What Role Did Airplanes Play in the Tulsa Race Massacre?

What Role Did Airplanes Play in the Tulsa Race Massacre?

What role did airplanes play in the deadly Tulsa race massacre of 1921?

Just after Memorial Day that year, a white mob destroyed 35 city blocks of the Greenwood District, a community in Tulsa, Oklahoma known as the “Black Wall Street.” Prompted by an allegation that a Black man had sexually assaulted a white woman, the Tulsa massacre resulted in between 100 and 300 deaths, the decimation of more than 1,200 homes and the burning of churches, schools, businesses, a hospital and library, according to a 2001 Tulsa Race Riot Commission report, the most comprehensive review of the massacre. For its part, the Red Cross reported that the attack left more than 10,000 Tulsa residents homeless. Calculated in today’s dollars, property damage would be assessed in the tens of millions of dollars.

“I am able to state,” said Walter White, who visited Tulsa for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People shortly after the riots, “that the Tulsa riot, in sheer brutality and willful destruction of life and property, stands without parallel in America.”

When martial law was declared on June 1 to end the fighting, journalists, residents and others began gathering accounts of what exactly happened over those 18 hours in the Greenwood District. Historians are still assessing the viability of witness reports of low-flying airplanes, some raining bullets or incendiaries, that became an enduring theme in the reconstruction of the events. But even though only about 15 planes were known to have been stored at local air fields in 1921, it remains a mystery who owned the ones used in the Tulsa attack—and how exactly they were mobilized as part of one of the most heinous domestic terrorist attacks in America history.

“There is no question that there were planes flying over Greenwood during the massacre," historian Scott Ellsworth, a professor of African American studies at the University of Michigan who has studied the Tulsa massacre in depth, told Our Site in an interview. “There is evidence of this from both the African American and white communities. But Greenwood was destroyed on the ground by a white mob. It was not destroyed from the air,” says Ellsworth, author of two books on the Tulsa massacre—Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 and The Groundbreaking: An American City and Its Search for Justice.

READ MORE: Tulsa's 'Black Wall Street' Flourished as a Self-Contained Hub in the Early 1900s

‘Fast-Approaching Aeroplanes’ and Other Reports from the Black Community

Mary E. Jones Parrish was a teacher and journalist in the Greenwood district who gathered photos and firsthand accounts of the massacre, including her own. In her Events of the Tulsa Disaster, self-published in 1922 (and republished in 2021), she recalls seeing “fast-approaching aeroplanes” and that “more than a dozen aeroplanes went up and began to drop turpentine balls upon the Negro residences.” One of the anonymous eyewitnesses she quotes said they saw low-flying airplanes that “left the entire block a mass of flame” as they passed over the district. Reporting for The Nation, Walter White wrote that “eight aeroplanes were employed to spy on the movements of the Negroes and according to some were used in bombing the colored section.” According to the 2001 Commission report, Black newspapers were “full of stories of turpentine or nitroglycerin bombs being dropped and men shooting from planes.”

Buck Colbert Franklin, a Tulsa attorney and the father of historian John Hope Franklin, also remembered “turpentine balls” falling from the sky. “I could see planes circling in mid-air,” Franklin wrote in a 10-page manuscript on yellow legal pad that was discovered in 2015. “They grew in number and hummed, darted and dipped low. I could hear something like hail failing upon the top of my office building... The side-walks were literally covered with burning turpentines balls. I knew all too well where they came from and I knew all too well why every burning building first caught from the top.”

WATCH: The full episode of Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre online now.

A Barbershop Confession

Anecdotes also emerged from other Tulsa communities. According to the Commission report, in the early 1950s, a middle-aged white man was overhead in a Tulsa barbershop bragging that he and a friend had flown a plane over Greenwood during the massacre and dropped dynamite. For historian Ellsworth, the account is credible. “Other than the 50 copies or so of Mary Parrish’s book, there was nothing [at that time] published about bombings,” Ellsworth said. “It wasn’t a subject that was out there in print. That’s why I believe that unless this old guy just made this up, which I doubt, his story rings true.”

Other accounts recall men with guns targeting fleeing residents from the low-flying planes. A Mexican immigrant, who lived at the edge of the Greenwood District, later told family members she witnessed two Black boys being followed down the street by a two-seater airplane. According to the Commission report, “the man in [the] rear seat was shooting at the boys. She then ran out and grabbed the boys and took them into the house."

READ MORE: 'Black Wall Street' Before, During and After the Tulsa Race Massacre: PHOTOS









Where Did the Planes Come From?

In 1921, Tulsa had two air fields. The larger of two, operated by the Curtiss-Southwest Airplane Company, contained two steel hangars and 14 airplanes. The smaller field housed just one plane. In her account of escaping the riots, Parrish refers to nearing the “aviation fields,” which would likely have been Curtiss-Southwest, according to the Commission report. There she recalled seeing the “planes out of their sheds, all in readiness for flying, and these men with high-powered rifles getting into them.”

At the time, the government didn’t mandate registration of airplanes, so it’s difficult to know their ownership. But the Commission report suggests that most were likely owned by Curtiss-Southwest, the oil companies and individuals.

LISTEN: ‘Blindspot: Tulsa Burning’ from The HISTORY® Channel and WNYC Studios

The Ongoing Debate

The eyewitness accounts from Black Tulsa residents have been key to unraveling the truth about planes over the Greenwood district. To varying degrees, historians have accepted these accounts and tried to weigh this vast evidence against the plausibility of the bombings. “There is enough evidence from African American massacre survivors about seeing planes seemingly drop something from the planes and then hearing an explosion later on,” Ellsworth says. But he points out that massacre historians are still trying to figure out the “turpentine balls” referenced in some accounts. Ellsworth himself is less convinced of the reports of Molotov cocktails and turpentine balls: “I believe without a doubt that Greenwood was bombed from the air…but more likely with sticks of dynamite.”

In the Tulsa Riot Commission report, researchers concluded that some form of an aerial attack on the Greenwood District did take place, but they fell short of giving it the same prominence as did some of the eyewitnesses who lived through the massacre. “It is within reason that there was some shooting from planes and even the dropping of incendiaries, but the evidence would seem to indicate that it was of a minor nature and had no real effect in the riot,” wrote Richard S. Warner of the Tulsa Historical Society in the report. He cites Beryl Ford, an authority on Tulsa photographic history, who analyzed the building damage visible in pictures. Photos show debris scattered only inside the buildings’ shells; had explosives been employed, Ford points out, the debris would have been strewn outside as well.

“While it is certain that airplanes were used by the police for reconnaissance [and] photographers…there probably were some whites who fired guns from planes or dropped bottles of gasoline or something of that sort,” the report concluded. “However, they were probably few in numbers.”

READ MORE: How the Tulsa Race Massacre Was Covered Up


Tulsa Race Massacre : Survivors Of 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Share Eyewitness .

Tulsa Race Massacre : Survivors Of 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Share Eyewitness . . Between may 31 and june 1, 1921, mobs of white residents attacked, set aflame and ultimately devastated the greenwood district, which was at that time one of the wealthiest black communities in the united states, earning it the name black wall street. How 'black wall street' was decimated in the tulsa race massacre greenwood, america's 'black wall street,' was ruined in the tulsa race massacre 100 years ago. It occurred in tulsa, oklahoma, beginning on may 31, 1921, and lasting for two days. One hundred years and a day after one of the country's bloodiest massacres of the 20th century, the city of tulsa, oklahoma, on tuesday will begin exhuming bodies possibly linked to the crimes. Tulsa race massacre of 1921, also called tulsa race riot of 1921, one of the most severe incidents of racial violence in u.s.

Despite its prominence, the massacre was little known, if at all, in most parts of the country, until the oklahoma commission to study the tulsa race riot of 1921 was created in 1997. A rumor, then a gunshot: I moved to tulsa in the summer of 1984, fresh out of harvard law school and eager to settle into a law firm career in a. During the tulsa race massacre (also known as the tulsa race riot), which occurred over 18 hours from may 31 to june 1, 1921, a white mob attacked residents, homes and businesses in the. All donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law and do not represent payment for goods or services received.

The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre: long-term financial fallout from journalistsresource.org The centennial of the 1921 tulsa race massacre presents an opportunity. The 1921 tulsa race massacre marks a heinous incident in american history when a racist white mob attacked tulsa's greenwood district, known as the black wall street, laying to waste a thriving. In 2001, the oklahoma commission to study the tulsa race riot of 1921 released a comprehensive report and in 2015 the 1921 tulsa race massacre centennial commission was created in order to. Tulsa race massacre was absent from schools for generations black wall street wealth lost in tulsa massacre spans generations, experts say 'dodging bullets' and coming home to 'nothing left': The events of the tulsa race massacre are stains on the history of tulsa. Following world war i, tulsa was recognized nationally for its affluent african american community known as the greenwood district. The president will meet with survivors of the tulsa race massacre as the nation pauses to mark the anniversary of an attack that remains one of the worst episodes of racial violence in u.s. Survivors of the tulsa race massacre described on wednesday how the violence tore their lives and community apart 100 years ago, and they urged a u.s.

All donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law and do not represent payment for goods or services received.

It occurred in tulsa, oklahoma, beginning on may 31, 1921, and lasting for two days. The centennial of the 1921 tulsa race massacre presents an opportunity. President biden will detail his administration's planned initiatives to combat racial injustice on tuesday during a speech commemorating the 100th anniversary of the tulsa race massacre. Save $71 when you join for 1 year today! The tulsa race massacre of 1921, took place on may 31 and june 1, 1921, in tulsa, oklahoma. Despite its prominence, the massacre was little known, if at all, in most parts of the country, until the oklahoma commission to study the tulsa race riot of 1921 was created in 1997. Between may 31 and june 1, 1921, mobs of white residents attacked, set aflame and ultimately devastated the greenwood district, which was at that time one of the wealthiest black communities in the united states, earning it the name black wall street. The 1921 tulsa race massacre marks a heinous incident in american history when a racist white mob attacked tulsa's greenwood district, known as the black wall street, laying to waste a thriving. Get 12 months of unlimited digital: A solemn ceremony and public ceremony on the streets of greenwood, archer, and elgin for a moment of silence as we remember the victims of the 1921 tulsa race massacre when the first shot was fired which started the massacre at 10:30 p.m. The tulsa massacre the tulsa race massacre | 100 years later in 1921, a massacre destroyed a thriving segregated community. The tulsa race massacre (known alternatively as the tulsa race riot, the greenwood massacre, the black wall street massacre, the tulsa pogrom, or the tulsa massacre) took place on may 31 and june 1, 1921, when mobs of white residents, many of them deputized and given weapons by city officials, attacked black residents and businesses of the greenwood district in tulsa, oklahoma. Tulsa race massacre was absent from schools for generations black wall street wealth lost in tulsa massacre spans generations, experts say 'dodging bullets' and coming home to 'nothing left':

The tulsa race massacre (known alternatively as the tulsa race riot, the greenwood massacre, the black wall street massacre, the tulsa pogrom, or the tulsa massacre) took place on may 31 and june 1, 1921, when mobs of white residents, many of them deputized and given weapons by city officials, attacked black residents and businesses of the greenwood district in tulsa, oklahoma. (department of special collections/mcfarlin library/university of tulsa/ap) Today, black americans still struggle to recreate that same kind of. It occurred in tulsa, oklahoma, beginning on may 31, 1921, and lasting for two days. House subcommittee to help secure justice and.

What Role Did Airplanes Play in the Tulsa Race Massacre . from www.history.com Despite its prominence, the massacre was little known, if at all, in most parts of the country, until the oklahoma commission to study the tulsa race riot of 1921 was created in 1997. In 2001, the oklahoma commission to study the tulsa race riot of 1921 released a comprehensive report and in 2015 the 1921 tulsa race massacre centennial commission was created in order to. All donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law and do not represent payment for goods or services received. It occurred in tulsa, oklahoma, beginning on may 31, 1921, and lasting for two days. Looking back at the tulsa race massacre a century later may 27, 2021 07:04 but oklahoma, which became a state in 1907, was still staunchly segregated at the time. The centennial of the 1921 tulsa race massacre presents an opportunity. The president will meet with survivors of the tulsa race massacre as the nation pauses to mark the anniversary of an attack that remains one of the worst episodes of racial violence in u.s. A century ago, my hometown of tulsa, oklahoma, was engulfed in a riot, also called a massacre, that left an entire swath of the city known as the black wall street burned, its residents either.

One hundred years and a day after one of the country's bloodiest massacres of the 20th century, the city of tulsa, oklahoma, on tuesday will begin exhuming bodies possibly linked to the crimes.

One hundred years and a day after one of the country's bloodiest massacres of the 20th century, the city of tulsa, oklahoma, on tuesday will begin exhuming bodies possibly linked to the crimes. Today, black americans still struggle to recreate that same kind of. Decades of silence on the massacre dishonored the dead and halted the healing process for the living. President biden will detail his administration's planned initiatives to combat racial injustice on tuesday during a speech commemorating the 100th anniversary of the tulsa race massacre. Tulsa race massacre of 1921, also called tulsa race riot of 1921, one of the most severe incidents of racial violence in u.s. An illustrated history of the tulsa race massacre. A century ago, my hometown of tulsa, oklahoma, was engulfed in a riot, also called a massacre, that left an entire swath of the city known as the black wall street burned, its residents either. (department of special collections/mcfarlin library/university of tulsa/ap) Black men in tulsa are marched under armed guard during the race massacre on june 1, 1921. All donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law and do not represent payment for goods or services received. Get 12 months of unlimited digital: The tulsa race massacre was one of the worst episodes of racial violence in u.s. Despite its prominence, the massacre was little known, if at all, in most parts of the country, until the oklahoma commission to study the tulsa race riot of 1921 was created in 1997.

I moved to tulsa in the summer of 1984, fresh out of harvard law school and eager to settle into a law firm career in a. One hundred years and a day after one of the country's bloodiest massacres of the 20th century, the city of tulsa, oklahoma, on tuesday will begin exhuming bodies possibly linked to the crimes. House subcommittee to help secure justice and. Save $71 when you join for 1 year today! The 1921 tulsa race massacre marks a heinous incident in american history when a racist white mob attacked tulsa's greenwood district, known as the black wall street, laying to waste a thriving.

Tulsa Race Massacre begins | RallyPoint from d26horl2n8pviu.cloudfront.net Following world war i, tulsa was recognized nationally for its affluent african american community known as the greenwood district. The centennial of the 1921 tulsa race massacre presents an opportunity. Survivors of the tulsa race massacre described on wednesday how the violence tore their lives and community apart 100 years ago, and they urged a u.s. All donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law and do not represent payment for goods or services received. (department of special collections/mcfarlin library/university of tulsa/ap) How 'black wall street' was decimated in the tulsa race massacre greenwood, america's 'black wall street,' was ruined in the tulsa race massacre 100 years ago. One hundred years and a day after one of the country's bloodiest massacres of the 20th century, the city of tulsa, oklahoma, on tuesday will begin exhuming bodies possibly linked to the crimes. The 1921 tulsa race massacre marks a heinous incident in american history when a racist white mob attacked tulsa's greenwood district, known as the black wall street, laying to waste a thriving.

Tulsa race massacre of 1921, also called tulsa race riot of 1921, one of the most severe incidents of racial violence in u.s.

The tulsa race massacre (known alternatively as the tulsa race riot, the greenwood massacre, the black wall street massacre, the tulsa pogrom, or the tulsa massacre) took place on may 31 and june 1, 1921, when mobs of white residents, many of them deputized and given weapons by city officials, attacked black residents and businesses of the greenwood district in tulsa, oklahoma. Tulsa race massacre was absent from schools for generations black wall street wealth lost in tulsa massacre spans generations, experts say 'dodging bullets' and coming home to 'nothing left': (department of special collections/mcfarlin library/university of tulsa/ap) The president will meet with survivors of the tulsa race massacre as the nation pauses to mark the anniversary of an attack that remains one of the worst episodes of racial violence in u.s. House subcommittee to help secure justice and. Despite its prominence, the massacre was little known, if at all, in most parts of the country, until the oklahoma commission to study the tulsa race riot of 1921 was created in 1997. Get 12 months of unlimited digital: Between may 31 and june 1, 1921, mobs of white residents attacked, set aflame and ultimately devastated the greenwood district, which was at that time one of the wealthiest black communities in the united states, earning it the name black wall street. A solemn ceremony and public ceremony on the streets of greenwood, archer, and elgin for a moment of silence as we remember the victims of the 1921 tulsa race massacre when the first shot was fired which started the massacre at 10:30 p.m. The tulsa museum was founded in the late 1990s, but visitors couldn't find a trace of the race massacre until 2012 when place became executive director, determined to tell all of tulsa's stories. The centennial of the 1921 tulsa race massacre presents an opportunity. The events of the tulsa race massacre are stains on the history of tulsa. Save $71 when you join for 1 year today!

All donations are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law and do not represent payment for goods or services received. Decades of silence on the massacre dishonored the dead and halted the healing process for the living. I moved to tulsa in the summer of 1984, fresh out of harvard law school and eager to settle into a law firm career in a. An illustrated history of the tulsa race massacre. The events of the tulsa race massacre are stains on the history of tulsa.

