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Tulsa Race Massacre begins

June 1, 2020 in History

By History.com Editors

Beginning on the night of May 31, 1921, thousands of white citizens in Tulsa, Oklahoma descended on the city’s predominantly black Greenwood District, burning homes and businesses to the ground and killing hundreds of people. 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.

In the years following World War I, segregation was the law of the land, and the Ku Klux Klan was gaining ground—not only in the Jim Crow South, but across the United States. Amid that charged environment, Tulsa’s African American community was nationally recognized for its affluence. The Greenwood District, known as “Black Wall Street,” boasted more than 300 black-owned businesses, including two movie theaters, doctors’ offices and pharmacies.

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

Greenwood district in Tulsa, Oklahoma was founded and developed by African-Americans starting in 1906 on what had formerly been Indian Territory. It flourished with the opening of clothing shops, theaters and businesses and became known as Black Wall Street. In 1921, Greenwood was the target of attacks by an armed mob in the Tulsa Race Massacre.

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On May 30, 1921, a young black man named Dick Rowland entered an elevator in an office building in downtown Tulsa. At some point, Rowland was alone in the elevator with its white operator, Sarah Page. It’s unclear what happened next (one common version is that Rowland stepped on Page’s foot) but Page screamed, and Rowland fled the scene. The next day, the police arrested him.

Rumors about the incident spread quickly through Tulsa’s white community, some members of which undoubtedly resented the prosperity of the Greenwood District. After a story published in the Tulsa Tribune on the afternoon of May 31 claimed that Rowland had attempted to rape Page, an angry white mob gathered in front of the courthouse, demanding that Rowland be handed over.

Seeking to prevent a lynching, a group of some 75 black men arrived on the scene that night, some of them World War I veterans who were carrying weapons. After a white man tried to disarm a black veteran and the gun went off, chaos broke out.

Over the next 24 hours, thousands of white rioters poured into …read more

Source: HISTORY

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