OWN Channel Spotlights Black Wall Street
Angela Davis and other professors, authors and historians trace the story of Black Wall Street all the way from 1832’s Trail of Tears to the day O.W. Gurley purchased the allotment of land that would become Tulsa’s booming Greenwood District. Learn More >>>
Tulsa’s Greenwood District grew to become a haven for Black entrepreneurs at the beginning of the 20th century — and how 24 hours of racist violence destroyed much of what thousands of Black residents had built there, only for that tragic event and the people it affected to be unjustly ignored by history, for the most part, for decades afterward.Tulsa, in general, began to flourish around the turn of the 20th Century, thanks to a Hugh oil boom in Oklahoma.
On the morning of May 30, 1921, a young black man named Dick Rowland was riding in the elevator in the Drexel Building at Third and Main with a white woman named Sarah Page. The details of what followed vary from person to person. Accounts of an incident circulated among the city’s white community during the day and became more exaggerated with each telling.
Tulsa police arrested Rowland the following day and began an investigation. An inflammatory report in the May 31 edition of the Tulsa Tribune spurred a confrontation between black and white armed mobs around the courthouse where the sheriff and his men had barricaded the top floor to protect Rowland. Shots were fired and the outnumbered African Americans began retreating to the Greenwood District.
In the early morning hours of June 1, 1921, Greenwood was looted and burned by white rioters. Governor Robertson declared martial law, and National Guard troops arrived in Tulsa. Guardsmen assisted firemen in putting out fires, took African Americans out of the hands of vigilantes and imprisoned all black Tulsans not already interned. Over 6,000 people were held at the Convention Hall and the Fairgrounds, some for as long as eight days.
Twenty-four hours after the violence erupted, it ceased. In the wake of the violence, 35 city blocks lay in charred ruins, more than 800 people were treated for injuries and contemporary reports of deaths began at 36. Historians now believe as many as 300 people may have died.
In order to understand the Tulsa Race Massacre it is important to understand the complexities of the times. Dick Rowland, Sarah Page and an unknown gunman were the sparks that ignited a long smoldering fire. Jim Crow, jealousy, white supremacy, and land lust, all played roles in leading up to the destruction and loss of life on May 31 and June 1, 1921.