Donald Byrd’s fifth Ailey commission draws on the Company’s theatrical roots and legacy of addressing social injustice. The work’s title references a 1921 tragedy that happened in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s segregated Greenwood District. At the time, it was one of the country’s most affluent African American communities, known as “Black Wall Street.”

On May 30, 1921, an incident occurred in the elevator of a Greenwood office building; nobody truly knows what happened, but a young Black man was arrested for attempted assault on a White teenaged girl. The next day, a newspaper report about the arrest incited an armed White mob, and things quickly escalated.

Over the next day, the mob grew in size and burned much of the neighborhood to the ground, killing as many as 300 Black people, and leaving another 10,000 homeless. Afterwards, the Tulsa Race Massacre was quickly erased from the nation’s memory, but the story has resurfaced in recent years in anticipation of the event’s centennial in 2021.

Visit the Ailvin Ailey blog to learn more about Greenwood and the history of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater grew from a now-fabled performance in March 1958 at the 92nd Street Y in New York City. Led by Alvin Ailey and a group of young African-American modern dancers, that performance changed forever the perception of American dance.

The Ailey company has gone on to perform for an estimated 25 million people at theaters in 48 states and 71 countries on six continents – as well as millions more through television broadcasts, film screenings, and online platforms.

In 2008, a U.S. Congressional resolution designated the Company as “a vital American cultural ambassador to the world” that celebrates the uniqueness of the African-American cultural experience and the preservation and enrichment of the American modern dance heritage. When Mr. Ailey began creating dances, he drew upon his “blood memories” of Texas, the blues, spirituals, and gospel as inspiration, which resulted in the creation of his most popular and critically acclaimed work, Revelations. Although he created 79 ballets over his lifetime, Mr. Ailey maintained that his company was not exclusively a repository for his own work.

Today, the Company continues Mr. Ailey’s mission by presenting important works of the past and commissioning new ones. In all, more than 235 works by over 90 choreographers have been part of the Ailey company’s repertory.