stop at 45 seconds. Images shown after 45 seconds are not suitable for young students. Below are suggested discussion prompts (slide 21).

  • How is the video similar to how James describes Greenwood in the story?
  • What kind of place was Greenwood?
  • Why was Greenwood called Black Wall Street?
  • Why did Black Americans have their own section in Tulsa?
  • Tulsa was a segregated city. Explain what segregation means and give an example from the story.
  • Segregation was a result of racial discrimination. Give an example of discrimination.

Note: Reread paragraph 1 on page 16 starting with “In Greenwood.” While reading the book teachers are requested to use the term massacre in place of riot.

Page Number Quote from the Story Discussion Questions,

Supports, & Notes

17 “Dick bumped into Sarah, who…She screamed…Dick was scared, so he ran away.” Why was Dick so scared that he felt he needed to run away?
17 “Before long rumors began to spread. People were saying that Dick attacked Sarah in that elevator. That was not true. The police arrested Dick.”

(show slides 22 & 23)

What does the author mean when he says “rumors began to spread”?

How can getting the wrong information impact our decisions and actions?

Why was Dick arrested?


When showing slide 23 of the elevator operator, teachers should explain that elevators at this time were bumpy and unsteady, and people could be knocked off balance.

Teachers could play a game of telephone to help students understand how information can change when being passed from one person to another.

20 “But by the time she spoke up it was too late…They wanted to punish Dick for what they thought he had done to Sarah.” What does ‘too late’ mean? Why was Dick arrested? Did Dick deserve to be arrested for what happened in the elevator?
20 “The black men in Greenwood …knew his life was in danger. “ Why did the black men in Greenwood believe Dick’s life was in danger?
21 “At the courthouse, the two groups were yelling…then someone fired a shot.” What is happening? What are people doing?
21 “That’s how the Tulsa Race Riot [Massacre] of 1921 started.” Note: The book is copyrighted in 2000 before a shift in nomenclature from race riot to race massacre occurred. In Tulsa Public Schools we use the name Tulsa Race Massacre. While reading the book teachers are requested to use the term massacre in place of riot.

Why? According to the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum “historically it has been called the Tulsa Race Riot. Some say it was given that name at the time for insurance purposes. Designating it a riot prevented insurance companies for having to pay benefits to the people of Greenwood whose home and businesses were destroyed. It was common at that time [and is written in many textbooks] for any large scale clash between different racial or ethnic groups to be categorized as a race riot.”

For greater historical accuracy Tulsa Public Schools believes this event should be referred to as a massacre.

22-23 Show students illustrations What is happening in this picture? What do you see? What are their facial expressions showing? What were the white Tulsans feeling at this time? Why were they mad? Why did they feel this way?


Note: This is where racial discrimination should be discussed, and is a time when students may display strong emotions. Strategies for managing strong emotions may be helpful to reference.

24 “Bullets flew. Bombs dropped. Glass broke.” We call this the Tulsa Race Massacre. What is a massacre?
24 “Mama says that the men in the mob were blinded by hate.” What does it mean to be blinded by hate?

Why did these white Tulsans hate black Tulsans? Does this also mean that white Americans hated black Americans?

26 “Mama said that they must have been trying to get away from the riot [massacre]. But she said she thought there was nowhere to run.” Why did Mama think there was nowhere to run?
26 “I cried when I found out that my favorite place, the Williams Dreamland Theatre, was gone. Mama says that no one can ever take away my memories, though.” What does Mama mean when she says ‘no one can ever take away my memories’?
27 “Like prisoners, they were told to hold their hands high above their heads…Daddy wound up at the Tulsa Fairgrounds.” What happened to James’ daddy and the other black men?

Was this fair?

31 “I wondered how people could be so mean to one another. Mama said, “Nobody is born that way. Hate has to be taught.” Why does Mama say ‘hate has to be taught’? What does she mean by this?
33 “”I have faith. I know that it’s the people that make Greenwood beautiful.” How did the community of Greenwood rebuild?
34-35 Show students illustrations What do you see?

