Don Thompson has been taking photos for over 40 years, and continues to do so today. His work has been on permanent display at Oklahoma State University campus here in Tulsa and in a gallery in New York City. Now, his work is being exhibited at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C.
Among those photos are moments that show survivors of the 1921 race riots, which he calls a holocaust, who were living in Tulsa when he took the photos in 1994. The rest of the series shows images of the Greenwood District that Thompson took from 1970 to 1990, demonstrating the decline of “Black Wall Street” in Greenwood.
Thompson received a call about his work in 2014 from Paul Gardullo, a museum curator at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Now, seventeen photos of Thompson’s have been selected, and will be placed in an exhibit called “Riot and Resilience in Tulsa, Oklahoma”, which will be part of a larger gallery called the “Power of Place.” Out of the seventeen photos, seven of those are portraits of survivors of the Tulsa Race Riots. The remaining ten are part of images from the Greenwood District.
He chose his images based on the visual expression; images that excited the viewer and showed the resilience and perseverance of the people living there. He considers himself a documentary photographer, with a purpose to “record what I consider history as it unfolds before my eyes. I try to change a view or perception of a place or of people that has been disenfranchised to one of empathy and understanding.”
Thompson hopes that through the photos he has taken, people both white and black who come to see the exhibit will leave the museum feeling prideful, and take in the great accomplishment of African Americans today despite the hardship and struggle they went through many years ago. He believes that the museum will bring the nation together in light of many recent and terrible events, and show how African-American history is such an ingrained part of American history.