Throwback to June 1, 1921: The Black Wall Street Massacre in Tulsa, Oklahoma
The massive protest going on in the United States regarding the circumstances of George Floyd’s death indicates how far we have come on the fight against racism across the world. George Floyd, a black man died after he was pinned down by Derek Chauvin, a Minneapolis police officer after arresting him for buying cigarettes with a $20 counterfeit note.
The war against racism seems like one we cannot win, despite the show of support from many American white citizens, some still don’t see people of colour has humans and see racism as patriotism to their country. This article reminds us of one of the greatest genocide commited against the black population in history. The Tulsa race massacre also called the Greenwood massacre or Black Wall Street massacre that happened between May 31 and June 1, 1921 reportedly claimed 36 lives, left 10,000 black people homeless, and damaged property amounted to more than $1.5 in real estate and $750,000 in personal property.
The riots that led to the massacre started when 19-year-old Dick Rowland, a black shoemaker was accused of assaulting Sarah Page, the 17-year-old white elevator operator at the Drexel building. After he was taken into custody, a handful of angry local whites gathered at the front of the courthouse before spreading rumor that he had been lynched to alarm the blacks.
According to history.com, the afternoon Tulsa Newspaper reported that Rowland sexually assaulted Sarah, and a angry white mob requested that the Sheriff hand over Rowland which he refused and barricaded the courthouse with his men to protect Rowland. There’s a discord between reports on Wikipedia and other historical records on why the blacks came armed to the courthouse armed that day. The agreement here was, a gunfight ensued and the blacks overpowered, retreated to their area in Greenwood.
However, the whites were not satisfied as they invaded the black community and started looting, killing and burning residents. Report from the event suggested the hysteria grew when rumors stated that blacks from other communities were coming in to support the black community in Greenwood. Reports suggested that the mob that commited the crime was supported by city officials who gave out the weapon for the massacre.
The riot came to an end as at 12 noon on June 1st after the national guard arrived and declared martial law. According to a later Red Cross estimate, some 1,256 houses were burned; 215 others were looted but not torched. Two newspapers, a school, a library, a hospital, churches, hotels, stores and many other black-owned businesses were among the buildings destroyed or damaged by fire.
Rowland was released early on June 1st, 1921 after he was found innocent and observed he might have only stumbled into Sarah or stepped on her feet. He later left Tulsa and never came back.
Unsurprisingly, the Tulsa Tribune that reported the even that led to the riots removed it from their volumes and researchers also discovered later that all police and militia report was on the incident was missing.
A report on the Greenwood massacre estimated that 100–300 people were killed and over 8000 rendered homeless, a Senate bill in Oklahoma has mandated that the Tulsa Race Massacre be taught in history classes. According to state education department, the massacre has been included in their history curriculum since 2000 and United States history curriculum in 2004.
In November 2018, the 1921 Race Riot Commission was officially renamed the 1921 Race Massacre Commission.