Tulsa race riot

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Tulsa race massacre of 1921
Buildings burning during the Tulsa race riot
Location Greenwood, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Coordinates 36°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
Date May 31 – June 1, 1921
Weapons Guns, incendiary devices
Deaths 39 officially
Other estimates range from 55 to 300
Non-fatal injuries
Over 800
Perpetrators White Community and the police [1]

On May 31 and June 1, 1921, members of the white community of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, participated in a riot, killing some 300 black people. The attack, carried out on the ground and by air, destroyed more than 35 blocks of the district, at the time the wealthiest black community in the nation. More than 800 people were admitted to hospitals and more than 6,000 black residents were arrested and detained, some for as many as eight days.[2] The official count of the dead by the Oklahoma Bureau of Vital Statistics was 39.

The riot was triggered over a Memorial Day weekend when a black man was accused of raping a young white female elevator operator. One of the newspapers allegedly editorialized that the youth ought to be hanged. Rumors raced through the black community that a lynch mob was planning to hang the youth. A group of armed African-American men rushed to the police station with the intention of preventing a lynching from occurring. There was no lynch mob but a confrontation developed between blacks and whites; shots were fired and some whites and blacks were killed. As the news spread throughout the city, mob violence exploded. Thousands of whites rampaged through the black community, killing men and women, burning and looting stores and homes. Some blacks claimed that policemen had joined the mob; others claimed that a machine gun was fired into the black community and a plane dropped sticks of dynamite.[3] In an eyewitness account discovered in 2015, Greenwood attorney Buck Colbert Franklin describes watching a dozen or more airplanes drop burning balls of turpentine on the city’s rooftops. None of the area’s half-dozen fire stations sounded an alarm, and Franklin remembers wondering, “’Is the city in conspiracy with the mob?’” [4] In 2001, 80 years after the massacre, the state-appointed Tulsa Race Riot Commission recommended reparations to survivors and their descendants because the city had, indeed, conspired with the mob.[5]

The events of the massacre were long omitted from local and state 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."[6] With the number of survivors declining, in 1996, the state legislature commissioned a report to establish the historical record of the events, and acknowledge the victims and damages to the black community. Released in 2001, the report included the commission's recommendations for some compensatory actions, most of which were not implemented by the state and city governments. The state passed legislation to establish some scholarships for descendants of survivors, economic development of Greenwood, and a memorial park to the victims in Tulsa. The latter was dedicated in 2010.


Post-World War I northeastern Oklahoma had a racially and politically tense atmosphere. The territory, which was declared a state on November 16, 1907, had received many settlers from the South who had been slaveholders before the American Civil War. In the early 20th century, lynchings were common in Oklahoma, as part of a continuing effort by whites to assert and maintain white supremacy.[3][7][8] Between the declaration of statehood and the Tulsa race riot 13 years later, 31 persons were lynched in Oklahoma; 26 were black and nearly all were men and boys. During the twenty years following the riot, the number of lynchings statewide fell to two.[9]

The newly created state legislature passed racial segregation laws, commonly known as Jim Crow laws, as one of its first orders of business. Its 1907 constitution and laws had voter registration rules that disenfranchised most blacks; this also barred them from serving on juries or in local office, a situation that lasted until the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, part of civil rights legislation passed by the U.S. Congress. Major cities passed their own restrictions.[3]

On August 16, 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 of the other race. Although the United States Supreme Court declared the ordinance unconstitutional the next year, it remained on the books.[3]

As cities absorbed returning veterans into the labor market following World War I, social tension and anti-black sentiment increased. 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 North experienced severe race riots, often led by ethnic whites among recent immigrant groups, who competed mostly with blacks for jobs. In Chicago and some other cities, blacks defended themselves for the first time with force but were 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, particularly since veterans had been returning from the war. Its first significant appearance in Oklahoma occurred on August 12, 1921, less than three months after the Tulsa riot.[7] By the end of 1921, Tulsa had 3,200 residents in the Klan by one estimate.[7] The city's population was 72,000 in 1920.[10]

