100 Years Later — The Tulsa Race Massacre

Jolly Monday will be along later today, but for this morning I have something of importance to talk about.


Today and tomorrow mark the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, one of the darkest two-day periods in the history of the United States. 

In 1921, there was a 35 square block district of Tulsa, Oklahoma, often referred to as Black Wall Street, known as one of the most prosperous Black communities in the nation.  Greenwood boasted restaurants, grocery stores, churches, a hospital, a savings and loan, a post office, three hotels, jewelry and clothing stores, two movie theaters, a library, pool halls, a bus and cab service, a highly regarded school system, six private airplanes and two Black newspapers.

But there was resentment among the white people in Tulsa and in the words of one scholar, Tulsa was a tinderbox just waiting for the spark.  That spark came in the form of a young man named Dick Rowland, a 19-year-old Black shoe shiner.  On May 30, 1921, Rowland took a break from his shoe stand inside a pool hall and walked to the Drexel Building to use the only public restroom for Black people in segregated Tulsa.

Rowland passed Renberg’s, a department store that occupied the first two floors of the Drexel Building, and stepped into an open wire-caged elevator operated by a 17-year-old white girl named Sarah Page.  What happened next remains murky, according to historians. Rowland may have accidentally stepped on Page’s foot, prompting her to shriek. Or tripped and bumped into her.  Either way, when the elevator doors reopened, Dick Rowland ran, and a clerk in Renberg’s called police.  Rowland was arrested and accused of assaulting a white girl.  Eventually the charges would be dropped after Sarah Page wrote a letter exonerating Rowland, but not in time to stop what would happen next.

Three hours after the Tulsa Tribune hit the street with the headline “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in Elevator,” hundreds of white men gathered at the Tulsa courthouse, where Rowland was being held.  Black World War I veterans who wanted to protect Rowland from being lynched rushed to the courthouse to defend him. A shot was fired and “all hell broke loose,” a massacre survivor recalled later.

The whites descended on Greenwood with a vengeance, destroying everything and everyone in their path.  The death toll is uncertain, for bodies were thrown into the Arkansas River and tossed into mass graves, but it is estimated that as many as 300 people were killed.  10,000 people were left homeless as nearly every single building in the 35 square block community was destroyed.  Airplanes dropped kerosene bombs from the sky onto rooftops.  In a matter of hours, Greenwood went from a thriving Black community to ashes.

According to Greenwood lawyer B.C. Franklin, the father of famed Black historian John Hope Franklin …

“For fully forty-eight hours, the fires raged and burned everything in its path and it left nothing but ashes and burned safes and trunks and the like that were stored in beautiful houses and businesses.”

There are so many tragic stories from those two days, so much history that I cannot begin to do it justice in a single post.  However, both the New York Times and The Washington Post have done amazing interactives that tell the story with both words and pictures, and I hope you will take a few minutes to check them out (links below).

On June 8th of that year, a grand jury was convened to investigate the events of those two days. State Attorney General S.P. Freeling initiated the investigation, and witnesses were heard over 12 days. In the end, the all-white jury attributed the riot to the Black mobs, while noting that law enforcement officials had failed in preventing the riot. A total of 27 cases were brought before the court, and the jury indicted more than 85 individuals. In the end, no one was convicted of charges for the deaths, injuries or property damage.

Fast forward to today, the centennial of the horrific massacre.  A “Remember and Rise” concert organized by the Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission was abruptly canceled over the issue of reparations. Oklahoma’s governor was ousted from the commission after signing legislation banning the teaching of the history of racism in Oklahoma schools.  And some residents are planning to boycott the opening of Greenwood Rising, a new museum that construction workers are racing to finish in the heart of Black Wall Street.

As Tulsa commemorates the 100th anniversary of the brutal 1921 race massacre, political tensions and racial divisions have erupted in a city still grappling with how to heal a century later.  It gives context to that old saying that ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same.’ 

