Tulsa race massacre

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Tulsa race massacre
Part of the nadir of American race relations
Homes and businesses burned in Greenwood
LocationGreenwood District, Tulsa, Oklahoma, U.S.
Coordinates36°09′34″N 95°59′11″W / 36.1594°N 95.9864°W / 36.1594; -95.9864Coordinates: 36°09′34″N 95°59′11″W / 36.1594°N 95.9864°W / 36.1594; -95.9864
DateMay 31 – June 1, 1921
TargetBlack residents, their homes and businesses
WeaponsGuns, explosives, incendiary devices, some dropped from airplanes[1]:196
DeathsDeath toll disputed:
36 total; 26 black and 10 white (1921 records)
150–200 black and 50 white (1921 estimate by W.F. White)[2]
39 confirmed, 75–100 to 150–300 estimated (2001 commission)[3]
183 serious injuries[3]
exact number unknown
PerpetratorsWhite American mob[4][5][6][7][8]:8, 10[1]:193, 196

The Tulsa race massacre (also called the Tulsa race riot, the Greenwood Massacre, the Black Wall Street Massacre, the Tulsa pogrom, or the Tulsa Massacre)[9][10][11][12][13][14] took place on May 31 and June 1, 1921, when mobs of white residents, many of them deputized and given weapons by city officials, attacked black residents and businesses of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma.[1] It has been called "the single worst incident of racial violence in American history."[15] The attack, carried out on the ground and from private aircraft, destroyed more than 35 square blocks of the district—at that time the wealthiest black community in the United States, known as "Black Wall Street".[16]

More than 800 people were admitted to hospitals and as many as 6,000 black residents were interned in large facilities, many of them for several days.[17][18] The Oklahoma Bureau of Vital Statistics officially recorded 36 dead.[19] A 2001 state commission examination of events was able to confirm 39 dead, 26 black and 13 white, based on contemporary autopsy reports, death certificates and other records.[1]:114 The commission gave overall estimates from 75–100 to 150–300 dead.[1]:13, 23[20]

The massacre began during the Memorial Day weekend after 19-year-old Dick Rowland, a black shoeshiner, was accused of assaulting Sarah Page, the 17-year-old white elevator operator of the nearby Drexel Building. He was taken into custody. After the arrest, rumors spread through the city that Dick Rowland was to be lynched. Upon hearing reports that a mob of hundreds of white men had gathered around the jail where Dick Rowland was being kept, a group of 75 black men, some of whom were armed, arrived at the jail with the intention of helping to ensure Dick Rowland would not be lynched. The sheriff persuaded the group of black men to leave the jail, assuring them that he had the situation under control. As the group of black men was leaving the premises, complying with the sheriff's request, a member of the mob of white men allegedly attempted to disarm one of the black men. A shot was fired, and then according to the reports of the sheriff, "all hell broke loose". At the end of the firefight, 12 people were killed: 10 white and 2 black.[21] As news of these deaths spread throughout the city, mob violence exploded.[2] White rioters rampaged through the black neighborhood that night and morning killing men and burning and looting stores and homes, and only around noon the next day did Oklahoma National Guard troops impose martial law. About 10,000 black people were left homeless, and property damage amounted to more than $1.5 million in real estate and $750,000 in personal property (equivalent to $32.25 million in 2019). Their property was never recovered nor were they compensated for it.[citation needed]

Many survivors left Tulsa, while black and white residents who stayed in the city kept silent about the terror, violence, and resulting losses for decades. The massacre was largely omitted from local, state, and national histories.

In 1996, seventy-five years after the massacre, a bipartisan group in the state legislature authorized formation of the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. Members were appointed to investigate events, interview survivors, hear testimony from the public, and prepare a report of events. There was an effort toward public education about these events through the process. The Commission's final report, published in 2001, said that the city had conspired with the mob of white citizens against black citizens; it recommended a program of reparations to survivors and their descendants.[1] The state passed legislation to establish some scholarships for descendants of survivors, encourage economic development of Greenwood, and develop a memorial park to the massacre victims in Tulsa. The park was dedicated in 2010. In 2020, the massacre became a part of the Oklahoma school curriculum.[22] The last male survivor of the Tulsa race massacre, R&B and jazz saxophonist Hal Singer, died on August 18, 2020, at age 100.[23]


A map of Tulsa in 1920. The Greenwood District was in northern Tulsa.

In 1921, Oklahoma had a racially, socially, and politically tense atmosphere. The First World War had ended in 1918 with the return of many ex-servicemen, and the American Civil War was still in living memory, even though it had ended in 1865. Civil rights for African Americans were lacking and the Ku Klux Klan was resurgent (primarily through the wildly popular movie Birth of a Nation, which was released in 1916). Tulsa, as a booming oil city, supported a large number of affluent, educated and professional African Americans. This combination of factors played a part in the rising tensions which were to culminate in the massacre.

The territory of Northern Oklahoma had been established for the resettlement of Native Americans from the Southeast, some of whom had owned slaves.[24] Other areas had received many settlers from the South whose families had been slaveholders before the Civil War. Oklahoma was admitted as a state on November 16, 1907. The newly created state legislature passed racial segregation laws, commonly known as Jim Crow laws, as its first order of business. The 1907 Oklahoma Constitution did not call for strict segregation; delegates feared that, should they include such restrictions, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt would veto the document. Still, the very first law which was passed by the new legislature segregated all rail travel, and voter registration rules effectively disenfranchised most blacks. That meant they were also barred from serving on juries or in local office. These laws were enforced until after passage of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. Major cities passed additional restrictions.[25][page needed]

In the early 20th century, lynchings were common in Oklahoma as part of a continuing effort to assert and maintain white supremacy.[26][27][28] Between the declaration of statehood and the massacre thirteen years later, at least 31 persons were lynched in Oklahoma; 26 were black, and nearly all were men or boys. During the twenty years following the massacre, the number of known lynchings statewide fell to two.[29]

On August 4, 1916, Tulsa passed an ordinance that mandated residential segregation by forbidding blacks or whites from residing on any block where three-fourths or more of the residents were members of the other race. Although the United States Supreme Court declared such an ordinance unconstitutional the following year (see Buchanan v. Warley), Tulsa and many other border and Southern cities continued to establish and enforce segregation for the next three decades.[30][31]

As returning veterans tried to reenter the labor market following World War I, social tensions and anti-black sentiment increased in cities where job competition was high. At the same time, black veterans pushed to have their civil rights enforced, believing they had earned full citizenship by military service. In what became known as the "Red Summer" of 1919, industrial cities across the Midwest and Northeast experienced severe race riots in which whites, sometimes including local authorities, attacked black communities. In Chicago and some other cities, blacks defended themselves for the first time with force but were often outnumbered.