The traditionally black district of Greenwood in Tulsa had a commercial district so prosperous that it was known as "the Negro Wall Street" (now commonly referred to as "the Black Wall Street").[11] Blacks had created their own businesses and services in this enclave, including several groceries, two independent newspapers, two movie theaters, nightclubs, and numerous churches. Black professionals—doctors, dentists, lawyers, and clergy—served the community. Because of residential segregation in the city, most classes of blacks lived together in Greenwood. They 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.[11]

Monday, May 30, 1921 – Memorial Day[edit]

Encounter in the elevator[edit]

Sometime around or after 4 pm, 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 blacks. He encountered Sarah Page, the 17-year-old white elevator operator who was on duty. The two likely knew each other at least by sight, as this building was the only one nearby with a washroom that 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 located 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.[12]

The 2000 official commission 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. It suggests that Rowland had a simple accident, such as tripping and steadying himself against the girl, or perhaps they were lovers and had a quarrel.[13]

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...

What happened next is anyone's guess. After the riot, the most common explanation was 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. It also has been suggested that Rowland and Page had a lovers' quarrel. However, it simply is unclear what happened. Yet, in the days and years that followed, everyone who knew Dick Rowland agreed on one thing: that he would never have been capable of rape.

The word rape was rarely used in newspapers or academia in the early 20th century. Instead, assault was used to describe such an attack.[3]

Brief investigation[edit]

Although the police likely questioned Page, no written account of her statement has surfaced. It is generally accepted that they determined what happened between the two teenagers was something less than an assault. The authorities conducted a rather low-key investigation rather than launching a man-hunt for her alleged assailant. Afterward, Page told the police that she would not press charges.[3]

Regardless of whether assault had occurred, Rowland had reason to be fearful, as at the time, such an accusation alone put him at risk for attack. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Rowland fled to his mother's house in the Greenwood neighborhood.[13]

Tuesday, May 31, 1921[edit]

Suspect arrested[edit]

One of the sensationalist news articles that contributed to tensions in Tulsa

On the morning after the incident, Detective Henry Carmichael 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 approximately 45-man police force.[3] 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.[14]

Word quickly spread in Tulsa's legal circles. As patrons of the shine shop where Rowland worked, many attorneys knew him. Witnesses recounted hearing several attorneys defending him in personal 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."[15]

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, and entitled "To Lynch Negro Tonight." 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, so the exact content of the column (and whether it existed at all) remains in dispute.[16][17][18]

Stand-off at the courthouse[edit]

The afternoon edition of the Tribune hit the streets shortly after 3 p.m., and soon news of the potential lynching spread. By 4 pm, the local authorities were on alert. White people began congregating at and near the Tulsa County Courthouse. By sunset at 7:34 pm, the several hundred whites 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 occurred during the term of his predecessor.[19] The sheriff took steps to ensure the safety of Rowland. McCullough organized his deputies into a defensive formation around Rowland, who was terrified. 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".[12]

About 8:20 pm, 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.[3]

Offer of help[edit]

A few blocks away on Greenwood Avenue, members of the black community were gathering to discuss the situation at the courthouse. Given the recent lynching of Roy Belton, a white man accused of murder, they believed that Rowland was greatly at risk. The community was determined to prevent the lynching of the young black man, but divided about the tactics to be used. Young World War I veterans were preparing for a battle by collecting guns and ammunition. Older, more prosperous men feared a destructive confrontation that likely would cost them dearly. O. W. Gurley walked to the courthouse, where the sheriff assured him that there would be no lynching. Returning to Greenwood, Gurley tried to calm the group, but failed. About 7:30 pm, a mob of approximately 30 black men, armed with rifles and shotguns, decided to go to the courthouse and support the sheriff and his deputies to defend Rowland from the mob. Assuring them that Rowland was safe, the sheriff and his black deputy, Barney Cleaver, encouraged the men to return home.[3][20]

Taking up arms[edit]

Having seen the armed blacks, some of the more than 1,000 whites 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 up. The armory contained a supply of small arms and ammunition. Major James Bell of the 180th Infantry had already learned of the mounting situation downtown and the possibility of a break-in, and he took appropriate measures to prevent this. 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 300–400 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.[3]