Despite its prominence, the massacre was little known, if at all, in most parts of the country, until the oklahoma commission to study the tulsa race riot of 1921 was created in 1997. Between may 31 and june 1, 1921, mobs of white residents attacked, set aflame and ultimately devastated the greenwood district, which was at that time one of the wealthiest black communities in the united states, earning it the name black wall street. Get 12 months of unlimited digital: In 2001, the oklahoma commission to study the tulsa race riot of 1921 released a comprehensive report and in 2015 the 1921 tulsa race massacre centennial commission was created in order to. House subcommittee to help secure justice and.

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Despite its prominence, the massacre was little known, if at all, in most parts of the country, until the oklahoma commission to study the tulsa race riot of 1921 was created in 1997. The 1921 tulsa race massacre marks a heinous incident in american history when a racist white mob attacked tulsa's greenwood district, known as the black wall street, laying to waste a thriving. A solemn ceremony and public ceremony on the streets of greenwood, archer, and elgin for a moment of silence as we remember the victims of the 1921 tulsa race massacre when the first shot was fired which started the massacre at 10:30 p.m. Black men in tulsa are marched under armed guard during the race massacre on june 1, 1921. Between may 31 and june 1, 1921, mobs of white residents attacked, set aflame and ultimately devastated the greenwood district, which was at that time one of the wealthiest black communities in the united states, earning it the name black wall street.

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It occurred in tulsa, oklahoma, beginning on may 31, 1921, and lasting for two days. Looking back at the tulsa race massacre a century later may 27, 2021 07:04 but oklahoma, which became a state in 1907, was still staunchly segregated at the time. I moved to tulsa in the summer of 1984, fresh out of harvard law school and eager to settle into a law firm career in a. The tulsa race massacre of 1921, took place on may 31 and june 1, 1921, in tulsa, oklahoma. The tulsa race massacre was one of the worst episodes of racial violence in u.s.

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Tulsa race massacre of 1921, also called tulsa race riot of 1921, one of the most severe incidents of racial violence in u.s. Black men in tulsa are marched under armed guard during the race massacre on june 1, 1921. The tulsa massacre the tulsa race massacre | 100 years later in 1921, a massacre destroyed a thriving segregated community. One hundred years and a day after one of the country's bloodiest massacres of the 20th century, the city of tulsa, oklahoma, on tuesday will begin exhuming bodies possibly linked to the crimes. Get 12 months of unlimited digital:

A woman walks past a 'black wall street' mural during juneteenth celebrations in the greenwood district of tulsa, the site of the 1921 race massacre, on 19 june 2020. Black men in tulsa are marched under armed guard during the race massacre on june 1, 1921. Tulsa race massacre of 1921, also called tulsa race riot of 1921, one of the most severe incidents of racial violence in u.s. Survivors of the tulsa race massacre described on wednesday how the violence tore their lives and community apart 100 years ago, and they urged a u.s. Tulsa race massacre was absent from schools for generations black wall street wealth lost in tulsa massacre spans generations, experts say 'dodging bullets' and coming home to 'nothing left':

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Today, black americans still struggle to recreate that same kind of. Decades of silence on the massacre dishonored the dead and halted the healing process for the living. The president will meet with survivors of the tulsa race massacre as the nation pauses to mark the anniversary of an attack that remains one of the worst episodes of racial violence in u.s. A solemn ceremony and public ceremony on the streets of greenwood, archer, and elgin for a moment of silence as we remember the victims of the 1921 tulsa race massacre when the first shot was fired which started the massacre at 10:30 p.m. The tulsa race massacre (known alternatively as the tulsa race riot, the greenwood massacre, the black wall street massacre, the tulsa pogrom, or the tulsa massacre) took place on may 31 and june 1, 1921, when mobs of white residents, many of them deputized and given weapons by city officials, attacked black residents and businesses of the greenwood district in tulsa, oklahoma.

A century ago, my hometown of tulsa, oklahoma, was engulfed in a riot, also called a massacre, that left an entire swath of the city known as the black wall street burned, its residents either. House subcommittee to help secure justice and. Today, black americans still struggle to recreate that same kind of. A rumor, then a gunshot: Survivors of the tulsa race massacre described on wednesday how the violence tore their lives and community apart 100 years ago, and they urged a u.s.

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A rumor, then a gunshot: I moved to tulsa in the summer of 1984, fresh out of harvard law school and eager to settle into a law firm career in a. Decades of silence on the massacre dishonored the dead and halted the healing process for the living. Home » exhibits » 1921 tulsa race massacre the attack on greenwood the 1921 attack on greenwood was one of the most significant events in tulsa's history. Survivors of the tulsa race massacre described on wednesday how the violence tore their lives and community apart 100 years ago, and they urged a u.s.

Tulsa race massacre was absent from schools for generations black wall street wealth lost in tulsa massacre spans generations, experts say 'dodging bullets' and coming home to 'nothing left':

An illustrated history of the tulsa race massacre.

Black men in tulsa are marched under armed guard during the race massacre on june 1, 1921.

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President biden to visit tulsa for race massacre events

Despite its prominence, the massacre was little known, if at all, in most parts of the country, until the oklahoma commission to study the tulsa race riot of 1921 was created in 1997.

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In 2001, the oklahoma commission to study the tulsa race riot of 1921 released a comprehensive report and in 2015 the 1921 tulsa race massacre centennial commission was created in order to.

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Save $71 when you join for 1 year today!

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House subcommittee to help secure justice and.

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The centennial of the 1921 tulsa race massacre presents an opportunity.

How 'black wall street' was decimated in the tulsa race massacre greenwood, america's 'black wall street,' was ruined in the tulsa race massacre 100 years ago.

In 2001, the oklahoma commission to study the tulsa race riot of 1921 released a comprehensive report and in 2015 the 1921 tulsa race massacre centennial commission was created in order to.

During the tulsa race massacre (also known as the tulsa race riot), which occurred over 18 hours from may 31 to june 1, 1921, a white mob attacked residents, homes and businesses in the.

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An illustrated history of the tulsa race massacre.

In 2001, the oklahoma commission to study the tulsa race riot of 1921 released a comprehensive report and in 2015 the 1921 tulsa race massacre centennial commission was created in order to.

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Get 12 months of unlimited digital:

Between may 31 and june 1, 1921, mobs of white residents attacked, set aflame and ultimately devastated the greenwood district, which was at that time one of the wealthiest black communities in the united states, earning it the name black wall street.

Source: entertainmentyoga.com

Between may 31 and june 1, 1921, mobs of white residents attacked, set aflame and ultimately devastated the greenwood district, which was at that time one of the wealthiest black communities in the united states, earning it the name black wall street.

Source: mediad.publicbroadcasting.net

A century ago, my hometown of tulsa, oklahoma, was engulfed in a riot, also called a massacre, that left an entire swath of the city known as the black wall street burned, its residents either.

The tulsa race massacre (known alternatively as the tulsa race riot, the greenwood massacre, the black wall street massacre, the tulsa pogrom, or the tulsa massacre) took place on may 31 and june 1, 1921, when mobs of white residents, many of them deputized and given weapons by city officials, attacked black residents and businesses of the greenwood district in tulsa, oklahoma.

The tulsa museum was founded in the late 1990s, but visitors couldn't find a trace of the race massacre until 2012 when place became executive director, determined to tell all of tulsa's stories.

Save $71 when you join for 1 year today!

The tulsa race massacre was one of the worst episodes of racial violence in u.s.

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Tulsa race massacre of 1921, also called tulsa race riot of 1921, one of the most severe incidents of racial violence in u.s.

Despite its prominence, the massacre was little known, if at all, in most parts of the country, until the oklahoma commission to study the tulsa race riot of 1921 was created in 1997.


Our very own Tulsa race ‛massacre’

It would be remiss of me to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, known also as the bombing of “Black Wall Street”, and not mention those equivalent attitudes and actions happening in Bermuda.

No, there were no aircraft flying overhead bombing buildings below, or militia walking the streets shooting people, but the effectiveness of the campaigns launched on Bermuda soil against Black merchants was just as economically shifting and devastating to the commercial landscape for all of Bermuda as was Tulsa to America.

In America the exercise was swift and, once done, it was buried so effectively that it was not just erased from memory, but for many today it’s even hard to imagine that at one time there were 30 blocks of a very successful business district replete with doctors, lawyers, accountants and businesses — all run by Black people in the United States.

However, while that may be true of the US, it would not be as difficult for anyone my age to remember a time in Bermuda during segregation that there were two commercial players in the marketplace, both within the city and in our neighbourhoods. Hotels and tourism, restaurant and hospitality, movie halls, and theatres or bowling alleys, it didn’t matter what area we looked at — there was everywhere two players in the commercial environment. No, they were not equal, but it was our economic and social reality.

It would be dishonest to dismiss that reality of Bermuda and would be an indication of some form of societal neurosis not to examine what happened to bring about that significant economic change. Yes, there is the simple explanation of desegregation causing a run on Black business because White establishments were now open to the eager Black customers. However, the middle-class merchants of that day were also relatively strong and the competition issue could have been met with business upgrades and capital injections.

Here is where the subtle but deliberate hand of a credit squeeze wreaked havoc on that generation of businessmen, as one after the other faced foreclosures. The Department of Tourism did very little for the fledgeling Black tourist initiative that had begun and the issue of ostracism by labour was an additional factor but credit would have overcome even that. Notwithstanding all the unspecific or nebulous methods, in contrast to the bombing of the Southampton block plant in 1959, which displaced a major industry with black ownership, and was neither subtle nor credit-related.

As a continuation of this issue, what happened in Bermuda in the mid-1990s was like the final of a two-punch knockout, the equivalent of the overhead bombing that demolished Black Wall Street. Like the Tulsa race massacre, this Bermudian “massacre” of almost 100 Black businessmen was orchestrated and similarly buried, and now the population of today walks all over the proverbial burnt buildings and dead bodies, never knowing what happened, or indeed if anything had ever happened, believing instead that the nature of business just took its course.

The real fact remained that there was indeed the largest and longest fraud case, lasting all of nine weeks in the Supreme Court. Hundreds of persons were investigated as suspects in this case, but only four persons were charged, and none were convicted because the case resulted in a hung jury.

This particular case was prosecuted off the investigation evidence that was led by Scotland Yard, brought in to assist the local fraud squad to look at matters happening among and between all the financial institutions and their clients that appeared to resemble a co-ordinated network of fraudulent activities between institutions and a number of their clients.

Although the four persons indicted were all acquitted, what followed as an after shock was that at least 87 persons, all of whom Black and never prosecuted or indicted, had their properties and businesses foreclosed by the financial institutions. This seemed to be a matter where the institutions collectively said "Well, the courts could not get you but we have our own jurisprudence from which you will not escape". Said differently, “You escaped the justice system, but you won’t escape the Just Us system".

Given the overarching reach of the network of financial institutions and relationships with the legal firms, it fostered a pernicious environment that was unassailable, where once blacklisted, one was put in a proverbial pit from which there was little to no support to climb out.

The situation was so punitive, it destroyed individuals and businesses that were once like strong institutions. The effect on Bermuda was that suddenly there was a vacuum created by the absence of a multitude of Black entrepreneurs in the business arena, all happening in and around 1994 thereabouts and the landscape thereafter was forever altered. Perhaps the most noticeable area being in the construction industry, when it was subsequently hard to find a strong and established Black construction company after the event. Why? Because they literally disappeared some even left the island to live in remote places on the planet.

After almost 30 years having passed, many of the actors who were responsible for orchestrating the Bermuda version of massacre are either dead or disabled through age and dementia, as are many of the victims. Some who have survived are now in or approaching their eighties, and left so traumatised, they fear to speak about those events as far down the road as now.

One, I recall, told me broad details of what happened to him — a contractor who had the mortgages called on his home and all his houses by all the banks and financial institutions, plus had his business overdraft facility terminated. But he asked me to swear I keep it confidential because of the way and by whom he was financially rescued. There are, however, actors that were on the stage at the time, who like myself have full cognisance but they were in the camps of the orchestrators, and then others as victims still suffering shock and fear of future reprisal if they stood up or revealed what they experienced.

I know one individual who played a role in the orchestration side, who can in fact talk about the environment of that time and what he did, but when asked to confirm it will suddenly claim his memory is not reliable, clearly showing selective memory syndrome. Then there are those also who know clearly what happened but will continue to veil any of their involvement either in defence of themselves, or the role they had to play for their institutions.

While this article was inspired in commemoration of the Tulsa Race Massacre, it is also to remind us that right here in Bermuda we have suffered the similar fate. There are those in the US who would heap scorn on reviving the memory and the acknowledgement of what happened to a once-thriving Black business community. Regrettably, there are those within our tiny little borders who would do similarly, perhaps for different reasons. I think the biggest reason is the issue, from a financial institutional perspective, that what they did and how was so sordid it would be an international embarrassment to disclose — and for any who dare reveal, they would fear the consequence of facing loss and recrimination.

There may never be full disclosure of the events of the mid-1990s and justice may be even more elusive. However, as long as my memory serves me, the story and events remain clear in my mind as a tragedy that was kept secret. The challenge for present and future generations is to establish at least the truth. This would be normally the job of the artist, the historian or the journalist. The subject of justice cannot be avoided when truth is established.

In the US, after 99 years they had a Commission of Inquiry, the idea of which had been rejected for many years but eventually went forward. The US commission on Tulsa recommended reparations for the victims of 1921. In Bermuda, we are no less deserving of an inquiry. Similarly, we have a commission appointed that “should” be able to investigate the Bermuda matter, but it dodges that role by claiming it is not within its remit.


To find answers about the 1921 race massacre, Tulsa digs up its painful past

Fires lit by white mobs left many homes and businesses in Greenwood in ruins (as in this Red Cross image). The Red Cross estimated that 1,256 homes burned and 215 were looted in the massacre.

American National Red Cross/Library of Congress

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On May 30, 1921, Dick Rowland, a 19-year-old Black shoe shiner, walked into an elevator in downtown Tulsa, Okla. What happened next is unclear, but it sparked the Tulsa race massacre, one of the worst episodes of racial violence in U.S. history, with a death toll estimated in the hundreds.

A century later, researchers are still trying to find the bodies of the victims. A new excavation has brought renewed hope that these individuals could one day be found and identified.

By some accounts, Rowland may have tripped and bumped the arm of a 17-year-old white elevator operator named Sarah Page. Others said he stepped on her foot. Some recalled hearing her scream. Others wondered if the two had been sweet on each other and had a sort of lovers’ quarrel. Whatever happened, it was a dangerous time for a young Black man to be caught in a precarious situation with a young white woman.

Tulsa’s population had skyrocketed to over 100,000 people. Most of the city’s African American residents, about 11,000, lived in a section called Greenwood. The neighborhood’s concentration of thriving entrepreneurs earned it the nickname “Black Wall Street” from Booker T. Washington in the early 1910s.

Greenwood became an oasis from racial prejudice and violence, says Alicia Odewale, a native Tulsan and archaeologist at the University of Tulsa. “You could buy land, create businesses and raise families.”

At the turn of the century, all-Black towns sprouted up across Oklahoma’s prairies. Greenwood was one such community. Many Creek freedmen — people previously enslaved by the Muscogee Creek Nation and emancipated in 1866 — had already settled in the area and owned land as tribe members. Drawn by the oil and railroad industries and the prospect of land ownership, the African American community grew. In 1921, Greenwood had its own hospital, school system, newspapers, and over 100 Black-owned businesses, including 41 markets, 30 restaurants, 11 boarding houses, nine pool halls and five hotels. NMAAHC

But amid its prosperity, Tulsa was extremely segregated: Oklahoma passed a Jim Crow law immediately after it became a state in 1907, the Ku Klux Klan had a hand in local politics, and lynching was common. Tulsa reflected the racial tensions and violence across the United States after World War I. “There’s sort of a national pandemic of racial terror that’s happening, and Tulsa is unfortunately one city among a hundred,” Odewale says.

The day after the elevator incident, Rowland was arrested on a dubious charge of assault. Rumors circulated that he might be lynched. That night, white mobs invaded Greenwood, setting fires, destroying property, looting shops and murdering Black residents. Instead of protecting the neighborhood, law enforcement handed out weapons and deputized white attackers. Machine gun fire echoed through Greenwood’s streets, and private planes dropped explosives and fired on those who fled.

For 24 hours, Tulsa was a war zone.

By the evening of June 1, 35 square blocks smoldered, thousands of homes and businesses lay in ruin and a still unknown number of people were dead in the streets. A Red Cross report from 1921 suggests that about 800 people were wounded and 300 people died in the massacre, though the toll recorded by Oklahoma’s vital statistics bureau was just 36: 26 Black people and 10 white.

White mobs began setting fire to Greenwood homes in the early hours of June 1. At sunrise, columns of smoke visible for miles rose above the city. Here homes burn on the northern end of Detroit Avenue, where prominent Black community members lived. Tulsa Historical Society

Armed members of the Oklahoma National Guard escort a group of Black men to an internment camp at Tulsa’s convention hall. At least half of Greenwood’s residents were rounded up (sometimes at gunpoint) and taken to internment camps around the city. Early on, Black Tulsans needed a white person to vouch for them in order to be released. Some were imprisoned for up to a week. Tulsa Historical Society

A long history of racism, denial, deflection and cover up of the massacre has left deep wounds in the city’s Black communities. A century later, Tulsans still have questions: How many people died? Who were they? And where are they buried?