Northeastern Oklahoma was in an economic slump that increased unemployment. Since 1915, the Ku Klux Klan had been growing in urban chapters across the country. Its first significant appearance in Oklahoma occurred on August 12, 1921.[26] By the end of 1921, Tulsa had 3,200 residents in the Klan according to one estimate.[26] The city's population was 72,000 in 1920.[32]

Greenwood was a district in Tulsa which was organized in 1906 following Booker T. Washington's 1905 tour of Arkansas, Indian Territory and Oklahoma. It was a namesake of the Greenwood District that Washington had established as his own demonstration in Tuskegee, Alabama, five years earlier. Greenwood became so prosperous that it came to be known as "the Negro Wall Street" (now commonly referred to as "the Black Wall Street").[33] Blacks had created their own businesses and services in this enclave, including several grocers, two newspapers, two movie theaters, nightclubs, and numerous churches. Black professionals, including doctors, dentists, lawyers, and clergy, served their peers. Most blacks lived together in the district and during his trip to Tulsa in 1905, Washington encouraged the co-operation, economic independence and excellence being demonstrated there. Greenwood residents selected their own leaders and raised capital there to support economic growth. In the surrounding areas of northeastern Oklahoma, blacks also enjoyed relative prosperity and participated in the oil boom.[33]

Monday, May 30 (Memorial Day)[edit]

Encounter in the elevator[edit]

It is alleged that at some time about or after 4 p.m., 19-year-old Dick Rowland, a black shoeshiner employed at a Main Street shine parlor, entered the only elevator of the nearby Drexel Building at 319 South Main Street to use the top-floor restroom, which was restricted to black people. He encountered Sarah Page, the 17-year-old white elevator operator on duty. The two likely knew each other at least by sight, as this building was the only one nearby with a restroom which Rowland had express permission to use, and the elevator operated by Page was the only one in the building. A clerk at Renberg's, a clothing store on the first floor of the Drexel, heard what sounded like a woman's scream and saw a young black man rushing from the building. The clerk went to the elevator and found Page in what he said was a distraught state. Thinking she had been assaulted, he summoned the authorities.[1]:56–57

The 2001 Oklahoma Commission Final Report notes that it was unusual for both Rowland and Page to be working downtown on Memorial Day, when most stores and businesses were closed.[1]:56–57

Whether – and to what extent – Dick Rowland and Sarah Page knew each other has long been a matter of speculation. It seems reasonable that they would have least been able to recognize each other on sight, as Rowland would have regularly ridden in Page's elevator on his way to and from the restroom. Others, however, have speculated that the pair might have been lovers – a dangerous and potentially deadly taboo, but not an impossibility. Whether they knew each other or not, it is clear that both Dick Rowland and Sarah Page were downtown on Monday, May 30, 1921 – although this, too, is cloaked in some mystery. On Memorial Day, most – but not all – stores and businesses in Tulsa were closed. Yet, both Rowland and Page were apparently working that day. Yet in the days and years that followed, many who knew Dick Rowland agreed on one thing: that he would never have been capable of rape.

A common explanation often offered is that Dick Rowland tripped as he got onto the elevator and, as he tried to catch his fall, he grabbed onto the arm of Sarah Page, who then screamed.[1]:57

Brief investigation[edit]

Although the police questioned Page, no written account of her statement has been found. However, the police determined that what happened between the two teenagers was something less than an assault. The authorities conducted a low-key investigation rather than launching a man-hunt for her alleged assailant. Page told the police that Rowland had grabbed her arm, but nothing more, and would not press charges.[34][25][page needed]

Regardless of whether assault had occurred, Rowland had reason to be fearful. At the time, such an accusation alone put him at risk for attack by angry mobs of white people. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Rowland fled to his mother's house in the Greenwood neighborhood.[1]:57

Tuesday, May 31[edit]

Suspect arrested[edit]

One of the news articles that contributed to tensions in Tulsa

On the morning after the incident, Henry Carmichael, a white detective, and Henry C. Pack, a black patrolman, located Rowland on Greenwood Avenue and detained him. Pack was one of two black officers on the city's police force, which then included about 45 officers.[25][page needed] Rowland was initially taken to the Tulsa city jail at First and Main. Late that day, Police Commissioner J. M. Adkison said he had received an anonymous telephone call threatening Rowland's life. He ordered Rowland transferred to the more secure jail on the top floor of the Tulsa County Courthouse.[35]

Rowland was well known among attorneys and other legal professionals within the city, many of whom knew Rowland through his work as a shoeshiner. Some witnesses later recounted hearing several attorneys defend Rowland in their conversations with one another. One of the men said, "Why, I know that boy, and have known him a good while. That's not in him."[36]

Newspaper coverage[edit]

The Tulsa Tribune, one of two white-owned papers published in Tulsa, broke the story in that afternoon's edition with the headline: "Nab Negro for Attacking Girl In an Elevator", describing the alleged incident. According to some witnesses, the same edition of the Tribune included an editorial warning of a potential lynching of Rowland, titled "To Lynch Negro Tonight".[37] The paper was known at the time to have a "sensationalist" style of news writing. All original copies of that issue of the paper have apparently been destroyed, and the relevant page is missing from the microfilm copy.[38] The Tulsa Race Riot Commission in 1997 offered a reward for a copy of the editorial, which went unclaimed.[38] Other newspapers of the time like the Black Dispatch and the Tulsa World did not call attention to any such editorial after the event.[38] So, the exact content of the column — and whether it existed at all — remains in dispute.[38][39][40][1]:58–59 However, James Patton, Chief of Detectives, immediately following the riots, attributed them entirely to the newspaper account, and went so far as to say, "If the facts in the story as told the police had only been printed I do not think there would have been any riot whatsoever."[34]

Stand-off at the courthouse[edit]

The afternoon edition of the Tribune hit the streets shortly after 3 p.m., and soon news spread of a potential lynching. By 4 p.m., local authorities were on alert. White residents began congregating at and near the Tulsa County Courthouse. By sunset at 7:34 p.m., the several hundred white residents assembled outside the courthouse appeared to have the makings of a lynch mob. Willard M. McCullough, the newly elected sheriff of Tulsa County, was determined to avoid events such as the 1920 lynching of white murder suspect Roy Belton in Tulsa, which had occurred during the term of his predecessor.[21] The sheriff took steps to ensure the safety of Rowland. McCullough organized his deputies into a defensive formation around Rowland, who was terrified.[failed verification] One of Scott Ellsworth's references in the 2001 commission report::72 The Guthrie Daily Leader reported that Rowland had been taken to the county jail before crowds started to gather.[41] The sheriff positioned six of his men, armed with rifles and shotguns, on the roof of the courthouse. He disabled the building's elevator, and had his remaining men barricade themselves at the top of the stairs with orders to shoot any intruders on sight. The sheriff went outside and tried to talk the crowd into going home, but to no avail. According to an account by Scott Ellsworth, the sheriff was "hooted down".[1]:60

About 8:20 p.m., three white men entered the courthouse, demanding that Rowland be turned over to them. Although vastly outnumbered by the growing crowd out on the street, Sheriff McCullough turned the men away.[42]

A few blocks away on Greenwood Avenue, members of the black community gathered to discuss the situation at Gurley's Hotel.[4][5][6] Given the recent lynching of Belton, a white man accused of murder, they believed that Rowland was greatly at risk. Many black residents were determined to prevent the crowd from lynching Rowland, but they were divided about tactics. Young World War I veterans prepared for a battle by collecting guns and ammunition. Older, more prosperous men feared a destructive confrontation that likely would cost them dearly.[25][page needed] O. W. Gurley gave a sworn statement to the Grand Jury that he tried to convince the men that there would be no lynching but that they had responded that Sheriff McCullough had personally told them their presence was required.[5] About 9:30 p.m., a group of approximately 50–60 black men, armed with rifles and shotguns, arrived at the jail to support the sheriff and his deputies in defending Rowland from the mob. Corroborated by ten witnesses, attorney James Luther submitted to the grand jury that they were following the orders of Sheriff McCullough who publicly denied he gave any orders:

I saw a car full of negroes driving through the streets with guns; I saw Bill McCullough and told him those negroes would cause trouble; McCullough tried to talk to them, and they got out and stood in single file. W. G. Daggs was killed near Boulder and Sixth street. I was under the impression that a man with authority could have stopped and disarmed them. I saw Chief of Police on south side of court house on top step, talking; I did not see any officer except the Chief; I walked in the court house and met McCullough in about 15 feet of his door; I told him these negroes were going to make trouble, and he said he had told them to go home; he went out and told the whites to go home, and one said "they said you told them to come up here." McCullough said "I did not" and a negro said you did tell us to come.[5][6]

Taking up arms[edit]

