Looking back on a day that changed our perspective on race in America.
By Morgan Lane
Burning building in Greenwood during the massacre. (Via history.com)
Great clouds of smoke filled the streets of Greenwood, Oklahoma on June 1st, 1921. Over the course of 2 days, mobs killed many citizens and ruined the dynamic of a community. June 1st, 2021 marks the 100 year anniversary since one of the most violent racial events in U.S History: the Tulsa Race Massacre.
On May 31st, 1921, a 19 year old black man named Dick Rowland stepped on an elevator of the Drexel Building in Tulsa. The elevator operator, Sarah Page, was next to him at the time. Sarah was a 17 year old white woman who worked the elevators to save up for school. While with Rowland, Page screamed out in agony, and Rowland fled from the building. There were many accusations of what really happened to Page. The main one is Rowland attempted to sexually assault her and put his hands on her without her consent. It didn’t take long for the word to spread and eventually, headlines were made. The Tulsa Tribune titled their article, “Nab Negro for attacking girl in an elevator.”
Newspaper article that was removed from print shortly after being published. (Via: wikipedia)
Rowland was later arrested and would be tried in court. Within the night of the incident, white mobs of men scattered to the local courthouse like ants to a snack on the ground. They made claims that they would lynch Rowland, to avenge Page. It didn’t take long for around 25 black men to show up in favor of Rowland. Both sides were armed, so anything could have happened. By 10pm, there were around 75 black men there to backup Rowland and 1500 white men by the courthouse. With these big numbers of men, things soon got out of control. Shots were fired and the beginning of the conflict began. The black men retreated back to their thriving town of Greenwood, which was known as “Black Wall Street” because of its booming businesses and rich culture.
The men didn’t return to the mecca alone, the white mobs followed them there. By the dawn of June 1st, thousands of white men were in Greenwood. They burned and looted homes, stores, churches, theaters, schools and more. Innocent workers, children, mothers, fathers, and more had their lives turned upside down in a whirlwind. There was no time for them to prepare or flee from the massacre. The only thing they could do was wait. The mobs did so much damage to Greenwood, that over 1000 houses were said to have been looted and burned. In addition to this, between 30 and 300 people were left dead, but the exact number is unclear. Marshalls were soon sent to clear out people and help calm the rumble. In the aftermath of all this, Rowland’s charges were dropped, and he never returned to Tulsa.
The rise and fall of Black Wall Street came in the blink of an eye. It’s not often massacres like this happen. But when they do, they are very significant. In 100 years, the U.S has come a long way with violent racial riots such as these, but there is still much further to solve the issue and aggression. In January 2021, white mobs invaded the capital building on behalf of anger towards the government. There were a few other instances of racial anger being taken out on U.S. citizens, but the Tulsa Race Massacre remains one of the worst. The day will go down in history as one of the most bloody and racially devastating days in the history of this country.