1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Anniversary

As we are now at the hundredth anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, people look back at the atrocity with questions even today. They wonder how such a thing could happen. The Tulsa massacre occurred when white mobs attacked the affluent Greenwood African American community. The complete devastation of the Greenwood neighborhood, known as Black Wall Street, that was burned to the ground is hard to comprehend. It has been called the deadliest and most destructive massacre in our country’s history. It was a brutal attack on the prosperous black neighborhood with thousands of angry white people targeting the area and its citizens in a wave of violence that included murder, shootings, the looting of homes and businesses, fires set by torches, even incendiary explosive devices dropped from small airplanes that caused buildings to burn from the roof down. A number of the more graphic photographs were printed after the massacre as postcards such as these. Members of Tulsa white supremacist organizations displayed them and mailed them to sympathizers around the country. What caused the terrible outbreak? Apparently a young black teenager named Dick Rowland entered an elevator in an office building downtown. At some point after that, the young white elevator operator, Sarah Page, screamed, and Rowland fled. It has largely been accepted that Rowland may have only stumbled into the girl. The police were called, and the next morning they arrested Rowland. Later a large group of angry white men gathered outside the courthouse demanding Rowland, and rumors of a lynching spread. The white men grew to 1,500, some armed. About 75 black men had gathered to protect Rowland, some also armed. After shots were fired, the outnumbered black men went back to Greenwood, and there the massacre began. In the end, 35 blocks were burned to the ground, as many as 300 blacks were killed, and nearly 10,000 people were left homeless. No one was ever charged for these crimes, and prosperity for the African American community has never returned. For generations the tragedy was repressed, only now at the 100-year anniversary getting the attention it deserves.                                                               By Anne E. Peterson, Curator of Photographs