1921 Tulsa Race Riot

1921 Tulsa Race Riot

One of the most significant events in Tulsa’s history was the Race Riot that occurred in 1921. Following World War I, Tulsa boasted one of the most affluent African American communities in the country, known as the Greenwood District. This thriving business district and surrounding residential area was referred to as “Black Wall Street.” In June of 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 woman named Sarah Page. The details of what followed vary from person to person, and 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 blacks began retreating to the Greenwood Avenue business district.

In the early morning hours of June 1, 1921, Black Tulsa 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 imprisoned blacks 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, over 800 people were treated for injuries and contemporary reports of deaths began at 36. In 2001, the Tulsa Race Riot Commission released a report indicating that historians now believe close to 300 people died in the riot.

Museum Collection

The entirety of the museum’s photograph collection pertaining to the Tulsa Race Riot has been digitized and can be found HERE.

Audio recordings from survivors and contemporaries (Available for listening through Soundcloud)

1921 Red Cross Disaster Relief Report (PDF)

Tulsa Race Riot Court Cases (PDFs for 18 cases)

Virtual Exhibit through iPad

Every single item in the Tulsa Historical Society’s collection related to the Tulsa Race Riot has been digitized and organized within this Virtual Exhibit. Materials include photographs, documents, and oral history interviews.

Museum visitors can browse through this virtual exhibit at an iPad kiosk (included in museum admission).

Greenwood and Tulsa Race Riot Traveling Exhibit

Available for community display, request the exhibit and learn more HERE. 

Resources for further research:

Greenwood Cultural Center: http://www.greenwoodculturalcenter.com/

The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 by I. Marc Carlson: http://tulsaraceriot.wordpress.com/

A Report by the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921: http://www.okhistory.org/research/forms/freport.pdf

Tulsa Race Riot Archive at OSU-Tulsa: http://libguides.osu-tulsa.okstate.edu/content.php?pid=472496&sid=3867515

Tulsa Race Riot Archive at the University of Tulsa: http://www.utulsa.edu/mcfarlin/speccoll/collections/RaceRiot/

Recommended reading:

Death in a Promised Land:The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921
by Dr. Scott Ellsworth
Foreword by John Hope Franklin
©1982 by Louisiana State University Press

Reconstructing the Dreamland
by Alfred L. Brophy
Oxford University Press 2002

Riot and Remembrance
by James S. Hirsch
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2002

Black Wall Street: From Riot to Renaissance in Tulsa’s Historic Greenwood District
by Hannibal B. Johnson
Eakin Press 1998

Up From the Ashes: A Story About Building Community
(Children’s book)
by Hannibal B. Johnson
Eakin Press 2000

Tulsa’s Historic Greenwood District
by Hannibal B. Johnson
Arcadia Publishing 2014