Having seen the armed blacks, some of the more than 1,000 whites who had been at the courthouse went home for their own guns. Others headed for the National Guard armory at Sixth Street and Norfolk Avenue, where they planned to arm themselves. The armory contained a supply of small arms and ammunition. Major James Bell of the 180th Infantry Regiment had already learned of the mounting situation downtown and the possibility of a break-in which he consequently took measures to prevent. He called the commanders of the three National Guard units in Tulsa, who ordered all the Guard members to put on their uniforms and report quickly to the armory. When a group of whites arrived and began pulling at the grating over a window, Bell went outside to confront the crowd of 300 to 400 men. Bell told them that the Guard members inside were armed and prepared to shoot anyone who tried to enter. After this show of force, the crowd withdrew from the armory.[25][page needed]

At the courthouse, the crowd had swollen to nearly 2,000, many of them now armed. Several local leaders, including Reverend Charles W. Kerr, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, tried to dissuade mob action. The chief of police, John A. Gustafson, later claimed that he tried to talk the crowd into going home.[1]:62

Anxiety on Greenwood Avenue was rising. Many blacks worried about the safety of Rowland. Small groups of armed black men ventured toward the courthouse in automobiles, partly for reconnaissance, and to demonstrate they were prepared to take necessary action to protect Rowland.[1]:62

Many white men interpreted these actions as a "Negro uprising" and became concerned. Eyewitnesses reported gunshots, presumably fired into the air, increasing in frequency during the evening.[1]:62,67

Second offer[edit]

In Greenwood, rumors began to fly—in particular, a report that whites were storming the courthouse. Shortly after 10 pm, a second, larger group of approximately 75 armed black men decided to go to the courthouse. They offered their support to the sheriff, who declined their help. According to witnesses, a white man is alleged to have told one of the armed black men to surrender his pistol. The man refused, and a shot was fired. That first shot might have been accidental, or meant as a warning; it was a catalyst for an exchange of gunfire.[15]


Smoldering ruins of African-American homes following massacre.

The gunshots triggered an almost immediate response by whites in the crowd, many of whom fired on the blacks, who then fired back at the whites. The first "battle" was said to last a few seconds or so, but took a toll, as ten whites and two blacks lay dead or dying in the street.[21] The black men who had offered to provide security retreated toward Greenwood. A rolling gunfight ensued. The armed white mob pursued the black contingent toward Greenwood, with many stopping to loot local stores for additional weapons and ammunition. Along the way, bystanders, many of whom were leaving a movie theater after a show, were caught off guard by the mobs and fled. Panic set in as the white mob began firing on any black people in the crowd. The white mob also shot and killed at least one white man in the confusion.[1]:65 Some of these lynch mob were deputized by police and instructed to “get a gun and get a nigger”.[43]

At around 11 p.m., members of the National Guard unit began to assemble at the armory to organize a plan to subdue the rioters. Several groups were deployed downtown to set up guard at the courthouse, police station, and other public facilities. Members of the local chapter of the American Legion joined in on patrols of the streets. The forces appeared to have been deployed to protect the white districts adjacent to Greenwood. The National Guard rounded up numerous black people and took them to the Convention Hall on Brady Street for detention.[1]:66–67

Many prominent white Tulsans also participated in the riot,[citation needed] including Tulsa founder and Ku Klux Klan member W. Tate Brady, who participated in the riot as a night watchman.[44] This Land Press reported that Brady previously led the tarring and feathering of a group of men in 1917. The article stated that police, "delivered the convicted men into the custody of the black-robed Knights of Liberty." The provided document attached to the article states, "I believe the circumstantial evidence is sufficient to prevent any of them from wanting to give anyone any trouble in the way of lawsuits...all made the same statement with emphasis that Tate Brady put on the tar and feathers in the 'name of the women and children of Belgium.' The same is true as to the part that Chief of Police Ed Lucas took. Not all the witnesses said they would swear in court as to...[document incomplete]". The since uncovered remainder of the document continues, "It is a question as to what extent I could go in establishing beyond a doubt the persons in the mob since their disguise with the robes and masks was complete. I doubt if I could do it in a court in Oklahoma at this time."[45][46][47] In the Tulsa Daily World article about the incident, the victims were reported to be suspected German spies, referred to as I.W.W.'s.[48] Harlows Weekly also explains the contemporary connection between Belgium, the I.W.W. and the Knights of Liberty. The article sympathetically explains the actions as economically and politically motivated rather than racially motivated.[49][50] A Kansas detective reported that over 200 members of the I.W.W. and their affiliates had migrated to Oklahoma to organize an open rebellion among the working class against the war effort planned for November 1, 1917. It was reported that police beat the I.W.W. members before delivering them to the Knights of Liberty.[51] The Tulsa Daily World reported that none of the policemen could identify any of the hooded men. The Tulsa Daily World article states that the policemen were kidnapped, forced to drive the prisoners to a ravine and forced to watch the entire ordeal at gunpoint.[52] Previous reports regarding Brady's character seem favorable and he hired black employees in his businesses.[53] Brady married a Cherokee woman and fought for Cherokee claims against the U.S. government.[54]

At around midnight, white rioters again assembled outside the courthouse. It was a smaller group but more organized and determined. They shouted in support of a lynching, but when they attempted to storm the building, the sheriff and his deputies turned them away and dispersed them.[citation needed]

Wednesday, June 1[edit]

Throughout the early morning hours, groups of armed whites and blacks squared off in gunfights. At this point the fighting was concentrated along sections of the Frisco tracks, a dividing line between the black and white commercial districts. A rumor circulated that more blacks were coming by train from Muskogee to help with an invasion of Tulsa. At one point, passengers on an incoming train were forced to take cover on the floor of the train cars, as they had arrived in the midst of crossfire, with the train taking hits on both sides.[25][page needed]

Small groups of whites made brief forays by car into Greenwood, indiscriminately firing into businesses and residences. They often received return fire. Meanwhile, white rioters threw lighted oil rags into several buildings along Archer Street, igniting them.[25][page needed]

Fires begin[edit]

Fires burning along Archer and Greenwood during the Tulsa race riot of 1921

At around 1 a.m., the white mob began setting fires, mainly in businesses on commercial Archer Street at the southern edge of the Greenwood district. As crews from the Tulsa Fire Department arrived to put out fires, they were turned away at gunpoint.[55] Scott Elsworth makes the same claim,[1]:66 but his reference makes no mention of firefighters.:19 Parrish gave only praise for the national guard.[56]:20 Another reference Elsworth gives to support the claim of holding firefighters at gunpoint is only a summary of events in which they suppressed the firing of guns by the rioters and disarmed them of their firearms.[57] Yet another of his references states that they were fired upon by the white mob, "It would mean a fireman's life to turn a stream of water on one of those negro buildings. They shot at us all morning when we were trying to do something but none of my men were hit. There is not a chance in the world to get through that mob into the negro district."[41]:4 By 4 a.m., an estimated two dozen black-owned businesses had been set ablaze.

As news traveled among Greenwood residents in the early morning hours, many began to take up arms in defense of their neighborhood, while others began a mass exodus from the city.[58] Throughout the night both sides continued fighting, sometimes only sporadically.


