In an era defined by a violent, white supremacist regime known as Jim Crow, some 10,000 African Americans created the nation’s most successful Black community in Tulsa’s Greenwood District. On May 31, 1921, the Tulsa Tribune, a White newspaper, published a false and inflammatory article about an encounter between an African American man and a White woman in an elevator. White Tulsans, already resentful of Black wealth, sought to execute the man without a trial. When African American men intervened, the lynch mob attacked Greenwood. After overwhelming African American defenders, White Tulsans murdered hundreds of Greenwood residents, placed the survivors in an internment camp, and burned down the thirty-five city block district.
The massacre fit a pattern of White attacks on Black communities across the United States between 1917 and 1945, while its aftermath reflected Jim Crow’s influence on civil institutions. National guardsmen forced survivors into temporary servitude. The city government passed an ordinance – later declared unconstitutional – to prevent Greenwood’s reconstruction. Insurance companies refused to compensate many Black property owners. Prominent Greenwood residents fought off criminal charges, while White perpetrators avoided legal consequences. Unknown persons physically removed the inflammatory article from the newspaper when the Tribune was later archived.
These sources include survivor accounts, newspaper articles, reports, telegrams, photographs, and historical analyses. – John Truden, graduate student.
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Primary Sources: Original Documents from the Time
Barrett, Charles F. (Oklahoma National Guard), Field Order No. 4, June 2, 1921, Report, Tulsa Race Riot Disaster Relief, American Red Cross, Tulsa Race Massacre Collection, Tulsa Historical Society & Museum, Tulsa, OK. (Companion Canvas page.)
Interview of Otis Clark, Voices of Oklahoma, November 23, 2009. (Sound recording.)
Tulsa Disaster Relief Statistics, July 30, 1921, Supplement to Report, Tulsa Race Riot Disaster Relief, American Red Cross, Tulsa Race Massacre Collection, Tulsa Historical Society & Museum, Tulsa, OK.
Secondary Sources: What Historians Have Written
Chang, David A. “The Battle for Whiteness: Making Whites in a White Man’s Country, 1916–1924.” In The Color of the Land: Race, Nation, and the Politics of Landownership in Oklahoma, 1832-1929, 175–204. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010. (Companion Canvas page.)
Messer, Chris M., Thomas E. Shriver, and Alison E. Adams. “The Destruction of Black Wall Street: Tulsa’s 1921 Riot and the Eradication of Accumulated Wealth.” American Journal of Economics & Sociology 77, no. 3/4 (May 2018): 789–819.
Williams, Chad Louis. “The War at Home: African American Veterans and the Long ‘Red Summer.’” In Torchbearers of Democracy: African American Soldiers in the World War I Era, 223–60. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.