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McLean County Museum of History highlights Bloomington-Normal sisters caught in Tulsa Massacre

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BLOOMINGTON (WEEK) -- McLean County Museum of History is honoring the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre of 1921 by highlighting two Bloomington-Normal sisters who experienced it in a new exhibit.

Julia and Alverta Duff were in the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma, a prosperous, predominately Black neighborhood also known as the "Black Wall Street" burned down in the massacre.

Alverta, the oldest daughter of Peter Charles and Fannie Walker Duff, graduated from Normal High School and attended Brown’s Business College.

While in the twin cities, Julia attended Illinois State Normal University (now named Illinois State University) to become a teacher.

However, segregation laws kept Julia from teaching white students in the twin cities, limiting her job options.

Julia left Bloomington-Normal to Topeka, Kansas then moved to Tulsa to teach.

A letter written by older sister Alverta described the night armed white men rushed into Julia's home, forced her to leave, and bombed it.

Julia's home was among thousands of homes and businesses in the Black community burned down. About 300 people were killed.

Alverta wrote that letter to their parents because Julia was too overcome with emotion to tell the story herself.

"It's a reckoning and people are having to look at our very, tarnished blemished, and dirty history and really start recognizing some of the bad things," Candace Summers, director of community education said.

Summers said after decades of the story being swept under the rug, she hopes the Bloomington-Normal community will be open to educating themselves on the event and others similar to it to learn and grow from.

"We really hope that our community members can take a step back and think about what these two women and thousands more went through, learn from it, and discuss it."

The story of the Duff sisters is located in the "Working for a Living" exhibit.

The museum will also host a cemetery walk in September where they will remember the sisters at Evergreen Memorial Cemetery where they are buried.

Darnysha Mitchell

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