The Tulsa riot of 1921 still remains one for the darkest stories of African American history. It is an honest indication and indictment of the hatred and envy born towards the African man by the other races of the world, especially the Caucasian.
During the riot, which happened from May 31-June 1, 1921, a white mob attacked residents of a predominantly black neighborhood of Greenwood, of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
The press suppressed the incidents of those two days, to the extent that neighboring towns did not know of the massacre of black people in Tulsa and the destruction of their homes and businesses which were worth over $30million.
The deaths and events of the riot were all because of envy. The black residents of the town were prosperous, happy, and their successes in business made them economically equal with their white counterparts.
And of course, white entitlement mentality and supremacy would not have that, so they south to destroy the success of the black community by any means necessary.
The Oil Boom That Enriched the Black Community:
The town of Tulsa was popularly and fondly called “Black wall street.” This was mainly because of the immense prosperity of the entire community, which was reflected in the rich black residents.
The wealth and economic strength of Tulsa were because of an oil boom in the other part of the town. And just like many other cities across America, Tulsa was segregated.
African Americans in search of greener pastures and work, had moved to the northern section of the town and set up a community of their own. They had their own banks, business centers, hotels, theaters, stores, cafes,
The African American community-built schools for their children. It was a sight to behold, as the schools had indoor plumbing, and these, at the time, were not obtainable in the nearby white schools for white children.
The North-Eastern part of Tulsa, which was the black community, was separated from the rest of the city, because of strict segregation laws that were in place by white supremacists.
The segregation law prohibited African-Americans from living in parts where the population was 75% white. So, this meant that the African Americans were cornered in a world of their own.
The North-Eastern part of Tulsa which the African Americans had to themselves was named Greenwood. The blacks shopped and spent all their money in Greenwood. So, they were literally reinvesting their money in the same neighborhood. Life was beautiful in Greenwood.
The population of Greenwood as at 1920-1921 grew to more than 10,000 people, who grew their business and also had two newspapers.
So, you can imagine the hate and envy that this kind of success can cause an average White southern worker. For the racist white people, it killed them to see those who had just come out of over 400years of slavery creating an egalitarian society and living above them. It must have hurt so bad.
The racial tensions, discrimination, and hate on the African American community were high at the time. After the American civil war, Jim Crow laws were made and the laws denied African American protection of the law.
The whites knew the law would not protect the African Americas, so they often accused blacks of terrible crimes. And the top of the list was White women, who would accuse black men of harassing them.
Also, the Ku Klux Klan had a hand in the rots and killings of blacks in Greenwood. It was reported that at the time, there were an estimated 2,000 Klansmen in Tulsa.
What Incident Actually Sparked the Riot?
The actual facts are not known till today, as there are various accounts of what happened. But it involved an African American man, Dick Rowland, and a Caucasian woman, Sarah Page. Rowland was a shoe shiner, while Page was an elevator operator at the Drexel Building in Tulsa.
Some people say that Rowland had tripped while trying to enter the elevator and so he fell and grabbed Sarah Page. A witness acclaimed there was a scream and later saw Rowland running from the building a short while later that afternoon of May 30, 1921.
But the rumor which circulated after the riot was that both of them were lovers, and at that time, it was illegal.
The town was full and ready to burst with racial hatred, and such news was just the right spark it needed to explode. Immediately, the white folks jumped into action and accused Rowland of assaulting Page. Well, she denied Rowland assaulting her when questioned by the police, but that didn’t stop what was about to happen.
Rowland was put in police custody, allegedly for his own safety, because word had spread around the town about his incident with Page.
By nightfall, that day, hundreds of white people had gathered by the courthouse where Rowland was in custody. Many of them were carrying torches, guns and other weapons. This caused great panic throughout Greenwood, as black people suspected a lynching to take place.
Around 9 p.m., about 25 armed black men who were World War I veterans and enlisted men went home and got their own guns and ammunition, with many of them offering to assist the local sheriff in defending Rowland. But the sheriff declined their offer.
Another group of around 75 armed African American men returned to the courthouse shortly after 10 pm. On arrival, they were met by some 1,500 whites, many of whom also carried their own weapons.
Shots were fired and all hell was let loose. The African American men, who were outnumbered and outgunned, retreated to Greenwood.
From that evening of May 31 going into the following day, June 1, 1921, the whole of Greenwood was burnt to the ground by a white mob. Nearly all the business was torched and destroyed. The Libraries, hospitals, schools, and all social amenities – all gone.
The local law enforcement, who should know better and keep the peace, actually joined in on the destruction of properties and killing of the innocent African American residents of Greenwood, Tulsa.
The law enforcement officers firebombed the buildings. Also, other white men who deputized by the local police departments went on a killing spree of African American residents.
In the morning of June 1, a white mob which numbered thousands rushed into Greenwood, looting and burning homes, over an area of 35 city blocks. Of course, they had to steal properties. It has always been in their nature to loot African resources. The firefighters who arrived that morning were chased by the white mob and threatened at gunpoint.
The National guard arrived when the riot had ended and declared martial law. They helped to put out the fires, but they also arrested 6,000 African Americans who were mourning dead ones and the loss of their properties and fortunes.
At the end of the killings and riots, Of the 10,000 adults who lived in Greenwood, 6,000 were arrested during the 16-hour ordeal; 1,256 homes were razed, leaving 9,000 people homeless. The financial damage, in today’s dollars, was equal to $30 million.
Each time this event is narrated, it leaves a sour taste in the mouth. It speaks of the hate against the African American community in America.
What was more heartbreaking was the attempt of the perpetrators of this evil act to hide their atrocities, by never including the riots in Oklahoma history books.
Today, accounts such as these, are supposed to help the African American community weigh their position in America. It should make the people ask themselves important questions, such as: Are things any better? Has white America repented of its hate and venom against our people?
Hate is an evil thing. Let us shy away from it. To those who chose to hate the African man for nothing, hear this: We are not going anywhere. We were the first inhabit this earth, and no amount of genocide or hate will wipe us out. We have helped build the world with our sweat and resources. Why not give us some peace and tranquility?