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.[12]

Anxiety on Greenwood Avenue was rising. The black community was worried about the safety of Rowland. Small groups of armed black men began to venture toward the courthouse in automobiles, partly for reconnaissance, and to demonstrate they were prepared to take necessary action to protect Rowland.[12]

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.[12]

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 seventy-five 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 may have been accidental, or meant as a warning shot; it was a catalyst for an exchange of gunfire.[21]


The gunshots triggered an almost immediate response by the white men, many of whom fired on the blacks, who 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.[19] The black contingent retreated toward Greenwood. A rolling gunfight ensued. The armed white mob pursued the black group toward Greenwood, with many stopping to loot local stores for additional weapons and ammunition. Along the way innocent bystanders, many of whom were leaving a movie theater after a show, were caught off guard by the mob and began fleeing. Panic set in as the white mob began firing on any blacks in the crowd. The mob also shot and killed at least one white man in the confusion.[12]

National Guard with wounded.

At around 11 pm, members of the Oklahoma 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. This manner of deployment led to the National Guard being set in apparent opposition to the black community. The National Guard began rounding up blacks who had not returned to Greenwood and taking them to the Convention Hall on Brady Street for detention.[12]

Many prominent Tulsa whites also participated in the riot, including Tulsa founder and KKK member W. Tate Brady who participated in the riot as a night watchman. He reported seeing "five dead negroes," including one man who was dragged behind a car by a noose around his neck.[22]

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. When they attempted to storm the building, the sheriff and his deputies turned them away and dispersed them.

Wednesday, June 1, 1921[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.[3]

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.[3]

Fires begin[edit]

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

At around 1 am, 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.[3] By 4 am, 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 community, while others began a mass exodus from the city. Throughout the night both sides continued fighting, sometimes only sporadically.


Upon the 5 a.m. sunrise, reportedly a train whistle was heard (Hirsch said it was a siren). Many believed this 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 received a fatal bullet from a sniper in Greenwood. Crowds of rioters poured from places of shelter, on foot and by car, into the streets of the black community. Five white men in a car led the charge, but were killed by a fusillade of gunfire before they had gone a block.[3]

Overwhelmed by the sheer number of whites, more blacks retreated north on Greenwood Avenue to the edge of town. Chaos ensued as terrified residents fled for their lives. The rioters shot indiscriminately and killed many residents along the way. Splitting into small groups, they began breaking into houses and buildings, looting. Several blacks later testified that whites broke into occupied homes and ordered the residents out to the street, where they could be driven or forced to walk to detention centers.[3]

A rumor spread among the whites that the new Mount Zion Baptist Church was being used as a fortress and armory. Supposedly twenty caskets full of rifles had been delivered to the church, though no evidence was ever found.[3]

Attack by air[edit]

Numerous eyewitnesses described airplanes carrying white assailants, who fired rifles and dropped firebombs on buildings, homes, and fleeing families. The planes, six biplane two-seater trainers left over from World War I, were dispatched from the nearby Curtiss-Southwest Field outside Tulsa.[23] Law enforcement officials later stated that the planes were to provide reconnaissance and protect against a "Negro uprising".[23] Eyewitness accounts and testimony from the survivors maintained that on the morning of June 1, the planes dropped incendiary bombs and fired rifles at black residents on the ground.[23]

Several groups of blacks attempted to organize a defense, but they were overwhelmed by the number of armed whites. Many blacks surrendered.[citation needed] Others returned fire and were killed.[citation needed] As the fires spread northward through Greenwood, black families continued to flee. Many are believed to have died when trapped by the flames.[citation needed]

Other whites[edit]

As unrest spread to other parts of the city, many middle class white families who employed blacks in their homes as live-in cooks and servants were accosted by white rioters. They demanded that families turn over their employees to be taken to detention centers around the city. Many white families complied, and those who refused were subjected to attacks and vandalism in turn.[12]

Arrival of state troops[edit]

