Between May 31 and June 1, 1921, a mob of 10,000 white men descended on the community of Greenwood in Tulsa and attacked black residents and burned businesses.
Many of them had weapons and some were deputized by city officials. It led to the worst act of racial violence in US history, with more than 800 people taken to hospital and 6,000 black residents interned in buildings across the city.
The final death toll has never been confirmed, with estimates ranging between 75 and 300 fatalities. Around 10,000 black residents were left homeless and the firebombing caused more than $1.5millon in damage.
A group of National Guard Troops, carrying rifles with bayonets attached, escort unarmed African American men to the detention center at Convention Hall
After World War I, Tulsa was recognized for its affluent African-American community known as the Greenwood District.
The community was often referred to as the ‘Black Wall Street’ because of its thriving businesses and residential area, but in June 1921, the community was nearly destroyed during the Tulsa Race Riot.
The area was fraught with racial and political tensions with servicemen returning from fighting in Europe, the resurgence of the Klu Klux Klan and the memory of the end of the Civil War in 1865.
There was also an economic slump in Tulsa, that drove up unemployment, and increased tensions between white veterans and professional, well-educated African-Americans who populated Greenwood.
In 1919, the ‘Red Summer’, industrial cities in the Midwest and Northeast experienced significant race riots because of the tensions.
The events leading up to the riot began on May 30, 1921, when a young black shoe shiner named Dick Rowland was riding in the elevator with a woman named Sarah Page.
The details of what followed vary from person to person and it’s unclear what actually happened, but Rowland was arrested the next day by Tulsa police, with reports suggesting Rowland assaulted Page.
The police questioned Page and determined Rowland assaulted her, even though a written account has never been produced backing her claims.
During the Tulsa Riot, 35 city blocks were completely destroyed and more than 800 people were treated for injuries. Historians believe as many as 300 people may have died in the riot
Subsequently, a report in the Tulsa Tribune dated May 31, 1921 was published that night with an accompanying editorial stating that a lynching was planned for that night.
Hundreds of men then gathered around the jail where Rowland was being held. They encountered a group of black men who were supporting Rowland.
This started a confrontation between black and white armed men at the courthouse, with the white men demanding that Rowland be lynched while the black men tried to protect him.
During a struggle between two men in the mobs over a gun, shots were fired and a white man was shot, causing the the African-American group to retreat to the Greenwood District.
In the early morning hours of June 1, 1921, Greenwood was looted and burned by an estimated 10,000 white rioters, who flooded into the streets shooting residents. Planes also reportedly dropped incendiary bombs on the area.
Many of the white mob had recently returned from World War I and trained in the use of firearms, are are said to have shot Black Americans on sight.
Pictured: Part of Greenwood District burning during the Race Riots, Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA, June 1921. More than 1,400 homes and businesses were destroyed. The picture caption above says ‘Burning of Church Where Ammunition was Stored-During Tulsa Race Riot-6-1-21’
In addition, more than 1,400 homes and businesses were destroyed, and nearly 10,000 people were left homeless.
The riots lasted for two days, and Governor Robertson declared martial law, and National Guard troops were called in to Tulsa.
During the riot, 35 city blocks were completely destroyed. Historians believe as many as 300 people may have died in the riot – mostly Black Americans -and more than 800 people were treated for injuries.
Bodies were buried in mass graves while families of those who were killed in the riots were held in prison under martial law according to Scott Ellsworth, a University of Michigan historian, in December.
The families of the deceased were never told whether their loved ones died in the massacre, or where they were buried, and no funerals were held.
Until the 1990s, the massacre was rarely mentioned in history books, and in 2001, the Race Riot Commission was organized to review the details of the deadly riot.
Source: Tulsa History.org