Karlos K. Hill is an associate professor and chair of the Clara Luper Department of African and African-American Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Oklahoma. He is a community-engaged scholar and historian of the history of lynching, racial violence, and their legacies in the black experience.
“The work that I do as a scholar is about aligning my research and writing with community initiatives and community-based struggles,” Hill said. “With the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, there’s alignment with my work on the history of lynching and racial violence and the history of the Greenwood community as it related to the Race Massacre.
“Since 2017, I’ve been working with the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission to support their efforts, specifically the educational initiatives,” he added. “One of the goals of the commission is to make sure teachers in the state of Oklahoma have resources, so everything from photos, oral histories and lesson plans to support their teaching, and to help teachers teach the Race Massacre in a historically accurate way and that is culturally responsible and responsive.”
Hill has helped create an infrastructure to help provide high-level training on teaching the Tulsa Race Massacre through the annual Tulsa Race Massacre Oklahoma Teachers Summer Institute. Several hundred Oklahoma educators have participated in the summer institute, impacting thousands of middle school and high school students. The next institute, coinciding with the centennial of the massacre, will be expanded to a full two-week professional development period, as well as a statewide Oklahoma Educator Institute offered in spring 2021.
Hill said the goal for his most recent book, The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre: A Photographic History, seeks to make a visually compelling case for why it is so important for the events of that day to be talked about and framed as a massacre.
“For 100 years, the Race Massacre has been talked about as a race riot, and that perspective, taken by insurance companies, the city of Tulsa and the state of Oklahoma, precluded reparations and restitutions for the damages and losses suffered,” he said. “It insulated insurance companies from having to pay reparations because of the riot clauses in insurance agreements, so that clause has insulated the city (of Tulsa), and insulated insurance companies who had insured Black residents’ land, homes and businesses.
“I believe in 2021, if we’re going to look back and remember the event from the vantage point of victims, survivors and their descendants, then we have to talk about it as a massacre because that is how survivors in the days following and in the intervening years have talked about it…and embrace and accept all of the implications of what that means,” he added.
When the Tulsa Race Massacre centennial year closes, Hill plans shift some attention to celebrating the legacy of Clara Luper, the namesake of the Department of African and African American Studies.
“She is the namesake because she embodies everything we hope our students will learn from us about the importance of having impact on the world,” Hill said.
Luper’s memoir, Behold the Walls, which narrates and documents the 1958 Oklahoma sit-in movement, has been out of print for several decades. Hill has made it his mission to have the book edited and a new edition, edited with 21st-century readers in mind, available by Luper’s 100th birthday in May 2023. Hill said his goal is to “stimulate scholarship and teaching on the life and legacy of Clara Luper, and the only way we really truly stimulate scholarship and teaching is if we make her book accessible to scholars and the general public.” He also plans to create a graphic history of the 1958 sit-in movement designed for K-12 school-age children, as well as lesson plans and curriculum to support it as a teaching resource.
Hill is the author of three books, Beyond the Rope: The Impact of Lynching on Black Culture and Memory, The Murder of Emmett Till: A Graphic History and The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre: A Photographic History, which will be released in March. He is a board member for the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, the Clara Luper Legacy Committee, and the Board of Scholars for Facing History and Ourselves.