What's The History Behind 1921
The 1921 Race Massacre in Tulsa OK
The 1921 Attack on Greenwood was one of the most significant events in Tulsa’s history. Following World War I, Tulsa was recognized nationally for its affluent African American community known as the Greenwood District. This thriving business district and surrounding residential area was referred to as “Black Wall Street.” In June 1921, a series of events nearly destroyed the entire Greenwood area.
On the morning of May 30, 1921, a young black man named Dick Rowland was riding in the elevator in the Drexel Building at Third and Main with a white woman named Sarah Page. The details of what followed vary from person to person. Accounts of an incident circulated among the city’s white community during the day and became more exaggerated with each telling.
Tulsa police arrested Rowland the following day and began an investigation. An inflammatory report in the May 31 edition of the Tulsa Tribune spurred a confrontation between black and white armed mobs around the courthouse where the sheriff and his men had barricaded the top floor to protect Rowland. Shots were fired and the outnumbered African Americans began retreating to the Greenwood District.
In the early morning hours of June 1, 1921, Greenwood was looted and burned by white rioters.
Governor Robertson declared martial law, and National Guard troops arrived in Tulsa. Guardsmen assisted firemen in putting out fires, took African Americans out of the hands of vigilantes and imprisoned all black Tulsans not already interned. Over 6,000 people were held at the Convention Hall and the Fairgrounds, some for as long as eight days.
Twenty-four hours after the violence erupted, it ceased. In the wake of the violence, 35 city blocks lay in charred ruins, more than 800 people were treated for injuries and contemporary reports of deaths began at 36. Historians now believe as many as 300 people may have died, however more have been hinted.
In order to understand the Tulsa Race Massacre it is important to understand the complexities of the times. Dick Rowland, Sarah Page and an unknown gunman were the sparks that ignited a long smoldering fire. Jim Crow, jealousy, white supremacy, and land lust, all played roles in leading up to the destruction and loss of life on May 31 and June 1, 1921.
In recent years there has been ongoing discussion about what to call the event that happened in 1921. Historically, it has been called the Tulsa Race Riot. Some say it was given that name at the time for insurance purposes. Designating it a riot prevented insurance companies from having to pay benefits to the people of Greenwood whose homes and businesses were destroyed. It also was common at the time for any large-scale clash between different racial or ethnic groups to be categorized a race riot.
What do YOU think?
Definition of RIOT: a tumultuous disturbance of the public peace by three or more persons assembled together and acting with common intent. Definition of MASSACRE: the act or an instance of killing a number of usually helpless or unresisting human beings under circumstances of atrocity or cruelty.
“Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum launched an investigation into longstanding oral history accounts of mass graves at various sites in Tulsa, alleged burial sites for scores of mostly-black victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Mayor Bynum continues to emphasize that this process, which may be long and tedious, is an investigation.
There is no certainty that one or more mass graves will be located. The investigation is geared toward answering, as best we can, the lingering historical question, originating through oral histories, about the existence of one or more mass graves linked to the massacre.
By this undertaking, we honor our oral history and its tellers. This history, separate and apart from its truth, has value.
Who told what to whom? Why? Was it accurate? These are all questions worth exploring.
The current Mass Graves Investigation seeks to address those questions and more. It deserves the support of the entire community. ”