Tag Archives: The Writing Life

Greenwood’s Day of Infamy – The 1921 Tulsa Race Riot

Read about the social climate in Tulsa in 1921 — HERE.


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Greenwood in the 1930s

May 31, 1921, was Memorial Day – or Decoration Day as it was often called in that era. A parade marched through the streets of downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma. North of the city, in the all-black, segregated community of Greenwood, citizens went about their business as usual. The Booker T. Washington high school students were preparing for their prom to take place that evening.

In downtown Tulsa, a nineteen-year-old shoeshine boy named Dick Rowland was at work with his shoeshine business.  Because of segregated restrooms in Tulsa, no facility existed in the shoeshine parlor where he worked, forcing Rowland to use the washroom for blacks located on the top floor of the Drexel Building.

No One Will Ever Know

That day, as he had done many times before, Dick stepped into the elevator of the Drexel Building. The elevator operator, a seventeen-year-old white girl named Sarah Page, manned the elevator. No one knows for sure what happened in that elevator. Perhaps Dick tripped and fell against her.  No one will ever know. Sarah let out a scream. Dick, knowing the worst accusation that could ever come against a black man was that of accosting a white woman, fled in fear.

An employee from the nearby Renberg’s store came running, saw Dick fleeing and called police. The next day, Dick Rowland was found by the police in the Greenwood area and arrested. Next followed a series of events that continued to escalate until it was totally out of control.

Inflammatory Headlines 

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Tulsa World Edition Following the Riot

Tulsans of that day received their news through one or the other city newspaper – the Tulsa World, or the Tulsa Tribune. The former was old and established. The latter, only a few years old had been started by a man from Wisconsin named Richard Lloyd Jones. It was Jones’s intention to be the cutting-edge news leader, unafraid to take on controversial issues.  Already, the newspaper had cited vigilante acts in other parts of the country and pointed out how effective such actions were in maintaining law and order.  At the time, Tulsa’s crime problem provided the perfect arena for the Tribune to make a name for itself.

Since the Tribune was the evening paper, they had the advantage of creating inflammatory headlines the night of May 31 regarding the Rowland incident. That copy was never to be found in later years. (And of course for many years no one wanted to find it.) Bound volumes no longer exist (the Tribune closed its doors in the 1992). But looking at the microfilm version – which does exist – the front-page article and most of the editorial page for that issue had at some point in the past been deliberately torn out.

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The Tulsa Courthouse

Chaos Ensues

Something was in those headlines that someone wanted to hide. Some have said the word lynch or lynching might have been in those headlines. At any rate, Dick Rowland was being held in a jail cell in the top floor of the courthouse (photo on the left). A group of armed blacks (many were WWI veterans) gathered in the street below in an attempt to ward off a possible lynching.

Whites also gathered and soon a gun went off and the conflict was suddenly inflamed!  In this initial chaos, twelve people were killed.

The blacks fled northward, gathering more armed men to defend their community. Their efforts were valiant, but they had no idea what they were up against.

In my next blog post, the horrors of the riot are revealed. Read it HERE.

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Book #1 (Tulsa Tempest)

(Click the cover for more information.)

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You can read Chapter 1 of Tulsa Tempest right HERE!

Free Download! 

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Book #2 (Tulsa Turning),

(Click the cover for more information.)

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I’ve launched a YouTube video series that I call (for obvious reasons!) The Writing Life These episodes reveal the ins and outs, and the ups and downs of a published author.

Be sure to subscribe so you won’t miss a single episode.

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Tired of the struggle writing your book? Need a helping hand? Norma Jean’s Coaching Services may be the answer you’re looking for. Fill out the questionnaire on the page and let’s see if we’re a right fit. A FREE consultation gets the ball rolling. (Or the pen writing!) Click HERE!

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Tulsa Race Riot — Social Climate in Tulsa in 1921 — Tulsa Series

Signs of the Times

In my last post regarding the Tulsa Race Riot (The Undercurrent that Sparked the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot), I mentioned that the signs of the times were like neon lights flashing across the sky. It was true for the nation, but it was even more true for Tulsa in that specific era.

As I have previously stated, segregation had forced the area known as Greenwood, to invest in their own community.  They had become a self-sufficient and self-determined lot.

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Greenwood District of Tulsa prior to 1921 Race Riot

Greenwood Prospered

Greenwood was replete with prosperous businesses. This included realtors, doctors, dentists, teachers, attorneys, beauticians and barbers. Greenwood boasted rooming houses, restaurants, night clubs, hotels, bus services, airline charter service, hospital, movie theaters, schools and churches.

Booker T. Washington high school, built in 1913, had grown into a three-story, sixteen-room brick building. On May 31, 1921, the seniors were in a flurry of activities getting ready for their prom.  Sadly, that prom never came to pass.

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Booker T. Washington High School in Greenwood District

 

Vigilante Actions

The social climate in Tulsa in the years prior to the riot was one of increased vigilante actions and lawlessness.  Not only was the Klan active (2,000 strong in Tulsa alone), but also the Knights of Liberty formed their own mobs and hate groups.

The Knights of Liberty took offense with the IWW (International Workers of the World) who purported racial equality. In 1917, a group of IWW men were whipped and tarred and feathered by members of the Knights of Liberty with no interference whatsoever from law officers.

Public Lynching

Be A NovelistJust nine months before the Race Riot a white boy — an accused murderer — was publicly lynched, which gives an even clearer idea of the tenor of the town at the time. (Take the word public literally. Hundreds of Tulsans turned out for the event as though it were a community picnic.)

Out of the three Tulsa newspapers, only one, the Tulsa Star (the black’s community newspaper), condemned the lynching. The silence of the others spoke volumes about Tulsa at the time.  It was a population ready to accept quick justice – justice meted out by mob actions. One author writing about the times called it “string-him-up” mentality.

The Tulsa Tribune once sported this headline: “Tulsa appears now to be in danger of losing its prestige as the whitest town in Oklahoma.” Such sentiments couldn’t help but feed the already growing distrust of the burgeoning black community to the north of Tulsa.

Primed for the Explosion

On the one hand the community of Greenwood (Black Wall Street of America) fairly brimmed over with success and affluence. On the other hand, the resentment, suspicion, anger, bitterness, jealousy and envy continued to seethe just beneath the surface of the white community.

All was primed for the explosion that took place on May 31, and June 1, 1921.

Clean Teen Reads

Book #1 (Tulsa Tempest)

(Click the cover for more information.)

Be A Novelist

 

You can read Chapter 1 of Tulsa Tempest right HERE!

Free Download! 

Clean Teen Reads

Book #2 (Tulsa Turning),

(Click the cover for more information.)

Be A Novelist

Clean Teen Reads

I’ve launched a YouTube video series that I call (for obvious reasons!) The Writing Life These episodes reveal the ins and outs, and the ups and downs of a published author.

Be sure to subscribe so you won’t miss a single episode.

Clean Teen ReadsBe A Novelist

Tired of the struggle writing your book? Need a helping hand? Norma Jean’s Coaching Services may be the answer you’re looking for. Fill out the questionnaire on the page and let’s see if we’re a right fit. A FREE consultation gets the ball rolling. (Or the pen writing!) Click HERE!

Clean Teen Reads

Be A Novelist