Adjutant General Charles Barrett of the Oklahoma National Guard arrived with 109 troops from Oklahoma City by special train about 9:15 am. 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, most of the surviving black citizens had either fled the city or were in custody at the various detention centers. The troops declared martial law at 11:49 am,[3] and by noon had managed to suppress most of the remaining violence. A 1921 letter from an Officer of the Service Company, Third Infantry, Oklahoma National Guard arriving May 31, 1921,[24] reported taking about 30-40 African Americans into custody; putting a machine gun on a truck and putting it on patrol; being fired on from Negro 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 negroes and having two NCOs slightly wounded;[25] searching for negroes and firearms; detailing a NCO to take 170 Negroes to the civil authorities; and then delivering an additional 150 Negroes to the Convention Hall.[26]


Little Africa on Fire. Tulsa Race Riot, June 1, 1921 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.


The reported number of dead varies widely. On June 1, 1921, the Tulsa Tribune reported that 9 whites and 68 blacks had died in the riot, but shortly afterward changed this to a total of 176 dead. On the next day, the same paper reported the count as 9 whites and 21 blacks. The New York Times said that 77 people had been killed, including 68 blacks, but then lowered the total to 33. The Richmond Times Dispatch reported that 85 people (including 25 whites) 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 as 175.[27] The Oklahoma Department of Vital Statistics count put the number of dead at 36 (26 black and 10 white), with other estimates in Red Cross documents running as high as 300.[28] Walter Francis White of the N.A.A.C.P. reported that although officials and undertakers reported the numbers of fatalities as ten white and 21 colored, he estimated that the numbers to be 50 whites and between 150 and 200 Negroes;[29] he also reported that ten white men were killed on Tuesday; six white men drove into the black section and never came out and that thirteen whites were killed on Wednesday; he reported that the head of the Salvation Army in Tulsa stated that thirty-seven negroes were employed as gravediggers to bury 120 negroes in individual graves without coffins on Friday and Saturday.[30] The "Los Angeles Express" had a headline that said "175 Killed, Many Wounded."[citation needed]> Maurice Willows, an American Red Cross social worker, reported that up to 300 blacks were killed. He also reported that there was a rush to bury the bodies and that no records were made of many burials.[3]:108, 228[31]

Of the some 800 people admitted to local hospitals for injuries, the majority are believed to have been white, as both black hospitals had been burned in the rioting. Additionally, even if the white hospitals had admitted blacks because of the riot, against their usual segregation policy, injured blacks had little means to get to these hospitals, which were located across the city from Greenwood. More than 6,000 black Greenwood residents were arrested and detained at three local facilities: Convention Hall, now known as the Brady Theater, the Fairgrounds (then located about a mile northeast of Greenwood), and McNulty Park (a baseball stadium at Tenth Street and Elgin Avenue).[3]:108–109

Several blacks were known to have died while in the internment centers. While most of the deaths are said to have been accurately recorded, no records have been found as to how many detainees were treated for injuries and survived. These numbers could reasonably have been more than a thousand, perhaps several thousand.[32]

Property losses[edit]

The commercial section of Greenwood was destroyed. This 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 $1.5 million in real estate and $750,000 in personal property ($30 million in 2016). Local citizens had filed more than $1.8 million in riot-related claims against the city by June 6, 1922.[3]

Residential block burned down
"All that was Left of his home" June 1, 1921
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 of the riot and the burning. The road running laterally through the center of the image is Greenwood Avenue, the road slanting from the center to the left is Easton, and the road slanting off to the right is Frankfort.

Legal actions[edit]

A grand jury in Tulsa ruled that Police Chief John Gustafson was responsible for the riot because he neglected his duty, and removed him from office. In a subsequent trial, he was found guilty of failing to take proper precautions for protecting life and property, and for conspiring to free automobile thieves and collect rewards. But the former chief never served time in prison; instead, he returned to his private detective practice.[3] No legal records indicate that any other white official was ever charged of wrongdoing or even negligence.

