Terror in Tulsa- History Remembered
As WWI came to an end in 1919 there was an economic downturn in the country. White soldiers returning from the war found themselves competing with blacks for various types of jobs. Black soldiers were also returning looking to be treated as equals after having served a country that was organized around white supremacy and ignorant bigotry. At the time of the Tulsa Riot by rampaging lunatic white racists, the Harlem Renaissance was exploring the great talents of black accomplishments in the arts and other areas. As a result of black accomplishments, white supremacists were seething mad, like they are today, and sought to destroy black progress with a resurgence of white racist acts aimed at blacks and progressive whites. The KKK had at this time in history millions of members and acted as an American terrorist organization. We are seeing some of this today as these lunatics are inspired by a racist president.
Lynching, shooting, burning alive and brutal mob violence was directed against black citizens and almost 5,000 people were lynched in the early 1900s. In 1919, also called the “Red Summer” because of all of the violence directed against blacks, the racist mobs were only beginning to intensify. In 1921, racist mobs exploded in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As false rumors circulated about some fake crime allegedly committed by a black man, rioting broke out in the city in attempts to punish blacks as a whole. Whites burned and criminally looted black homes and stores. Most of these homes and stores were burned to the ground. The police deputized white men to bring order but they too participated with the lunatic fringe of white supremacists. There were reports that airplanes used by farmers were used to drop fire bombs on the black part of town.
In the aftermath of this bloody event, blacks were secretly buried in holes in the ground which have yet to be fully discovered. The offenders didn’t even show respect for the dead as blacks were buried everywhere or left to rot on the ground. Over 1200 black resident homes were destroyed and blacks were forced at gun point to clean up the damage that mob of criminals created. Some 10,000 blacks were left homeless and many who tried to protect themselves were arrested or killed by the police and armed racist vigilantes. Historians disagree on the number of blacks that were killed, but the figure ranges from 300 to over 1,000 that were murdered. No compensation for their loss of property was given after more than 35 blocks of this Tulsa black neighborhood was burned and destroyed.
Tulsa was a town of racist segregation and hatred of Native Americans and blacks. Jim Crow law ruled this city and violent crimes against blacks was tolerated by local authorities. A 19 year old black man named Dick Rowland, a shoe shiner, was accused of assaulting a white woman named Sarah Paige, a crime often invented in a racist society to purge blacks from areas and steal their land or murder them. Rowland was in the jail at the time and some 75 black veterans of the African Blood Brotherhood offered to help secure the jail from the white mob that gathered outside. Shots were fired and the savage mob went wild in a crazed eruption of violence. About 22 million dollars in property damage took place (amount in today’s dollars). Some blacks were shot outright and others were burned to death. The Tulsa Race Riot was one of the worst in American History as the Greenwood area of the city was completely destroyed. The area was also known as the “Black Wall Street” because of the prosperity of black owned businesses. This area was also known as the Tulsa Colored Business District.
Only a few months before the riot several lynchings had taken place. In those days, and even today, all that racist whites needed was some flimsy excuse to kill a black person even if they made it up on the scene. Of all the crimes that racialized white invented to murder blacks raping a white woman was at the top of the list. When this was announced it often sparked crazed white racists into frenzy. Apparently, this incident was the spark that made an already jealous racist community upset as they felt that blacks were becoming to prosperous and powerful within their own segregated community. The riot lasted about 2 or 3 days and about 50 whites were also killed. Twenty-one black churches were destroyed along with black businesses, entertainment facilities, and anything that was black owned.
Blacks were raped, robbed, and killed as the rampage continued until June 1st. No whites were ever convicted for their crimes. Finally, in 1997 a commission agreed to give scholarships to the descendants of this white supremacist massacre.