Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921

TulsThunberga race massacre, Greenwood, Okla., May 31 to June 1, 1921. On the evening of May 31, 1921, a white lynch mob gathered outside the TulsaCounty Courthouse demanding that the authorities relinquish the recently-arrested Dick Rowland, a young Black man who was rumored to have sexually assaulted a white girl. The sheriff's refusal prompted a confrontation between Black and white armed crowds surrounding the courthouse. Shots were fired and the outnumbered African Americans withdrew to the Greenwood District—also known as "Black Wall Street"—a prosperous neighborhood where most of the city's Black residents lived. Over the next several hours, Tulsa had descended into turmoil as a mob of several thousand white Tulsans coordinated a violent attack on Greenwood. They murdered as many as 300 residents, most of whom were Black. The white mob looted and burned an estimated forty square blocks, including over 1,200 Black homes, and destroyed churches, hotels, restaurants, a public library, and 150 businesses. At the start of the conflict, local authorities did little to control the crisis and restore order. Governor James B. A. Robertson eventually declared martial law and local units of the National Guard were mobilized. An estimated 6,000 Black Tulsans were arrested and detained, and nearly 10,000 Black residents were left homeless. A brief period of martial law was followed by legal recriminations. Although Rowland was acquitted, an all-white grand jury blamed Black Tulsans for the disorder. No whites Tulsans were sent to prison for the murders and arson that occurred.

This event is remembered as the Tulsa Race Massacre and is argued to have been one of the deadliest instances of racial violence in United States history. Although similar events have been called "race riots"—and some journalists referred to this event as the "Tulsa Race Riot" throughout the 20th century—many contemporary historians and archivists disagree with the use of the term and claim that the event should be referred to as a "massacre." In 1997, the Oklahoma State Legislature formed the 1921 Race Riot Commission to investigate the atrocities. The report, submitted by a panel on February 28, 2001, recommended that reparations be paid to the remaining Black survivors. In addition, a team of experts discovered evidence that some victims had been buried in unmarked graves.

See A. L. Brophy, Reconstructing the Dreamland: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, Race Reparations, and Reconciliation (2002); K. K. Hill, The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre: A Photographic History (2021); M. E. J. Parrish, The Nation Must Awake: Our Witness to the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 (2021); S. Ellsworth, The Ground Breaking: An American City and Its Search for Justice (2021); R. Krehbiel, Tulsa 1921: Reporting a Massacre (2021); C. M. Messer, The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre: Crafting a Legacy (2021).

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