The Tulsa Race Massacre: 5 Things You Might Not Know

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One of the side effects of this strange and beautiful, but deeply flawed country is that so much history has been left out of the books most of us read during K-12.

For instance, until recently, there were far too many people who had never heard of, or never learned in depth about, the annihilation of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The Black community in Tulsa had risen up from the ashes of slavery and amassed a certain amount of wealth…too much wealth for the white supremacists to tolerate. In an 18 hour period between May 31 and June 1, 1921, hundreds of people were killed by gunfire, bombs, and lynchings, leaving a mark on Black lives all across the country.

Since you may have only heard about it for the first time recently, here are 5 more facts you should know about those devastating two days.

5. We still don’t know exactly what struck the match that fateful night.

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Let’s talk about property damage. On this day in history, May 31 – June 1, 1921, a white mob attacked the black residents of Greenwood District, #Tulsa, Oklahoma – also known as #BlackWallStreet. They used guns, bombs and a civilian aircraft to murder up to 300 people & injure over 800 more. The white mob also burned and looted 35 blocks, causing $32.25 million in property damage and leaving 10,000 black residents homeless. When called on to quell the unrest, the @oklahomanationalguard joined the rioters instead and later conducted mass arrests of black survivors because, you know, racism. And that was the end of the wealthiest black community in America. The Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot (Massacre) of 1921, formed in 1996, determined that the @CityofTulsa, OK had conspired with the rioters to conduct what amounted to a massacre or ethnic cleansing of the city’s black residents. . Tulsa, OK is located on Wazhazhe Maⁿzhaⁿ (Osage), Muscogee (Oklahoma), Caddo and Očeti Šakówiŋ (Sioux) land. . . . Tag #MelaninBaseCamp and help us #DiversifyOutdoors!

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Tulsa was affluent, but that didn’t mean that crime and racial tensions didn’t run high. White mobs went on tears of vigilante justice, lynching people suspected of crimes with little to no police interference.

On May 31, 1921. a Black teenager named Dick Rowland was arrested for an incident that happened the previous day. No one knows exactly what happened between him and a white woman named Sarah Page – it was either something as innocuous as him frightening her or stepping on her toe, or, on the other end of the spectrum, him trying to rape her.

An angry white mob showed up at the courthouse, demanding they sent Rowland out for his purported crimes.

4. Why is was known as “Black Wall Street”

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Today is the 99 year anniversary of The Tulsa Race Massacre, or The Black Wall Street Massacre. One of the most importent things to do in this times is to educate yourself in history, for history is bound to repeat itself unless we learn from it. You can read the Watchmen series creator @DamonLindelof's message about The Tulsa Massacre in his instagram, where he talks about this very matter. #BlackWallStreet #BlackLivesMatter

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Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood was home to most of Tulsa’s 10,000 Black residents, making it the second-largest Black community in Oklahoma.

It was also one of, if not the, wealthiest Black neighborhoods in the country, boasting a library branch, two newspapers, and the prosperous business district known as “Black Wall Street.”

3. Police likely encouraged the raging violence.

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#todayinhistory The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre began the night of May 31st, 99 years ago today. One of our goals leading up to the centennial in 2021 has been to make every item in our collection related to the massacre available online, free of charge. Thanks to diligent staff, we have officially achieved that goal. The collection contains more than 600 total items, including more than 300 photographic images captured June 1, 1921 and in the following months during reconstruction. The collection also contains 225 clippings saved from local newspapers by the relief staff of the American Red Cross. The most unique items include two sets of original reports prepared by Director of Relief Maurice Willows, an invaluable source concerning the Red Cross relief efforts. Learn more and access all of these materials on our website. Link in bio. #tulsahistory #tulsa #tulsa1921 #tulsaracemassacre #tulsaraceriot #greenwood #museumsfromhome

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The Tulsa police weren’t able to control the riot, but reports were that they didn’t even try – in fact, they may have done what they could to encourage it. Eyewitness accounts told of armed authorities deputizing white members of the mob and using racial slurs while egging the violence on.

The National Guard was called out to tame the situation, but mostly “protected” a white neighborhood while the Black neighborhood burned.

2. We don’t know exactly how many people died.

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It is the #Caucasian #American who's been stealing, plundering, #looting and burning #black neighborhoods to the ground for centuries, way before anyone stole televisions from Target: #whywesayblacklivesmatter #tulsa . Before it was destroyed in the 1921 #TulsaRaceMassacre, Greenwood was one of the most affluent Black communities in the country. As one of the most prominent concentrations of Black businesses in the US during the early 20th century, it was known as #BlackWall Street. Before the massacre, Greenwood had a population of more than 100,000 Black people. . There were luxury shops, 21 restaurants, 30 grocery stores, a hospital, a savings and loan, a post office, 3 hotels, jewelry and clothing stores, 2 movie theaters, a library, pool halls, a bus and cab service, a nationally recognized school system, 6 private airplanes and 2 Black newspapers. . The #massacre began on May 31, 1921, when white mobs descended on Greenwood, burning houses and shooting unarmed black people; some were burned alive, and 40 square blocks of business and residential property, valued then at more than $1 million, were destroyed. #blacklivesmatter

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The violence began when the police refused to release Rowland, and a group of armed Black men arrived at the courthouse to show their intention to protect him. Tensions rose, shots were fired, and the battle between white and black began.

The angry, white mob marched into Greenwood and looted homes, set them on fire, destroyed businesses, and attacked unarmed residents. More than 1200 houses and buildings, including a school, library, hospital, churches, and both newspapers, were lost.

Between 50-300 people were killed, making it one of the deadliest single incidents of racial violence in U.S. history.

1. There was a concentrated effort to erase the incident from history.

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May 31 and June 1 marks the 99th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre that occurred in the Greenwood District in Tulsa Oklahoma. Roughly 1,200 homes were burned and over 300 Black Americans died as white supremists looted and burned ‘Black Wall Street,’ the wealthiest Black community of that time. || Oklahoma Historical Society/Getty Images #BlackLivesMatter #tulsaracemassacre #Tulsa #BlackWallStreet

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Like we said at the outset of this article, the Tulsa Race Massacre is still missing from many school curriculums and history books today. In the years that followed the incident, a concentrated effort to suppress the story began, starting with the Tulsa Tribune removing their front-page article accusing Dick Rowland of assault. Accounts of the incident were wiped from police and state militia archives, and it was never commemorated in any way.

76 years later, in 1997, the government finally formed an official Race Riot Commission to investigate the details, and in 2020, nearly 100 years later, Oklahoma school districts received lessons to include in their curriculums.

Education is key, and everyone’s history matters – it’s all American history, after all.

Did you learn something new today? What surprised you the most? Tell us in the comments!