On the morning of May 30, 1921, a young black man named Dick Rowland was riding in the elevator in the Drexel Building at Third and Main. The white elevator operator, Sarah Page, claimed that Rowland grabbed her arm, causing her to flee in panic. Accounts of the incident circulated among the city’s white community during the day and became more exaggerated with each telling.
Tulsa police arrested Rowland the following day and began an investigation. An inflammatory report in the May 31 edition of the Tulsa Tribune spurred a confrontation between black and white armed mobs around the courthouse where the sheriff and his men had barricaded the top floor to protect Rowland. Shots were fired and the outnumbered blacks began retreating to the Greenwood Avenue business district.
In the early morning hours of June 1, 1921, Black Tulsa was looted and burned by white rioters. Governor Robertson declared martial law, and National Guard troops arrived in Tulsa. Guardsmen assisted firemen in putting out fires, took imprisoned blacks out of the hands of vigilantes and imprisoned all black Tulsans not already interned. Over 6,000 people were held at the Convention Hall and the Fairgrounds, some for as long as eight days.
Twenty-four hours after the violence erupted, it ceased. In the wake of the violence, 35 city blocks lay in charred ruins, over 800 people were treated for injuries and estimated reports of deaths began at 36*.
* Recently, the Tulsa Race Riot Commission released a report indicating that historians now believe close to 300 people died in the riot.
The Tulsa Historical Society has an extensive archive of photos, clippings and other materials related to the Tulsa Race Riot. Researchers are encouraged to call for an appointment to view the materials, which have been utilized by scholars and researchers, authors, and media from around the world.
Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921
by Dr. Scott Ellsworth
Foreword by John Hope Franklin
©1982 by Louisiana State University Press
Reconstructing the Dreamland
by Alfred L. Brophy
Oxford University Press 2002
Riot and Remembrance by James S. Hirsch
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2002