History of Greenwood, Black Wall Street, and 1921 Race Massacre that shook Tulsa
The Tulsa Race Massacre took place from May 31 to June 1, 1921. During this catastrophic event, white residents attacked the black residents and businesses in Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood District. City officials deputized many of the white residents and provided them with weapons. This attack destroyed more than 35 square blocks of the district known as “Black Wall Street.” At the time, this was the wealthiest black community in the United States. The Tulsa Race Massacre has been called "the single worst incident of racial violence in American history".
This massacre occurred after a black teenager was accused of assaulting a white female teenager on May 30, 1921. Dick Rowland, a 19-year-old black shoe-shiner who was employed at a parlor on Main Street, entered the elevator of the nearby Drexel Building also located on Main Street to use the building’s top-floor “blacks-only” restroom. As he entered the only elevator in the building, he encountered the building’s elevator operator, Sarah Page, a 17-year-old white female. A store clerk at Renberg’s, a clothing store within the same building, said he heard a scream and rushed to the elevator where he saw Page. He described her as being in a distraught state and alerted the authorities as he believed that she had been assaulted. Unfortunately, the events that followed Rowland’s arrest would lead to one of the worst racially motivated attacks in American history.
After Rowland was arrested and taken into custody, rumors spread throughout the city that he would be lynched. In an effort to prevent this from happening, 75 black men arrived at the jail, where hundreds of white men were also gathered. The sheriff convinced the group to leave the premises. As they were leaving, an altercation occurred as a white man tried to disarm one of the black men in the group. A gunshot was fired, which triggered a deadly clash between the two groups. By the end of what became a deadly firefight, ten white men and two black men had been killed. Mob violence throughout the city exploded as news of the deaths spread. White rioters stormed through black neighborhoods killing black residents as well as looting and burning homes and businesses. On June 1 the massacre finally ended, once the Oklahoma National Guard implemented martial law.
The Tulsa Race Massacre resulted in approximately 10,000 black residents being left homeless, personal property damage amounting to over $750,000, and about $1.5 million dollars of damage in real estate damage. Many who survived ultimately left Tulsa, while those who stayed remained silent for decades about the terror that ensued. Although this massacre was one of the worst examples of racial violence in America, it has been almost completely omitted from American history.