In 1921, a White mob entered the Greenwood District and destroyed Tulsa’s Black community. During Memorial Day weekend, the centennial remembrance of the Tulsa Race Massacre was commemorated. The massacre began when White townspeople heard a false rumor that 19-year-old Dick Rowland, a Black shoe shiner, assaulted a White elevator operator named Sarah Page. Below are five interesting facts about the Tulsa Race Massacre.
- Tulsa Police May Have Encouraged Violence —Eyewitness accounts create the impression that police deputized White members of the violent Tulsa mob and police used racial slurs as they focused their violence on Black citizens in Tulsa.
- There was an effort by the Tulsa Tribune and the government to suppress the story. The Tulsa Tribune ran the false Dick Rowland “assault” story on the front page but then made the story vanish from bound volumes of the newspaper. Stories of the massacre were removed from police archives and no public memorials of the event were held until over 70 years later — in 1997.
- Hospital Records Reveal the Truth. Over 800 people were admitted to local hospitals, yet the Oklahoma Bureau of Vital Statistics officially recorded only 36 dead. A 2001 state commission examining the massacre estimated that as many as 300 Black people were murdered based on autopsy and funeral records.
- An estimated 10,000 Black people were left homeless after the massacre. An estimated $2 million in property damage resulted from the Tulsa Race Massacre. The damage to Tulsa’s Black community in today’s dollars is over $130 million.
- The false rumor that Dick Rowland assaulted a White girl, led to a White mob surrounding the jail where Rowland was kept in preparation for a lynching. But a group of about 75 Black men, many of whom were armed, also arrived at the jail to prevent the lynching of Rowland. This example of armed Black resistance is what is believed to be the start of the massacre and hundreds of Black murders during the massacre.
Lauren Victoria Burke is an independent journalist for NNPA and the host of the podcast BURKEFILE. She is also a political strategist as Principal of Win Digital Media LLC. She may be contacted at LBurke007@gmail.com and on twitter at @LVBurke.