Upon sunrise, around 5 a.m., a train whistle sounded (Hirsch said it was a siren). Some rioters believed this sound to be a signal for the rioters to launch an all-out assault on Greenwood. A white man stepped out from behind the Frisco depot and was fatally shot by a sniper in Greenwood. Crowds of rioters poured from their shelter, on foot and by car, into the streets of the black neighborhood. Five white men in a car led the charge, but were killed by a fusillade of gunfire before they had traveled one block.[25][page needed]

Overwhelmed by the sheer number of white attackers, the black residents retreated north on Greenwood Avenue to the edge of town. Chaos ensued as terrified residents fled. The rioters shot indiscriminately and killed many residents along the way. Splitting into small groups, they began breaking into houses and buildings, looting. Several residents later testified the rioters broke into occupied homes and ordered the residents out to the street, where they could be driven or forced to walk to detention centers.[25][page needed]

A rumor spread among the rioters that the new Mount Zion Baptist Church was being used as a fortress and armory. Purportedly twenty caskets full of rifles had been delivered to the church, though no evidence was ever found.[59]

Attack by air[edit]

Flames across the Greenwood section of Tulsa

Numerous eyewitnesses described airplanes carrying white assailants, who fired rifles and dropped firebombs on buildings, homes, and fleeing families. The privately owned aircraft had been dispatched from the nearby Curtiss-Southwest Field outside Tulsa.[60]

Law enforcement officials later said that the 'planes were to provide reconnaissance and protect against a "Negro uprising".[60] Law enforcement personnel were thought to be aboard at least some flights.[1]:73–74 Eyewitness accounts, such as testimony from the survivors during Commission hearings and a manuscript by eyewitness and attorney Buck Colbert Franklin, discovered in 2015, said that on the morning of June 1, at least "a dozen or more" 'planes circled the neighborhood and dropped "burning turpentine balls" on an office building, a hotel, a filling station and multiple other buildings. Men also fired rifles at young and old black residents, gunning them down in the street.[8][60]

Richard S. Warner concluded in his submission to The Oklahoma Commission that contrary to later reports by claimed eyewitnesses of seeing explosions, there was no reliable evidence to support such attacks.[1]:107 Warner noted that while a number of newspapers targeted at black readers heavily reported the use of nitroglycerin, turpentine and rifles from the 'planes, many cited anonymous sources or second-hand accounts.[1]:107 Beryl Ford, one of the pre-eminent historians of the disaster, concluded from his large collection of photographs that there was no evidence of any building damaged by explosions.[1]:106 Danney Goble commended Warner on his efforts and supported his conclusions.[1]:6 State representative Don Ross (born in Tulsa in 1941), however, dissented from the evidence presented in the report concluding that bombs were in fact dropped from 'planes during the violence.[1]:prologue, viii

New eyewitness account[edit]

In 2015, a previously unknown written eyewitness account of the events of May 31, 1921 was discovered and subsequently obtained by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. The 10-page typewritten manuscript was authored by Buck Colbert Franklin, noted Oklahoma attorney and father of John Hope Franklin.[61][8]

Notable quotes include:

Lurid flames roared and belched and licked their forked tongues into the air. Smoke ascended the sky in thick, black volumes and amid it all, the planes – now a dozen or more in number – still hummed and darted here and there with the agility of natural birds of the air.

Planes circling in mid-air: They grew in number and hummed, darted and dipped low. I could hear something like hail falling upon the top of my office building. Down East Archer, I saw the old Mid-Way hotel on fire, burning from its top, and then another and another and another building began to burn from their top.

The side-walks were literally covered with burning turpentine balls. I knew all too well where they came from, and I knew all too well why every burning building first caught fire from the top.

I paused and waited for an opportune time to escape. 'Where oh where is our splendid fire department with its half dozen stations?' I asked myself, 'Is the city in conspiracy with the mob?'

Franklin stated that every time he saw a white man shot, he "felt happy"[8]:8 and he "swelled with pride and hope for the race."[8]:6

Franklin reported seeing multiple machine guns firing at night and hearing 'thousands and thousands of guns' being fired simultaneously from all directions.[8]:4 He states that he was arrested by "a thousand boys, it seemed,...firing their guns every step they took."[8]:8

Other whites[edit]

As unrest spread to other parts of the city, many middle class white families who employed black people in their homes as live-in cooks and servants were accosted by white rioters. They demanded the families turn over their employees to be taken to detention centers around the city. Many white families complied, but those who refused were subjected to attacks and vandalism in turn.[1]:37–102[page range too broad]

Arrival of National Guard troops[edit]

National Guard with the wounded

Adjutant General Charles Barrett of the Oklahoma National Guard arrived with 109 troops from Oklahoma City by special train about 9:15 a.m.. Ordered in by the governor, he could not legally act until he had contacted all the appropriate local authorities, including the mayor T. D. Evans, the sheriff, and the police chief. Meanwhile, his troops paused to eat breakfast. Barrett summoned reinforcements from several other Oklahoma cities.

By this time, thousands of black residents had fled the city; another 4,000 persons had been rounded up and detained at various centers. Under the martial law established that day, the detainees were required to carry identification cards.[1]:123–32 As many as 6,000 black Greenwood residents were interned at three local facilities: Convention Hall (now known as the Tulsa Theater), the Tulsa County Fairgrounds (then located about a mile northeast of Greenwood) and McNulty Park (a baseball stadium at Tenth Street and Elgin Avenue).[17][62][1]:83, 177

Barrett declared martial law at 11:49 a.m.,[25][page needed] and by noon the troops had managed to suppress most of the remaining violence. A 1921 letter from an officer of the Service Company, Third Infantry, Oklahoma National Guard, who arrived on May 31, 1921, reported numerous events related to suppression of the riot:

  • taking about 30–40 black resident into custody;
  • putting a machine gun on a truck and taking it on patrol;
  • being fired on from Black snipers from the "Church" and returning fire;
  • being fired on by white men;
  • turning the prisoners over to deputies to take them to police headquarters;
  • being fired upon again by armed black residents and having two NCOs slightly wounded;
  • searching for black snipers and firearms;
  • detailing a NCO to take 170 Black residents to the civil authorities; and
  • delivering an additional 150 Black residents to the Convention Hall.[57]

Stockpiled ammunition[edit]

Captain John W. McCune reported that stockpiled ammunition within the burning structures began to explode which might have further contributed to casualties.[63]

End of martial law[edit]

Martial law was withdrawn Friday afternoon, June 4, 1921 under Field Order No. 7.[64]


Little Africa, apparently taken from the roof of the Hotel Tulsa on 3rd St. between Boston Ave. and Cincinnati Ave. The first row of buildings is along 2nd St. The smoke cloud on the left (Cincinnati Ave. and the Frisco Tracks) is identified in the Tulsa Tribune version of this photo as being where the fire started.
Newspapers nationwide reported the massacre, reporting the growing number of people killed.[65]


The massacre was covered by national newspapers and the reported number of deaths varies widely. On June 1, 1921, the Tulsa Tribune reported that nine white people and 68 black people had died in the riot, but shortly afterwards it changed this number to a total of 176 dead. The next day, the same paper reported the count as nine white people and 21 black people. The Los Angeles Express headline said "175 Killed, Many Wounded".[66] The New York Times said that 77 people had been killed, including 68 black people, but it later lowered the total to 33. The Richmond Times Dispatch of Virginia reported that 85 people (including 25 white people) were killed; it also reported that the Police Chief had reported to Governor Robertson that the total was 75; and that a Police Major put the figure at 175.[67] The Oklahoma Department of Vital Statistics count put the number of deaths at 36 (26 black and 10 white).[68] Very few people, if any, died as a direct result of the fire. Official state records recorded only five deaths by conflagration for the entire state in the year of 1921.[69]

Walter Francis White of the N.A.A.C.P. traveled to Tulsa from New York and reported that, although officials and undertakers said that the fatalities numbered ten white and 21 colored, he estimated the number of the dead to be 50 whites and between 150 and 200 Negroes;[70] he also reported that ten white men were killed on Tuesday; six white men drove into the black section and never came out, and thirteen whites were killed on Wednesday; he reported that a major of the Salvation Army in Tulsa, O.T. Johnson said that 37 negroes were employed as gravediggers to bury 120 negroes in individual graves without coffins on Friday and Saturday.[71] The Oklahoma Commission described Johnson's statement being 150 graves and over three dozen diggers.[1]:121 Ground penetrating radar was used to investigate the sites purported to contain these mass graves. Multiple eyewitness reports and 'oral histories' suggested the graves could have been dug at three different cemeteries across the city. The sites were examined and no evidence of ground disturbance indicative of mass graves was found. However, at one site, ground disturbance was found in a five-meter squared area, but cemetery records indicate that three graves had been dug and bodies buried within this envelope before the riot.[1]:131

