Tag Archives: Tulsa Tempest

Destruction of Black Wall Street — 1921 Tulsa Race Riot

In my last Tulsa Series post, I outlined the events leading up to the Tulsa Race Riot.

Read about it here.


Mob Had Bigger Things in Mind

1921 Tulsa Race Riot — Machine gun mounted atop a vehicle

Throughout the night and into the early morning hours of June 1, 1921, Greenwood citizens tried to sleep, but intermittent gunfire prevented any real rest.  Most were confident that things would cool off and that the worst was over.

They had no idea that many of those who’d been in the mob at the courthouse were now being deputized, and were breaking into downtown hardware stores to borrow guns and ammunition. (A previous attempt to break into the local armory had been thwarted.)  The citizens of Greenwood also had no idea that a well-armed mob of several thousand were gathering and surrounding their neighborhood waiting for dawn. The mob was no longer interested in Dick Rowland. They had bigger things in mind.

Some Fought; Others Fled

Setting fires near Archer began around 1:00 AM. Firefighters arrived on the scene only to be forced away at gunpoint by white rioters.

As can be imagined, rumors were flying throughout the night. While many of the black men prepared to defend their homes, entire families were streaming out of the city on foot toward the north, fleeing for their lives.

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Citizens of Greenwood (Black Wall Street) taken prisoner in their own community.

As dawn lit the summer skies, armed groups of white men proceeded into Greenwood and house-by-house ordered citizens to come out with their hands raised.  Hundreds were taken captive and either led on foot, or loaded into trucks and taken to internment centers where they were held as prisoners for days. Husbands and wives were separated – often children were separated from parents. The day was hot and the people were thirsty.

Constant Gunfire

The gunfire was ongoing and constant. Many who attempted to flee were simply gunned down. Men, women, the elderly, the sick, the children – it did not matter.  Nothing mattered but the color of their skin.

For a young woman named, Dimple Bush, the flight from Greenwood had bordered upon the indescribable. “It was just dawn; the machine guns were sweeping the valley with their murderous fire and my heart was filled with dread as we sped along,” she recalled. “Old women and men, children were running and screaming everywhere.”

Wholesale Looting

Once the houses and stores were emptied of people, then the looting began in earnest.  Dr. R. T. Bridgewater, assistant county physician, recalled:

On reaching the house I saw my piano and all of my elegant furniture piled in the street. My safe had been broken open, all of the money stolen, also my silverware, cut glass, all of the family clothes, and everything of value had been removed, even my family Bible….  My car was stolen and most of my large rugs were taken. I lost seventeen houses that paid me an average of over $425.00 per month.

Death of Renowned Surgeon

Dr. Arthur C. Jackson, a nationally renowned surgeon and former president of the State Medical Association, was a prominent, well-respected black physician in Tulsa. Many of his patients were white families. Dr. Jackson was gunned down as he ran from his burning house and was left to bleed to death with no medical care.

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Mt. Zion Baptist Church ablaze.

Space does not permit describing all the atrocities that occurred on June 1, 1921. It goes beyond what a person can imagine.  After taking most of the male population captive, after the looting, then came the torching. Some thirty-plus blocks of businesses and neighborhoods went up in smoke.  Little or nothing was left.  How many people from the Greenwood community died, no one will ever know.

Rather than disarming and arresting white rioters and turning them back, the Tulsa police and the National Guard assisted in rounding up the black citizens who had been taken captive.

Prisoners of War

The citizens of Greenwood lost their homes, family members, possessions, businesses, churches, and most ironically of all – their freedom.  They had become prisoners of war in their own community.

Over 6,000 people were held at the Convention Hall and the Fairgrounds, some for as long as eight days. From June 1 until July 7, no black individual was allowed to move freely about the area without a special green card.  The only way to procure a green card was to have the signature of a white employer. This meant those who had owned their own businesses were out of luck.

In the next blog post we’ll look at the aftermath of the Tulsa Race Riot.

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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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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.

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

Clean Teen Reads