The Tulsa Race Massacre


In 1921, the neighborhood of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was a thriving Black community. There were over forty grocery stores, many people owned businesses, and economically, things were going pretty well. But Tulsa also had a recordered 3,200 active KKK members in 1921, and at the end of May, things got really ugly. 

It all started when a Black teenager, Dick Rowland, got on an elevator with a white woman named Sarah Page. Something happened and she screamed. Dick ran home and hid. The following day he was arrested at his home and brought to the jail, where hundreds of white men wanted him to be released so they could lynch him. 

A group of around fifty Black men, many of them World War I veterans, wanted to protect Dick from the mob and went down to the jail, but when they saw the huge amount of people, they turned around. As they were walking away, a white man noticed that one of the Black men had been carrying a gun. When the Black man refused to hand it over, a swarm of angry white men rushed the Black men and the massacre began. 

Bullets flew through the air. Witnesses say the police provided guns to the white men and told them to go “get some people” (edited for racial slurs). Black bodies were dragged behind cars through the streets. Homes were looted and burned to the ground. Biplanes dropped literal bombs on houses – this took advanced planning. This was not a random surprise. 

By midday the following morning (June 1), Greenwood had been leveled. Somewhere between 50-300 people had been murdered. Dick Rowland was later exonerated. Turns out he had tripped and grabbed her arm instinctually as he was falling. No white people were ever convicted of any damages. 

Five years later, Greenwood had been rebuilt and was mostly thriving again, until in the 1970s, when the government took homes by eminent domain to build highways through the town, which destroyed home value and displaced more residents. 

In 1997, a State commission was formed to review the massacre. They recommended reparations be made. In 2001, Oklahoma State Legislature the Race Riot Reconciliation Act was passed, but at the time of this writing in April 2022, no official reparations have been made.