Dick Rowland remained safe in the county jail until the next morning, when the police transported him out of town in secrecy. All charges were dropped. He never returned to Tulsa.[3]

No charges were filed against individual white rioters.[33] Other lawsuits against insurance companies for losses were unsuccessful as well.[34]

Attempt to prevent reconstruction of Greenwood[edit]

The division between white and black residents of Tulsa was so deep that the end of the riot did not begin to bring reconciliation. The widespread destruction of Greenwood was not sufficient for those whites who wanted to separate even further from blacks. A week after the riot, W. Tate Brady was appointed to the Tulsa Real Estate Exchange ("The Exchange"). The Tulsa Chamber of Commerce had created the group to estimate the value of property damaged or destroyed in Greenwood. The Exchange also contrived a scheme to relocate black Tulsans farther north and east of the original Greenwood.

In cooperation with the City Commission, the Exchange prepared new building codes for the original Greenwood that would make rebuilding prohibitively expensive for the original owners. The land could then be redeveloped as a commercial and industrial district – no longer residential. The plan was never implemented because the Oklahoma Supreme Court overruled the proposed ordinances as unconstitutional. B. C. Franklin, the lead attorney of the black community who challenged the ordinance, was the father of John Hope Franklin, who became a notable historian.[35]

Tulsa Race Riot Commission[edit]

In 1996, following increased attention to the riot because of the 75th anniversary of the event, the state legislature authorized the Tulsa Race Riot Commission, to study and prepare a "historical account" of the riot. Undertaking the study "enjoyed strong support from members of both political parties and all political persuasions."[36] The Commission delivered its report on February 21, 2001.[5]

In addition to thoroughly documenting the causes and damages of the riot, the report recommended actions for substantial restitution to the black community; in order of priority:

  1. Direct payment of reparations to survivors of the 1921 Tulsa race riot;
  2. Direct payment of reparations to descendants of the survivors of the Tulsa race riot;
  3. A scholarship fund available to students affected by the Tulsa race riot;
  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 riot.[13]

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.[citation needed]

In June 2001, the Oklahoma state legislature passed the "1921 Tulsa Race Riot Reconciliation Act". While falling short of the Commission's recommendations, it 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, which was dedicated on October 27, 2010;[37] and
  • Economic development in Greenwood.[38]

The state government has made limited attempts to find suspected mass graves used to bury the unknown numbers of black dead. The Commission reported that it was not authorized to undertake the necessary archaeological work to verify the claims.[citation needed]

Lawsuit against Tulsa and Oklahoma[edit]

Five elderly survivors of the riot, represented by a legal team including 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."[39] The federal district and appellate courts dismissed the suit, citing the statute of limitations on the 80-year-old case.[40] 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 long suppression of material about it.[41]

Eyewitness account[edit]

In 2015, a previously unknown eyewitness account of the events of May 31, 1921, was obtained by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. In the 10-page typewritten manuscript, Oklahoma attorney Buck Colbert Franklin recalls standing in his office, watching “’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.’”

What he saw was a city under siege: “’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.’” Making his way outside, Franklin found the source of the strange sound that had peppered his building. “’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 from the top.’”

Franklin conveys the day’s awful noise—the droning of planes, the spattering of turpentine balls as they rained down upon homes and hospitals, offices and shops, the roar of the conflagration that eventually consumed the district. But in some ways, the eeriest moment of the manuscript is the quiet whisper in the attorney’s own head:

“’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?’” [42]

Buck (Charles) Colbert Franklin (1879–1957) was of African-American and Choctaw ancestry, and he is best known for defending African-American survivors of the Tulsa Massacre. Franklin was the father of famed African-American historian John Hope Franklin (1915–2009) and grandfather of John W. Franklin, a senior program manager with the National Museum of African American History and Culture, who remembers the first time he read his grandfather’s manuscript: “’I wept. I just wept. It’s so beautifully written and so powerful, and he just takes you there,” Franklin marvels. “You wonder what happened to the other people. What was the emotional impact of having your community destroyed and having to flee for your lives?’” [43]

Representation in other media[edit]

