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.

Resources for further research:

Greenwood Cultural Center: http://www.greenwoodculturalcenter.com/

The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 by I. Marc Carlson: http://tulsaraceriot.wordpress.com/

A Report by the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921: http://www.okhistory.org/research/forms/freport.pdf

Tulsa Race Riot Archive at OSU-Tulsa: http://libguides.osu-tulsa.okstate.edu/content.php?pid=472496&sid=3867515

Tulsa Race Riot Archive at the University of Tulsa: http://www.utulsa.edu/mcfarlin/speccoll/collections/RaceRiot/

Recommended reading:

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

Black Wall Street: From Riot to Renaissance in Tulsa’s Historic Greenwood District

by Hannibal B. Johnson
Eakin Press 1998

Up From the Ashes: A Story About Building Community

(Children’s book)
by Hannibal B. Johnson
Eakin Press 2000

Tulsa’s Historic Greenwood District

by Hannibal B. Johnson
Arcadia Publishing 2014

Tulsa Historical Society

2445 South Peoria Tulsa, Oklahoma 74114

918.712.9484 | ths@tulsahistory.org

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