An Unwritten History

Almost 100 Years Later and Night of Tulsa Race Massacre Continues to Haunt Many 

By: Kylie Hapuarachchi

The city of Tulsa is set ablaze. Credit: history.com

As 2021 rears the corner, so does the 100-year anniversary of one of the most tragic events of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It is deemed to be the worst incident of racial violence and yet the least known. 

History books will only cover a small part of the racial injustices that the African American community faces. The affluent community was ravished and by the next morning, 300 people were killed, hundreds injured, and 8,000 left homeless. 

The Greenwood District was a respectable community of black Americans. It was nicknamed the Black Wall Street, because of its successful business district. It was not until May 30, 1921 when havoc occurred through Tulsa. 

A young black teenager, Dick Rowland, was in an elevator inside the Drexel Building. At some point the elevator operator, Sarah Paige, ran, screaming from the elevator. 

At this time, Rowland had apparently fled the scene. The police were called and the following morning Rowland was arrested.

By the time of the arrest, rumors spread through Tulsa’s white community about what had actually occurred on that elevator that day. Newspapers such as the Tulsa Tribune wrote an article about the sexual assault that occurred by Rowland, even though there was no physical evidence. 

However, as the evening progressed an angry white mob started to build outside the building where Rowland was being held.

The mob demanded the sheriff to hand over Rowland. Sheriff Willard McCullogh refused and barricaded himself and his men on the second floor of the courthouse. 

At around 9 pm, 25 black armed men went to the courthouse to protect Rowland from being lynched by the mob. 

Sheriff McCullogh sent the men away, and the crowd began to grow more and more dangerous as they tried to break into a National Guard Armory. As rumors of a potential lynching began to spiral, 75 armed black men went back to the courthouse only to aide as protection for Rowland, when they were met with 1,500 white men all carrying weapons of some sort. 

As the night went on, fires broke out, shots were fired and many were killed. Some of the mob of white men were given weapons by city deputized officials. Survivors of that night stated that the mob had shot African Americans on sight whether or not they were armed. 

The mob had gone through the Greenwood district, setting fires to businesses and homes throughout the city. Some survivors even exclaimed that there were airplanes that had dropped incendiary devices onto the city. 

People may fully never know what occurred that night due to very little documentation of it. As the dust settled, there was nothing left of the once opulent city. 

“Some 1,256 houses were burned; 215 others were looted but not torched. Two newspapers, a school, a library, a hospital, churches, hotels, stores, and many other black-owned businesses were among the buildings destroyed or damaged by fire,” according to the Red Cross as stated in the History Media Company

A city that once was known as the Black Wall Street was left with ash and rubble of the homes that were built and the businesses that were foraged. As the years progressed the black community of Tulsa began to rebuild, segregation in the community increased, and the Ku Klux Klan grew in strength. 

The media tried to black out the horrendous events of the nights of May 31 through June 1, 1921. The Tribune Times had taken down their newspapers, especially the one that incited the violence of those nights. 

Memorials were not given for the ones that had fallen by the hands of the mob. The police and the state officials had gotten rid of the archives of that night.

Everything about that night was hidden and no one learned about it in their history classes or studied it in books. 

Scholars began to delve into the massacre in the 1970s, and in 1997, 76 years after that night, a government commission was created to investigate it. They found the real number of deaths, injuries, and people left homeless within the 18 hours. 

The Tulsa Race Massacre continues to be one of the most profound nights in racial violence that has occured in the United States. 

With racial violence and prejudice continuing, we as members of the community must educate ourselves of the past. A hidden history of our nation is a history that needs to be expelled through every corner of this world.


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