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Tulsa Race Riots

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I. Introduction pg. 3

II. Riot Beginnings pg. 3 -4

III. Statistics pg. 4-5

IV. Lives Changed pg. 5-6

V. Reparations pg 6-7

VI. References pg. 8


The Tulsa race riot of 1921 was a dark time in the history of Oklahoma. It all began with a simple misunderstanding, but had catastrophic consequences. Homes and businesses were destroyed, many African Americans and whites were killed, and Tulsa had lost its soul. In the beginning Oklahoma was just a young state, and Tulsa was just a young town, trying to find its place in the world. The discovery of Oil quickly turned Tulsa into one of the most prosperous towns in America. As the town prospered, so did its citizens, which includes African Americans. It is an irony in that through racial segregation Greenwood Avenue became as successful as it was. It was necessary that African American businesses existed because they catered to the African American dollars that were being earned. The white businesses did not serve African Americans because of racial segregation. The area was such a success that populations of other African Americans from around the country saw it as a beacon of hope. The new residents had a hard work ethic and helped build up North Tulsa into was it was, the Mecca for African Americans in the Southwest.

Riot Beginnings

With all this prosperity and wealth many African Americans were happy but many whites saw this as a threat. They saw African Americans who prospered as a threat to their power, to the way things use to be (African Americans being slaves, or children of them). There were some African Americans that had better homes and better jobs than some whites. Many in the White community could not stand for it. Hatred and resentment grew and it was adding fuel to the fire that was waiting to be sparked by a match. That match would eventually be lit when Dick Rowland a shoeshine boy, bumped into a white girl named Sarah Page. It was a trivial misunderstanding. Rowland accidentally steps on Miss Page's shoe and she yelled. She then claimed that she was assaulted by Mr. Rowland. Dick was eventually picked up by the police and put into jail. It was a known fact that many of the members of the Police department were members of the Ku Klux Klan and many in the African American community knew Rowland's fate if he were to be left in the hands of these so called police officers. The African American citizens had to protect him from a lynching and the white citizens wanted to lynch him. A crowd of African Americans came to the steps of the station were Rowland was held and offered their assistance in protecting him from a gathering white mob. The police declined this offer and the African Americans left. As they were leaving the scene to return home they ran into more concerned African Americans and with that crowd they headed back to the station because those African Americans had heard rumors that the white mob was growing. They once again offered their assistance to the police and once again it was turned down. A white officer tried to disarm the crowd and came upon one African American man who refused to give up his gun and a struggled ensued. Gunfire broke out and once the smoke had settled two African Americans were dead along with ten white men. This was the match that was lit, because the Dick Rowland incident was only the box that the matches came in. Violence was on the menu for the evening as fires and smoke lit up the night sky. The irony of the situation is that Rowland and Page have been reported as running away together.


James Patrick wrote an interesting article about the Tulsa riot that includes many statistics from this night of violence. Mr. Patrick writes about the race relations around America before the riot and how tense the atmosphere was. He states that from "Chicago to Tulsa, to Omaha, East St. Louis and many communities in between white mobs pursued what can only be described as a reign of terror against African Americans during the period from 1917 to 1923." As Mr. Patrick stated this was probably one of the worst if not the worst domestic act violence. Even today people do not have the knowledge or refuse to believe what happened that day in 1921. The official death toll was 35(Patrick, 1999) but it is believed that many more hundreds were killed, because many bodies were dumped into the river of coal mines or burned (Patrick, 1999). Here are other numbers that Mr. Patrick writes in his article, 1500 African American homes destroyed, 600 businesses destroyed, 21 churches, 21 restaurants, 30 stores, 2 movie theaters, a hospital, a bank, a post office, libraries, and schools. It takes people with an exponential amount of hate in their hearts would be able to do destroy institutions that exist only for the benefit of mankind. The Statistics prove that Greenwood Avenue was once vibrant and full of life. Greenwood Avenue not only just provided great economic means for African Americans, but it was a place where their hopes and dreams came alive. It was where they were free to prosper after a long history of slavery and discrimination.

Lives Changed

Many people had their lives destroyed, fortunes lost, and names tarnished. One of these men was J.B. Stradford, who had been a prominent lawyer and businessman in Tulsa. His story is one of hope because he was born the son of a slave. He managed to turn his life around despite the overwhelming circumstances that he faced. Before the riots Stratford had a successful law practice and owned a 65 room hotel. Stratford was eventually indicted for igniting a riot. After hearing of his indictment Stratford left Tulsa never to return. He went to Chicago to start a new life, where he set up his law practice and became as successful as he was in Tulsa. It took 6 decades after his death to clear his name (New York Times, 1996). His descendants



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