Answers to some of those questions now seem within reach thanks to an investigation that in October 2020 unearthed a mass grave believed to hold massacre victims. The finding brings some of those who lost their lives one step closer to being laid to rest properly. Future steps could involve DNA analysis to put names to the remains and possibly to reunite the dead with their families. But that prospect also raises concerns about privacy. Survivors and descendants have also renewed their quest for reparations from the city and state.

Since 2018, when Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum launched the investigation, Greenwood descendants and community leaders have worked side by side with a multidisciplinary team of scientists and guided the process at each step. “Not only is the whole world watching, our children are watching,” says Kavin Ross, a local historian and descendant of massacre survivors. “Whatever we do, whatever we come up with, they’ll see how we are playing a role in history.”

During test excavations in July 2020, Kavin Ross places candles on the grave of Eddie Lockard, one of just two victims of the massacre whose graves are marked at Oaklawn Cemetery. Lockard’s body was found outside of town, and he may have been gunned down by a plane as he fled the massacre. Mike Simons/Tulsa World via AP

In June, the team begins the careful process of exhuming remains from the mass grave and analyzing bones and artifacts for clues about the identity of the individuals and how they died.

A culture of silence

As the smoke cleared on June 1, 1921, Greenwood’s surviving Black residents were arrested and taken to internment sites. When they were released days later, many found themselves homeless and their neighborhood unrecognizable. No one was prosecuted for crimes committed during the massacre. Months later, Sarah Page told her lawyer she didn’t wish to prosecute. The district attorney dismissed the case against Dick Rowland. Page and Rowland both left town.

Over the next year, Tulsans filed $1.8 million in claims against the city only one, a white pawn shop owner, received compensation. Some survivors left. Those who stayed rebuilt their homes and business themselves, in spite of the city’s attempts to block those efforts while blaming Greenwood residents for the violence.

Men sift through the rubble of the Gurley Hotel, owned by one of Greenwood’s founders, Black real estate developer O.W. Gurley. After buying 40 acres of land in Tulsa in 1906, Gurley vowed only to sell the land to Black people and often gave loans to small businesses. The Gurley family claimed over $150,000 in property losses with the city. Reverend Jacob H. Hooker/Tulsa Historical Society

For a long time, the people of Tulsa, Black and white, didn’t talk much about the massacre. The story was omitted from local historical accounts, and newspapers didn’t write about it until decades later. Black survivors kept quiet out of fear for their safety and because it was painful to recall.

Ross’ great-grandparents Mary and Isaac Evitt owned a popular Greenwood juke joint called the Zulu Lounge, where people would go to listen to music, dance and gamble. It was destroyed during the massacre, and the family’s experience was a touchy subject for his great-aunt Mildred. “She would get angry … refuse to even converse about it,” Ross says.

Greenwood residents went to the 750-seat Dreamland Theater (pictured prior to the massacre) to see silent movies and live musical and theater productions. Tulsa Historical Society

While violence erupted in downtown Tulsa, people watched a movie in the Dreamland Theater, unaware of what was about to unfold. Around 10 p.m., the theater manager asked everyone to evacuate the building. The theater did not survive the night. Tulsa Historical Society

The newly built Mt Zion Baptist Church, a source of pride among Black Tulsans, was dedicated just seven weeks before the massacre. Tulsa Historical Society

Black riflemen positioned in the belfry of Mt. Zion church held off the white mob, but were eventually overrun by machine gun fire. The church later burned. It was rebuilt after the massacre. Tulsa Historical Society

Tulsans have tried to find answers and search for the dead before. Rumors have persisted for a century that bodies were buried in mass graves around Tulsa, burned in the city’s incinerator and disposed of in the Arkansas River or down mine shafts outside of town. But no records of mass graves had ever been found. Death records from the period are sparse and often incomplete.

In 1997, Ross’ father, state Rep. Don Ross, introduced a joint resolution in the Oklahoma legislature that launched a commission to investigate the massacre. The commission set up a telephone tip line, and Clyde Eddy called in to report what he’d seen.

Growing up, Eddy often cut through Oaklawn Cemetery on his way to his aunt’s house. The then 10-year-old Boy Scout was with his cousin a few days after the massacre when they spotted wooden crates the size of pianos strewn about at the edge of the cemetery. Nearby, men were digging a trench. Curious, the boys went over to investigate. They lifted the top of one crate and saw the dead bodies of three or four people stacked inside. They opened another crate and saw the same. Just as they were about to open a third crate, grave diggers chased them off. The boys lingered for a bit at the iron cemetery fence before walking on.

Returning to Oaklawn in his 80s, Eddy showed investigators where he’d seen the trench as a boy. A Scottie-shaped metal grave marker now stood nearby. A team of scientific consultants enlisted by the commission recommended excavating at Oaklawn.

But the city never broke ground.

At the time, the commission was divided on a slew of issues, including paying reparations to survivors devastated by the massacre and how to proceed respectfully with an excavation. “We got caught up in the politics of the day,” says Scott Ellsworth, a Tulsa-born historian at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor who worked on both the 1997 investigation and the new one.

Intent on doing things differently the second time around, the city set up a series of committees to run the investigation launched in 2018: one for historical accounts, one for the physical investigation and one to provide public oversight — made up of community members who call the shots at each step of the process. Ross chairs the third group. “They’re the ones in the driver’s seat,” Odewale says.

Lay of the land

While survivors rebuilt their neighborhood after the massacre, an “urban renewal” movement in the 1960s — policies aimed at redeveloping urban areas that destroyed local businesses and homes — shifted locals away from Greenwood. Land acquisitions for highway, ballpark and university campus construction have significantly reduced Greenwood’s footprint today (in red) from its expanse in 1921 (in gray). Three possible mass grave sites are marked with stars.

Tulsa

C. Chang

Digging in

By the spring of 2019, historians began sifting through tips and interviews with more than 300 people. Investigators winnowed down the information from witnesses to the most promising prospects for finding mass graves: Oaklawn Cemetery just east of downtown, Newblock Park and the Canes area just west of downtown along the Arkansas River, and Rolling Oaks Memorial Gardens cemetery south of the city.

But digging didn’t begin right away.

“It’s not just about sticking a shovel in the ground,” says Kary Stackelbeck, the state archaeologist of Oklahoma at the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey in Norman. “You need to have a better way to narrow down your target.” One way to do that is using ground surveying technology that can reveal inconsistencies among natural layers of sediment.

For the surveys, the team used a gradiometer to measure subtle magnetic variations in soil an electrical resistance meter, which sends electric currents into the ground to detect differences in soil moisture and ground-penetrating radar, which measures how radar pulses bounce off underground objects, giving clues about their size and depth.

Using all three complementary techniques improves the chances of finding something, says Scott Hammerstedt, another Oklahoma Survey archaeologist. For example, big metal objects can interfere with the gradiometer and power lines mess with the electrical resistance meter scans.

Archaeologists walk or push the machines over the ground like a zigzagging lawnmower. Then they look for anomalies — like waves in the gray radar scans or dark spots on gradiometer scans. “All of these things really pick up contrast between the undisturbed surrounding soil and the archaeological features that we’re looking for,” Hammerstedt says. Then comes the digging, to learn whether that area of contrast is in fact a grave.

At Newblock Park, flagged as a site where people had seen piles of bodies in 1921, ground scans didn’t turn up anything significant. Across the train tracks and downriver from Newblock, the Canes was another area of interest.

A retired Tulsa police officer recalled seeing a photograph of bodies piled in a trench, which he found in the 1970s among boxes of images confiscated from photo studios after the massacre. He recognized the area as the Canes. That concurred with eyewitness accounts of bodies stacked on a river sandbar and buried somewhere in the vicinity. Today, that area hosts an encampment of people who are homeless. Ground-penetrating radar flagged two areas there, each about 2 by 3 meters.

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The owners of Rolling Oaks did not grant access to investigators until recently, so it was not in the initial survey.

Finally, the team surveyed Oaklawn Cemetery — where Eddy had seen those piano-sized crates a century ago. Jackson Funeral Home in Greenwood, which served the Black community at the time, had been burned to the ground. But owner Samuel Jackson was released from internment and taken to one of the city’s white funeral homes to care for Black massacre victims whose bodies were being held there. The 1997 investigation had revealed death certificates of those individuals: Eighteen Black men and an infant were buried in unmarked graves somewhere at Oaklawn. In 1921, the Tulsa Daily World had also reported burials of Black victims at the cemetery. There lie Eddie Lockard and Reuben Everett, the only massacre victims whose graves were marked — likely because they were buried after their families were released from internment sites.

Oaklawn had three survey sites that were possible graves: an area flagged by cemetery caretakers as a place where victims were buried, a spot that matched Eddy’s description in the white section of the potter’s field — a burial ground for people who were poor — and an area in the Black potter’s field near the two marked graves.

Scanning had shown a big, 8-by-10-meter area beneath the surface with distinct walls in the section pointed out by the cemetery caretakers. “It really had these hallmarks that suggested it might be a mass grave,” Stackelbeck says.

Breaking ground

In July 2020, after a slight delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the team began test excavations at Oaklawn. A backhoe removed soil layer by layer, inches at a time, as archaeologists watched carefully for subtle changes in soil color and texture, and for any hint of a burial.

Members of the investigation’s public oversight committee, including Kavin Ross and Brenda Alford (shown here at left and far right in an excavation trench), served as monitors during the work at Oaklawn. Also shown are archaeologist Leland Bement of the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey (white hat) and forensic anthropologist Carlos Zambrano with the Oklahoma Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (blue hat). City of Tulsa

Gravedigging involves removing soil to the depth of several feet, then refilling the grave shaft with that soil. “Long before humans were walking around Tulsa, weathering of sedimentary rock exposed to the elements created layers of soil, and when humans come along and dig things up, those layers mix, destroying the original soil characteristics,” says Deb Green, a geoarchaeologist with the Oklahoma Survey. At Oaklawn, deep soil is yellowish brown, with a crumbly texture like silt, When mixed with gray topsoil, it gets darker and starts to feel more like compact clay over time. These qualities appear both in regular graves and mass graves.

During an archaeological excavation, the goal is to stop the backhoe before it hits a burial, so the archaeologists look for other clues that remains might be present. The soil above a coffin with a decaying body is darker and higher in organic carbon than the surrounding area, and sometimes contains pockets of air. Nails and hinges can leach iron that turns dirt red, and decaying wood can leave a coffin outline in the sediment.

As the backhoe dug deeper, wood fragments, glass, pottery shards and artifacts came to the surface. Remnants of overlapping historic roads and a pond emerged from the soil.

A Munsell Color Chart and the USDA Soil Survey Book are two key tools that geoarchaeologist Deb Green used to characterize soil layers at the Oaklawn test excavations. City of Tulsa

While the large anomaly at a site flagged by cemetery caretakers did not reveal a mass grave, it yielded an array of artifacts from the mid to late 20th century. City of Tulsa

The team found a bone. But it turned out to be from a farm animal. Wearily the researchers concluded that the anomaly they’d seen in the scans was likely an old dumping ground for temporary burial markers, offerings and other debris.

“It was definitely deflating because we felt a deep sense of responsibility and there had been so much buildup,” Stackelbeck says. “But this is how science works. You put together your best game plan, but sometimes the data don’t play out that way.”

The Original 18

The team then tried to locate the burials that Clyde Eddy saw, with no luck. Finally, the investigators turned their attention to the area of the Black potter’s field and the two marked graves, a site they dubbed the Original 18, for those 18 Black men mentioned in the funeral home records.

Based on newspaper accounts and funeral home records, the team thought the Original 18 had been buried in individual graves, so the group focused on a soil anomaly that looked like a single grave. The backhoe returned and began to scrape away at the soil layers.

On the second day, it hit wood and bone. This time the bone was human. But it still caught the group off guard.

“The first burial didn’t match what we expected to find, because [it] was a woman, and her casket wasn’t plain,” says Phoebe Stubblefield, a forensic anthropologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville who is on the excavation team and whose aunt lost her house in the massacre. The original 18 victims from the death certificates were all male and buried in plain caskets. Bearing a simple metal plate that read “At Rest,” the unidentified woman’s coffin resembled a standard pauper burial of the time. “If your family couldn’t afford a more formal burial, the city paid Oaklawn $5.04 to bury you in a lined casket with eight screws and a plate on top,” Stubblefield says. Whoever she was, this woman was probably not a massacre victim, Stubblefield suspects.

Forensic anthropologist Phoebe Stubblefield examines skeletal material from a soil sample at the Original 18 site excavation on October 20, 2020. City of Tulsa

But soil cores revealed that the disturbed area was bigger than a single grave shaft.

As the archaeologists followed the soil patterns and dug a trench, the outlines of fragile coffins began to emerge, along with human bone fragments, hinges and nails. The coffins are close together in two rows, possibly stacked. Samples of two coffin fragments revealed pine wood construction.

At the end of the burial pit were steps dug into the earth. “They were haunting,” Stackelbeck says. “You don’t need stairs to dig a grave for one person or even two or three people.”

The crew had unearthed a mass grave.

“Here was proof that there was truth buried underneath Tulsa,” says Ross, the local historian. “I felt justified.”

In that trench, the investigators found 12 coffins in all, but hinges and decaying wood suggest there are at least three more. “Based on the sheer number of individuals, this certainly meets the definition of a mass grave,” says Soren Blau, a forensic anthropologist at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine in Melbourne, Australia. “This is not how we respectfully bury our dead,” Blau says.

While historical and preservation context varies, mass graves usually consist of a large, unmarked burial pit, sometimes with steps if dug by shovel or ramping to facilitate digging by machine.

Yellow markers flag some of the burials discovered at the Original 18 site at Oaklawn in October 2020. Archaeologist Kary Stackelbeck (center) crouches as she draws a map of the trench layout. Also shown are archaeologist Leland Bement of the Oklahoma Archaeological Survey and forensic anthropologist Heather Walsh-Haney of Florida Gulf Coast University. City of Tulsa

On June 1, the excavation and exhumation of the remains will begin. The unidentified woman’s burial gives researchers an idea of what they might find. Large bone fragments and teeth appear to be well-preserved, but smaller bones like vertebrae or thin rib bones likely didn’t survive as well.

Using trauma patterns and gender clues in the bones, Stubblefield, who also worked on the 1997 investigation, will assess whether the individuals in the mass grave are massacre victims. She’ll be looking for bullet wounds and shotgun trauma. If there are actual bullets, her team might be able to determine their caliber. Based on their location in the cemetery, the graves should be from the 1920s, when the only other mass casualty event would have been the 1918 flu pandemic. But there are no records of flu victims being buried in mass graves in Tulsa.

The researchers will also search the coffins for personal effects and textiles that could help reveal facets of the identity and social standing of the dead.

An excavation team member holds a coffin handle discovered in the north wall of the Original 18 trench. City of Tulsa

A metal coffin plate from the first burial unearthed at Oaklawn reads “At Rest.” Stubblefield suspects that the burial resembles that of a typical pauper’s grave. City of Tulsa

DNA insights and limits

Putting names to the deceased will be hard, and could take years. Because the death certificates of the Original 18 had scant details and listed most individuals as having died from gunshot wounds, no document has enough unique information to aid identification efforts. DNA would give the team its best chance at an ID, but after a century, any DNA extracted from teeth or bone may not be intact. Specialized techniques used to study ancient DNA might be needed (SN: 2/17/21).

If DNA is preserved, a clear set of rules will be needed to guide who has access to those sequences and what analyses can be done. “Academia loves genetic sequences,” Stubblefield says. “We don’t want to get the profiles and see 10 years of publications on Greenwood individuals without acknowledgement or communication with the community.” Cautionary tales come to mind, like the use of cells from Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman diagnosed with cancer in the 1950s, who was not told her cells might be used for research, yet those cells led others to profit, making important vaccines against polio and HPV (SN: 3/27/10). “There’s a frequent issue with the misuse of Black bodies in science,” Stubblefield says.

Finding relatives would require DNA from descendants. Consumer DNA testing companies, which have large databases, would give researchers a better chance of finding distant cousins, but using those comes with concerns about consent and privacy (SN: 6/5/18). Depending on company policies, that data can end up in public databases or accessed by law enforcement (SN: 11/12/19).

“You don’t want to ask people to participate in the reconciliation or resolution of historical trauma in a way that might put them at risk in new ways,” says Alondra Nelson, a sociologist at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. In an ideal world, Greenwood-related DNA would be separated from a company’s larger database or handled through private labs, she says.

The project’s public oversight committee recently brought in a geneticist to talk about how DNA identification might inform the way forward. “It needs to be the community’s decision,” Stubblefield says. “We just want to make sure that privacy interests are addressed.”

The three remaining known survivors of the massacre, all 100 years or older, are suing the city for reparations. DNA results might play a role in future reparations efforts. “Genetics can provide people with inferences and context that allow them to make claims about the past and make claims about what’s owed to them in the present and future,” Nelson says.

