On May 31st and June 1st, 1921, the Greenwood section of Tulsa, Oklahoma burned to the ground.
The irony of near centennial this tragic moment cannot be understated, especially if you believe in the cyclical nature of life.
However, for all the detractors labeling the protestors as rioters, it is important to remember the genesis of the violence. Almost 100 years ago, today
The Biggest Act Of Domestic Terrorism
The Tulsa Race Massacre, also known as the Tulsa Race Riot, occurred over 18 hours on May 31-June 1, 1921.
A white mob of angry Tulsa residents attacked its residents of color’s, homes and businesses. This all occurred in the predominantly black Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The event is probably the worst incident of racial violence in U.S. history. The fact that it was and still also is one of the least-known is a problem.
News reports were largely silent in cooperation with the destruction. However, the fact is that hundreds of people were killed and thousands more were left homeless.
Black Wall Street
In the years following World War I there was a spike in racial tensions.
White supremacist groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, performed numerous lynchings nationwide to spread fear. These acts of racially motivated violence were executed to control African Americans and prevent them from seeking retribution.
At the time, Tulsa was growing with a population of more than 100,000 people and it was highly segregated. However, crime rates were high, and the onset of vigilante justice was common.
Most of the city’s 10,000 black residents lived in a neighborhood called Greenwood. It was thriving especially as a business district known popularly as the “Black Wall Street”.
However, with all economic movements started by people of color that aren’t based in white supremacy, jealousy was rampant.
What Caused the Tulsa Race Massacre?
According to multiple reports, on May 30, 1921, a young black teenager named Dick Rowland entered an elevator. It was in the Drexel Building, an office building on South Main Street in Tulsa, and at some point, Sarah Page, screamed.
Rowland was then painted as fleeing the scene. The police were called, and the next morning they arrested Rowland.
Rumors abounded of what supposedly happened on that elevator throughout the white community. Then a front-page story in the Tulsa Tribune that afternoon reported that police had arrested Rowland for sexually assaulting Page.
That was the tipping point.
As evening fell, an angry white mob was gathering outside the courthouse, demanding the sheriff hand over Rowland. Sheriff Willard McCullough refused, and his men barricaded the top floor to protect the black teenager.
Around 9 p.m., a group of about 25 armed black men went to the courthouse to offer help guarding Rowland. After the sheriff turned them away, some of the white mob tried unsuccessfully to break into the National Guard armory nearby.
Once rumors hit the community of color of a possible lynching, a group of around 75 armed persons of color showed up to the courthouse. They were met by some 1,500 whites who also carried weapons.
After shots were fired and chaos broke out, the outnumbered group of blacks retreated to Greenwood.
Over 14-18 hours, newly deputized groups of white residents committed numerous acts of violence against persons of color.
They even shot an unarmed man in a movie theater.
By dawn on June 1, thousands of white citizens looted and burning homes and businesses over an area of 35 city blocks. Firefighters who arrived to help put out fires later testified that rioters had threatened them with guns and forced them to leave.
According to the Red Cross, some 1,256 houses were burned and 215 others were looted but not torched.
Two newspapers, a school, a library, a hospital, churches, hotels, stores and many other black-owned businesses were among the buildings destroyed or damaged by fire.
By the time the National Guard arrived and declared martial law shortly before noon, the riot had effectively ended. Though guardsmen helped put out fires, they also imprisoned many black Tulsans, and by June 2 some 6,000 people were under armed guard at the local fairgrounds.
The Aftermath (2020 & Beyond)
In the hours after the Tulsa Race Massacre, all charges against Dick Rowland were dropped. The police concluded that Rowland had most likely stumbled into Page, or stepped on her foot.
Kept safely under guard in the jail during the riot, he left Tulsa the next morning and reportedly never returned.
The “official” tally of deaths in the massacre was 36 people killed, including 10 whites. Historians now consider that estimate much too low. The Tulsa Race Massacre stood as one of the deadliest riots in U.S. history, behind only the New York Draft Riots of 1863, which killed at least 119 people.
In the years to come, as black Oklahomans worked to rebuild their ruined homes and businesses. However, segregation in the city only increased, and Oklahoma’s newly established branch of the KKK grew in strength.
Still confused why cities across America burn today in 2020? It’s a rekindling of a sin that happened nearly 100 years ago.