Tulsa race massacre

The Tulsa race massacre took place on May 31 and June 1 in 1921, when mobs of white residents, some of whom had been appointed as deputies and armed by city officials,[12] attacked Black residents and destroyed homes and businesses of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Alternatively known as the Tulsa race riot,[13] the event is considered one of "the single worst incident[s] of racial violence in American history" and has been described as one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in the history of the United States.[14][15] The attackers burned and destroyed more than 35 square blocks of the neighborhood – at the time one of the wealthiest Black communities in the United States, colloquially known as "Black Wall Street."[16]

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
DateMay 31 – June 1, 1921
TargetBlack residents, their homes, businesses, churches, schools and municipal buildings over a 40 square block area
Attack type
White supremacist terrorism, pogrom, ethnic cleansing, arson, mass murder
WeaponsGuns, explosives, arson[1]
DeathsTotal dead and displaced unknown:
36 total; 26 black and 10 white dead (1921 records)
150–200 black and 50 white dead (1921 estimate by W. F. White)[2]
39 confirmed, 26 black (1 stillborn) and 13 white dead[3] 75–100 to 150–300 estimated (2001 commission)[4]
Injured800+
183 serious injuries[5]
Exact number unknown
PerpetratorsWhite American mob[6][7][8][9][10][11]

More than 800 people were admitted to hospitals, and as many as 6,000 Black residents of Tulsa were interned in large facilities, many of them for several days.[17][18] The Oklahoma Bureau of Vital Statistics officially recorded 36 dead.[19] The 2001 Tulsa Reparations Coalition examination of events identified 39 dead, 26 Black and 13 white, based on contemporary autopsy reports, death certificates, and other records.[20] The commission gave several estimates ranging from 75 to 300 dead.[21][22]

The massacre began during Memorial Day Weekend after 19-year-old Dick Rowland, a Black shoeshiner, was accused of assaulting[how?] Sarah Page, a white 17-year-old elevator operator in the nearby Drexel Building. He was arrested and rumors that he was to be lynched were spread throughout the city, where a white man named Roy Belton had been lynched the previous year. Upon hearing reports that a mob of hundreds of white men had gathered around the jail where Rowland was being held, a group of 75 Black men, some armed, arrived at the jail to protect Rowland. The sheriff persuaded the group to leave the jail, assuring them that he had the situation under control.

The most widely reported and corroborated inciting incident occurred as the group of Black men left, when an elderly white man approached O. B. Mann, a Black man, and demanded that he hand over his pistol. Mann refused, and the old man attempted to disarm him. A gunshot went off, and then, according to the sheriff's reports, "all hell broke loose."[23] At the end of the exchange of gunfire, 12 people were dead, 10 white and two Black. Subsequently, the group reportedly fled back into Greenwood, shooting as they went. Alternatively, another eyewitness account was that the shooting began "down the street from the Courthouse" when Black business-owners came to the defense of a lone black man being attacked by a group of around six white men.[24] It is possible the eyewitness did not recognize this incident as being part of a rolling gunfight already underway. In either case, as news of the violence spread throughout the city, mob violence exploded.[2] White rioters invaded Greenwood that night and the next morning, killing men and burning and looting stores and homes. Around noon on June 1, the Oklahoma National Guard imposed martial law, ending the massacre.

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 $34.18 million in 2021). Many survivors left Tulsa, while residents who chose to stay in the city, regardless of race, largely kept silent about the terror, violence, and resulting losses for decades. The massacre was largely omitted from local, state, and national histories.

In 1996, 75 years after the massacre, a bipartisan group in the state legislature authorized the formation of the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. The commission's final report, published in 2001, states that the city had conspired with the racist mob; it recommended a program of reparations to survivors and their descendants.[25] The state passed legislation to establish scholarships for the descendants of survivors, encourage the economic development of Greenwood,[not verified in body] and develop a park in memory of the victims of the massacre in Tulsa. The park was dedicated in 2010. Schools in Oklahoma have been required to teach students about the massacre since 2002,[26] and in 2020, the massacre officially became a part of the Oklahoma school curriculum.[27]


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