As evidenced by recent events in this country — unarmed Black people being murdered by white police officers with little or no repercussions, the rise of white supremacist groups, the resistance to the teaching of America’s racist past in our schools, and the blatant disenfranchisement of Blacks and other minorities — we have not moved forward very much in the past 100 years.  Could we see a repeat of what happened in Greenwood somewhere in this country soon?  I think the answer to that question is ‘yes’.  I hope I’m wrong.

Below are a few resources for those who may wish to know more about the Tulsa Race Massacre and its aftermath:

65 thoughts on “100 Years Later — The Tulsa Race Massacre

    • I wondered that too, so I did a bit of digging. According to History.com: “… about 15 planes were known to have been stored at local air fields in 1921, it remains a mystery who owned the ones used in the Tulsa attack—and how exactly they were mobilized as part of one of the most heinous domestic terrorist attacks in America history.”

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  1. Reblogged this on By Hook Or By Book and commented:
    Yesterday and today mark the 100th Anniversary of The Tulsa Race Massacre, one of the darkest periods of American history, and one that was largely ignored for decades. Jill has put together this informative post detailing the horrific eve as well as providing additional links for more information. This is something everyone should read and never forget!

    Liked by 2 people

    • This and so many other dark spots in the history of this nation have been intentionally hidden, ignored, swept under the proverbial rug. This is why I think the 1619 project is so important, but many are fighting against it being taught in the schools — they don’t want to do anything to wreck that “shiny” image they think this nation has. Under the ‘shiny’ there is an awful lot of rot and rust.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: 100 Years Later — The Tulsa Race Massacre | Filosofa’s Word | Ramblings of an Occupy Liberal

  3. A date that will truly live in infamy. One that has many parallels across the world and across the ages.
    It should not be forgotten and those who try and cover it up howled down and ask if they would like the ‘Boston Massacre’, re-written as simply soldiers defending Law & Order from a Mob of troublemakers and rioters

    Liked by 3 people

    • There are so many such incidents in our history … dark periods … that have been covered up. Even I had no idea how many until reading Bro’s post this evening … my jaw literally dropped. (Reblogging it for my a.m. post so you’ll see what I’m referring to). But the worst of it all, perhaps, is the efforts of some to bury those darker points in our history, to pretend they never happened. WE CAN’T DO THAT!!!!! If we bury our history, then how are we to learn the lessons of history???

      Your point is good … I like the analogy about the Boston Massacre! Sigh. What is this world I’ve woken up to? What have humans become???

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The United Conservative Party of Alberta is trying to force a new cirriculum on the Grade 1 to 6 students of Alberta that totally ignores the terror white people put people of colour through as they stole the land out from underneath coloured feet. 99% of schoolboards have completely rejected this new cirriculum, but mini-Trump Jason Kenny says they have to start using it by September, 2022, or else.
    It is as racist as a school cirriculum can be while trying to hide the racism behind the veils of white history. I don’t know when our next election is, but it has to be before September, 2022, I hope. Kenney’s approval rating is still in the 20% range. How he hopes to get re-elected I have no idea, but he seems to think he can. He better get tossed out, or else…

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    • You guys really need to get rid of Kenney … he’s a mini Trump, evil personified! The U.S. has buried so much history that to dig it up would require a legion of earth-moving equipment. Canada is better than that! Can the federal government not put a stop to Kenney’s new curriculum? I do hope he is ousted before 2022 … the man is an arrogant arse.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The Feds can do nothing. Education is a provincial department.
        Funny, when Kenney was campaigning he promised us civilians a way to recall a Member of the Legislature. Just at the start of Covid he said it would be entered as a bill. It hasn’t been heard from since his ratings plummeted from 60% to 30%. It is now even lower.
        He is rushing the end of the third wave lockdown hoping to score points with the people tired of the lockdowns Little does he realize though those people might be very vocal, they are in the minority. Sure, we would welcome a reprieve, but we want it handled intelligently. No one in the UCP has any of that.

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        • The more I hear about Kenney, the less I like him! No, he’s not likely to put forth a way to oust him with his approval rating so low … just make sure he gets voted out next time!