Draw connections to the rainbow and hope, ruined and new, happy and sad, etc.

Discussion Questions Following the Reading:

  • Why did black and white Tulsans live separately?
  • How did many white Tulsans feel about Greenwood? (reference illustration on pages 22-23)
    • What actions did white Tulsan take against the Greenwood community?
    • Why do you think they took those actions?
    • How did their actions show how they felt?
    • Why do you think that the massacre happened?
  • The title of this book is called Up from Ashes – what are ashes? (show slide 24)
    • Look at these two photos. What do you notice about them? (show slide 25)
    • What happened to Greenwood after the massacre was over?
    • Why do you think the book is called Up from the Ashes?
  • Why do you think the author wrote this book? The author is a Black Tulsan named Hannibal Johnson. He has also written several books for adults on the Greenwood District and the Tulsa Race Massacre.
  • How did the Tulsa Race Massacre impact James? How did it impact other Black Americans?
  • Which group of people in the story had power to hurt others?
  • Was there unfairness? How could you tell?
  • If you saw a classmate being teased for the color of their skin, or any part of their appearance, what could you do?
  • How do you think it would feel if you laughed along and did not say anything while others were making fun of someone?

Closing Activity: (Slide 26) Students need time to process and reflect on these conversations. They need time to let the emotions that may have arisen during the discussion recede. In closing, allow students time and space to debrief. Journaling is one strategy from Learning for Justice, formerly Teaching Tolerance’s Let’s Talk guide. Journaling helps students process emotions on their own terms and at their own pace. Journals may be kept private or may serve as a space for back and forth dialogue with students. Below are suggested prompts:

  • Do you think kids have the power to fight racism? How so?
  • Pretend you are telling a friend about Jimmy’s story. Describe Greenwood before and after the Tulsa Race Massacre.

-The Closing Activity came from page 37 of Let’s Talk.

Follow-Up: Teachers should continue the discussion on racial discrimination when discussing the work of Civil Rights activist Clara Luper and the Civil Rights Movement, from Oklahoma Content Standards 3.3.12.

Lesson Written by lead curriculum writer Amanda Soliván, Susan Clay, Cindy Kearney, and Akela Leach


  • “1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.” Tulsa Historical Society & Museum, www.tulsahistory.org/exhibit/1921-tulsa-race-massacre/
  • “Dr. Seuss’ The Sneetches”, https://Www.youtube.com/Watch?v=PdLPe7XjdKc&Feature=Youtu.be.
  • Ellsworth, Scott. “Tulsa Race Massacre: The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture.” Tulsa Race Massacre | The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=TU013.
  • Franklin, Jimmie Lewis. “African Americans: The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture.” African Americans | The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entryname=AFRICAN+AMERICANS.
  • Johnson, Hannibal B. “Greenwood District: The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture.” Greenwood District | The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=GR024.
  • Johnson, Hannibal B. Up From the Ashes. Eakin Press, 2000.
  • Let’s Talk Facilitating Critical Conversations with Students, Teaching Tolerance, 2019.
  • iLoveAncestry. “Rare Color Footage Black Wall Street Filmed by Solomon Sir Jones.” YouTube, YouTube, 31 July 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJye1Y-85t0&feature=youtu.be
  • “Native Knowledge 360° Resource: Impact of Words and Tips for Using Appropriate Terminology.” The Impact of Words and Tips for Using Appropriate Terminology: Am I Using the Right Word?, Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, americanindian.si.edu/nk360/resources/Impact-of-Words-and-Tips-for-Using-Appropriate-Terminology-Am-I-Using-the-Right-Word.
  • O’Dell, Larry. “Senate Bill One: The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture.” Senate Bill One | The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=SE017.
  • “Tulsa Race Massacre Institute .” Tulsa Public Schools, 2020, drive.google.com/file/d/1p2nXyd-MYjyKIlJsNmwRISIUvox46AA5/view.