Tulsa Race Riots: Two Days to Live in Infamy

Trivia – What Was the First American City Attacked By Air?

If you guessed Honolulu, you guessed wrong.  Twenty years before Pearl Harbor, law enforcement and white assailants used more than a dozen planes to drop firebombs on buildings and homes and fire rifles at the residents of Tulsa’s Greenwood District.

Oklahoma 1921

Upon its admission as a state in November 16, 1907, the new Oklahoma legislature quickly enacted Jim Crow segregation laws.  From statehood to 1921, there were 26 lynchings of African-Americans in the state.

While segregated, Tulsa’s Greenwood District was the wealthiest black community in the United States and known as the “Black Wall Street”.  The label is reported to have been given by noted African-American educator and author Booker T. Washington.

The Tulsa race riot began on May 31, 1921, after news reports of a young African-American man being taken into custody on charges of raping a white woman drew a lynch mob.  A conflict ensued when a group of armed African-Americans, including a number of World War I veterans, went to the courthouse to protect the suspect.

Eventually, gunfire was exchanged and the outnumbered African-Americans began retreating to the Greenwood District.  The white mob began firing shots into Greenwood and then began to set it afire.


From May 31 and through June 1, 1921:

  • Between 39 and 300 African-Americans were killed;
  • More than 35 blocks comprising 1,256 residences were burned to the ground;  and
  • More than 10,000 African-Americans were left homeless.

It is one of the worst race riots in American history.

Tulsa’s Dirty Little Secret

From Wikipedia:

Many survivors left Tulsa. Both black and white residents who stayed in the city were silent for decades about the terror, violence, and losses of this event. The riot was largely omitted from local and state, as well as national, histories: “The Tulsa race riot of 1921 was rarely mentioned in history books, classrooms or even in private. Blacks and whites alike grew into middle age unaware of what had taken place.”

As a result, on the 75th anniversary of the massacre, the Oklahoma legislature created a Commision to “investigate events, interview survivors, hear testimony from the public, and prepare a report of events.”

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In 2001, the Commission reported that the city had conspired with the white mob against the Tulsa black community and recommended a program of reparations to survivors and their descendants.  See report below.



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