31st May 2021 by

Tulsa Race Massacre 1921

The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 was one of the most severe incidents of racial violence in U.S. history.

The massacre began during the Memorial Day weekend after 19-year-old Dick Rowland, a Black shoeshiner, was accused of assaulting Sarah Page, a 17-year-old White elevator operator of the nearby Drexel Building. The police were called, and the next morning they arrested Rowland. A front-page story in the Tulsa Tribune that afternoon reported that police had arrested Rowland for sexually assaulting Page.

As evening fell, an angry white mob was gathering outside the courthouse, demanding the sheriff hand over Rowland. Sheriff Willard McCullough refused, and his men barricaded the top floor to protect the Black teenager.

A group of about 25 armed Black men – including many World War I veterans – went to the courthouse to offer help guard Rowland. After the sheriff turned them away, some of the white mob tried unsuccessfully to break into the National Guard armoury nearby.

With rumours still flying of a possible lynching, a group of around 75 armed Black men returned to the courthouse shortly after 10 pm, where they were met by some 1,500 white men, some of whom also carried weapons.

Shortly after the massacre there was a brief official inquiry, but documents related to the massacre disappeared soon afterwards. The event never received widespread attention and was long noticeably absent from the history books used to teach Oklahoma schoolchildren.

The Tulsa Tribune removed the front-page story of May 31 that sparked the chaos from its bound volumes, and scholars later discovered that police and state militia archives about the riot were missing as well.

In 1997, after an official state government commission was created to investigate the Tulsa Race Massacre, scientists and historians began looking into the stories, including numerous victims buried in unmarked graves.

In 2001, the report of the Race Riot Commission concluded that between 100 and 300 people were killed and more than 8,000 people made homeless over those 18 hours in 1921.

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