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The Tulsa Race Massacre Is Finally Acknowledged 100 Years Later

Buildings burning during the Tulsa Race Massacre

2021 marks 100 years since the Tulsa Race Massacre occurred. 

In 1921, Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood community, also known as Black Wall Street, was an affluent community of Black professionals.

On May 31, 1921 “Lurid flames, roared and belched and licked their forked tongues into the air. Smoke ascended the sky in thick, black volumes and amid it all, the planes-now a dozen or more in number- still hummed and darted here and there the agility of natural birds of the air”, recounted by Buck Colbert Franklin, a successful Black lawyer of Tulsa, Oklahoma in the Smithsonian Magazine. From inside his law firm, Franklin watched through a window as White people looted and burned everything around him. At the moment, Franklin was unaware that he would soon-be a victim of a massacre. 

(Photo/ Public Domain)

How did the Tulsa Race Massacre Begin?

The direct cause of the massacre is often disputed. Some sources document an increasing divide between the Black and White population of Tulsa as the cause of the massacre. Other sources credit the enraging nature of a news article, published by the Tulsa Tribune, as the cause of the massacre. Although sources vary, they both have one thing in common— the case of Dick Rowland. 

On the morning of May 30, 1921 Dick Rowland, a young Black man, entered the elevator of the Drexel building where Sarah Page, a White female elevator operator, worked. Upon exiting the elevator, Rowland was accused of attempting to rape Sarah Page. He was arrested the following day on May 31, 1921. (The charges against Rowland were later dismissed). The same day the Tulsa Tribune released an enraging news article about the Rowland and Page case. Following the release of the article, a White mob gathered outside the courthouse with the intent to lynch Rowland. Residents of Greenwood arrived at the courthouse to protect Rowland from being lynched. Exchanges between the two groups of people resulted in gun fire. The group of Black people were outnumbered and retreated to Greenwood. Within hours, Greenwood was under ground and air attack for 18 hours from May 31st to June 1st of 1921.  

Once the massacre ended, The National Guard arrived and then Governor Robertson declared martial law. The massacre resulted in the death of approximately 50 to 300 people and the destruction of approximately a thousand buildings. (The exact number of deaths is unknown).

(Photo/ Public Domain)

 What followed the Tulsa Race Massacre?

In 2001, the Tulsa Race Riot Commission released a report documenting their findings on the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. The commission consisted of scientists and historians who were commissioned by the Oklahoma state government to investigate the events of the massacre.


Tulsa Race Massacre Artifacts



University of Tulsa

National Endowment for the Humanities

Tulsa Race Massacre (image)

Check out: Black History Month Then and Now


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