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 how believe close to 300 people died in the riot.

Virtual Exhibit through iPad Application

Every single item in the Tulsa Historical Society’s collection related to the Tulsa Race Riot (1,000s of items) has been digitized and organized within this Virtual Exhibit/iPad Application. Materials include photographs, newspaper clippings, documents, and oral history interviews.

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

This virtual exhibit is also available for purchase ($9.99) in the Apple App Store for use on an iPad. Search for “Tulsa Race Riot” in your iPad’s App Store and download the Tulsa Historical Society & Museum app.

If you would like a free version of the app for teaching purposes, e-mail ths@tulsahistory.org.

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