John Wesley Williams and his wife Loula (pictured here in 1915 with their son W.D.) owned the Dreamland Theater in Greenwood, which was destroyed in the massacre. He worked as an engineer for Thompson Ice Cream Company, while she worked as a teacher. The couple also owned several businesses, including a confectionery and a garage. Tulsa Historical Society

While Greenwood was home to wealthy businessmen like O.W. Gurley, the area also had many small business owners like Emma Buckner. Two women are shown in her sewing shop on N. Hartford Avenue in Greenwood. It was destroyed in the massacre. Tulsa Historical Society

Greenwood rising

Reckoning with what happened in 1921 means looking at the victims as people, not just death statistics, Odewale says. “We need to talk about how they lived, not just how they died.”

Odewale leads an effort to understand the aftermath of the massacre. The goal of this work, which is happening at the same time as the mass graves project, is to search for signs of structural survival in Greenwood — building foundations, walls, anything that might have withstood the burning — and map how the neighborhood has changed since 1921.

Archaeologist Alicia Odewale’s team surveyed areas around Greenwood in fall 2020 using the same ground scanning as in the mass graves investigation. Looking at the scans, she says, “you can pretty much tell what’s probably a sprinkler system and what’s large and worth investigating.” Courtesy of Alicia Odewale

“We see cycles of both destruction and construction in Greenwood,” she says. “It’s not just a site of Black trauma but also one of resilience.” Geophysical surveys have already turned up promising excavation prospects, and Odewale and her colleagues will break ground this summer.

The mass graves project is about finding lost ancestors, Odewale says, while her project in Greenwood is about understanding the roots of the community. “We need both to move forward,” she says.

Much more work lies ahead to excavate and identify remains and uncover modern complexities associated with Tulsa’s buried past. The researchers hope to excavate more sites and revisit old ones. Tips are still coming in, this time through the city’s website.

“We have been waiting a hundred years for what we’ve found so far,” Ross says. “We hope that we don’t have to wait another hundred years trying to find the truth.”

Questions or comments on this article? E-mail us at [email protected]

A version of this article appears in the June 19, 2021 issue of Science News.

Citations

S. Hammerstedt and A. Regnier. Searching for Graves From the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre: Geophysical Survey of Oaklawn Cemetery, The Canes, and Newblock Park. Oklahoma Archeological Survey Research Series 5. Published online December 16, 2019.


Where Did the Planes Come From?

In 1921, Tulsa had two air fields. The larger of two, operated by the Curtiss-Southwest Airplane Company, contained two steel hangars and 14 airplanes. The smaller field housed just one plane. In her account of escaping the riots, Parrish refers to nearing the &ldquoaviation fields,&rdquo which would likely have been Curtiss-Southwest, according to the Commission report. There she recalled seeing the &ldquoplanes out of their sheds, all in readiness for flying, and these men with high-powered rifles getting into them.&rdquo

At the time, the government didn&rsquot mandate registration of airplanes, so it&rsquos difficult to know their ownership. But the Commission report suggests that most were likely owned by Curtiss-Southwest, the oil companies and individuals.


1921 Tulsa Race Riot

Advertisements In February 2019, a meme about the 1921 Tulsa race riot was shared to Facebook, racking up tens of thousands of shares in 24 hours:

Above what looked to be an archival photograph of Ku Klux Klan members lining a dirt road, and caption (“History we should all know”), it read:

May 31st 1921

The Tulsa riot of 1921 This is the worst riot in american history. 15,000 blacks were left homeless, between 300 and 3000 were killed, wounded and/or missing, 1500 homes were burned to the ground and over 600 Black owned businesses in a 35 square block area were bombed in the all Black Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was the first american city to be bombed by airplanes. More people died this day than in any single event since the civil war. White historians did an excellent job in wiping their footprints from the sand. Reference to this can’t be found in any history books.

The meme’s claims were twofold: first that an event in Tulsa in 1921 devastated black communities and killed a large number of people, and second that said event was deliberately suppressed from history books. The meme also stated that the 1921 Tulsa race riot had the highest single-event death toll since the Civil War, which seemed questionable given the single-day casualty count for September 11th 2001 (2,753.)

A number of the meme’s claims were addressed in a fairly comprehensive resource — Britannica.com. The first paragraph addressed nearly the totality of claims, noting that the incident was poorly documented until the 1990s:

Tulsa race riot of 1921, also called Tulsa race massacre of 1921, race riot that began on May 31, 1921, in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and was one of the most severe incidents of racial violence in U.S. history. Lasting for two days, the riot left somewhere between 30 and 300 people dead, mostly African Americans, and destroyed Tulsa’s prosperous black neighbourhood of Greenwood, known as the “black Wall Street.” More than 1,400 homes and businesses were burned, and nearly 10,000 people were left homeless. Despite its severity and destructiveness, the Tulsa race riot was barely mentioned in history books until the late 1990s, when a state commission was formed to document the incident.

The Oklahoma Historical Society maintained a timeline-style account of the Tulsa race riot, including the incident which caused it — and the role of a since-lost editorial in inciting racist attacks against black residents of the city:

Believed to be the single worst incident of racial violence in American history, the bloody 1921 Tulsa race riot has continued to haunt Oklahomans to the present day. During the course of eighteen terrible hours on May 31 and June 1, 1921, more than one thousand homes and businesses were destroyed, while credible estimates of riot deaths range from fifty to three hundred. By the time the violence ended, the city had been placed under martial law, thousands of Tulsans were being held under armed guard, and the state’s second-largest African American community had been burned to the ground.

[…]

Eight months [after a lynching in August 1920] an incident involving Dick Rowland, an African American shoe shiner, and Sarah Page, a white elevator operator, would set the stage for tragedy. While it is still uncertain as to precisely what happened in the Drexel Building on May 30, 1921, the most common explanation is that Rowland stepped on Page’s foot as he entered the elevator, causing her to scream.

The next day, however, the Tulsa Tribune, the city’s afternoon daily newspaper, reported that Rowland, who had been picked up by police, had attempted to rape Page. Moreover, according to eyewitnesses, the Tribune also published a now-lost editorial about the incident, titled “To Lynch Negro Tonight.” By early evening there was, once again, lynch talk on the streets of Tulsa.

That account noted that Rowland was exonerated after the riots concluded, but that no one was brought to justice for the deaths. However, it also held that the total number of deaths caused ranged between 50 and 300. A collection of articles published at the time of the incident demonstrated the same broad range across publications.

Much of what we know about the Tulsa riots indeed comes from modern reporting and historical sleuthing. An October 2018 Washington Post article reported that the animus of white residents due to the prosperity of Greenwood was a primary factor in the violence and looting carried out during the riots:

The massacre began on May 31, 1921, when white mobs descended on Greenwood, burning houses and shooting black people. Some people were burned alive, and 40 square blocks of business and residential property — valued then at more than $1 million — were destroyed.

The rampage, which lasted 48 hours, left more than 10,000 black residents of Greenwood homeless and as many as 300 black people dead.

Witnesses to the massacre recalled seeing white mobs looting homes of black people, pulling out finely carved furniture, pianos, mink and leopard coats, before setting the houses on fire. There were reports that hundreds of bodies were thrown into the Arkansas River or buried in mass graves.

As Tulsa prepares to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the rampage, the mayor promised the city would reinvestigate the possibility of mass graves. “We owe it to the community to know if there are mass graves in our city,” Bynum said. “We owe it to the victims and their family members. We will do everything we can to find out what happened in 1921.”

City officials, working with a retired state archaeologist, plan to reexamine two Tulsa cemeteries and a former dump, which were identified in 1998 by the Tulsa Race Riot Commission as possible mass grave sites.

Bynum said the new investigation would begin at Oaklawn Cemetery, where the city would use updated technology to see whether there is evidence that bodies were dumped there. The new investigation could begin within the next few months.

In May 2016, Smithsonian published a piece on the riots, an article that centered on what it described as a “long-lost” eyewitness account of the brutality and murders. Curator Paul Gardullo discussed the relevance of such an account, as well as the efforts in the late 1990s and early 2000s to make restitution to survivors of the community (attempts which were unsuccessful):

As in other places, the Tulsa race riot started with newspaper reports that a black man had assaulted a white elevator operator. He was arrested, and [witness Buck Colbert Franklin] says black World War I vets rushed to the courthouse to prevent a lynching.

“Then whites were deputized and handed weapons, the shooting starts and then it gets out of hand,” Franklin says. “It went on for two days until the entire black community is burned down.”

[…]

In 2001, the Tulsa Race Riot Commission issued a report detailing the damage from the riots, but legislative and legal attempts to gain reparations for the survivors have failed.

The Tulsa race riots aren’t mentioned in most American history textbooks, and many people don’t know that they happened.

Curator Paul Gardullo says the crucial question is why not?

“Throughout American history there’s been a vast silence about the atrocities that were performed in the service of white history. . . . There are a lot of silences in relation to this story, and a lot of guilt and shame,” Gardullo explains. That’s one reason why the events of May 31 and June 1, 1921, will be featured in an exhibition at the new museum called “The Power of Place.” Gardullo says the title is about more than geography.

“(It’s) the power of certain places, about displacement, movement, about what place means for people,” he says. “This is about emotion and culture and memory. … How do you tell a story about destruction? How do you balance the fortitude and resilience of people in response to that devastation? How do you fill the silences? How do you address the silences about a story that this community has held in silence for so long and in denial for so long?”

Despite the devastation, the black community in Tulsa was able to rebuild on the ashes of its neighborhood, partly because Buck Colbert Franklin battled all the way to the Oklahoma Supreme Court to defeat a law that would have effectively prevented African-Americans from doing so. By 1925, there was again a thriving black business district. John W. Franklin says his grandfather’s manuscript is important for people to see because it deals with “suppressed history.”

History.com also chronicled the event’s conspicuous absence from historical texts:

For decades, there were no public ceremonies, memorials for the dead or any efforts to commemorate the events of May 31-June 1, 1921. Instead, there was a deliberate effort to cover them up.

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. As a result, until recently the Tulsa Race Riot was rarely mentioned in history books, taught in schools or even talked about.

Scholars began to delve deeper into the story of the riot in the 1970s, after its 50th anniversary had passed. In 1996, on the riot’s 75th anniversary, a service was held at the Mount Zion Baptist Church, which rioters had burned to the ground, and a memorial was placed in front of Greenwood Cultural Center.

The following year, after an official state government commission was created to investigate the Tulsa Race Riot, scientists and historians began looking into long-ago stories about the riot, 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.

A 2011 retrospective published by the New York Times noted that the Tulsa riots were remembered largely due to efforts made in the 1990s and later, ensuring that the full scope of the barbarity did not remain absent from the history of the era and region:

The Tulsa race riot of 1921 was rarely mentioned in history books, classrooms or even in private. Blacks and whites alike grew into middle age unaware of what had taken place.

Ever since the story was unearthed by historians and revealed in uncompromising detail in a state government report a decade ago — it estimated that up to 300 people were killed and more than 8,000 left homeless — the black men and women who lived through the events have watched with renewed hope as others worked for some type of justice on their behalf.

The meme claimed that in 1921, a race riot in Tulsa claimed the lives of between 300 and 3,000 black people, and that the incident was deliberately elided from history books. Its claims were largely accurate, but the number of deaths was exaggerated. It is true that resentful white residents of Tulsa became enraged when they were prevented from lynching a man who allegedly stepped on a white woman’s foot. In the days following, white Tulsa residents rioted and destroyed a prosperous black community, Greenwood, killing between 50 and 300 citizens. Historians are largely in agreement that the 1921 Tulsa race riot remains underrepresented in historical texts.


Contents

In 1921, Oklahoma had a racially, socially, and politically tense atmosphere. The territory of northern Oklahoma had been established for the resettlement of Native Americans from the southeast, some of whom had owned slaves. [26] Other areas had received many settlers from the South whose families had been slaveholders before the Civil War. Oklahoma was admitted as a state on November 16, 1907. The newly created state legislature passed racial segregation laws, commonly known as Jim Crow laws, as its first order of business. The 1907 Oklahoma Constitution did not call for strict segregation delegates feared that, should they include such restrictions, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt would veto the document. Still, the first law passed by the new legislature segregated all rail travel, and voter registration rules effectively disenfranchised most Black Americans. This meant that they were also barred from either serving on juries or serving in local public offices. These laws were enforced until they were ruled unconstitutional after the passage of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. Major cities passed laws that imposed additional restrictions. [27]

On August 4, 1916, Tulsa passed an ordinance that mandated residential segregation by forbidding either Black or White people from residing on any block where three-fourths or more of the residents were members of the other race. Although the United States Supreme Court declared such an ordinance unconstitutional the following year, Tulsa and many other cities continued to establish and enforce segregation for the next three decades. [28] [29]

Many servicemen returned to Tulsa following the end of the First World War in 1918, and as they tried to re-enter the labor force, social tensions and anti-Black sentiment both increased in cities where job competition was fierce. Northeastern Oklahoma was in an economic slump which increased the level of unemployment. The American Civil War, which ended in 1865, was still in living memory civil rights for African Americans were lacking, and the Ku Klux Klan was resurgent (primarily through the influence of the wildly popular 1915 film The Birth of a Nation). [30] Since 1915, the Ku Klux Klan had been growing in urban chapters across the country. Its first significant appearance in Oklahoma occurred on August 12, 1921. [31] By the end of 1921, 3,200 of Tulsa's 72,000 residents were Klan members according to one estimate. [31] [32] In the early 20th century, lynchings were common in Oklahoma as part of a continuing effort to assert and maintain white supremacy. [31] [33] [34] By 1921, at least 31 people, mostly men and boys, had been lynched in the newly formed state 26 were Black.

At the same time, Black veterans pushed to have their civil rights enforced, believing that they had earned full citizenship as the result of their military service. In what became known as the "Red Summer" of 1919, industrial cities across the Midwest and Northeast experienced severe race riots in which Whites attacked Black communities, sometimes with the assistance of local authorities. In Chicago and some other cities, Blacks defended themselves with force for the first time but they were often outnumbered.

As a booming oil city, Tulsa also supported a large number of affluent, educated and professional African-American people. Greenwood was a district in Tulsa that was organized in 1906 following Booker T. Washington's 1905 tour of Arkansas, Indian Territory and Oklahoma. It was a namesake of the Greenwood District which Washington had established as his own district in Tuskegee, Alabama, five years earlier. Greenwood became so prosperous that it came to be known as "the Negro Wall Street" (now commonly referred to as "the Black Wall Street"). [35] Most Black people lived together in the district. Black Americans had created their own businesses and services in this enclave, including several grocers, two newspapers, two movie theaters, nightclubs, and numerous churches. Black professionals, including doctors, dentists, lawyers, and clergy, served their peers. During his trip to Tulsa in 1905, Washington encouraged the co-operation, economic independence and excellence being demonstrated there. Greenwood residents selected their own leaders and raised capital there to support economic growth. In the surrounding areas of northeastern Oklahoma, they also enjoyed relative prosperity and participated in the oil boom. [35]

Encounter in the elevator Edit

On May 30, 1921, 19-year-old Dick Rowland, a Black shoeshiner employed at a Main Street shine parlor, entered the only elevator of the nearby Drexel Building at 319 South Main Street to use the top-floor 'colored' restroom, which his employer had arranged for use by his Black employees. There, he encountered Sarah Page, the 17-year-old White elevator operator on duty. Whether—and to what extent—Dick Rowland and Sarah Page knew each other has long been a matter of speculation. The two likely knew each other at least by sight as Rowland would have regularly ridden in Page’s elevator on his way to and from the restroom. Others have speculated that the pair might have been interracial lovers, a dangerous and perhaps deadly taboo then. [ citation needed ] A clerk at Renberg's, a clothing store on the first floor of the Drexel, heard what sounded like a woman's scream and saw a young Black man rushing from the building. The clerk went to the elevator and found Page in a distraught state. Thinking she had been sexually assaulted, he summoned the authorities. Apart from the clerk's interpretation that Rowland attempted to rape Page, many explanations have been given for the incident, with the most common being that Dick Rowland tripped as he got onto the elevator and, as he tried to catch his fall, he grabbed onto the arm of Sarah Page, who then screamed. Others suggested that Rowland and Page had a lover’s quarrel. [36]

The 2001 Oklahoma Commission Final Report notes that it was unusual for both Rowland and Page to be working downtown on Memorial Day when most stores and businesses were closed, but has also speculated that Rowland was there because the shine parlor he worked at may have been open, to draw in some of the parade traffic, while Page had been required to work in order to transport Drexel Building employees and their families to choice parade viewing spots on the building’s upper floors. [36]

Brief investigation Edit

Although the police questioned Page, no written account of her statement has been found, but apparently, she told the police that Rowland had grabbed her arm and nothing more, and would not press charges. [37] However, the police determined that what happened between the two teenagers was something less than an assault. The authorities conducted a low-key investigation rather than launching a man-hunt for her alleged assailant. [38]

Regardless of whether assault had occurred, Rowland had reason to be fearful. At the time, such an accusation alone put him at risk for attack by angry mobs of white people. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Rowland fled to his mother's house in the Greenwood neighborhood. [39]

