The Tulsa Race Riot on “the Black Wall Street”

By | January 3, 2013

The Tulsa Race Riot

I need you to imagine for a moment a scenario. The time period is shortly after World War I. The place is an unspecified city, which is segregated by law. There comes a time when tensions grow, and violence sparks. There is a two-day event which occurs–without much warning–and it destroys entire portions of the city. The destruction of specific neighborhoods, and the shops and homes owned by the occupants of these neighborhoods were looted and destroyed. The destruction  left behind damages costing nearly twenty-seven million dollars–current value with inflation. [1] The members of the community were run out, shot, or wrangled up like cattle and placed in interment camps.

If I stopped here–and assuming the title didn’t clue you in–there is a likely chance that you would think that I am referring to Kristallnacht. Kristallnacht is a two-day pogrom which occurred in Nazi Germany and occupied Austria. This event was orchestrated to drive out Jews from the area, to allow the Jewish properties to be looted and sold to support the German army, and to strike fear into the Jews all throughout Europe.

What you may not know is that years before this, America had their own “Kristallnacht.” The year was 1921, and the place was Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was Memorial Day, and boy and girl were involved in what some people believed could have been a lover’s quarrel, others believed the event was as innocent as boy tripping and stumbling into girl, and there were those that believed that boy tried to rape the girl.

The real issue is that girl was white, and boy was black. The city had lots of racial tension, and due to Jim Crow laws, the city was racially segregated. The city’s ordinance stated that whites nor blacks could live on any block where three-fourths or more of the residents were of the other race. The entire story of the boy’s activities and the city’s protection over the next day goes back and forth. They are rumors quickly spreading of lynching mobs, and within hours, mobs did ascend on the boy. The residents of “black Wall Street” gathered up all available weapons, and armed to the teeth, headed to defend him.

Tulsa Race Riot Newspaper Article

Initially, the boy in question, Dick Rowland, was arrested and placed in the main jail. When the Sheriff’s Office started to receive calls threatening the life of Rowland, he was moved to a more secure jail over the courthouse. Sensationalist newspaper headlines quickly lit a fire underneath both blacks and whites. “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl In an Elevator” and “To Lynch Negro Tonight” were popular headlines of the day.

White mobs arrived at the courthouse demanding that Rowland be turned over to them. The sheriff, Sheriff McCullough, stood by what was right and had his deputies strategically placed in the courthouse, determined to protect Dick Rowland.

An important factor to remember about the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, is that it was full of men that had just come home from war. These men, both black and white, were trained in combat and had access to weapons. A small group of black men, roughly thirty men in size and all former WW I veterans, gathered up their rifles and shotguns. These men were determined to protect Rowland and prevent a lynching. Upon arriving to Rowland’s aid, they were sent away by Sheriff McCullough. He assured them of the boy’s safety, and the men went home. The one-thousand whites congregated around the courthouse saw these black men arrive with weapons and responded in kind. The whites saw this small band of blacks as a threat and assumed the worst–a Negro uprising!

So what did they do?

WhitesTulsa-Race-Riot

You guessed it…the white men ran home and got their guns. Within a couple of hours, the lynch mob had doubled. Now more than two-thousand whites, armed with weapons, were requesting Rowland’s head.

Check back tomorrow when I cover the last event that sparked a riot that has been described as:

…perhaps the costliest incident of racial violence in American history. At the same time, it is perhaps the most marginalized, being almost forgotten until this decade. [2]

[1[ Dollar Times's Inflation Calculator

[2] The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921

21 thoughts on “The Tulsa Race Riot on “the Black Wall Street”

  1. jonolan

    In body count and total monetary damages Tulsa holds the title but I still think that Rosewood, FL has it beat since the entire town was destroyed, abandoned, and never actually rebuilt and repopulated.

    Neither case was truly similar to Kristallnacht though and the attempt at comparison is both invidious and pernicious, Neither Tulsa nor Rosewood were orchestrated. They were simply logical outcomes of the fears of the day.