Oklahoma's 2001 Commission into the riot provides multiple contradicting estimates. D. Goble estimates 100–300 (also stating right after that no one was prosecuted even though nearly a hundred were indicted),[1]:13 and J. H. Franklin and S. Ellsworth only estimate at least 75–100 and describe some of the higher estimates as dubious as the low estimates.[1]:23 C. Snow was able to confirm 39 casualties, all listed as male although four were unidentifiable. 26 were black and 13 were white.[1]:114 The thirteen white fatalities were all taken to hospitals.[1]:117 Eleven of them had come from outside of Oklahoma and possibly as many as half were petroleum industry workers.[1]:115–6 Only eight of the confirmed 26 black fatalities were brought to hospitals,[1]:117 and as hospitals were segregated, and with the black Frissell Memorial Hospital having burned down, the only place where the black injured were treated was at the basement of Morningside Hospital.[1]:116 Several hundred were injured.[1]:116

Red Cross[edit]

The Red Cross, in their preliminary overview, mentioned wide-ranging external estimates of 55 to 300 dead; however, due to the hurried nature of undocumented burials they declined to suggest an estimate of their own stating, "The number of dead is a matter of conjecture."[3]:3 The Red Cross registered 8,624 persons, recorded 1,256 residences burned and a further 215 residences looted as a part of their relief effort.[3]:Condensed Report: p. 4, 12 183 people were hospitalized, mostly for gunshot wounds or burns (they differentiate in their records on the basis of triage category not the type of wound) while a further 531 required first aid or surgical treatment with an estimated 10,000 persons left homeless. 8 miscarriages were attributed to be a result of the tragedy. 19 died in care between June December 1 and 30.[3]:Condensed Report: p. 20

Taken from the southeast corner of the roof of Booker T. Washington High School, this panorama shows much of the damage within a day or so. The road running laterally through the center is Greenwood Avenue; the road slanting from the center to the left is Easton; and the road slanting off to the right is Frankfort.

Property losses[edit]

The commercial section of Greenwood was destroyed. Losses included 191 businesses, a junior high school, several churches, and the only hospital in the district. The Red Cross reported that 1,256 houses were burned and another 215 were looted but not burned. The Tulsa Real Estate Exchange estimated property losses amounted to US$1.5 million in real estate and $750,000 in personal property[1]:189 (equivalent to a total of $32 million in 2019).

The Red Cross estimated that 10,000 people, mostly black, were made homeless by the destruction. Over the next year, local citizens filed more than US$1.8 million (equivalent to $26 million in 2019) in riot-related claims against the city by June 6, 1922.[25][page needed]

Identity of the black rioters[edit]

On June 3 the Morning Tulsa Daily World reported major points of their interview with Deputy Sheriff Barney Cleaver concerning the events leading up to the Tulsa riot. Cleaver was deputy sheriff for Okmulgee County and not under the supervision of the city police department; his duties mainly involved enforcing law among the "colored people" of Greenwood but he also operated a business as a private investigator. He had previously been dismissed as a city police investigator for assisting county officers with a drug raid at Gurley's Hotel but not reporting his involvement to his superiors.[72] He had considerable land holdings and suffered tremendous financial damages as a result of the riot. Among his holdings were several residential properties and Cleaver Hall, a large community gathering place and function hall. He reported personally evicting a number of armed criminals who had taken to barricading themselves within properties he owned. Upon eviction, they merely moved to Cleaver Hall. Cleaver reported that the majority of violence started at Cleaver Hall along with the rioters barricaded inside. Charles Page offered to build him a new home.[4]

The Morning Tulsa Daily World stated, "Cleaver named Will Robinson, a dope peddler and all- around bad negro, as the leader of the armed blacks. He has also the names of three others who were in the armed gang at the court house. The rest of the negroes participating in the fight, he says, were former servicemen who had an exaggerated idea of their own importance... They did not belong here, had no regular employment and were simply a floating element with seemingly no ambition in life but to foment trouble."[4] O.W. Gurley, owner of Gurley's Hotel, identified the following men by name as arming themselves and gathering in his hotel: Will Robinson, Peg Leg Taylor, Bud Bassett, Henry Van Dyke, Chester Ross, Jake Mayes, O. B. Mann, John Suplesox, Fatty, Jack Scott, Lee Mable, John Bowman and W. S. Weaver.[5]

Public Safety Committee[edit]

By June 6, the Associated Press reported that a citizens' Public Safety Committee had been established, made up of 250 white men who vowed to protect the city and put down anymore disturbance. A white man was shot and killed that day after he failed to stop as ordered by a National Guardsman.[73]


Governor James B. A. Robertson had gone to Tulsa during the riot to ensure order was restored. Before returning to the capital, he ordered an inquiry of events, especially of the City and Sheriff's Office. He called for a Grand Jury to be empaneled, and Judge Valjean Biddison said that its investigation would begin June 8. The jury was picked by June 9. Judge Biddison expected that the State Attorney General would call numerous witnesses, both black and white, given the large scale of the riot.[74]

State Attorney General S.P. Freeling initiated the investigation, and witnesses were heard over 12 days. In the end, the all-white jury attributed the riot to the black mobs, while noting that law enforcement officials had failed in preventing the riot. A total of 27 cases were brought before the court, and the jury indicted more than 85 individuals. In the end, no one was convicted of charges for the deaths, injuries or property damage.[75]

On June 3, a large group of over 1,000 businessmen and civic leaders met, resolving to form a committee to raise funds and aid in rebuilding Greenwood. Judge J. Martin, a former mayor of Tulsa, was chosen as the chairman of the group. He said at the mass meeting:

Tulsa can only redeem herself from the country-wide shame and humiliation into which she is today plunged by complete restitution and rehabilitation of the destroyed black belt. The rest of the United States must know that the real citizenship of Tulsa weeps at this unspeakable crime and will make good the damage, so far as it can be done, to the last penny.[74]

Many black families spent the winter of 1921–1922 in tents as they worked to rebuild.

Charles Page was commended for his philanthropic efforts in the wake of the riot in the assistance of 'destitute blacks'.[76]

A group of influential white developers persuaded the city to pass a fire ordinance that would have prohibited many blacks from rebuilding in Greenwood. Their intention was to redevelop Greenwood for more business and industrial use, and force blacks further to the edge of the city for residences. The case was litigated and appealed to the Oklahoma Supreme Court by Buck Colbert Franklin, where the ordinance was ruled as unconstitutional. Most of the promised funding was never raised for the black residents, and they struggled to rebuild after the violence. Willows, the regional director of the Red Cross noted this in his report, explaining his slow initial progress to facilitate the rehabilitation of the refugees. The fire code was officially intended to prevent another tragedy by banning wooden frame construction houses in place of previously burnt homes. A concession was granted to allow temporary wooden frame dwellings while a new building, which would meet the more restrictive fire code, was being constructed. This was quickly halted as residents within two weeks had started to erect full sized wooden frame dwellings in contravention of the agreement. It took a further two-month delay securing the court decision to reinstate the previous fire code. Willows heavily criticized the Tulsa city officials for interfering with his efforts, for their role in the Public Welfare Committee which first sought to rezone the "burned area" as industrial and for constructing a union station in its place with no consideration for the refugees. Then he criticized them again for the dissolution of the Public Welfare Committee in favor of the formation of the Reconstruction Committee which simply failed to formulate a single plan, leaving the displaced residents prohibited from beginning reconstruction efforts for several months.[3]:22–25

"All that was left of his home", photograph, June 1, 1921

Tulsa Union Depot[edit]

Despite the Red Cross' best efforts to assist with reconstruction of Greenwood's residential area, the considerably altered present-day layout of the district and its surrounding neighborhoods and the extensive redevelopment of Greenwood by people unaffiliated with the neighborhood prior to the riot stand as proof that the Red Cross relief efforts had limited success.[3]:22–23

Tulsa's main industries at the time of the riot were banking (BOK Financial Corporation), administrative (PennWell, ONEOK), and engineering (Skelly Oil) services for oil companies, earning Tulsa the title of "Oil Capital of the World." Joshua Cosden is also regarded as a founder of the city, having constructed the tallest building in Tulsa, the Cosden Building. The construction of the Cosden Building and Union Depot were overseen by the Manhattan Construction Company, at the time, based in Tulsa. Francis Rooney is the great grandson and beneficiary of the estate of Laurence H. Rooney, founder of the Manhattan Construction Company.