A suspect is arrested Edit

On the morning after the incident, Henry Carmichael, a White detective, and Henry C. Pack, a Black patrolman, located Rowland on Greenwood Avenue and detained him. Pack was one of two Black officers on the city's police force, which included about 45 officers. Rowland was initially taken to the Tulsa city jail at the corner of First Street and Main Street. Late that day, Police Commissioner J. M. Adkison said he had received an anonymous telephone call threatening Rowland's life. He ordered Rowland transferred to the more secure jail on the top floor of the Tulsa County Courthouse. [40] [41]

Rowland was well known among attorneys and other legal professionals within the city, many of whom knew him through his work as a shoeshiner. Some witnesses later recounted hearing several attorneys defend Rowland in their conversations with one another. One of the men said, "Why, I know that boy, and have known him a good while. That's not in him." [42]

Newspaper coverage Edit

The Tulsa Tribune, owned, published, and edited by Richard Lloyd Jones, and one of two White-owned papers published in Tulsa, broke the story in that afternoon's edition with the headline: "Nab Negro for Attacking Girl In an Elevator," describing the alleged incident. According to some witnesses, the same edition of the Tribune included an editorial warning of a potential lynching of Rowland, titled "To Lynch Negro Tonight." [43] The paper was known at the time to have a "sensationalist" style of news writing. All original copies of that issue of the paper have apparently been destroyed, and the relevant page is missing from the microfilm copy. [44] The Tulsa Race Riot Commission in 1997 offered a reward for a copy of the editorial, which went unclaimed. [44] Other newspapers of the time like The Black Dispatch and the Tulsa World did not call attention to any such editorial after the event. [44] So the exact content of the column – and whether it existed at all – remains in dispute. [44] [45] [46] [47] However, Chief of Detectives James Patton attributed the cause of the riots entirely to the newspaper account and stated, "If the facts in the story as told the police had only been printed I do not think there would have been any riot whatsoever." [37]

Stand-off at the courthouse Edit

The afternoon edition of the Tribune hit the streets shortly after 3 p.m., and soon news spread of a potential lynching. By 4 p.m., local authorities were on alert. White residents began congregating at and near the Tulsa County Courthouse. By sunset around 7:30 p.m., the several hundred White residents assembled outside the courthouse appeared to have the makings of a lynch mob. Willard M. McCullough, the newly-elected sheriff of Tulsa County, was determined to avoid events such as the 1920 lynching of White murder suspect Roy Belton in Tulsa, which had occurred during the term of his predecessor. [48] The sheriff took steps to ensure the safety of Rowland. McCullough organized his deputies into a defensive formation around Rowland, who was terrified. [ failed verification ] The Guthrie Daily Leader reported that Rowland had been taken to the county jail before crowds started to gather. [49] The sheriff positioned six of his men, armed with rifles and shotguns, on the roof of the courthouse. He disabled the building's elevator and had his remaining men barricade themselves at the top of the stairs with orders to shoot any intruders on sight. The sheriff went outside and tried to talk the crowd into going home but to no avail. According to an account by Scott Ellsworth, the sheriff was "hooted down". [50] At about 8:20 p.m., three White men entered the courthouse, demanding that Rowland be turned over to them. Although vastly outnumbered by the growing crowd out on the street, Sheriff McCullough turned the men away. [51]

A few blocks away on Greenwood Avenue, members of the Black community gathered to discuss the situation at Gurley's Hotel. [6] [7] [8] Given the recent lynching of Belton, a White man accused of murder, they believed that Rowland was greatly at risk. Many Black residents were determined to prevent the crowd from lynching Rowland, but they were divided about tactics. Young World War I veterans prepared for a battle by collecting guns and ammunition. Older, more prosperous men feared a destructive confrontation that likely would cost them dearly. [52] O. W. Gurley stated that he had tried to convince the men that there would be no lynching, but the crowd responded that Sheriff McCullough had personally told them their presence was required. [7] About 9:30 p.m., a group of approximately 50–60 Black men, armed with rifles and shotguns, arrived at the jail to support the sheriff and his deputies in defending Rowland from the mob. Corroborated by ten witnesses, attorney James Luther submitted to the grand jury that they were following the orders of Sheriff McCullough who publicly denied he gave any orders:

I saw a car full of negroes driving through the streets with guns I saw Bill McCullough and told him those negroes would cause trouble McCullough tried to talk to them, and they got out and stood in single file. W. G. Daggs was killed near Boulder and Sixth street. I was under the impression that a man with authority could have stopped and disarmed them. I saw Chief of Police on south side of court house on top step, talking I did not see any officer except the Chief I walked in the court house and met McCullough in about 15 feet of his door I told him these negroes were going to make trouble, and he said he had told them to go home he went out and told the Whites to go home, and one said "they said you told them to come up here." McCullough said "I did not" and a negro said you did tell us to come. [7] [8]

Taking up arms Edit

Having seen the armed Black men, some of the more than 1,000 Whites who had been at the courthouse went home for their own guns. Others headed for the National Guard armory at the corner of Sixth Street and Norfolk Avenue, where they planned to arm themselves. The armory contained a supply of small arms and ammunition. Major James Bell of the 180th Infantry Regiment learned of the mounting situation downtown and the possibility of a break-in, and he consequently took measures to prevent. He called the commanders of the three National Guard units in Tulsa, who ordered all the Guard members to put on their uniforms and report quickly to the armory. When a group of Whites arrived and began pulling at the grating over a window, Bell went outside to confront the crowd of 300 to 400 men. Bell told them that the Guard members inside were armed and prepared to shoot anyone who tried to enter. After this show of force, the crowd withdrew from the armory. [53]

At the courthouse, the crowd had swollen to nearly 2,000, many of them now armed. Several local leaders, including Reverend Charles W. Kerr, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, tried to dissuade mob action. Chief of Police John A. Gustafson later claimed that he tried to talk the crowd into going home. [54]

Anxiety on Greenwood Avenue was rising. Many Black residents worried about the safety of Rowland. Small groups of armed Black men ventured toward the courthouse in automobiles, partly for reconnaissance and to demonstrate they were prepared to take necessary action to protect Rowland. [54] Many White men interpreted these actions as a "Negro uprising" and became concerned. Eyewitnesses reported gunshots, presumably fired into the air, increasing in frequency during the evening. [55]

In Greenwood, rumors began to fly – in particular, a report that Whites were storming the courthouse. Shortly after 10 p.m., a second, larger group of approximately 75 armed Black men decided to go to the courthouse. They offered their support to the sheriff, who declined their help. According to witnesses, a White man is alleged to have told one of the armed Black men to surrender his pistol. The man refused, and a shot was fired. That first shot might have been accidental, or meant as a warning it was a catalyst for an exchange of gunfire. [14]

Violent outbreaks Edit

The gunshots triggered an almost immediate response, with both sides firing on the other. The first "battle" was said to last a few seconds or so, but took a toll, as ten Whites and two Black men lay dead or dying in the street. [48] The Black men who had offered to provide security retreated toward Greenwood. A rolling gunfight ensued. The armed white mob pursued the Black contingent toward Greenwood, with many stopping to loot local stores for additional weapons and ammunition. Along the way, bystanders, many of whom were leaving a movie theater after a show, were caught off guard by the mobs and fled. Panic set in as the White mob began firing on any Black people in the crowd. The White mob also shot and killed at least one White man in the confusion. [56] According to the Oklahoma Historical Society some in the mob were deputized by police and instructed to "get a gun and get a nigger". [57]

At around 11 p.m., members of the National Guard unit began to assemble at the armory to organize a plan to subdue the rioters. Several groups were deployed downtown to set up guard at the courthouse, police station, and other public facilities. Members of the local chapter of the American Legion joined in on patrols of the streets. The forces appeared to have been deployed to protect the White districts adjacent to Greenwood. The National Guard rounded up numerous Black people and took them to the Convention Hall on Brady Street for detention. [58]

At around midnight, a small crowd of Whites assembled outside the courthouse. They shouted in support of a lynching, but they did not rush the building and nothing happened. [56]

Throughout the early morning hours, groups of armed White and Black people squared off in gunfights. The fighting was concentrated along sections of the Frisco tracks, a dividing line between the Black and White commercial districts. A rumor circulated that more Black people were coming by train from Muskogee to help with an invasion of Tulsa. At one point, passengers on an incoming train were forced to take cover on the floor of the train cars, as they had arrived in the midst of crossfire, with the train taking hits on both sides. Small groups of Whites made brief forays by car into Greenwood, indiscriminately firing into businesses and residences. They often received return fire. Meanwhile, White rioters threw lighted oil rags into several buildings along Archer Street, igniting them. [59]

As unrest spread to other parts of the city, many middle class White families who employed Black people in their homes as live-in cooks and servants were accosted by white rioters. They demanded the families turn over their employees to be taken to detention centers around the city. Many white families complied, but those who refused were subjected to attacks and vandalism in turn. [60]

Fires begin Edit

At around 1 a.m., the White mob began setting fires, mainly in businesses on commercial Archer Street at the southern edge of the Greenwood district. As news traveled among Greenwood residents in the early morning hours, many began to take up arms in defense of their neighborhood, while others began a mass exodus from the city. [61] Throughout the night both sides continued fighting, sometimes only sporadically.

As crews from the Tulsa Fire Department arrived to put out fires, they were turned away at gunpoint. [62] Scott Elsworth makes the same claim, [63] but his reference makes no mention of firefighters. [64] Parrish gave only praise for the National Guard. [65] Another reference Elsworth gives to support the claim of holding firefighters at gunpoint is only a summary of events in which they suppressed the firing of guns by the rioters and disarmed them of their firearms. [66] Yet another of his references states that they were fired upon by the White mob, "It would mean a fireman's life to turn a stream of water on one of those negro buildings. They shot at us all morning when we were trying to do something but none of my men was hit. There is not a chance in the world to get through that mob into the negro district." [49] By 4 a.m., an estimated two dozen Black-owned businesses had been set ablaze.

Tulsa founder and Ku Klux Klan member W. Tate Brady participated in the riot as a night watchman. [67] This Land Press reported that previously, Brady led the Tulsa Outrage, the November 7, 1917 tarring and feathering of members of the Industrial Workers of the World — an incident understood to be economically and politically, rather than racially, motivated. [68] Previous reports regarding Brady's character seem favorable, and he hired Black employees in his businesses. [69]

Daybreak Edit

Upon sunrise, around 5 a.m., a train whistle sounded (Hirsch said it was a siren). Some rioters believed this sound to be a signal for the rioters to launch an all-out assault on Greenwood. A White man stepped out from behind the Frisco depot and was fatally shot by a sniper in Greenwood. Crowds of rioters poured from their shelter, on foot and by car, into the streets of the Black neighborhood. Five white men in a car led the charge but were killed by a fusillade of gunfire before they had travelled one block. [70]

Overwhelmed by the sheer number of White attackers, the Black residents retreated north on Greenwood Avenue to the edge of town. Chaos ensued as terrified residents fled. The rioters shot indiscriminately and killed many residents along the way. Splitting into small groups, they began breaking into houses and buildings, looting. Several residents later testified the rioters broke into occupied homes and ordered the residents out to the street, where they could be driven or forced to walk to detention centers. [71] A rumor spread among the rioters that the new Mount Zion Baptist Church was being used as a fortress and armory. Purportedly twenty caskets full of rifles had been delivered to the church, though no evidence was found. [72]

Attack by air Edit

Numerous eyewitnesses described airplanes carrying white assailants, who fired rifles and dropped firebombs on buildings, homes, and fleeing families. The privately-owned aircraft had been dispatched from the nearby Curtiss-Southwest Field outside Tulsa. [22] Law enforcement officials later said that the planes were to provide reconnaissance and protect against a "Negro uprising". [22] Law enforcement personnel were thought to be aboard at least some flights. [73] Eyewitness accounts, such as testimony from the survivors during Commission hearings and a manuscript by eyewitness and attorney Buck Colbert Franklin, discovered in 2015, said that on the morning of June 1, at least "a dozen or more" planes circled the neighborhood and dropped "burning turpentine balls" on an office building, a hotel, a filling station and multiple other buildings. Men also fired rifles at Black residents, gunning them down in the street. [74] [22]

Richard S. Warner concluded in his submission to The Oklahoma Commission that contrary to later reports by claimed eyewitnesses of seeing explosions, there was no reliable evidence to support such attacks. [75] Warner noted that while a number of newspapers targeted at Black readers heavily reported the use of nitroglycerin, turpentine and rifles from the planes, many cited anonymous sources or second-hand accounts. [75] Beryl Ford, one of the pre-eminent historians of the disaster, concluded from his large collection of photographs that there was no evidence of any building damaged by explosions. [76] Danney Goble commended Warner on his efforts and supported his conclusions. [77] State representative Don Ross (born in Tulsa in 1941), however, dissented from the evidence presented in the report concluding that bombs were in fact dropped from planes during the violence. [78]

Franklin's account Edit

In 2015, a previously unknown written eyewitness account of the events of May 31, 1921, was discovered and subsequently obtained by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. The 10-page typewritten letter was authored by Buck Colbert Franklin, noted Oklahoma attorney and father of John Hope Franklin. [74] [79]

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 with the agility of natural birds of the air.

Planes circling in midair: They grew in number and hummed, darted and dipped low. I could hear something like hail falling upon the top of my office building. Down East Archer, I saw the old Mid-Way hotel on fire, burning from its top, and then another and another and another building began to burn from their top.

The sidewalks were literally covered with burning turpentine balls. I knew all too well where they came from, and I knew all too well why every burning building first caught fire from the top.

I paused and waited for an opportune time to escape. 'Where oh where is our splendid fire department with its half dozen stations?' I asked myself, 'Is the city in conspiracy with the mob?'

Franklin states that every time he saw a White man shot, he "felt happy" [80] and he "swelled with pride and hope for the race." [81] Franklin reports seeing multiple machine guns firing at night and hearing "thousands and thousands of guns" being fired simultaneously from all directions. [82] He states that he was arrested by "a thousand boys, it seemed. firing their guns every step they took." [80]

Arrival of National Guard troops Edit

Adjutant General Charles Barrett of the Oklahoma National Guard arrived by special train at about 9:15 a.m., with 109 troops from Oklahoma City. Ordered in by the governor, he could not legally act until he had contacted all the appropriate local authorities, including Mayor T. D. Evans, the sheriff, and the police chief. Meanwhile, his troops paused to eat breakfast. Barrett summoned reinforcements from several other Oklahoma cities. Barrett declared martial law at 11:49 a.m., [72] and by noon the troops had managed to suppress most of the remaining violence.

Thousands of Black residents had fled the city another 4,000 people had been rounded up and detained at various centers. Under martial law, the detainees were required to carry identification cards. [83] As many as 6,000 Black Greenwood residents were interned at three local facilities: Convention Hall (now known as the Tulsa Theater), the Tulsa County Fairgrounds (then located about a mile northeast of Greenwood) and McNulty Park (a baseball stadium at Tenth Street and Elgin Avenue). [16] [84] [85]

A 1921 letter from an officer of the Service Company, Third Infantry, Oklahoma National Guard, who arrived on May 31, 1921, reported numerous events related to the suppression of the riot:

  • taking about 30–40 Black residents into custody
  • putting a machine gun on a truck and taking it on patrol, although it was not functioning and much less useful than "an ordinary rifle"
  • being fired on from Black snipers from the "church" and returning fire
  • being fired on by White men
  • turning the prisoners over to deputies to take them to police headquarters
  • being fired upon again by armed Black residents and having two NCOs slightly wounded
  • searching for Black snipers and firearms
  • detailing an NCO to take 170 Black residents to the civil authorities and
  • delivering an additional 150 Black residents to the Convention Hall. [66]

Captain John W. McCune reported that stockpiled ammunition within the burning structures began to explode which might have further contributed to casualties. [86] Martial law was withdrawn on June 4, under Field Order No. 7. [87]

Casualties Edit

The massacre was covered by national newspapers, and the reported number of deaths varies widely. On June 1, 1921, the Tulsa Tribune reported that nine White people and 68 Black people had died in the riot, but shortly afterwards it changed this number to a total of 176 dead. The next day, the same paper reported the count as nine White people and 21 Black people. The Los Angeles Express headline said "175 Killed, Many Wounded". [89] The New York Times said that 77 people had been killed, including 68 Black people, but it later lowered the total to 33. The Richmond Times Dispatch of Virginia reported that 85 people (including 25 White people) were killed it also reported that the police chief had reported to Governor Robertson that the total was 75 and that a police major put the figure at 175. [90] The Oklahoma Department of Vital Statistics put the number of deaths at 36 (26 Black and 10 White). [91] Very few people, if any, died as a direct result of the fire. Official state records show five deaths by conflagration for the entire state in 1921. [92]

Walter Francis White of the NAACP traveled to Tulsa from New York and reported that, although officials and undertakers said that the fatalities numbered 10 White and 21 Black, he estimated the number of the dead to be 50 Whites and between 150 and 200 Blacks [93] he also reported that 10 White men were killed on Tuesday six White men drove into the Black section and never came out, and 13 Whites were killed on Wednesday he reported that Major O.T. Johnson of the Salvation Army in Tulsa, said that 37 Blacks were employed as gravediggers to bury 120 Blacks in individual graves without coffins on Friday and Saturday. [94] The Oklahoma Commission described Johnson's statement being that his crew was over three dozen grave diggers who dug "about" 150 graves. [95] Ground-penetrating radar was used to investigate the sites purported to contain these mass graves. Multiple eyewitness reports and "oral histories" suggested the graves could have been dug at three different cemeteries across the city. The sites were examined, and no evidence of ground disturbance indicative of mass graves were found. However, at one site, the ground disturbance was found in a five-meter square area, but cemetery records indicate that three graves had been dug and bodies buried within this envelope before the riot. [96]

Oklahoma's 2001 Commission into the riot provides multiple contradicting estimates. Goble estimates 100–300 deaths (also stating right after that no one was prosecuted even though nearly a hundred were indicted), [97] and Franklin and Ellsworth estimate 75–100 deaths and describe some of the higher estimates as dubious as the low estimates. [98] C. Snow was able to confirm 39 casualties, all listed as male although four were unidentifiable 26 were Black and 13 were White. [19] The 13 White fatalities were all taken to hospitals. [99] Eleven of them had come from outside of Oklahoma, and possibly as many as half were petroleum industry workers. [100] Only eight of the confirmed 26 Black fatalities were brought to hospitals, [99] and as hospitals were segregated, and with the Black Frissell Memorial Hospital having burned down, the only place where the injured Black people were treated was at the basement of Morningside Hospital. [3] Several hundred were injured. [3]

The Red Cross, in their preliminary overview, mentioned wide-ranging external estimates of 55 to 300 dead however, because of the hurried nature of undocumented burials, they declined to submit an official estimate, stating, "The number of dead is a matter of conjecture." [101] The Red Cross registered 8,624 persons 183 people were hospitalized, mostly for gunshot wounds or burns (they are differentiated in their records on the basis of triage category not the type of wound), while a further 531 required first aid or surgical treatment eight miscarriages were attributed to be a result of the tragedy 19 died in care between June 1 and December 30, 1921. [102]


Tulsa Race Massacre - Special Report: Biden marks 100th anniversary of Tulsa .

