The Tulsa Race Massacre Ends
The arrest of Dick Rowland, a young African-American man accused of assaulting a white woman, sparked one of the most severe incidents of racial violence in United States history. The Tulsa Race Massacre, also known as the Tulsa Race Riot began on May 31, 1921, and ended June 1, 1921, with more than 30 fatalities.
Tulsa, OK, was a prosperous and growing city by 1921, but the city was also highly segregated. Following World War I, the country witnessed an increase in racial tensions and a resurgence of white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan. There were numerous lynchings and racially motivated violence, but this was met by efforts from African-Americans to prevent attacks on their communities. Much of Tulsa’s African-American population lived in a neighborhood called Greenwood, which included a thriving business district referred to by many as the Black Wall Street.
On the night of May 30, 1921, Dick Rowland, a teenage shoe shiner, was accused of assaulting a white elevator operator named Sarah Page in the elevator of a building in downtown Tulsa. The Tulsa Tribune published the story the following day, alleging that Rowland tried to rape Page, and also went on to state that there was a lynching planned. After the story was published, both African-American and white mobs showed up to the courthouse where Rowland was being held.
Over the course of the evening, shots were fired and chaos broke out, forcing the group of African-Americans to retreat back to Greenwood. There was a false belief that there would be a large uprising of Black Tulsans and that led to a growing hysteria amongst white residents. By the dawn of June 1, 1921, thousands of white residents entered the Greenwood District, burning down and stealing from homes and businesses in the area. Two newspapers, a school, a library, a hospital, churches, hotels, stores and many other Black-owned businesses were all damaged or destroyed during the massacre.
Following all of the violence, the charges against Dick Rowland were dropped and he left Tulsa. There was little media coverage or public acknowledgment of the riot in the years to come. Although the official death toll was recorded to be 10 whites and 26 African-Americans, many experts now believe at least 300 people were killed. Decades after the Tulsa Race Massacre, the state of Oklahoma developed the Tulsa Race Riot Commission to investigate the riot and formally document the incident.