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Forums > Politics & Religion > BHM: THE TULSA OKLAHOMA RACE RIOTS OF 1920s & "Black Wall Street"
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Thread started 02/13/09 8:09am




The TULSA, OKLAHOMA RACE RIOTS OF 1920s took place in the segregated Greenwood district of North Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was termed s "Black Wall Street" because of the many successful black entrepreneurs and businesses owned by African-Americans, at the time, and was described by one author as a "Black community that produced a tremendously prosperous Black business district envied by the whole country". Unfortunately, the entire town was attacked by a racist white mob. Homes, churches and business were bombed, set on fire, shot at and looted by a racist mob. Black women, children/babies and men were murdered. This is just one horrific story among others, of "ethnic cleansing" that took place in America's history in the early 1920s and this particular tragedy is often referred to as the "Black Holocaust."

Watch the documentary of this tragic time in American history and responses from survivors/descendants/witnesses and even a former KKK member.

There is a 12 part story, with 12 videos on youtube on this documentary, but I will only post 4, plus two with the survivors/witnesses discussing their accounts of it. You can watch the rest on youtube.

Part I

Part II

Part III

Part IV

Survivors/Descendants/Witnesses discuss the riots

Survivors/Descendants/Witnesses discuss the riots

The Tulsa, Oklahoma Race
Riot of 1921
By James E Patrick

"Racial unrest and violence against African Americans permeated domestic developments in the United States during the post-World War 1 era. From individual lynching to massive violence against entire African American communities, whites in both the North and the South lashed out against African Americans with a rage that knew few bounds.

From Chicago to Tulsa, to Omaha, East St. Louis, and many communities in between, and finally to Rosewood, white mobs pursued what can only be described as a reign of terror against African Americans during the period from 1917 to 1923. Although the number of lynching had declined from 64 in 1921 to 57 in 1922. In 1921 Tulsa was the site of one of the worst race riots in U.S. history. From the evening of May 31st, to the afternoon of June 1, 1921, more Americans killed fellow Americans in the Tulsa riot than probably anytime since the Civil War.

The official death count in the days following the riot was around 35, but evidence has surfaced through an investigation to suggest that at least 300 people were killed. Rumors still persist that hundreds, not dozens, of people were killed and that bodies were crudely buried in mass graves, stuffed into coal mines and tossed into the Arkansas River. If so, the Tulsa race riot would go down as the worst single act of domestic violence on U. S. soil since the Civil War; worse than the 1965 Watts riot, the 1967 Detroit riot, the 1992 Los Angeles riot and the 1995 Oklahoma city bombing.

Those events left a total of 301 dead. Two days of violence and arson directed by whites against African American neighborhoods left hundreds dead, hundreds injured, and more than 1500 African American owned homes and 600 businesses destroyed. Also destroyed in the African American neighborhoods were 21 churches, 21 restaurants, 30 stores, 2 movie theaters, a hospital, a bank, the post office, libraries, and schools.

On May 30, 1921, a 19-year-old African American shoeshine man named Dick Rowland entered the Drexal building downtown to use the segregated restroom. While approaching the elevator, which apparently hadn't stopped evenly with the floor, Mr. Rowland tripped and fell on the operator, a 17-year-old white girl named Sarah Page. Ms. Page not knowing it was accidental attempts to hit Mr. Rowland with her purse. Mr. Rowland grabs Ms. Page, attempting to stop her assault. Ms. Page screams, Mr. Rowland runs out of the elevator and the building. Ms. Page tells the police that the man had attempted to criminally assault her. Ms. Page later changes her story and said he grabbed her. Authorities arrested Mr. Rowland and held him overnight in the county jail, though Ms. Page declined to press charges.