  • "Tulsa 1921", a song by Smokey and the Mirror, a contemporary American folk music duo, is about the events in Tulsa.
  • The Tulsa Lynching of 1921: A Hidden Story (2000), a documentary directed by Michael Wilkerson, was first released on Cinemax in 2000.[44][45]
  • 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.[46]
  • Fire in Beulah, (2001), a novel by Rilla Askew, published by Penguin Books.
  • "Big Mama Speaks," Hannibal B. Johnson's one-woman play featuring Vanessa Harris-Adams, serves up Black Wall Street remembrance and reminiscence.
  • If We Must Die, (2002), a novel by Pat Carr of Tulsa's 1921 Greenwood Riot published by TCU Press, Ft. Worth.
  • The documentary Hate Crimes in the Heartland (2014) by Rachel Lyon and Bavand Karim provides an in-depth examination of the riot.[47]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Keyes, Allison. (May 27, 2016). "A Long-Lost Manuscript Contains a Searing Eyewitness Account of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921". Smithsonian.com. Retrieved August 13, 2016. 
  2. ^ Keyes, Allison. (May 27, 2016). "A Long-Lost Manuscript Contains a Searing Eyewitness Account of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921". Smithsonian.com. Retrieved August 13, 2016. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Hirsch, James S. (2002). Riot and Remembrance: The Tulsa Race War and its Legacy. Houghton Mifflin Company. ISBN 0-618-10813-0. 
  4. ^ Keyes, Allison. (May 27, 2016). "A Long-Lost Manuscript Contains a Searing Eyewitness Account of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921". Smithsonian.com. Retrieved August 13, 2016. 
  5. ^ a b Oklahoma Commission (February 28, 2001), "Final Report" (PDF), Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 (PDF), Tulsa, Oklahoma, retrieved April 10, 2016 
  6. ^ Sulzberger, A.G. (June 19, 2011). "As Survivors Dwindle, Tulsa Confronts Past". the New York Times. Retrieved June 20, 2011. 
  7. ^ a b c Charles C. Alexander, Ku Klux Klan in the Southwest (Lexington: University of Kentucky Press, 1965)
  8. ^ Levy, David W. (2005). "XIII: The Struggle for Racial Justice". The University of Oklahoma: A History. II: 1917–1950. University of Oklahoma Press. Retrieved April 10, 2016. 
  9. ^ Mary Elizabeth Estes, An Historical Survey of Lynchings in Oklahoma and Texas, M.A. thesis, University of Oklahoma, (1942)
  10. ^ Tulsa History: Urban Development, Tulsa Preservation Commission
  11. ^ a b 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 18, 2006
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h Ellsworth, Scott (July 30, 2001). "The Tulsa Race Riot: History does not take place in a vacuum". Archived from the original on December 10, 2013. Retrieved May 16, 2009. 
  13. ^ a b c Oklahoma Commission 2001, pp. 37–102.
  14. ^ Krehbiel, Randy (April 29, 2011). "Tulsa Race Riot legacy still felt in the city". Tulsa World. Retrieved November 30, 2011. 
  15. ^ Franklin, Buck Colbert (2000). Franklin, John Hope; Franklin, John Whittington, eds. My Life and An Era: The Autobiography of Buck Colbert Franklin. Louisiana State University Press. pp. 195–196. 
  16. ^ Oklahoma Commission 2001, pp. 55–59.
  17. ^ Ellsworth, Scott (1992). Death in a Promised Land. Louisiana State University Press. pp. 47–48. ISBN 978-0-8071-1767-5. 
  18. ^ Brophy, Alfred L. (2007). "Tulsa (Oklahoma) Riot of 1921"". In Rucker, Walter C.; Upton, James N. Encyclopedia of American Race Riots. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 654. ISBN 978-0-313-33302-6. 
  19. ^ a b Walter F. White, "The Eruption of Tulsa", The Nation, June 29, 1921.
  20. ^ Oklahoma Commission 2001, pp. 60–63.
  21. ^ Ellsworth, Scott. "Tulsa Race Riot," Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Retrieved March 1, 2015.
  22. ^ [1] Chapman, Lee Roy.Battle of Greenwood, This Land Press, 2011. Retrieved September 19, 2011.
  23. ^ a b c Madigan, Tim. The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, New York: St Martin's Press (2001), pp. 4, 131–132, 144, 159, 164, 249. ISBN 0-312-27283-9