City planners immediately saw the fire that destroyed homes and businesses across Greenwood as a fortunate event for advancing their objectives, meanwhile showing a complete disregard for the welfare of affected residents. Plans were immediately made to rezone 'The Burned Area' for industrial use.[3]:22–23 The Tulsa Daily World reported that the mayor and city commissioners expressed that, "a large industrial section will be found desirable in causing a wider separation between negroes and whites."[77] The Reconstruction committee organized a forum to discuss their proposal with community leaders and stakeholders. Naming, among others, O.W. Gurley, Rev. H.T.F. Johnson and Barney Cleaver as participants in the forum, it was reported that all members were in agreement with the plan to redevelop the burned district as an industrial section and agreed that the proposed union station project was desirable. '... not a note of dissension was expressed.' The article states that these community leaders would again meet at the First Baptist Church in the following days.[78] The Black Dispatch describes the content of the following meeting at the First Baptist Church. The reconstruction committee had intended to have the black landholders sign over their property to a holding company managed by black representatives on behalf of the city but which was to be turned over to a white appraisal committee which would pay residents for the residential zoned land at the lower industrial zoned value in advance of the rezoning. Professor J.W. Hughes addressed the white reconstruction committee members in opposition to their proposition, coining a slogan which would come to galvanize the community, "I'm going to hold what I have until I get What I've lost."[79]

Construction of the Tulsa Union Depot, a large central rail hub connecting three major railroads, began in Greenwood less than two years after the riot. Prior to the riot, construction had already been underway for a smaller rail hub nearby. However, in the aftermath of the riot, land on which homes and businesses had been destroyed by the fires suddenly became available, allowing for a larger train depot near the heart of the city to be built in Greenwood instead.[3]:22–3[1]:38, 40, 168

1921 Grand Jury investigation[edit]

Allegations of corruption[edit]

Chief Chuck Jordan described the conduct of the 1921 Tulsa Police as, "... the police department did not do their job then, y'know, they just didn't."[80] Parrish, an African-American citizen of Tulsa, summarized the lawlessness in the state of Oklahoma as a contributing factor in 1922 as, "if...it were not for the profitable alliance of politics and vice or professional crime, the tiny spark which is the beginning of all these outrages would be promptly extinguished."[56]:87 Clark, a prominent Oklahoma historian and law professor, completed his doctoral dissertation in law on the subject of lawlessness in Oklahoma specifically on this period of time and how lawlessness had led to the rise of the second KKK, in order to illustrate the need for effective law enforcement and a functional judiciary.[51]

John A. Gustafson[edit]

Chief of Police John A. Gustafson was the subject of a vice investigation. Official proceedings began on June 6, 1921. He was prosecuted on multiple counts: refusing to enforce prohibition, refusing to enforce anti-prostitution laws; operating a stolen automobile-laundering racket and allowing known automobile thieves to escape justice, for the purpose of extorting the citizens of Tulsa for rewards relating to their return; repurposing vehicles for their own use or sale; operating a fake detective agency for the purpose of billing the city of Tulsa for investigative duties he was already being paid for as chief of police; failing to enforce gun laws and failure to take any action at all during the riots.[81]

The Attorney General of Oklahoma received a number of letters alleging members of the police force had conspired with members of the justice system to threaten witnesses in corruption trials stemming from the Grand Jury investigations. In the letters, various members of the public requested the presence of the state attorney general at the trial.[82][83] An assistant of the attorney general replied to one such letter by stating that their budget was too stretched to respond, and recommending instead that the citizens of Tulsa simply vote for new officers.[84]

Gustafson was found to have a long history of fraud pre-dating his membership of the Tulsa Police Department. His previous partner in his detective agency, Phil Kirk, had been convicted of blackmail.[85] Gustafson's fake detective agency ran up high billings on the police account. Investigators noted that many blackmail letters had been sent to members of the community from the agency. One particularly disturbing case involved the frequent rape, by her father, of an 11-year-old girl who had since become pregnant. Instead of prosecuting, they sent a "blackhand letter."[86]:2–3

Breaking the silence[edit]

Three days after the massacre Republican President Warren G. Harding spoke at the all-black Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. He declared, "Despite the demagogues, the idea of our oneness as Americans has risen superior to every appeal to mere class and group. And so, I wish it might be in this matter of our national problem of races." Speaking directly about the events in Tulsa, he said, "God grant that, in the soberness, the fairness, and the justice of this country, we never see another spectacle like it."[87]

There were no convictions for any of the charges related to violence.[75] There were decades of silence about the terror, violence, and losses of this event. The riot was largely omitted from local, state and national histories: "The Tulsa race riot of 1921 was rarely mentioned in history books, classrooms or even in private. Blacks and whites alike grew into middle age unaware of what had taken place".[88] It was not recognized in the Tulsa Tribune feature of "Fifteen Years Ago Today" or "Twenty-five Years Ago Today".[1]:26 A 2017 report detailing the history of the Tulsa Fire Department from 1897 until the date of publication makes no mention of the 1921 fire.[89][90]

A number of people tried to document the events, gather photographs and record the names of the dead and injured. Mary E. Jones Parrish, a young black teacher and journalist from Rochester, New York, was hired by the Inter-racial Commission to write an account of the riot. Parrish was a survivor and she wrote about her experiences, collected other accounts, gathered photographs and compiled "a partial roster of property losses in the African American community." She published these in Events of the Tulsa Disaster.[56] It was the first book to be published about the riot.[1]:28

The first academic account was a master's thesis written in 1946 by Loren L. Gill, a veteran of World War II, but the thesis did not circulate beyond the University of Tulsa.[1]:28–29

In 1971, a small group of survivors gathered for a memorial service at Mount Zion Baptist Church with blacks and whites in attendance.[1]:29

That same year, the Tulsa chamber of commerce decided to commemorate the riot, but when they read the accounts and saw photos gathered by Ed Wheeler, host of a radio history program detailing the specifics of the riot, they refused to publish them. He then took his information to the two major newspapers in Tulsa, both of which also refused to run his story. His article was finally published in Impact Magazine, a new publication aimed at black audiences, but most of Tulsa's white residents never knew about it.[1]:29–30

In the early 1970s, "[a]long with Henry C. Whitlow, Jr., a history teacher at Booker T. Washington High School, [Mozella Franklin] Jones had not only helped to desegregate the Tulsa Historical Society, but had mounted the first-ever major exhibition on the history of African Americans in Tulsa. Moreover, she had also created at the Tulsa Historical Society - the first collection of massacre photographs available to the public.[1]:21–36 While researching and sharing the history of the riot, Jones collaborated with a white woman named Ruth Sigler Avery, who was also trying to publicize accounts of the riot. The two women, however, encountered pressure, particularly among whites, to keep silent.[1]:30–31

Tulsa Race Massacre Commission[edit]

In 1996, as the riot's 75th anniversary neared, the state legislature authorized an Oklahoma Commission to investigate the Tulsa Race Riot, by appointing individuals to study and prepare a report detailing a "historical account" of the riot. Authorization of the study "enjoyed strong support from members of both political parties and all political persuasions".[91] The commission had originally been called the "Tulsa Race Riot Commission" but, in November 2018, the name was officially changed to "Tulsa Race Massacre Commission.[92]

The commission conducted interviews and heard testimony in order to document the causes and damages thoroughly. The Commission arranged for archaeological, non-invasive ground surveys of Newblock Park, Oaklawn Cemetery and Booker T. Washington Cemetery, which were identified as possible locations for mass graves of black victims of the violence. According to oral histories and other sources, such mass graves existed.