The following day, the Tulsa Tribune ran a story in the afternoon edition headlined, "Nab Negro For Attacking Girl In Elevator," and added a racially charged editorial calling for a lynching. That evening a crowd of about 400 whites gather around the jail, some say to help with or view the lynching. Shortly there after, the news reached the African American community. A group of about 25 African Americans, all armed head to the jail.
When they arrive, they find out the story had been exaggerated. After talking to the deputy sheriff, whom reassured them no harm would come to Mr. Rowland, the African Americans went home. But later they returned, this time numbering about 75. Again the sheriff convinced them no harm would come to Mr. Rowland. As they were leaving a white man (possibly a deputy) attempted to disarm one of them. A shot was fired. By 10pm shots were being fired indiscriminately by both sides, 12 men were dead (2 African Americans, 10 whites). The fighting continued until around midnight.

The African Americans, being outnumbered, begin to retreat back to their section of town. Mobs of whites began to drive around the streets, shooting any African American person they saw. Sometime near 1am, the mayor and the chief of police sent a message to the governor, informing him that the riot was out of control and requested assistance. The governor activated the Oklahoma National Guard and requested two companies of soldiers from Fort Sill. The first group of guardsmen arrived before 2:30am. By 5am, a mob of 10,000-15,000 whites gathered near First St. and Elgin then marched on Greenwood, setting fire to every building standing.

They leveled 35 square blocks, murdered, raped and robbed, and committed other atrocities against African Americans. They used machine guns and airplanes that dropped nitroglycerin and dynamite in an all out attack on the African American section of town, killing, looting and burning everything in sight. It was reported that some police officers were in these airplanes. By 9am martial law had been decreed and the national guard took control of policing the city

They set up interment centers at the Convention Hall, McNulty Ball Park and the Tulsa Fairgrounds to house persons detained for civil prosecution. Authorities went door to door, herding all the African Americans families to these makeshift camps for their protection. Eventually more than 6,000 African Americans were placed in these camps. For about two months, African Americans were forbidden from leaving the camps, except to work. Many African Americans fled the city, buying one-way tickets to every city from New York to San Francisco. No further violence occurred.

Friday, June 3rd martial law was revoked and the national guard returned the city back to the local police. Within a week of the riot, African Americans were made to carry "green cards". African Americans working in a permanent jobs wore "green cards", signed by their employer as a matter of identification. Employers would go to the issuing location to identify the employee, then the employee would be issued the "green card". Any African American found in the streets without a "green card" were to be arrested after Tuesday, June 7th and taken to the fairgrounds camp to help the African American victims of the riot. More than 7,500 cards were issued.

A grand jury investigating the riot indicted about 20 African American men, but no whites
. Many of the African American men fled. No one went to jail. The case against Dick Rowland was dismissed at the end of September, 1921. His dismissal followed the receipt of a letter by the county attorney from the girl he was accused of assaulting, in which Sarah Page stated that she did not wish to prosecute the case. Police Chief John Gustafson was indicted, tried and convicted of failure to control the situation.

The Greenwood District was rebuilt, but never again achieved the national reknown and economic status it had enjoyed as the country's "Negro Wall Street". Now Oklahoma officials are opening up a nearly 80-year-old wound, conducting an investigation to find out once and for all what happened in Tulsa on May 31st and June 1,1921. Investigators intend to sweep metal-detection devices over a suspected site in search of belt buckles, shoe nails and other evidence that might suggest a mass grave. If investigators find something, they may excavate the site to search for remains. The main aims of the project are to spur healing and closure in Tulsa and possibly to offer survivors and descendants of victims some sort of reparations."
[Edited 2/14/09 15:08pm]
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Reply #1 posted 02/13/09 8:20am




Here's an excerpt from link


"The Black (Negro) Wall Street" was the name given to Greenwood Avenue of North Tulsa, Oklahoma during the early 1900’s. Because of strict segregation, Blacks were only allowed to shop, spend, and live in a 35 square block area called the Greenwood district. The "circulation of Black dollars" only in the Black community produced a tremendously prosperous Black business district that was admired and envied by the whole country.