  24. ^ Letter Captain Frank Van Voorhis to Lieut. Col. L. J. F. Rooney, 1921 July 30, p.1, at digitalprairie.com
  25. ^ Letter Captain Frank Van Voorhis to Lieut. Col. L. J. F. Rooney, 1921 July 30, p.2, at digitalprairie.com
  26. ^ Letter Captain Frank Van Voorhis to Lieut. Col. L. J. F. Rooney, 1921 July 30, p.3, at digitalprairie.com
  27. ^ "Richmond times-dispatch. (Richmond, Va.) 1914-current, June 02, 1921, Image 1". June 2, 1921 – via chroniclingamerica.loc.gov. 
  28. ^ Ellsworth, Death in a Promised Land, p.69.
  29. ^ Walter Whites estimate of about 250 white and African American fatalities is apparently confirmed in Tim Madigan "The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921" {2013} p.224 {reference only}
  30. ^ White, WalterF. (August 20, 2001). "Tulsa, 1921 (reprint of article " The Eruption of Tulsa", first published June 15, 1921)". The Nation. 
  31. ^ "Violence," Oklahoma Historical Society. Retrieved March 1, 2015.
  32. ^ Clyde Collins Snow, Confirmed Deaths: A Preliminary Report, Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. Tulsa Race Riot. Retrieved May 16, 2009
  33. ^ "A Report by the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921." February 28, 2001. Internet Archive. Full text. Retrieved December 8, 2011.[2]
  34. ^ Alfred L. Brophy, The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 in the Oklahoma Supreme Court, Oklahoma Law Review (2001) 54:61-96.
  35. ^ Chapman, Lee Roy. This Land. "Nightmare in Dreamland." Retrieved December 7, 2011.[3]
  36. ^ "Changes Planned for Resolution Authorizing Study of 1921 Riot" (Press release). Oklahoma House of Representatives. March 13, 1996. [dead link]
  37. ^ "John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park". 
  38. ^ Schmidt, Peter (July 13, 2001). "Oklahoma Scholarships Seek to Make Amends for 1921 Riot". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved May 5, 2016. (subscription required (help)). 
  39. ^ Brune, Adrian (April 30, 2003), "A Long Wait for Justice", The Village Voice 
  40. ^ 04-5042 – Alexander v. State of Oklahoma – 09/08/2004
  41. ^ Myers, Jim (April 25, 2007). "Race riot bill gets House hearing". Tulsa World. 
  42. ^ Keyes, Allison. (May 27, 2016). "A Long-Lost Manuscript Contains a Searing Eyewitness Account of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921". Smithsonian.com. Retrieved August 13, 2016. 
  43. ^ Keyes, Allison. (May 27, 2016). "A Long-Lost Manuscript Contains a Searing Eyewitness Account of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921". Smithsonian.com. Retrieved August 13, 2016. 
  44. ^ Mel Bracht, "Tulsa race riot examined in new film; Documentary debuts today on Cinemax", The Oklahoman, May 31, 2000.
  45. ^ Steven Oxman, "The Tulsa Lynching of 1921: A Hidden Story", Variety, May 29, 2000.
  46. ^ "Before They Die!", movie website
  47. ^ Fisher, Rich (February 4, 2015). "Rachel Lyon Discusses Her Film, "Hate Crimes in the Heartland," Which Will Soon Be Screened in Tulsa". Public Radio Tulsa. Retrieved April 2, 2016. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Alfred L. Brophy, Reconstructing the Dreamland: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, Race Reparations, and Reconciliation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
  • Scott Ellsworth, Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1992.
  • Donald Halliburton, Tulsa Race War of 1921. San Jose, CA: R and E Publishing, 1975.
  • James S. Hirsch, Riot and Remembrance: The Tulsa Race War and Its Legacy. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 2002.
  • 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.
  • Mary E. Jones Parrish, Race Riot 1921: Events of the Tulsa Disaster. Tulsa, OK: Out on a Limb Publishing, 1998.
  • Lee E. Williams, Anatomy of Four Race Riots: Racial Conflict in Knoxville, Elaine (Arkansas), Tulsa, and Chicago, 1919–1921. Hattiesburg, MS: University and College Press of Mississippi, 1972.

External links[edit]

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