          It’s the same here … politicians are ending mask mandates, encouraging everything to re-open, because the loudest of the selfish people in this country are more concerned with their own pleasure than the health of others. My thoughts are that with the newest variant, we’re going to see a new surge soon. Sigh.

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          • The dreaded fourth wave no one ever talked about. When it comes a lot of people are going to be pissed off. Their leaders said it was all over but the crying. Well, the crying will be coming too.
            I get my second dose tomorrow. But I’ll be wearing my mask when I get it.

            Liked by 1 person

            • I think you’re probably right. And I blame the fools who think their ‘right’ to not be vaccinated is more important than our right to life. And then, of course, there are the conspiracy theorists who are telling people that the vaccine implants a microchip or some other ignorant thing. Sigh. Natasha and I will be getting our first dose on Saturday and we will be wearing our masks, too.

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      • They are so We can do anything cuz we have a big majority! Pure conservatives, through and through. Well, now their conservative electorate are abandoning them. They do not have the approval of the people they are supposed to be serving, so they are trying to ram through all their disgusting programs before they get kicked out of power on their conservative asses.
        It might not all be for the best reasons, but the rancour of the people is evident everywhere. The UCP have to go.

        Liked by 2 people

  5. Thank you for talking about this subject. People need to know about Black Wall Street. I certainly didn’t learn this in school from elementary level all the way to university. It made me furious that this happened in America. The Black Wall Street Massacre was also the first airstrike on US soil, NOT Pearl Harbor. Unlike that event during WWII where at least the US was attacked by another country, this was done by Americans to Americans and got away with it.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I had to … the more people want to sweep things under the rug, the more I feel compelled to bring them out and shine a light on them. We have buried far too much of our darker past … how can we learn the lessons of history if we deny that history ever happened??? Sigh. Stay tuned, for I am re-blogging Bro’s post that tells us even more than I ever realized.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I certainly appreciate you wanting to spread this knowledge out there. Good on you for having the empathy to do so. I’ve still been learning about other parts of American history I never learned nor are they taught in the textbooks. It’s like…how far has America REALLY come after that?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Some days I feel like we haven’t come very far at all, and in part because we keep whitewashing and hiding our mistakes. Like you, I was only taught the more honourable parts of U.S. history in school and there are still many things that cause my jaw to drop when I learn of them. How can we correct our mistakes if we don’t even acknowledge them???

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          • Certainly. The whitewashing of history was even greater than I thought as I hear about these different stories. It really shows how it’s a multigenerational erasure.

            Re: correcting mistakes: THANK YOU!

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            • Yes, it was greater than I thought, too. They did a damn good job keeping the extent of racism in this country hidden. If there is anything positive about social media, it’s that “you can run but you cannot hide”. Sadly, the lies are magnified, too. I don’t know where we go from here … I wish I did. Sigh.

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              • Exactly and even I wasn’t aware of a lot of these stories. The internet has certainly helped in bringing light to these stories. I know we need to keep learning which would be a good start.

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  6. Jill, this is one of the most horrible incidents in our history. One of the three survivors said on CBS Sunday morning news that the people not only killed Blacks, but stole anything that “looked like it had value.” This was an eradication of Blacks who had success in a time when it was hard for Blacks to do so. Another story that rivals this one occurred in Wilmington, NC about twenty-five years earlier, when duly elected Black council members were subject t0 a White coup that stripped them of power, aided about local newspaper who published defamatory articles. Like Tulsa, successful Blacks had to be eradicated. Keith

    Liked by 5 people

    • It is one of the most, but certainly not the only, as Brosephus points out in his latest point (my a.m. post is a reblog of his). It amazes how many times in the history of this nation we have attempted to eradicate Black people, and then tried to cover up the dark spots in our history! What’s really mind-boggling, though, is that we haven’t really moved above that mentality even today. Look at the rise in white supremacist groups, the number of people who claim they are not prejudiced but follow that with a “but …” Sigh. I don’t know where it all ends, but my guess is that in another 100 years, some blogger or journalist will write just about the exact same thing I’m saying today, still asking the question … WHY???

