Tulsa, 1921. Race Riot or Massacre?

The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 by Tim Madigan

I don’t remember when I first learned about it. I had been studying the time between just after the Civil War, the so-called “Reconstruction” and The Harlem Renaissance of the early 1900’s. Between reading books, learning of Eric Foner (Professor and expert on the Reconstruction), and watching documentaries in the middle of the night, I stumbled across the atrocity known as the Tulsa Race Riot.

What happened in 1921, in the Greenwood Section of the city of Tulsa, also known as “Black Wall Street,” has been covered up, lied about, and erased from history books.

The story goes that a young black man named Dick Rowland, was on an elevator with a white girl. He either tripped, or the elevator jolted, and he fell into her. She ran screaming from the elevator that she had been attacked. He was arrested and held at the jail. White men surrounded the jail and wanted to remove him and lynch him, but Black men, freshly returned from World War I, came to the jail to defend him.

Shots were fired, no one knows by whom, The Blacks, being outnumbered, retreated back behind the railroad tracks which delineated the White from the Black section of town. Things calmed down for a while, but the Whites entered the Black section of town and attacked again in the early morning hours.

Black people were taken from their bed and marched into the streets. Anyone who dared resist was shot. Whites looted their houses, and then set the houses on fire. While Blacks with guns put up a strong fight, in the end they were outnumbered and outgunned. They were marched outside of town and huddled in fields. Within a day, the Red Cross showed up to help with food and medical needs.

Greenwood was burned to the ground. Meanwhile, the Tulsa Fire Department was ordered to stand down and not assist in any way.

Hundreds of people were shot, burned and disappeared. Trucks collected bodies of the blacks and buried them in mass graves outside of town.

For generations, no one Black or White talked about what happened, or if they did it was in whispers. But in the mid 1970’s survivors were sought out and interviewed.

This book was written in 2000, and recently updated. More books and documentaries are coming forth, exposing the atrocity that happened over those few days in 1921.

I highly recommend reading this one!


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