It’s been 94 years since the Tulsa race riot took place in Oklahoma. The riot took place in the Greenwood, a small affluent section of Tulsa. It was also known as Black Wall Street. Many blacks had started their own businesses including grocery stores, newspapers, hotels, banks, restaurants and nightclubs. Many were also wealthy due to the Oklahoma oil boom.
The riot started after rumors circulated that a white woman named Sarah Page was sexually assaulted by a black man named Dick Rowland. A sensationalist newspaper headline helped spur the riots.
The riot, which began on May 31, 1921, was initiated by an incident that happened the day before. On the morning of May 30, a black man named Dick Rowland stepped into Tulsa’s Drexel Building to use the restroom. The elevator operator was a young white girl named Sarah Page. A scream was heard from inside the elevator, and Rowland ran out. While there is no conclusive evidence, it was the general belief of white Tulsans that Rowland attempted to assault Page.
Rowland was arrested, and subsequent headlines in local newspapers stirred up the white and black populations of Tulsa. Talk of lynching arose among whites, and a crowd of whites and blacks gathered outside the courthouse where Rowland was being held on the night of May 31. A gun discharged while a white man was trying to disarm a black man, causing the incident to erupt into a much larger racial conflict.
By the early morning of June 1, the wholesale burning and pillaging of black Tulsa had begun. Blacks were greatly outnumbered, and the police were not effective in controlling the riot. The National Guard declared martial law throughout the city at 11:29 am, bringing an end to most violence. The Guard then began rounding up blacks for internment. Most white rioters returned to their homes the night of June 1, while much of Tulsa’s black population was imprisoned.
More than 35 blocks of Greenwood were destroyed during the riot where many businesses and homes were destroyed. After the riot many people wanted to forget about what happened on Black Wall Street. For a long time the Tulsa race riot was never mentioned in history books.
In 1996 the Tulsa Race Riot Commission was established to study an historical account of the riot. The report was delivered on February 21, 2001.
To learn more about the Tulsa race riot check out the video below.
Check out the following websites and books for additional information: