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Tulsa, Oklahoma - Page 2

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tulsa oklahomaWith the discovery of oil in 1901, Tulsa changed from a cow-town to a boomtown. At the nearby community of Red Fork, a giant oil deposit was found and wildcatters and investors began to flood the city of Tulsa, bringing along their families and settling in. New neighborhoods were soon established on the north side of the Arkansas River and the town began to spread out in all directions from downtown.


Four years later, in 1905, a new, even larger oil discovery was made in nearby Glenn Pool that would lead to Tulsa s golden age of the 1920s and its title as the "Oil Capital of the World." Many early oil companies chose Tulsa for their home base.


1910 Oil Well outside Tulsa, OklahomaBy 1920, Tulsa was called home to almost 100,000 people and 400 different oil companies. The booming town boasted two daily newspapers, four telegraph companies, more than 10,000 telephones, seven banks, 200 attorneys and more than 150 doctors, as well as numerous other businesses.


Though the 1920s looked very promising for the burgeoning city, it would soon see one of the most gruesome and devastating race riots in U.S. history.


The whole thing began on May 30, 1921, when Dick Rowland, a black shoe-shine boy, was accused of assaulting Sarah Page, an elevator operator in the Drexel Building at Third and Main. Page claimed that Rowland grabbed her arm, causing her to flee in panic. A clerk at a nearby store insisted that Rowland had tried to rape Page. Accounts of the incident circulated among the city's white community during the day and became more exaggerated with each telling.


Tulsa police arrested Rowland the following day and began an investigation. Following Rowland's arrest on May 31, 1921, the Tulsa Tribune printed a story that Rowland had attacked her, scratching her hands and face and tearing her clothes. In the same newspaper that day was an editorial that stated that a hanging was planned for that night.


  Tightly in the grip of the Ku Klux Klan, Tulsa wasted no time in forming a lynch mob that evening around the courthouse intent upon the execution of Dick Rowland. To stave off the lynch mob, the sheriff and his men were forced to barricade the top floor to protect their prisoner.


A group of blacks also converged around the courthouse in an attempt to defend Rowland. When a white man in the crowd confronted an armed black man attempting to wrest the gun from him, a scuffle ensued and the white man was killed. Immediately, a riot began.


The outnumbered blacks began retreating to the Greenwood Avenue business district while truckloads of whites set fires and shot them on sight. Far into the early morning hours of the next day Black Tulsa was looted and burned by white rioters. The Greenwood district, known nationally as "Black Wall Street" for its economic success was a particular target.



After the governor declared martial law, the National Guard troops arrived in Tulsa and began to round up more than 6,000 black people, placing them in various internment centers such as the baseball stadium, the Convention Hall and the Fairgrounds. Though the violence had ceased by the next day, many of the interred were kept for up to eight days.

Twenty-four hours after the violence erupted, it ceased. In the wake of the violence, 35 city blocks lay in charred ruins, over 800 people were treated for injuries, and almost 1,400 homes were destroyed.


The losses of businesses included two theaters, three hotels, more than a dozen restaurants, several churches and a hospital. Estimates of the dead range up to 300.


After this terrible tragedy, dozens of black families left the area for more peaceful cities. Today, only a single block of the original buildings remains standing in the area.


Continued Next Page


Tulsa Race Riot

Street by street, block by block, the white invaders moved northward across Tulsa's African-American district, looting homes and setting them on fire. Photo courtesy Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa.



Tulsa Race riot

While the authorities detained a handful of white rioters, most black Tulsa

and soon found themselves led away at gunpoint and held under guard. Photo courtesy Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa.


Tulsa Race Riot

You can tell by the writing on this photograph what Tulsa's sentimentalities were

at the time. Photo courtesy Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa.


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