    Reply
    1. JackAfter6

      Your choice of adjectives ma’am—or sir; it’s hard to tell—is both invidious and pernicious. First and foremost, evil is always orchestrated, and if you don’t know by whom, perhaps you lack guidance… Second, the disgusting sanctimony so often displayed by persons who never in their entire lives suffered through the Nazi Holocaust, is not only offensive, it’s also incredibly stupid. It’s the kind of knee-jerk dim-witted stupidity that caused Kristallnacht, and that caused the Tulsa race riots. Stop being so sanctimonious. If the owner of this website wants to compare one event in history to another, why don’t you climb down off your high horse and pull those fingers out of your ears and just once and for maybe the first time in your life…listen!

      Reply
  2. jonolan

    In body count and total monetary damages Tulsa holds the title but I still think that Rosewood, FL has it beat since the entire town was destroyed, abandoned, and never actually rebuilt and repopulated.

    Neither case was truly similar to Kristallnacht though and the attempt at comparison is both invidious and pernicious, Neither Tulsa nor Rosewood were orchestrated. They were simply logical outcomes of the fears of the day.

    Reply
    1. JackAfter6

      Your choice of adjectives ma’am—or sir; it’s hard to tell—is both invidious and pernicious. First and foremost, evil is always orchestrated, and if you don’t know by whom, perhaps you lack guidance… Second, the disgusting sanctimony so often displayed by persons who never in their entire lives suffered through the Nazi Holocaust, is not only offensive, it’s also incredibly stupid. It’s the kind of knee-jerk dim-witted stupidity that caused Kristallnacht, and that caused the Tulsa race riots. Stop being so sanctimonious. If the owner of this website wants to compare one event in history to another, why don’t you climb down off your high horse and pull those fingers out of your ears and just once and for maybe the first time in your life…listen!

      Reply
  3. JackAfter6

    This, and every other tragic misguided crime against humanity can be laid at the door of tribalism. Whether this is Nazi Germany, or Confederates, or Zimbabwe when people look different or think differently, or speak a different language, or belong to a different tribe, they become to our tribe, scapegoats for all the things we were already upset about. Here’s what I don’t get, why do we always keep trying the same stupid things over and over and over? Affirmative action is discrimination plain and simple. Afrocentrism is racism plain and simple. We condemn the KKK and yet it seems nobody has a problem with the Black Panthers. It’s all tribalism and until everyone is equal under the law nothing is going to change. Equality means no racial set-asides, no more-than-equal opportunity. Until the day finally comes when the people who start riots, who commit mass murder, who stand in front of a television camera and demagogue their own prejudices are not only stopped by every person watching, but then shortly thereafter publicly crucified, atrocities like this will continue.

    Reply
    1. Grant

      Great link to the Zimbabwe article!

      “Zimbabwe’s vice president, Joseph Msika, took it a step further, saying: ‘Whites are not human beings.’” A very interesting read.

      Reply
  4. JackAfter6

    This, and every other tragic misguided crime against humanity can be laid at the door of tribalism. Whether this is Nazi Germany, or Confederates, or Zimbabwe when people look different or think differently, or speak a different language, or belong to a different tribe, they become to our tribe, scapegoats for all the things we were already upset about. Here’s what I don’t get, why do we always keep trying the same stupid things over and over and over? Affirmative action is discrimination plain and simple. Afrocentrism is racism plain and simple. We condemn the KKK and yet it seems nobody has a problem with the Black Panthers. It’s all tribalism and until everyone is equal under the law nothing is going to change. Equality means no racial set-asides, no more-than-equal opportunity. Until the day finally comes when the people who start riots, who commit mass murder, who stand in front of a television camera and demagogue their own prejudices are not only stopped by every person watching, but then shortly thereafter publicly crucified, atrocities like this will continue.

    Reply
    1. Grant

      Great link to the Zimbabwe article!

      “Zimbabwe’s vice president, Joseph Msika, took it a step further, saying: ‘Whites are not human beings.’” A very interesting read.

