The Tulsa Race Massacre: A Property Law Perspective

Dr. Kara Swanson on what we might learn if property law were taught with knowledge of the Tulsa Race Massacre and other events tied to racial identity.

As part of UW Law’s storytelling around Black History Month, the Discovery podcast interviewed Dr. Kara Swanson, professor of law and affiliate professor of history at Northeastern University in Boston, about the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. This lesser-known event, which Dr. Swanson calls the “racially motivated wholesale destruction of a community,” details the tragedy that befell the lives and property of the residents of the Greenwood area of Tulsa, Oklahoma – otherwise known as Black Wall Street – on May 31 and June 1, 1921.

The Tulsa Race Massacre is not part of the property law curriculum in legal education but has much to teach us. History shows us that racial identity is significant to questions of property, so there are costs and consequences to excluding such events. The basic principle of trespass failed to withstand anti-Black racism. In this episode, Dr. Swanson takes the listeners on her journey of discovery and reflection of what we might learn if property law was taught with knowledge of the Tulsa Race Massacre and other events connected to race.

Dr. Swanson shares her scholarship on the law of trespass from a 2021 symposium, “The Tulsa Race Massacre: What’s Race Got to Do With It?” which marked the tragedy’s 100th anniversary. Dr. Swanson will be speaking with the 1L Perspective students at UW Law in March. A property law professor with interests in legal history, intellectual property law, gender and sexuality, and the history of science, medicine, and technology, Dr. Swanson has a Ph.D. in the history of science from Harvard University. Before entering law school, she was a published research scientist.

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