June 1st, 1921

White Rioters in Tulsa Leave Hundreds Dead, Black Community Destroyed

In 1921, the black community of Tulsa, Oklahoma, enjoyed significant economic prosperity and political independence. Located in the city's Greenwood District and known as "Negro Wall Street," it was considered one of the wealthiest black communities in the nation.

On May 30, 1921, nineteen-year-old Dick Rowland, a black man, boarded an elevator while working in a building in downtown Tulsa. The elevator was operated by Sarah Page, a seventeen-year-old white girl. When a store clerk heard a scream, he ran to the elevator to find Ms. Page and, thinking she'd been attacked, called police.

Ms. Page told police that Mr. Rowland had startled her by grabbing her arm but she did not want to press charges. Rumors spread, and the story quickly morphed into a rape allegation. Police arrested Mr. Rowland at his Greenwood home and jailed him at the courthouse. The next night, a mob of white men sought to lynch him but the sheriff and deputies defended the jail, along with thirty armed black men from Greenwood who also stood guard.

Undeterred, members of the mob returned with firearms, and several whites were killed or wounded in the ensuing gunfight. When the black men retreated to Greenwood, white rioters attacked the town, burning forty city blocks, killing up to 300 black residents, and displacing many more. The prosperous black community was destroyed, but no rioters were convicted and survivors received no compensation for lost property. After eighty years, Oklahoma approved funds to redevelop the area and build a memorial in 2001.