Tulsa Race Massacre

Some of the ruins from the tulsa race massacre in june 1921, when white vigilantes set the oklahoma city's. Keywords us, tulsa, oklahoma, black community, tulsa race massacre, black wall street massacre, greenwood massacre, race violence. Among the headlines are 'police drag woman behind motor cycles' and '$2500000 of negro property is. Long mischaracterized as a race riot, rather than mass murder, the tulsa race massacre stands as one of the worst incidents of racial violence in the nation's history. Flagship tulsa race massacre commemoration is scrapped after survivors demanded $1 million each to appear and $50 million for reparations fund. Why did the tulsa race massacre happen? White mob attack in the atlanta massacre of 1906. In order to understand the tulsa race massacre it is important to understand the complexities of the times. It is reportedly believed that the massacre happened for a number of reasons.

In the immediate aftermath, the tulsa race massacre was widely reported in news outlets across the united states and the world. (as part of our centennial coverage of the 1921 tulsa race massacre, read about how oklahoma went from a beacon of racial progress to suppression and violence in the promise of oklahoma). That incident — known as the 1921 tulsa race massacre — has been largely left out of us history books. Flagship tulsa race massacre commemoration is scrapped after survivors demanded $1 million each to appear and $50 million for reparations fund. The tulsa race massacre occurred when a white mob invaded and burned down greenwood, a prosperous black district of tulsa, okla. 100 years after the tulsa race massacre, american studios still shy away from acknowledging the a mural in tulsa, oklahoma, depicting a woman and child holding a man during the tulsa massacre. Despite its severity and destructiveness, the tulsa race massacre was barely mentioned in history books until the late 1990s, when a state commission was formed to document the incident. .of the tulsa race massacre, during which mobs of white residents attacked black residents and businesses of the greenwood district in tulsa, oklahoma in june 1921. Why did the tulsa race massacre happen? In order to understand the tulsa race massacre it is important to understand the complexities of the times.

Tulsa Race Massacre commission boots GOP governor : autotldr from external-preview.redd.it Factors that contributed to this incident included racism, jealousy over. It is reportedly believed that the massacre happened for a number of reasons. Two days of violence by whites against blacks left an estimated 50 people dead. But for years very few people were talking about it. The tulsa race riot or the tulsa massacre, greenwood massacre, or the black wall street massacre of 1921 is an event in which white rioters destroyed a prosperous black community in tulsa, oklahoma. The tulsa, oklahoma race massacre was one of the worst urban racial conflicts in united states history. The tulsa race massacre (known alternatively as the tulsa race riot, the greenwood massacre. (as part of our centennial coverage of the 1921 tulsa race massacre, read about how oklahoma went from a beacon of racial progress to suppression and violence in the promise of oklahoma). 100 years after the tulsa race massacre, american studios still shy away from acknowledging the a mural in tulsa, oklahoma, depicting a woman and child holding a man during the tulsa massacre. Why did the tulsa race massacre happen?

Published mon, may 31 20218:35 ruins of the greenwood district after the massacre of african americans in tulsa, oklahoma, in.

Despite its severity and destructiveness, the tulsa race massacre was barely mentioned in history books until the late 1990s, when a state commission was formed to document the incident. Why did the tulsa race massacre happen? (as part of our centennial coverage of the 1921 tulsa race massacre, read about how oklahoma went from a beacon of racial progress to suppression and violence in the promise of oklahoma). Factors that contributed to this incident included racism, jealousy over. That incident — known as the 1921 tulsa race massacre — has been largely left out of us history books. Among the headlines are 'police drag woman behind motor cycles' and '$2500000 of negro property is. Two days of violence by whites against blacks left an estimated 50 people dead. Later on friday, however, the tulsa race massacre centennial commission revealed what had actually led them to call off the main event: Believed to be the single worst incident of racial violence in american history, the bloody 1921 outbreak in tulsa has continued to haunt oklahomans. But for years very few people were talking about it. + tulsa race massacre (which occurred the previous day), oklahoma, june 1, 1921. 100 years after the tulsa race massacre, american studios still shy away from acknowledging the a mural in tulsa, oklahoma, depicting a woman and child holding a man during the tulsa massacre. Long mischaracterized as a race riot, rather than mass murder, the tulsa race massacre stands as one of the worst incidents of racial violence in the nation's history. The 1921 race massacre 2021. Nearly a century after the tulsa race massacre, the search for the dead continues.

In the immediate aftermath, the tulsa race massacre was widely reported in news outlets across the united states and the world. The tulsa race massacre is one of those moments in time that's been shoved under the carpet with the hope that no one would discover the kinds of atrocities that man can commit. The tulsa race massacre occurred when a white mob invaded and burned down greenwood, a prosperous black district of tulsa, okla. Two days of violence by whites against blacks left an estimated 50 people dead. Published mon, may 31 20218:35 ruins of the greenwood district after the massacre of african americans in tulsa, oklahoma, in. White mob attack in the atlanta massacre of 1906.

President Biden Issues Proclamation in Remembrance of . from celebslatestnews.com With recommendations by the tulsa race massacre centennial commission, in conjunction with descendants of victims and survivors of the violence, the oklahoma state department of education. The tulsa race riot or the tulsa massacre, greenwood massacre, or the black wall street massacre of 1921 is an event in which white rioters destroyed a prosperous black community in tulsa, oklahoma. (as part of our centennial coverage of the 1921 tulsa race massacre, read about how oklahoma went from a beacon of racial progress to suppression and violence in the promise of oklahoma). Keywords us, tulsa, oklahoma, black community, tulsa race massacre, black wall street massacre, greenwood massacre, race violence. The tulsa race massacre occurred when a white mob invaded and burned down greenwood, a prosperous black district of tulsa, okla. Later on friday, however, the tulsa race massacre centennial commission revealed what had actually led them to call off the main event: Factors that contributed to this incident included racism, jealousy over.

The tulsa race riot or the tulsa massacre, greenwood massacre, or the black wall street massacre of 1921 is an event in which white rioters destroyed a prosperous black community in tulsa, oklahoma.

Among the headlines are 'police drag woman behind motor cycles' and '$2500000 of negro property is. Tulsa race massacre's wounds still unhealed. Flagship tulsa race massacre commemoration is scrapped after survivors demanded $1 million each to appear and $50 million for reparations fund. Why did the tulsa race massacre happen? In order to understand the tulsa race massacre it is important to understand the complexities of the times. The tulsa race massacre occurred when a white mob invaded and burned down greenwood, a prosperous black district of tulsa, okla. Later on friday, however, the tulsa race massacre centennial commission revealed what had actually led them to call off the main event: In the immediate aftermath, the tulsa race massacre was widely reported in news outlets across the united states and the world. White mob attack in the atlanta massacre of 1906. Long mischaracterized as a race riot, rather than mass murder, the tulsa race massacre stands as one of the worst incidents of racial violence in the nation's history. Tulsa race massacre survivor viola fletcher, 107, adds soil to a jar as her brother, hughes van tulsa — on the 100th anniversary of the 1921 tulsa race massacre, survivors and descendants. The tulsa race massacre is one of those moments in time that's been shoved under the carpet with the hope that no one would discover the kinds of atrocities that man can commit. 100 years after the tulsa race massacre, american studios still shy away from acknowledging the a mural in tulsa, oklahoma, depicting a woman and child holding a man during the tulsa massacre. The tulsa, oklahoma race massacre was one of the worst urban racial conflicts in united states history. Keywords us, tulsa, oklahoma, black community, tulsa race massacre, black wall street massacre, greenwood massacre, race violence.

How the tulsa race massacre was covered up and unearthed. The tulsa race riot or the tulsa massacre, greenwood massacre, or the black wall street massacre of 1921 is an event in which white rioters destroyed a prosperous black community in tulsa, oklahoma. (as part of our centennial coverage of the 1921 tulsa race massacre, read about how oklahoma went from a beacon of racial progress to suppression and violence in the promise of oklahoma). The tulsa, oklahoma race massacre was one of the worst urban racial conflicts in united states history. That incident — known as the 1921 tulsa race massacre — has been largely left out of us history books. Some of the ruins from the tulsa race massacre in june 1921, when white vigilantes set the oklahoma city's. Factors that contributed to this incident included racism, jealousy over. Two days of violence by whites against blacks left an estimated 50 people dead.

What Role Did Airplanes Play in the Tulsa Race Massacre . from www.history.com With recommendations by the tulsa race massacre centennial commission, in conjunction with descendants of victims and survivors of the violence, the oklahoma state department of education. Flagship tulsa race massacre commemoration is scrapped after survivors demanded $1 million each to appear and $50 million for reparations fund. Tulsa race massacre's wounds still unhealed. The tulsa, oklahoma race massacre was one of the worst urban racial conflicts in united states history. Why did the tulsa race massacre happen? In order to understand the tulsa race massacre it is important to understand the complexities of the times. Published mon, may 31 20218:35 ruins of the greenwood district after the massacre of african americans in tulsa, oklahoma, in. Factors that contributed to this incident included racism, jealousy over.

As americans' rage over racial injustice boils over into a sixth day of protests, monday also marks the 99th anniversary of one of the worst acts of racial violence the country has ever seen.

.of the tulsa race massacre, during which mobs of white residents attacked black residents and businesses of the greenwood district in tulsa, oklahoma in june 1921. White mob attack in the atlanta massacre of 1906. Among the headlines are 'police drag woman behind motor cycles' and '$2500000 of negro property is. Later on friday, however, the tulsa race massacre centennial commission revealed what had actually led them to call off the main event: That incident — known as the 1921 tulsa race massacre — has been largely left out of us history books. The tulsa race riot or the tulsa massacre, greenwood massacre, or the black wall street massacre of 1921 is an event in which white rioters destroyed a prosperous black community in tulsa, oklahoma. The tulsa race massacre killed dozens, if not hundreds, of people, and left a permanent scar on one the most vibrant black here are some facts you should know about the tulsa race massacre. Believed to be the single worst incident of racial violence in american history, the bloody 1921 outbreak in tulsa has continued to haunt oklahomans. Tulsa race massacre survivor viola fletcher, 107, adds soil to a jar as her brother, hughes van tulsa — on the 100th anniversary of the 1921 tulsa race massacre, survivors and descendants. The tulsa race massacre occurred when a white mob invaded and burned down greenwood, a prosperous black district of tulsa, okla.

Believed to be the single worst incident of racial violence in american history, the bloody 1921 outbreak in tulsa has continued to haunt oklahomans.

Greenwood, known as black wall street.

That incident — known as the 1921 tulsa race massacre — has been largely left out of us history books.

The tulsa race massacre killed dozens, if not hundreds, of people, and left a permanent scar on one the most vibrant black here are some facts you should know about the tulsa race massacre.

The tulsa race massacre killed dozens, if not hundreds, of people, and left a permanent scar on one the most vibrant black here are some facts you should know about the tulsa race massacre.

Tulsa race massacre's wounds still unhealed.

Believed to be the single worst incident of racial violence in american history, the bloody 1921 outbreak in tulsa has continued to haunt oklahomans.

+ tulsa race massacre (which occurred the previous day), oklahoma, june 1, 1921.

The 1921 race massacre 2021.

The tulsa race massacre occurred when a white mob invaded and burned down greenwood, a prosperous black district of tulsa, okla.

How the tulsa race massacre was covered up and unearthed.

White mob attack in the atlanta massacre of 1906.

Published mon, may 31 20218:35 ruins of the greenwood district after the massacre of african americans in tulsa, oklahoma, in.

Tulsa race massacre's wounds still unhealed.

Nearly a century after the tulsa race massacre, the search for the dead continues.

+ tulsa race massacre (which occurred the previous day), oklahoma, june 1, 1921.

Flagship tulsa race massacre commemoration is scrapped after survivors demanded $1 million each to appear and $50 million for reparations fund.

.of the tulsa race massacre, during which mobs of white residents attacked black residents and businesses of the greenwood district in tulsa, oklahoma in june 1921.

The 1921 race massacre 2021.

Despite its severity and destructiveness, the tulsa race massacre was barely mentioned in history books until the late 1990s, when a state commission was formed to document the incident.

.of the tulsa race massacre, during which mobs of white residents attacked black residents and businesses of the greenwood district in tulsa, oklahoma in june 1921.

How the tulsa race massacre was covered up and unearthed.

White mob attack in the atlanta massacre of 1906.

As americans' rage over racial injustice boils over into a sixth day of protests, monday also marks the 99th anniversary of one of the worst acts of racial violence the country has ever seen.

The tulsa race massacre (known alternatively as the tulsa race riot, the greenwood massacre.


Flight Stories

On the morning of June 1, 1921, the Ku Klux Klan and the white population of Tulsa made their move. At the sound of three blasts from a siren, they stormed the city’s wealthy African-American district of Greenwood. The defending African-American citizens were ready. It had been a tense night of preparation. This was a battle they knew would come.

Until the attack, Greenwood was a prosperous, wealthy, and well-educated community. Despite their prosperity — and maybe because of it — the African-American community had watched with increasing concern as the KKK steadily rose in power in the city. The Greenwood community knew they were in a fight for survival. They were committed to defend every block of the community they had built.

Both sides were well-armed. However, the KKK had one thing that the African-Americans did not — air power.

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The first firebombing of a city did not take place during the Second World War but two decades earlier. It did not take place in some overseas conflict either — it took place in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was the first and only aerial bombing of an American city in history and didn’t involve a war with a foreign power. Rather, it pitted Americans against Americans. Horrifically, it was also a battle along racial lines.

The ruins of North Detroit Avenue, looking at Booker T. Washington High School, the ruins of the Greenwood district, and the remains of Mount Zion Baptist Church. Photographer Arthur Dudley. S1989.004.5.46, Special Collections, McFarlin Library, The University of Tulsa.

Seeds of Conflict

The all-night stand-off between the white and black communities in Tulsa had begun on May 31, 1921. Mobs of white men had gathered at the courthouse calling for the lynching of an African-American man interned inside. As it turned out, the man wasn’t so much imprisoned as being protected from the mob. The man was held for an alleged crime that law enforcement knew he did not commit. Sheriff McCullough, Tulsa’s chief law enforcement official — and a white man — made his best effort to protect the young man and dissipate the anger. While Sheriff McCullough’s actions saved the man’s life, they did little to save Greenwood. Despite several meetings with the angry mob outside, nothing cooled the murderous intent of the assembling KKK-backed mob.

As the day wore into evening, word of the white mob spread through the African-American community in Tulsa. The whites’ demand for the young man’s lynching was the product of the Ku Klux Klan. In just a few years, the Klan had grown from being a minor presence in the city of Tulsa to a large organization with 3,200 members. This was a city with a population of approximately 75,000. Tulsa County, including the city and surrounding areas, numbered about 110,000.

The Klan’s expansion piggy-backed on the fact that many whites were envious of the successes enjoyed on what was known as “Black Wall Street”, the popular name for the city’s African-American business district. Nonetheless, even if latent racism was clearly present, most members not violent extremists. To help push them along, the racist radicals who ran the Klan had a plan. They would use a carefully crafted media disinformation campaign to create the anger they needed to achieve their most evil goals. All the public knew was what had been published in the Tulsa Tribune — and that alone proved to be enough to incite widespread public anger.

