Everything to Know About the 1921 Tulsa Massacre Depicted in Emmy-Winning Watchmen

The 1921 Tulsa Massacre is at the center of HBO's popular, Emmy-winning show Watchmen

regina king
Regina King in Watchmen; 1921 Tulsa Massacre . Photo: Mark Hill/HBO; Bettmann Archive/Getty

HBO's Watchmen swept big at the 2020 Emmy Awards on Sunday night — and resurfaced memories of the 1921 Tulsa massacre that is central to the show.

Co-creator Damon Lindelof accepted the award for outstanding limited series alongside his co-creator Cord Jefferson and members of the cast.

“I would be remiss if we didn’t recognize all the men and women who died in the Tulsa Massacre in 1921, the original sin of our show,” Lindelof said. “This country neglects and forgets its own history at its own peril often and we should never forget that.”

The series, which is set 34 years after the events that occur within the comic book series, focuses on racist violence in Tulsa Oklahoma in 2019.

The 1921 Tulsa Massacre
The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Everett/Shutterstock

The show highlights the 1921 Tulsa massacre, also known as the Tulsa race riot, which occurred on May 31 and June 1, 1921, when droves of white residents attacked Black residents.

According to the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum, 24 hours of violence resulted in 35 city blocks in the district of Greenwood — an affluent Black area known as "Black Wall Street" — being burned and about 300 deaths.

Regina King won the Emmy Award for outstanding lead actress in a drama series for her performance as Angela Abar/Sister Night. Abar is a Tulsa police detective who finds out her grandfather was a survivor of the massacre.

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Tulsa remains a site of significant importance in the U.S. In June, President Donald Trump earned controversy for making the city the location for a campaign rally on Juneteenth (June 19), which is the anniversary of the end of slavery, dating back to 1865.

Both the location and the date sparked outrage among many who were against bringing his sometimes-racially insensitive rhetoric to a historically significant place for racial injustice.

In July, a test excavation of a potential mass grave site in Tulsa launched, nearly 100 years after the event.

Scientists, archaeologists, and forensic anthropologists began digging at Oaklawn Cemetery with the hopes of discovering just what caused an underground anomaly consistent with mass graves that were picked up by scanning earlier this year, Mayor G.T. Bynum said at a press conference.

“This is a historic day for Tulsa and for our country,” Bynum said. “It should not have taken 99 years for us to be doing this investigation. But this generation of Tulsans is committed to doing what’s right by our neighbors, and following the truth wherever it leads us.”

The 1921 Tulsa Massacre
The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Everett/Shutterstock
Regina King in Watchmen. Mark HIll/HBO

“The ultimate goal here is to be able to connect the victims of this event with their family,” Bynum said. “That is a tremendous challenge. That is not something we’d expect to have wrapped up at the end of the year. That’s something that will take years to do.”

Brenda Nails Alford, public oversight committee chair of the 1921 Graves commission, said the goal was to “bring some sense of closure to that horrible time in our history.”

Watchmen also stars Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who won the Emmy Award for outstanding supporting actor in a limited series; Jeremy Irons, Tim Blake Nelson, Jean Smart, Louis Gossett Jr., Don Johnson, Hong Chau and Andrew Howard.

The 72nd Emmy Awards, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, are airing live on ABC from 8-11 p.m. ET.

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