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I first learned of this only a couple of years ago when I watched a documentary about it. I was in shock: first because of the unbelievable horror; second because no one was ever held accountable; and lastly that I had not known of the event previously. This should be in the curriculum of all our schools, right along with residential schools, internment camps and the Holocaust; so that our youth understand that horrific events fueled by prejudice took place in the 20th century.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Which documentary did you see about that subject? I saw Hate Crimes In the Heartland a few years ago which was a very powerful watch. I wholeheartedly agree that this should be taught to everyone.

      Liked by 4 people

    • There has been a concerted effort in this country to hide the darker periods while shining a spotlight on the more positive times. Perhaps it is so in all countries. The Tulsa massacre was not included in textbooks and even schools in Tulsa did not teach it. When we fail to acknowledge and remember the mistakes of the past, we’re almost certain to repeat them, and yet even today we have a population who would largely like to forget such things as slavery, Jim Crow, Tulsa, Japanese internment camps, the treatment of Native Americans and more.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Sorry for not seeing this comment earlier. That is true about darker parts of history being obscured whether it was this event, The Devil’s Punchbowl, or even the East St. Louis massacre which I didn’t know about until a few days ago for example. You’re right and lots of people in Tulsa didn’t know it happened. I don’t want something like this to happen again. Ignoring the racist massacres, slavery, and genocides let alone other forms of mistreatment in this country.

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        • Most white people, I think, have no idea just how horribly Blacks have been treated in this country throughout our relatively short history. I’ve come to think of racism as the national motto here! No, I don’t want anything even near this to happen again, but … think about the police killings of unarmed Black people in the past decade, or think of how the BlackLivesMatter movement is denigrated by some, called a ‘terrorist organization’. We are still very much a racist nation and I don’t know what it takes to stop it … sigh.

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          • Right. So many people outside of the Black community don’t realize how badly the mistreatment happened and still continues. Stories like these and others have been buried and the perpetrators rarely ever got punished. These pieces of history show the racism and bigoted hypocrisy in this country. If another nation did the same thing, there would be charges from the International Criminal Court or sanctions would be set.

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            • A couple of years ago, I commented to a Black friend that it seems racism is rearing its ugly head again, that we have taken some steps backward. I’ll never forget his response: “It never went away, sister, you all just haven’t been watching.” And he was right. Today, there are still those who want to cover it up, to preserve the myth that the U.S. has always been a ‘great’ country. Even today we have those who defend police who killed unarmed Black people, even shooting one in her own bed! People want the 1619 Project to just ‘go away’, don’t want their children to learn of the darker parts of our past.

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              • That is a powerful quote and quite true. I can speak from experience with the things I went through like being followed at some stores even though I wasn’t stealing anything, being racially profiled by police, dealing with dog whistles and overt slurs. The 1619 Project should be taught since we can’t ignore these brutal parts of history.

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                • Yes, I have a young Black friend who tells me that he has been stopped over 20 times now, crossing the river between Cincinnati and Kentucky on his way to work. Over 20 times!!! For what? No reason … once a busted tail light, once he was 2 miles over the speed limit. But the reality is his only crime was DWB … Driving While Black.

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        • Perhaps … but there are many who are opposed to “tarnishing the reputation” of the U.S. In my book, it is already about as tarnished as a nation can be, we’ve just kept the rusty spots hidden for far too long. The most disturbing thing for me is that even today we are no better … racism is alive and well in the U.S. and little is being done to change that.

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  8. An horrific story yet again showing even in the 20thC that white people get to ignore the law with impunity and can wipe out a black community and it’s property. White superiority at it’s worst which continues to this day So many deaths and yet no-one charged or convicted for the deaths, injuries and property damage.
    Cwtch

    Liked by 7 people

    • It was indeed horrific, and what makes it even worse is that for all this time, the story has been largely covered up, not taught as part of our history, not even mentioned for the most part. Today, that effort to keep it in the shadows continues, as the efforts to keep other dark parts of our history hidden. No country is without some dark periods, but to hide them is just wrong! Sadly, there are still some in this country today who would do the same, given half a chance. Sigh.
      Cwtch

      Liked by 2 people

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