Oklahoma’s first African-American settlers were Indian slaves of the so-called "Five Civilized Tribes": Chickasaws, Choctaws, Cherokees, Creeks, and Seminoles. These tribes were forced to leave the Southeastern United States and resettle in Oklahoma in mid-winter over the infamous "Trail of Tears." After the Civil War, U.S.-Indian treaties provided for slave liberation and land allotments ranging from 40-100 acres, which helps explain why over 6000 African-Americans lived in the Oklahoma territory by 1870. Oklahoma boasted of more All-Black towns and communities than any other state in the land, and these communities opened their arms to freed slaves from all across the country. Remarkably, at one time, there were over 30 African-American newspapers in Oklahoma.

Tulsa began as an outpost of the Creek Indians and as late as 1910, Walter White of the NAACP, described Tulsa as "the dead and hopeless home of 18,182 souls." Suddenly, oil was discovered and Tulsa rapidly grew into a thriving, bustling, enormously wealthy town of 73,000 by 1920 with bank deposits totaling over $65 million. However, Tulsa was a "tale of two cities isolated and insular", one Black and one White. Tulsa was so racist and segregated that it was the only city in America that boasted of segregated telephone booths.

Since African Americans could neither live among Whites as equals nor patronize White businesses in Tulsa, Blacks had to develop a completely separate business district and community, which soon became prosperous and legendary. Black dollars invested in the Black community also produced self-pride, self-sufficiency, and self-determination. The business district, beginning at the intersection of Greenwood Avenue and Archer Street, became so successful and vibrant that Booker T. Washington during his visit bestowed the moniker: "Negro Wall Street." By 1921, Tulsa’s African-American population of 11,000 had its own bus line, two high schools, one hospital, two newspapers, two theaters, three drug stores, four hotels, a public library, and thirteen churches. In addition, there were over 150 two and three story brick commercial buildings that housed clothing and grocery stores, cafes, rooming houses, nightclubs, and a large number of professional offices including doctors, lawyers, and dentists. Tulsa’s progressive African American community boasted some of the city’s most elegant brick homes, well furnished with china, fine linens, beautiful furniture, and grand pianos. Mary Elizabeth Parrish from Rochester, New York wrote: "In the residential section there were homes of beauty and splendor which would please the most critical eye." Well known African American personalities often visited the Greenwood district including: educators Mary McCloud Bethune and W.E.B. DuBois, scientist George Washington Carver, opera singer Marian Anderson, blues singer Dinah Washington, and noted Chicago chemist Percy Julian.

T.P. Scott wrote in "Negro City Directory": "Early African American business leaders in Tulsa patterned the development of Tulsa’s thriving Greenwood district after the successful African American entrepreneurial activity in Durham, North Carolina."

After the Civil War, former slaves moved to Durham from the neighboring farmlands and found employment in tobacco processing plants. By 1900, a large Black middle class had developed which began businesses that soon grew into phenomenally successful corporations, especially North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company.
Charles Clinton Spaulding was so successful with the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company that he was able to create a real estate company, a textile and hosiery mill, and the "Durham Negro Observer" newspaper. Durham Blacks also created a hospital, Mechanics and Farmers Bank (1908), North Carolina Training College (1910), Banker’s Fire Insurance Company (1920), and the National Negro Finance Company (1922). However, living conditions in Durham were so substandard and working conditions so poor that the 1920 mortality rate among Blacks in Durham was three times higher than the White rate. As of 1926, 64% of all African Americans in Durham died before the age of 40. These perilous working and living conditions were not present in Tulsa."
[Edited 2/13/09 8:25am]
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Reply #2 posted 02/14/09 11:14am


Interesting stuff thumbs up!
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Reply #3 posted 02/14/09 1:43pm



Mach said:

Interesting stuff thumbs up!

Thanks Mach. Appreciate it. Definitely a very tragic part of American history.
[Edited 2/14/09 14:39pm]
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Forums > Politics & Religion > BHM: THE TULSA OKLAHOMA RACE RIOTS OF 1920s & "Black Wall Street"