      Reply
  5. Rosalie Turner

    Thanks for an interesting article, Grant. The Civil Rights Movement is a passion of mine, also. That’s the background for my next historical fiction, MARCH WITH ME, which will be released in March in time for the 50th anniversery of the Children’s March in Birmingham, Alabama. You might want to follow my blog – http://www.blog.rosalieturner.com – as I’m gicving book recommendations about the Movement. Or, you might want to check out my website – http://www.rosalieturner.com. Keep up the good work with such articles. :-)

    Reply
    1. Grant

      Thanks for stopping by. I am always looking for good book recommendations, so I will have to stop by your site! If you haven’t already, you should read Hellhound on his Trail. I am currently reading that, and I love it.

      Reply
  6. Rosalie Turner

    Thanks for an interesting article, Grant. The Civil Rights Movement is a passion of mine, also. That’s the background for my next historical fiction, MARCH WITH ME, which will be released in March in time for the 50th anniversery of the Children’s March in Birmingham, Alabama. You might want to follow my blog – http://www.blog.rosalieturner.com – as I’m gicving book recommendations about the Movement. Or, you might want to check out my website – http://www.rosalieturner.com. Keep up the good work with such articles. :-)

    Reply
  7. Nigel Sellars

    I’m from Oklahoma (Univ. of Oklahoma PhD. in History 1994) and am familiar with the riot. It’s been well known in the state for a long time, but Tulsa authorities (Chamber of Commerce mostly) didn’t like to acknowledge it . Initially, you could only piece it together by referring to various MA theses and doctoral dissertations focusing on things like black history in the state or on the governors’ use of the National Guard. Now, however, that are more and more books and memoirs about it, and we eventually get some more accurate casualty figures Some of my own research (on the IWW and the Green Corn Rebellion) which involved the nature of violence in Oklahoma generally and Tulsa specifically is even cited in the recent lawsuit seeking reparations. The 1917 Green Corn Rebellion against the draft (among other things) is also largely ignored, but I working to changed that in a forthcoming book project.

    BTW, the GAP District was largely killed off by the Interstate loops around Tulsa by the 1980s and the area is now largely the campus of the Oklahoma State University two-year technical college in Tulsa.

    Reply
  8. jonolan

    In body count and total monetary damages Tulsa holds the title but I still think that Rosewood, FL has it beat since the entire town was destroyed, abandoned, and never actually rebuilt and repopulated.

    Neither case was truly similar to Kristallnacht though and the attempt at comparison is both invidious and pernicious, Neither Tulsa nor Rosewood were orchestrated. They were simply logical outcomes of the fears of the day.

    Reply
  9. JackAfter6

    Your choice of adjectives ma’am—or sir; it’s hard to tell—is both invidious and pernicious. First and foremost, evil is always orchestrated, and if you don’t know by whom, perhaps you lack guidance… Second, the disgusting sanctimony so often displayed by persons who never in their entire lives suffered through the Nazi Holocaust, is not only offensive, it’s also incredibly stupid. It’s the kind of knee-jerk dim-witted stupidity that caused Kristallnacht, and that caused the Tulsa race riots. Stop being so sanctimonious. If the owner of this website wants to compare one event in history to another, why don’t you climb down off your high horse and pull those fingers out of your ears and just once and for maybe the first time in your life…listen!

    Reply
  10. JackAfter6

    This, and every other tragic misguided crime against humanity can be laid at the door of tribalism. Whether this is Nazi Germany, or Confederates, or Zimbabwe when people look different or think differently, or speak a different language, or belong to a different tribe, they become to our tribe, scapegoats for all the things we were already upset about. Here’s what I don’t get, why do we always keep trying the same stupid things over and over and over? Affirmative action is discrimination plain and simple. Afrocentrism is racism plain and simple. We condemn the KKK and yet it seems nobody has a problem with the Black Panthers. It’s all tribalism and until everyone is equal under the law nothing is going to change. Equality means no racial set-asides, no more-than-equal opportunity. Until the day finally comes when the people who start riots, who commit mass murder, who stand in front of a television camera and demagogue their own prejudices are not only stopped by every person watching, but then shortly thereafter publicly crucified, atrocities like this will continue.

    Reply
  11. Grant

    Great link to the Zimbabwe article!

    “Zimbabwe’s vice president, Joseph Msika, took it a step further, saying: ‘Whites are not human beings.’” A very interesting read.

    Reply

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