Disinformation in the Tulsa Tribune

As it happened, the newspaper story was contrived falsehood, carefully composed to incite violence against the African-American community in Tulsa. The “journalists” were probably were associated with or at least influenced by the KKK. In their article, they claimed that the young African-American that Sheriff McCullough was protecting had attempted to rape the 17 year old “orphaned” white woman. In actual fact, it was the black youth whose name was Dick Rowland, who was the orphan. Along with his two sisters, he had been adopted by the Rowlands, a black family in Tulsa. The rest of the story was only very loosely based on the truth. The article even went so far as to make up a nickname for the young man, “Diamond Dick”. It was carefully selected to create an image of the youth as a cocky, bejeweled street criminal prowling the streets and showing off — just the sort of person who they hoped could be believed to have attempted to rape a poor, orphaned white woman.

Outraged at the prospect that a “pure white woman” might have been attacked by an African-American, an angry white mob gathered outside the courthouse where Rowland was being held. Word spread quickly in both communities of the confrontation. Until that date, however, the two communities — black and white — had lived together peacefully for years. Now, however, recognizing the injustice at hand, groups of African-American men came armed with rifles and pistols. They stated that they were not there to fight, but rather to offer their help as volunteers to the white Sheriff, who was also intent on protecting the courthouse and the young man from the white mob outside.

From the article in the Tulsa Tribune on May 31, 1921, which apparently incited the rioting.

Recognizing the potential for a misunderstanding, twice Sheriff McCullough sent the African-American volunteers away. He recognized that, even if their intent may have been to defend the young man and prevent him from being lynched by the angry mob, their very presence would likely only escalate the situation. His worry proved to have merit when on the second occasion, the white mob opened fire on the vastly outnumbered African-American men. The latter numbered perhaps 75, while the white mob numbered in the hundreds. As the African-American volunteers were departing the area, some of what were probably the KKK’s men in the white mob started shooting.

Two of the African-American men fell dead. The rest of the African-American volunteers turned and fired back in a devastating and concentrated volley. Some reports claim that as many as ten white men were killed. In the panicked moments afterward, the African-Americans withdrew to a position a few blocks away.

With nightfall, nothing cooled the hotheads among the white mob. Not only was the young black youth still protected in the courthouse, but now a number of their own were shot dead. The KKK rallied and planned an all-out attack, intending to banish all of the African-Americans from Tulsa. The KKK sent out calls for their members throughout the area to come and join the fight. For their part, the African-Americans vowed to defend their community from an assault they knew would soon come. The white mob vowed to get revenge for their losses and seize the young Dick Rowland for a lynching. Amidst it all, Sheriff McCullough held firm.

Who was Dick Rowland?

The young man at the center of the issue was named Dick Rowland. He was a 19 year old delivery man and shoe shiner, well-known in the community. His alleged crime was the “assault” of a white woman that supposedly had taken place on the 3rd floor of the Drexell Building in downtown Tulsa, when the young man entered the elevator. The white woman who was allegedly accosted, who was named Sarah Page, immediately denied any claim of “assault” and declined to press charges. Nonetheless, the newspaper published the account otherwise. In fact, it is entirely likely that Sarah Page and Dick Rowland knew each other fairly well, at least by sight — and perhaps even better than that.

The shoeshine business owner that employed Rowland had arranged that the company’s employees could use the “Colored” bathrooms that were located on the third floor of the Drexell Building. Sarah Page operated the elevator in the building. Thus, probably she saw Rowland at least a couple of times a day.

One African-American journalist, Mary E. Jones Parrish, later claimed that the so-called, “assault”, may have been that Rowland accidentally stepped on Page’s foot when boarding the elevator after using the bathroom upstairs. This caused her to cry out in pain. A clerk working the building on the floor ran to see what was happening. When Rowland saw the approaching clerk, he panicked and ran from the building. Like Page, the clerk too recognized Rowland by sight. The clerk immediately called the police to report the “crime”, probably over Sarah Page’s objection. It wasn’t long after that Rowland was arrested, reportedly at his home.

Whatever actually happened that day, on May 30, 1921, the news article that followed the next day was as sensational as it was fabricated. Dick Rowland was claimed in the article to have identified himself as “Diamond Dick”. The woman was stated in the news article to have seen him looking up and the down the halls in a suspicious manner before attacking her, ripping her clothes. Even the moniker, “Diamond Dick”, seems doubtful in retrospect, although the article claimed Rowland used that title to identify himself because he allegedly wore layers of gold and diamond jewelry — the absurdity of that should have been obvious based on the pay rate of shoeshine boy and delivery man. The “assault” of the young “orphaned” women was written as if it were the gospel truth. No dissenting view was presented.

Predictably, the article had an effect — the journalists were most probably looking for an incident to stir up trouble. For the KKK, the false claims in the newspaper gave them the pretext to get the support needed to launch their full-on assault of the African-American district in Tulsa.

Another story that some say is that Sarah Page and Dick Rowland may have had a secret, interracial relationship. If so, the “assault” was certainly misreported. It seems more likely in that light that the matter involved the aftermath of a lover’s fight. Others, including lawyers who regularly had their shoes shined by Rowland, knew the young man well because he was the adopted son of a local African-American businessman. Most simply knew that the charge couldn’t be true. Many of the city’s attorneys even commented as such at the time, though the journalists showed little interest in quoting them. To the knowledge of the attorneys, Rowland simply wasn’t violent or aggressive at all. For them, for Rowland to have attacked a woman at all was simply too out of character to be even remotely believable.

Nonetheless, events quickly spiraled out of control.

The main incitement came when the Tulsa Tribune supposedly blared a headline late on May 31 in the city edition of the Tulsa Tribune (recalled by residents later, but all copies have been lost) calling on the populace to, “To Lynch Negro Tonight.” The public went wild based on the “fake news”. The KKK rallied many to support their call for a public, extrajudicial lynching.

When dawn broke, the battle for Tulsa began.

As the first rays of sunlight touched the city, a siren blared three times as the signal to begin the attack. The first white man to rise in the charge was cut down when a defending African-American sniper hit him with a single shot from his rifle. A rallying cry went up and soon crowds of hundreds of white men charged forward, intent on rampaging through the streets of the African-American district of Tulsa. Many of these were members of the KKK.

The white mob pressed toward the center of the African-American community, at the center of which was their church, the Mount Zion Baptist Church. As they advanced, they were shooting any who stood in their way. They began setting fire to homes, meaning to burn all of the residences as well as the African-American business district. This area was so prosperous and successful that it was locally known as the “Black Wall Street”. On the map, it is defined as the areas along Archer Street and Greenwood Avenue in downtown Tulsa.

The “Black Wall Street” district of Tulsa burns as thick black smoke fills the skies.

Not unexpectedly, resistance against the KKK-led white mob was fierce. A running street battle followed. It wasn’t long before several homes were burning. Many among the African-American defenders were shot and injured. Some were killed. Many men stood guard, hoping just to defend their homes, and putting up stiff resistance on their own as the white mob advanced. Without an organized force, however, most of these ultimately shot and killed. Tulsa’s leading medical doctor died on his doorstep as he retreated into his house, firing back with his rifle. African-American lawyers, business owners, family men, and workers battled the mob at every house and corner.

The defending African-American community was vastly outnumbered, however. Soon many homes on the outer fringes of the district were burning. Black smoke filled the air. The main street and commercial district of “Black Wall Street” and the community’s church, however, still was beyond the reach of the advancing armed mob. Despite the casualties, the defenders were holding their ground, more or less. The attack by the white mob was in danger of stalling and being driven back.

The Oklahoma National Guard arrives in Tulsa the truck that mounted a machinegun is seen in the lower left of this rare and unique photograph.

From the start, the Governor of Oklahoma, Gov. Robertson, declared martial law. The Oklahoma National Guard was mobilized and quickly sent in to stabilize the situation. The forces deployed quickly under the command of Major L.F. J. Rooney, himself a veteran of World War I.

Likewise, Tulsa’s fire department tried to respond to the first fires. However, its engines were fired on by the white mob, then by the African-American defenders. The unarmed firemen retreated, finding themselves prevented from entering the African-American districts and unable to fight the fires. The National Guard mounted its weapons and drove into the chaos, hoping to stabilize the situation with a show of force. None of the official institutions of government were favoring the KKK — not the National Guard, nor the Sheriff, nor the fire department, mayor, nor Governor of Oklahoma. Yet confusion dominated the thinking on the streets — the African-Americans assumed that any armed white coming into sight was on the other side.

Hoping that a show of force would bring order, the National Guard mounted a machine gun on the flatbed of one of their small trucks. Then they drove it directly into the Greenwood District, thinking that is very presence might quell the riots. The mission did not fare well. First, the truck was fired upon by the white mob, which assumed correctly that the Guardsmen were defending the African-American community. Then, as the truck retreated from the white mob and raced into the Greenwood District, it was fired upon by the African-American defenders. They saw its coming heralded by the sound of heavy gunfire and opened fire in self-defense. Despite being caught in the crossfire, the National Guard truck was able to escape without taking casualties or firing a single shot.

As the battle raged, white vigilante squads made “arrests” of dozens of African-Americans who attempted to get out of the city. Luckily, a massacre of those picked up was averted. Seeing crowds of blacks being herded by armed whites, the Oklahoma National Guard stepped in. The Guardsmen took those detained from the hands of the mob, often enough literally at gunpoint. Those rescued were then marched to National Guard holding areas where they could be protected. The wounded were carried to the hospital in the Greenwood District, but then had to be evacuated when the white mob set it on fire.

A Curtiss JN-4 Jenny biplane of the type that the US Army sold as surplus after the war, c. 1918. Photo Credit: Harrison S. Kerrick

Air Power Employed

With the attack on Tulsa less than an hour old, a group of pilots from Tulsa’s white community gathered at the nearby airport of Curtiss-Southwest Field. Almost certainly, these were the commercial flight crews working for the Curtiss-Southwest Airplane Company, a firm that had formed a year and a half earlier in 1919 and which, more or less, ran the airport of the same name. Curtiss-Southwest was the nation’s first commercial interstate air freight shipping business, though that honor is usually forgotten due to what they did that day. The company was also a dealer for the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company, selling surplus government planes and new models from the Curtiss company to the general public.

Advertising in the Oklahoma City Times, Friday, August 1, 1919, page 14.

Between them, the pilots prepared about a dozen or more light planes. These were surplus World War I Curtiss JN-4 Jenny training planes that had been purchased from the US Army Signal Corps after the end of the war. Curtiss-Southwest had purchased and put these planes to work in its new airfreight business. Other planes were resold by the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company to the general public. The US Army sold the planes at a price of $1,500 each and Curtiss-Southwest marked up and resold the planes to willing buyers at a significant profit, charging between $2,500 and $4,000 each. Newly built models that came directly from the Curtiss factory went for $5,000 to $9,000, depending on the type of engine mounted.

Most of the planes that flew that day over Tulsa had served as trainers for America’s military pilots during the First World War. The company, while offering new planes to the public, itself was somewhat underfunded. As such, it flew only surplus, used US Army planes. Most of these had flown at the University of Texas military flight training program at Kelly Field, in San Antonio. Kelly Field had trained over 320 squadrons of pilots during the war. These Curtiss JN-4 Jenny biplanes were the same type later made famous for barnstorming across much of middle America, putting on one-plane airshows and offering rides for a few dollars each.

Curtiss JN-4 Jenny biplane trainers flying in formation from Kelly field, Texas these would later be made surplus and sold to the general public perhaps some of these very planes shown participated in the bombing of Tulsa. Photo Credit: US Army Air Service

With the riots in full swing, the pilots at Curtiss-Southwest Field didn’t have barnstorming or their usual oil business flying on their mind. Each pilot took an “observer” on board and, as some reports later claimed, loaded up their planes with balls of fabric soaked in turpentine. Matches were carried to light the incendiary balls on fire before dropping. They took off at 6:00 am, returning and refueling to fly additional missions later in the morning and in the early afternoon.

They employed the turpentine-soaked balls as makeshift “bombs”, or more properly “fire bombs”. With these, they hoped to start fires in the center of the African-American business district. In the first hours, those areas were beyond the reach of the still advancing mob, which was facing stiff defense from the African-American residents. It was a house-to-house fight, battled block by block. The battle was centered on Standpipe Hill, a few blocks from the Mount Zion Baptist Church.

Once aloft, the pilots were guided to the target by the first clouds of black smoke that rose from the outskirts of the area. It didn’t take long for them to fly the short distance to the center of Tulsa and arrive over the Greenwood District. They began orbiting together in a loose formation as the “observers” prepared their turpentine rag balls for the attack. Some of the “observers” also carried rifles aloft, intent on shooting any they saw below. A few carried sticks of TNT, which they lit and dropped as aerial bombs.

Mount Zion Baptist Church burns after seeing its roof set afire from the attacking biplanes.

One of the residents of the Greenwood District, Mary E. Jones Parrish, was a trained journalist. She later wrote that she and her neighbors heard the approaching roar of the aircraft engines. They looked out the windows of their homes to see what was happening. She then related, if perhaps a bit too poetically:

“…the sights our eyes beheld made our poor hearts stand still for a moment. There was a great shadow in the sky and upon a second look we discerned that this cloud was caused by fast approaching aeroplanes. It then dawned upon us that the enemy had organized in the night and was invading our district the same as the Germans invaded France and Belgium…. People were seen to flee from their burning homes, some with babes in their arms…. Yet, seemingly, I did not leave. I walked as one in a horrible dream.”

One of the planes spotted two men and their wives running across an open field and, swooping low, dropped a hail of lead balls or stones, hoping to kill them. They missed. Two of the four were identified as Dr. Payne and Mr. Robinson — the names of their wives were not recorded. They survived to later testify about the events.

In the hour or so that followed, each plane let loose their loads of these fire bombs from low altitude, setting them alight just before they were dropped. This was a dangerous thing to attempt from inside the cockpit of a wood, wire and fabric biplane, yet they were successful. None of the planes caught fire and burned. They targeted the neighborhoods, business district, and the Mount Zion Baptist Church. Mainly, they aimed for the flat rooftops of the buildings. Once the supply of firebombs was exhausted, those planes that carried “observers” armed with with rifles made low passes over the Greenwood District. They began shooting at any they saw on the ground below. Once out of ammunition, they returned to the airfield for more firebombs, bullets, and fuel.

During one low pass by a biplane, one of the “observers” leaned out to take a shot. He was hit instead by return fire from an African-American sharpshooter. He was either killed by the bullet or died when he fell from the plane to the ground. Ten days later, the event was reported in several newspapers, including the Chicago Defender, which related, “One man, leaning far out from an airplane, was brought down by the bullet of a sharp shooter and his body burst upon the ground.”

Another made a pass and fired at two fleeing boys, who were shunted into a house and brought to safety by an older African-American woman. Hitting a pair of running boys from a handheld single-shot rifle in the cockpit of an airplane flying overhead is no easy feat. The plane did not circle back to shoot again. A second wave of planes returned to drop more firebombs onto the buildings below.

While they may not have had a great effect with their rifles, the firebombing proved devastating. As the flaming turpentine balls fell, many buildings across the Greenwood District were burning out of control. The fire department, held back by the white mob, could do nothing but watch helplessly from a safe distance. As the fires intensified, many of the communities residents were forced to flee their homes, running for their lives as the fires spread from building to building and house to house. These too fell into the hands of wandering vigilante groups who were patrolling the outskirts of the District.

The Mount Zion Baptist Church caught fire after a hail of well-placed firebombs.

Curtiss JN-4 Jenny biplane trainers flying in formation over Kelly field, Texas perhaps some of these very planes shown participated in the bombing of Tulsa. Photo Credit: US Army Air Service

Eyewitness Testimony of the Aerial Bombing

In the city center, one of the town’s most prosperous African-American men, a lawyer named Buck Colbert Franklin, who would later prove instrumental in the legal actions that followed the riots, wrote of his experience witnessing the aerial firebombing of Tulsa.

“I could see planes circling in mid-air. They grew in number and hummed, darted and dipped low. I could hear something like hail falling upon the top of my office building. Down East Archer, I saw the old Mid-Way hotel on fire, burning from its top, and then another and another and another building began to burn from their top.”

“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 with the agility of natural birds of the air.”

What he described was the volleys of turpentine-soaked rag balls falling on the rooftops of the buildings along “Black Wall Street”. He abandoned his office and made his way through the streets, remarking at the still burning aerial firebombs that marked the way.

“The side-walks were literally covered with burning turpentine balls. I knew all too well where they came from, and I knew all too well why every burning building first caught from the top. I paused and waited for an opportune time to escape. ‘Where oh where is our splendid fire department with its half dozen stations?’ I asked myself. ‘Is the city in conspiracy with the mob?'”

Another eyewitness, an African-American named Dr. R. T. Bridgewater, who served an assistant county physician, stated that he was “near my residence and aeroplanes began to fly over us, in some instances very low to the ground”. He added that he heard a woman say, “look out for the aeroplanes, they are shooting upon us.”