The Commission delivered its final report on February 21, 2001.[1] The report recommended actions for substantial restitution to the black residents, listed below in order of priority:

  1. Direct payment of reparations to survivors of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre;
  2. Direct payment of reparations to descendants of the survivors of the Tulsa race massacre;
  3. A scholarship fund available to students affected by the Tulsa race massacre;
  4. Establishment of an economic development enterprise zone in the historic area of the Greenwood district; and
  5. A memorial for the reburial of the remains of the victims of the Tulsa race massacre.[1]:20–21

Post-commission actions[edit]

Search for mass graves[edit]

Tulsa Race Massacre Commission arranged for archaeological, non-invasive ground surveys of Newblock Park, Oaklawn Cemetery, and Booker T. Washington Cemetery, which were identified as possible locations for mass graves of black victims of the violence. Oral histories, other sources, and timing suggested that whites would have buried blacks at the first two locations. Blacks were said to have buried black victims at the third location after the riot was over. The people buried at The Washington Cemetery, which is reserved for black people, were thought perhaps to be those who had died of their wounds after the riot had ended, since it was the most distant suspected burial location from downtown.

Investigations of the three potential mass grave sites were performed in 1997 and 1998. Though the total areas could not be surveyed, preliminary data suggested there were no mass graves in these locations. In 1999 an eyewitness was found who had seen whites burying blacks at Oaklawn Cemetery. A team investigated the potential area with more equipment. In the end, searches for any mass graves were made using ground radar and other technology, followed by core sampling.[93] The experts' report, presented to the Commission in December 2000, could not substantiate claims of mass graves in Oaklawn Cemetery, Washington Cemetery, or Newblock Park.[93] A promising spot in Washington Cemetery had turned out to be a layer of clay, and another in Newblock Park had turned out to be an old basement.[93] The suggestion that the bodies had been burned in the city incinerator was also discounted as unfeasible, given the incinerator's capacity and logistical considerations.[93]

In preparation for the 100th anniversary of the massacre, state archaeologists, using ground-penetrating radar, are probing Oaklawn Cemetery for "long-rumored" mass graves.[94] Mayor G. T. Bynum calls it "a murder investigation."[95] After input from the public, officials from the Oklahoma Archeological Survey used three subsurface scanning techniques to survey Newblock Park, Oaklawn Cemetery, and an area known as The Canes along the Arkansas River.[96] The Oklahoma Archeological Survey subsequently announced that they were discontinuing search efforts at Newblock Park after not finding any evidence of graves.[97]

On December 17, 2019 the team of forensic archaeologists announced they had found anomalies consistent with that of human-dug pits beneath the ground at Oaklawn Cemetery and the ground where the Interstate 244 bridge crosses the Arkansas River. They announced them as likely candidates for mass graves but further radar survey and physical excavation of the sites is needed.[98] Researchers secured permission from the city to perform "limited excavations" to determine the contents of these sites beginning in April 2020, and while they did not expect to dig up any human remains, asserted they would treat any they find with proper respect.[99] The dig at the suspected area of the Oaklawn Cemetery was completed in July 2020 and found no human remains.[100]


In March 2001, each of the 118 known survivors of the riot still alive at the time, the youngest of whom was 85, was given a gold-plated medal bearing the state seal, as had been approved by bi-partisan state leaders.[101][102]

The Tulsa Reparations Coalition, sponsored by the Center for Racial Justice, Inc., was formed on April 7, 2001 to obtain restitution for the damages suffered by Tulsa's Black community, as recommended by the Oklahoma Commission.[103] Also that year, Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor held a "celebration of conscience" at which she apologized to survivors and gave medals to those who could be located.[101]

On June 1, 2001, Governor Keating signed the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Reconciliation Act into law. The act acknowledged that the event occurred, but failed to deliver any substantial reparations to the victims or their descendants. In spite of the Oklahoma Commission's recommendation for reparations in their report on the riot, the Oklahoma state legislature did not agree that reparations were appropriate, and thus did not include them in the reconciliation act.[101] The Act provided for the following:

  • More than 300 college scholarships for descendants of Greenwood residents;
  • Creation of a memorial to those who died in the riot. A park with statues was dedicated as John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park on October 27, 2010, named in honor of the notable African-American historian from Tulsa;[104] and
  • Economic development in Greenwood.[105]

2003 lawsuit[edit]

Five elderly survivors, represented by a legal team that included Johnnie Cochran and Charles Ogletree, filed suit against the city of Tulsa and the state of Oklahoma (Alexander, et al. v. Oklahoma, et al.) in February 2003, based on the findings of the 2001 report. Ogletree said the state and city should compensate the victims and their families "to honor their admitted obligations as detailed in the commission's report."[106] The federal district and appellate courts dismissed the suit on the grounds that a recommendation was not an "admitted obligation" and noting the statute of limitations had been exceeded on the 80-year-old case.[107] The state requires that civil rights cases be filed within two years of the event. For that reason, the court did not rule on the issues. The Supreme Court of the United States declined to hear the appeal.

In April 2007, Ogletree appealed to the U.S. Congress to pass a bill extending the statute of limitations for the case, given the state and city's accountability for the destruction and the long suppression of material about it. The bill was introduced by John Conyers of Michigan and heard by the Judiciary Committee of the House but it did not pass, due to concerns about ex post facto legislation.[108] Conyers re-introduced the bill in 2009 as the John Hope Franklin Tulsa-Greenwood Race Riot Claims Accountability Act of 2009 (H.R. 1843), and in 2012. It has not gotten out of the Judiciary Committee.[101]

2010: John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park[edit]

John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, 2010

A park was developed in 2010 in the Greenwood area as a memorial to victims of the riot. In October 2010, the park was named for noted historian John Hope Franklin, who was born and raised in Tulsa.[109] He became known as a historian of the South. The park includes three statues of figures by sculptor Ed Dwight, representing Hostility, Humiliation and Hope.[110]


An extensive curriculum on the event was provided to Oklahoma school districts in 2020.[111]

On May 29, 2020, the eve of the 99th anniversary of the event and the onset of the George Floyd protests, Human Rights Watch released a report titled "The Case for Reparations in Tulsa, Oklahoma: A Human Rights Argument," demanding reparations for survivors and descendants of the violence because the economic impact of the massacre is still visible as illustrated by the high poverty rates and lower life expectancies in North Tulsa.[112] Several documentary projects were also announced at this time with plans to release them on the 100th anniversary of the event, including Black Wall Street by Dream Hampton, and another documentary by Salima Koroma.[113] In September 2020, a 105-year old survivor of the massacre filed a lawsuit against the city for reparations caused by damages to the city's black businesses.[114]

In popular culture[edit]


  • Fire in Beulah, (2001; Penguin Books: ISBN 978-0142000243), a novel by Rilla Askew, is set during the riot.
  • The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, (2001; St. Martin's Press: ISBN 978-0312272838), a nonfiction account by Tim Madigan.
  • If We Must Die, (2002; TCU Press: ISBN 978-0875652627), a novel by Pat Carr about Tulsa's 1921 Greenwood Riot. A poem of the same name was published by Claude McKay in 1919 about the Red Summer race riots.
  • Big Mama Speaks (2011), Hannibal B. Johnson's one-woman play featuring Vanessa Harris-Adams, features remembrance and reminiscence about the Black Wall Street.[115]
  • "The Case for Reparations" (2014) in The Atlantic. an article by Ta-Nehisi Coates that brought larger attention to the riots.[116]
  • Dreamland Burning, (2017; Little, Brown and Company: ISBN 978-0316384902), a novel by Jennifer Latham about events in Tulsa in 1921 interwoven with modern consequences.

Film and television[edit]

  • The Tulsa Lynching of 1921: A Hidden Story (2000), a documentary directed by Michael Wilkerson, was first released on Cinemax in 2000.[117][118]
  • Before They Die, (2008), a documentary by Reggie Turner that is supported by the Tulsa Project, chronicles the last survivors of the Tulsa Race Riot and their quest for justice from the city and state.[119]
  • Hate Crimes in the Heartland (2014), a documentary by Rachel Lyon and Bavand Karim that provides an in-depth examination of the riot.[120]
  • Watchmen (2019), TV series on HBO, based on the characters of the graphic novel of the same name. The series' producer, Damon Lindelof, was inspired to open the pilot episode with depictions of the riots and base the series on racial tensions after reading Coates' article about them.[121] Many aspects of the series' plot center on the legacy of the graphic novel and the massacre in an alternate timeline in the present day in Tulsa, where racial conflict remains high.[122] The popularity of Watchmen was considered to be the first exposure to the Tulsa race massacre via the entertainment industry as its history was generally not widely discussed and had not been depicted in that form before.[123]
  • Lovecraft Country (2020), TV series on HBO, based on the 2016 novel of the same title. Episode 9, titled "Rewind 1921", sees main characters Atticus "Tic" Freeman, his father Montrose Freeman, and Letitia "Leti" Lewis travel back in time to the night of the massacre to retrieve a spell-book (which was burned in the fictional reality on that night) to save the life of a family member.[124][125][126][127]

Music and art[edit]

Further reading[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak al am an ao ap aq ar as at au av Oklahoma Commission (February 28, 2001), "Final Report", Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, Tulsa, Oklahoma, archived from the original (PDF) on January 16, 2008, retrieved June 20, 2018
  2. ^ a b Humanities, National Endowment for the (June 18, 1921). "The broad ax. [volume] (Salt Lake City, Utah) 1895–19??, June 18, 1921, Image 1". The Broad Ax. ISSN 2163-7202. Archived from the original on October 23, 2019. Retrieved October 23, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Willows, Maurice (December 31, 1921). "Disaster Relief Report Riot 1921" (PDF). Tulsa Historical Society & Museum. American Red Cross. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 1, 2017. Retrieved February 14, 2020.
  4. ^ a b c d "Negro Deputy Sheriff Blames Black Dope-Head for Inciting His Race Into Rioting Here". The Morning Tulsa Daily World. June 3, 1921. Archived from the original on November 20, 2018. Retrieved December 3, 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e "Statement O. W. Gurley, Attorney General Civil Case No. 1062". 1921. p. 1. Archived from the original on December 4, 2018. Retrieved December 4, 2018.
  6. ^ a b c "Statement Luther James, Attorney General Civil Case No. 1062". Archived from the original on December 4, 2018. Retrieved December 4, 2018. Oklahoma Digital Prairie. July 18, 2006.
  7. ^ Rooney, Lt. Col. LJF; Daley, Charles (June 3, 1921). "Letter from Lieutenant Colonel L.J.F. Rooney and Charles Daley Officer of the Inspector General's Department to the Adjutant General, June 3, 1921". Archived from the original on December 3, 2018. Retrieved December 3, 2018.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g Franklin, Buck Colbert (August 22, 1931). "The Tulsa Race Riot and Three of Its Victims". National Museum of African American History and Culture. Archived from the original on December 3, 2018. Retrieved December 3, 2018. Full text. Archived October 27, 2018, at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ "Tulsa 1921 Race Riot Commission renamed Race Massacre Commission". KJRH News. Tulsa. November 29, 2019. Archived from the original on February 22, 2019. Retrieved May 10, 2019. Sen. Kevin Matthews held a news conference Thursday morning, in which he announced the official name change of the 1921 Race Riot Commission to the 1921 Race Massacre Commission.
  10. ^ Day, Meagan (September 21, 2016). "The history of the Tulsa race massacre that destroyed America's wealthiest black neighborhood". Timeline. Archived from the original on August 23, 2018. Retrieved February 27, 2019.
  11. ^ White, Walter F. (August 23, 2001). "Tulsa, 1921". The Nation. Archived from the original on June 12, 2018. Retrieved September 16, 2018.
  12. ^ Rao, Sameer (May 31, 2017). "It's Been 96 Years Since White Mobs Destroyed Tulsa's Black Wall Street". Colorlines. Archived from the original on March 1, 2018. Retrieved March 1, 2018.
  13. ^ Moorehead, Monica (June 10, 1999). "U.S. ethnic cleansing: The 1921 Tulsa Massacre". Workers World. Archived from the original on May 23, 2019. Retrieved March 1, 2018.
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  • Brophy, Alfred L. (2002). Reconstructing the Dreamland: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, Race Reparations, and Reconciliation. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-514685-9. "[T]the best account of the 1921 Tulsa riot, which drew wide acclaim from historians and others." —Rao, Gautham (September 2017). "University, Court, and Slave: Pro-Slavery Thought in Southern Colleges and Courts and the Coming of Civil War by Alfred L. Brophy (review)". Journal of the Civil War Era. 7 (3): 481–483. doi:10.1353/cwe.2017.0069. S2CID 148763755.
  • Scott Ellsworth, Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1992.
  • Rudia H. Halliburton, Tulsa Race War of 1921. San Jose, CA: R and E Publishing, 1975.
  • Hirsch, James S. (2002). Riot and Remembrance: The Tulsa Race War and Its Legacy. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 9780618340767. Retrieved September 1, 2020.
  • Rob Hower, 1921 Tulsa Race Riot: The American Red Cross-Angels of Mercy. Tulsa, OK: Homestead Press, 1993.
  • Hannibal B. Johnson, Black Wall Street: From Riot to Renaissance in Tulsa's Historic Greenwood District. Austin, TX: Eakin Press 1998.
  • Tim Madigan, The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2001.
  • Williams, Lee E. (1972). Anatomy of Four Race Riots: Racial Conflict in Knoxville, Elaine (Arkansas), Tulsa, and Chicago, 1919-1921. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-0-87805-009-3.
  • Halliburton, R. (July 26, 2016). "The Tulsa Race War of 1921". Journal of Black Studies. 2 (3): 333–358. doi:10.1177/002193477200200305. JSTOR 2783722. S2CID 161789413.
  • Witten, Alan; Brooks, Robert; Fenner, Thomas (June 2001). "The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921: A geophysical study to locate a mass grave". The Leading Edge. 20 (6): 655–660. doi:10.1190/1.1439020.
  • Greenwood, Ronni Michelle (June 2015). "Remembrance, Responsibility, and Reparations: The Use of Emotions in Talk about the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot". Journal of Social Issues. 71 (2): 338–355. doi:10.1111/josi.12114.
  • Krehbiel, Randy (2019). Tulsa, 1921: Reporting a Massacre. University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0-8061-6583-7.

External links[edit]

External video
video icon A Find of a Lifetime. Silent film of African-American towns in Oklahoma. 1920s. Rev. S. S. Jones for the National Baptist Convention. American Heritage magazine. Retrieved September 16, 2006.