A white crowd involved in looting the Woods Building on the corner of Greenwood and Archer in Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street” area. Photographer unknown. 1989.004.5.52, Special Collections, McFarlin Library, The University of Tulsa

Later, the KKK wrote of its achievement in an article in a newspaper called, “The Nation”. The writer recounted:

“Then eight aeroplanes were employed to spy on the movements of the Negroes and according to some were used in bombing the colored section.”

The actual number was probably twelve to fourteen planes, but the KKK writer probably didn’t know that. Mr. W. I. Brown, a porter with the Katy Railroad company, arrived to Tulsa with the National Guard. He reported:

“We reached Tulsa about 2 o’clock. Airplanes were circling all over Greenwood. We stopped our cars north of the Katy depot, going towards Sand Springs. The heavens were lightened up as plain as day from the many fires over the Negro section. I could see from my car window that two airplanes were doing most of the work. They would every few seconds drop some thing and every time they did there was a loud explosion and the sky would be filled with flying debris.”

With their stores of fire bombs and TNT exhausted, the planes turned again toward a landing at Curtiss-Southwest Field. Some fanned out into the surrounding countryside, looking for those fleeing the city. One of the biplanes spotted a group of fleeing African-Americans and dove to attack, firing on them with the rifle that the “observer” carried. One man was killed, his name was recorded later as probably Ed Lockard. He died from a bullet to the back of the neck. That attack took place between six and eight miles from Tulsa.

Detainees being housed in McNulty Park. Photographer Joseph Hause. 1989.004.5.23, Special Collections, McFarlin Library, The University of Tulsa.

Detention Centers

At the height of the rioting, Mayor Evans and Governor Robertson set up detention centers outside the district to hold those saved from the vigilante gangs of white men. One detention center was located at the Tulsa Convention Hall on 105 West Brady Street. Another center was set up at McNulty Baseball Park, located between Ninth and Tenth Streets on Elgin Avenue. In addition, the old fairgrounds at Lewis Avenue and Federal (Admiral) Boulevard were pressed into service. At these sites, approximately 6,000 African-Americans were detained during the day of the riots and in the days that followed.

When the day of violence finally ended, all that remained of the Greenwood District and “Black Wall Street” were burnt out neighborhoods. A few stragglers walked amidst the smoking homes and businesses. These too were rounded up by the National Guard. Some of those detained were held for up to eight days — none were ever charged with a crime. On release, they were given identity cards to present in the event that they wanted free passage into white neighborhoods or business districts. On returning to their neighborhoods all they could do was look on hopelessly at the devastation that had been wrought. The Red Cross provided tents and some basic supplies for subsistence.

Aftermath of the Riots

In the aftermath of the burning of Tulsa’s “Black Wall Street”, hundreds of African-Americans fled the city and never came back. At the railway station, employees reported that hundreds of one-way tickets were sold. Trains were filled to capacity. Tulsa’s African-American community, which had achieved the American Dream and had built one of the most prosperous communities in the entire United States — white or black — was deeply wounded. “Black Wall Street” would be rebuilt, but it would take years. The scars from that day’s rioting remain to this day.

The story of how it happened, however, was quietly swept under the rug. For decades, nobody mentioned it. It wasn’t taught in schools. It wasn’t acknowledged by the State of Oklahoma or the city. It was only in recent years many in Tulsa learned what happened on that fateful day in 1921 when the city and State reversed positions and published the story.

Ruined buildings along the main street, the so-called “Black Wall Street”, showing the clear signs of having burned down from the top, where rafters and debris fall into the building center, rather than fall outward, as when burned or exploded from below at street level.

It seems clear that without the aerial bombing, much of the African-American community in Tulsa would probably not have burned so completely. The damage would have been extensive, but with the firebombing, it totaled an estimated $23 million ($310 million in inflation corrected values). Homes, businesses, schools, and even the Mount Zion Baptist Church had all burned to the ground. The steeple remained and, like a symbol of hope, it towered over the burned out ruin of the streets. In all, 35 city blocks were destroyed and 1,256 residences were burned to ash.

The destruction was staggering — in all, 21 churches and 20 grocery stores were burned as well as two banks, a hospital, the post office (a Federal government building), and more than 600 businesses. Over 4,000 residents were left homeless. The number of dead is still unknown but may have been up to 300 — the Red Cross, which mobilized afterward, claimed that number. Others put the figure at less than 100, though none were as well positioned as the Red Cross to testify on the death toll. Many more were injured.

The devastation was so vast that it wouldn’t be until World War II with the bombings of Chongqing, Berlin, Hamburg, and Tokyo that such damage would be visited again upon an urban area. The makeshift firebombs, as turned out, were extraordinarily effective. During the rioting, homes and businesses were looted and even years later, the effects of that were felt. As the lawyer, Buck Colbert Franklin, wrote: “For years black women would see white women walking down the street in their jewelry and snatch it off.”

Buck Colbert Franklin, at right, the African-American lawyer who would later pave the way for the reconstruction, sits in a Red Cross tent after the riots.

In his capacity as a lawyer, Buck Colbert Franklin, the survivor of the riots who wrote about leaving his office amidst the hailstone-sounds of the burning turpentine balls, later took on major role in the rebuilding of the community. Incredibly, just six days after the firebombing, on June 7, 1921, the KKK convinced locally elected city council officials to pass a fire code law that barred the African-Americans from rebuilding their businesses.

Buck Colbert Franklin put his legal training to the task and filed suit, claiming it was wrong. His case was sound. The KKK and other white developers sought to secure the cleared properties for themselves, illegally barring the return of the former residents, since none could rebuild. They had many friends in the courts and most would have given up — but not Franklin. He fought and watched as his case was defeated first in the lower courts. This he had expected based on the influence of the KKK, and next, he battled up through multiple appeals to ever higher courts. One by one, each of the appellate courts, under the influence of the KKK, ruled against him. This was testimony that reflected the hidden power of the KKK.

Finally Buck Franklin filed his final appeal with the Oklahoma Supreme Court. There, finally his case had risen beyond the reach of the KKK. A full review of law and his pleadings on the merits were undertaken. He prevailed completely. The fire code law was declared unconstitutional and stricken in its entirety. With that, the rebuilding of the Greenwood District and “Black Wall Street” could finally begin — it was a process that had taken several years in the courts, itself a victory for the KKK, even if their ultimate goal had been snatched away.

Some of the 35 city blocks that burned during the riots in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The Pilots and Planes

The pilots and “observers” who flew that day and dropped their homemade firebombs were never officially identified. Almost certainly, they were the very men who flew for the Curtiss-Southwest Airplane Company. They were never arrested, fined, or even sanctioned in any way. Their planes were not impounded either. The Civil Aviation Authorities, the Governor of Oklahoma, and the Mayor simply looked the other way. Although they had not supported the white rioters, they knew not to mess with the KKK. No investigation followed.

The greatest irony came that afternoon when the Tulsa police hired the Curtiss-Southwest Airplane Company to fly an aerial survey of the burning Greenwood District so they could assess the damage. The pilots complied, of course, getting paid to carry police officers over the District to see the very damage they themselves had caused. They got away with murder and massive property destruction — and even got paid afterward to document their evil work.

Duncan McIntyre, chief pilot of the Curtiss-Southwest Airplane Company he almost certainly did not participate in the firebombing, though his pilots did. Photo Credit: Tulsa Air and Space Museum

Today, we can only guess at their identities. They were almost certainly the company pilots. Among many, one pilot appears to be innocent — it seems doubtful that they were led into the air that day by the company’s chief pilot, Duncan A. McIntyre. He was from New Zealand and, as such, was unlikely to have been supportive or involved in any way. He had been previously an expert barnstorming pilot who flew for a time in the Pacific Northwest before moving to Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was not a member or supporter of the KKK.

We know only a few of the other names of the pilots employed at the company. One was John L. Moran — he is listed as an employee in January 1920, in an article that appeared in the Houston Post. Another, W. E. Campbell, was listed in 1919 as the company manager and a pilot. Another man is identified as Mr. B. L. Humphries. He was described as the company president in a newspaper article dating from October 1919. It is unclear, however, if he was a pilot at the time. Another pilot was named Mr. B. Goode. He is cited in the Barber County Index, a newspaper in Kansas, as a pilot of the company in March 1920. Two other pilots, “Happy” Bagnall and Bert Isason are named as working for the company in an article in the Houston Post on February 23, 1920. The others have faded into anonymity with the passage of time. Which, if any, of these men named here participated in the attack is unknown, though the company didn’t have many pilots. Therefore, at least some, if not most of these named were likely to have been involved.

Identifying the individual aircraft that were used is also difficult, if not impossible. In 1921, private aircraft were not yet required to be registered with the civil aviation authorities. That practice would begin in the years after. Even so, those records would show little more than the company name, which we know already anyway. We have no records to identify which planes were involved, such as by manufacturing number. What we do know, however, is that Curtiss-Southwest Field had just 13 planes — all were Curtiss JN-4 Jenny biplanes. One researcher claims that a four-seat, closed cockpit Stinson Detroiter was also at the field, though based on production dates — the first flight of the type was in 1926 — that could not have been possible.

Ad in the Morning Tulsa Daily World newspaper from November 16, 1919, for an airshow put on by the Curtiss-Southwest Airplane Company in Tulsa — ironically, the event promises a “Bombing Raid”.

Another plane involved was later identified as owned by the so-called, “St. Clair Oil Company”. More probably, this was the plane of the Sinclair Oil Company. That biplane, also a Curtiss Jenny, was otherwise used for aerial surveys and mapping of the oil fields. Further, the Sinclair Oil Company is known to have provided fuel to the Curtiss-Southwest Airplane Company. Their plane, probably purchased from Curtiss-Southwest, was based at the same field. The only other aircraft within the area was at a nearby field, Paul Arbon Air Field. It was also a Curtiss Jenny. Most likely, however, it did not participate in the attack as there were no reports of any flight activity from that field that day.

That the Sinclair Oil company biplane was employed in the attack is stated in a lawsuit filed two years later. The lawsuit demanded reparations for houses that were burned down (this was the suit that called the owner, “St. Clair Oil Company”). Notably, there were no other aircraft in the area that could have reached Tulsa that day, including private aircraft. Thus, based on the number of planes flying, we can paint a very strong case against the Curtiss-Southwest Airplane Company’s remaining thirteen Curtiss Jenny biplanes and the one plane from Sinclair Oil as being the culprits. Put simply, there were simply no other planes around Tulsa to have flown that day, nor pilots whatsoever.

The lawsuit evidence on the Sinclair Oil plane is plain. Case No. 23, 331 states flatly:

“The St. Clair Oil Company, a corporation, did, at the request and insistence of the city’s agents, and in furtherance of the conspiracy, aforementioned and set out, furnish airplanes on the night of May 31, 1921, and on the morning of June 1, 1921, to carry the defendant’s city’s agents, servants, and employees, and other persons, being part of said conspiracy and other conspirators. That the said J.R. Blaine, captain of the police department, with others, was carried in said airplane which dropped turpentine balls and bombs down and upon the houses of the plaintiff.”

Thus, we surmise that at least one of the city’s police department, a Captain named J. R. Blaine, personally was involved in the attack — if the pleadings are to be believed. His name is somewhat in doubt, however, though a similar name appears in the county records of police officers at the time. Regardless, it seems that at least one police captain served as an “observer” on the Sinclair Oil biplane and dropped incendiaries on the residential areas of the Greenwood District.

That the Curtiss-Southwest Airplane Company’s planes were involved was confirmed further by one of those who escaped the riots, the same African-American woman journalist, Mary E. Jones Parrish. While fleeing the city, she recounted passing an airfield and seeing, “planes out of their sheds, all in readiness for flying, and these men with high-powered rifles getting into them.” There were no other airfields anywhere within 200 miles of Tulsa that had served more than one airplane, nor any others that had hangars, what she called, “sheds” — she could only be describing Curtiss-Southwest Field.

An African-American man stands before the ruins of his home in Tulsa after the firebombing.

Final Words

Despite all the evidence, there are still those who dispute the use of airplanes to firebomb Tulsa that day. One who has researched the matter extensively is Richard S. Warner. His opinion was formed when he undertook a study as part of an official project funded to research the effects of the riots on Tulsa and what reparations might be paid. He claims that the use of aircraft in the attack is overstated:

“It is within reason that there was some shooting from planes and even the dropping of incendiaries, but the evidence would seem to indicate that it was of a minor nature and had no real effect in the riot. While it is certain that airplanes were used by the police for reconnaissance, by photographers and sightseers, there probably were some whites who fired guns from planes or dropped bottles of gasoline or something of that sort. However, they were probably few in numbers.”

If his claim has merit, the case of Tulsa is interesting — details are many, while the overall picture is difficult to yet completely understand. Aircraft were certainly used and they undoubtedly set many fires. Many reported shooting from the airplanes at people on the ground. Some even claimed that the airplanes turned the tide of the battle they note that for nearly two hours, the African-American defenders of their neighborhoods had held out successfully. With the firebombing, however, the defense fell quickly and a rout began. Amidst the flames, the citizens of the Greenwood District scattered in the face of the advancing white mob and chased by a dozen airplanes overhead.

Contemporary photograph of the damage done, from one of the local newspapers at the time of the riots. Click to expand for closer examination.

Years later, the airport called Curtiss-Southwest Field was closed down and dismantled. Today, nothing remains of the old airfield or its two hangars. The area where it was located is at Apache Street and Memorial Drive in Tulsa. Not even a plaque marks the spot from where the first bombing of an American city was launched.

Sadly, most of the insurance claims filed by the residents and business owners for the damage done were denied at the time. The policies were either not honored outright (probably a sign of racism) or contained riders that exempted damage from what amounted to a “force majeure” event. Predictably, a flurry of lawsuits followed due to the influence of the KKK, it appears that most were unsuccessful.

In the Tulsa riots, America showed its darkest side. For years, Oklahoma sought to suppress any mention of the riots. It was only in 1996, on the 75th anniversary of the riots, that the state finally included mention of the riots in the official histories. As for Dick Rowland, he was never charged with a crime. He survived the riots under the protection of the Sheriff and lived the rest of his life in freedom. Sarah Page, deeply troubled at the events that were taken in her name, left Tulsa on the train — to where, nobody knows.

Apparently, she never came back.

Tulsa burns during the height of the race riot on June 1, 1921.

One Last Bit of Aviation Trivia

The firebombing of Tulsa’s African-American Greenwood District and “Black Wall Street” gave rise to two aviation-related philosophies in the African-American community. The first was espoused by the radical followers of Marcus Garvey. They called for African-American men to train as pilots and prepare for a coming race war. The followers of Garvey believed that a final battle would be fought both in the air, at sea, and on the ground. The vision was simple — if African-Americans did not arm themselves with the latest technologies, they would surely die the battle to come would be apocalyptic. They saw it as a fight to the death, where afterwards only one of the two “races” would survive. Garvey called for the community to start building battleships, airplanes, and tanks.

The second vision of African-American involvement in aviation was more peaceful in its focus — critically, it was also less expensive. This view was popularized by newspaper writers of popular African-American bureaus, such as the Chicago Defender, Pittsburgh Courier, New York Age, and Baltimore Afro-American. This approach highlighted the commercial value of aviation and sought to play down the military uses of airplanes. African-Americans should become pilots, in this school of thought, because it would foster social change and drum out stereotypes that blacks were incompetent, unable to master sophisticated technologies, lacked ambition, and were easily frightened. African-American involvement in aviation would bring real democracy to America, so they claimed.

Over time, this second vision won out. The seeds of African-American involvement in aviation were thus planted after the devastation of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Ultimately, this vision would culminate too in the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II. The example set also helped give rise to the non-violence of Martin Luther King, Jr., in the 1960s struggle for equality in America.


A Barbershop Confession

Anecdotes also emerged from other Tulsa communities. According to the Commission report, in the early 1950s, a middle-aged white man was overhead in a Tulsa barbershop bragging that he and a friend had flown a plane over Greenwood during the massacre and dropped dynamite. For historian Ellsworth, the account is credible. “Other than the 50 copies or so of Mary Parrish’s book, there was nothing [at that time] published about bombings,” Ellsworth said. “It wasn’t a subject that was out there in print. That’s why I believe that unless this old guy just made this up, which I doubt, his story rings true.”

Other accounts recall men with guns targeting fleeing residents from the low-flying planes. A Mexican immigrant, who lived at the edge of the Greenwood District, later told family members she witnessed two Black boys being followed down the street by a two-seater airplane. According to the Commission report, “the man in [the] rear seat was shooting at the boys. She then ran out and grabbed the boys and took them into the house.”

The violence began on May 31, 1921 and left hundreds of Black residents dead and more than 1,000 houses and businesses destroyed.

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After clashes between a large group of armed white men and a Black armed men over protection of Rowland from lynching, the Black men retreated to Greenwood. The white mob then descended on Greenwood and began looting homes, burning down businesses and shooting blacks dead on the spot.

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This photograph shows people searching through rubble after the massacre in Tulsa in June 1921.

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At Tulsa’s ARC hospital, patients are shown recovering from injuries from the 1921 massacre. With millions in property damage and no help from the city, the rebuilding of Greenwood nonetheless began almost immediately.

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