Saturday, April 9, 2016

Tulsa Race Riot - Notes

Tulsa Riot
When?
May 31 and June 1, 1921

What happened?

Background
-Oklahoma settled mostly by Southerners
-Early 20th century lynchings were common
-Jim Crow laws were in effect in Oklahoma, restrictions on voting rights written into their state Constitution which lasted until 1965
-Residential segregation was mandatory 
-Racial tension as WW I soldiers returned from war looking for work
-Returning black soldiers returned from war expecting full civil rights after serving
-Red Summer- race riots throughout the US- 1919
-KKK steadily growing, Oklahoma had a large number of members

Greenwood was a prosperous section of Tulsa where blacks resided- known as Black Wall Street

Few facts known other than there was an encounter on an elevator between 19 year old shoe shiner and 17 year old elevator operator. What transpired next is not known. Perhaps the two individuals knew each other. 

Bystanders heard a shriek and presumed the girl had been an assault despite the fact the girl denied one had occurred. 

There was a brief, low key investigation, the girl did not press charges.
By the next morning the boy was detained, questioned, and there was a report of an anonymous call threatening his life.

Rumors quickly circulated.
The boy was moved to another jail.
News spread, many who knew him- including white professionals didn't believe the rumors.

The next day, sensational headlines in local paper implicating the boy on a sexual assault and warned of a lynching- there are no copies of this issue in existence

A lynch mob surrounded the courthouse jail where the  boy was held. The mob ignored the sheriff's pleas for crowd to disperse.

Local black residents offered to help the police.
Sheriff encouraged black men to return home. 
White mob, having seen armed blacks went home to get more weapons, some went to armory to break in and steal weapons.

The mob at courthouse continued to grow, a shot fired, riot triggered.

Oklahoma National Guard intervened
-riots continued throughout the night- shooting, lynching, fires
-some stayed to protect themselves and property, many others fled the city
-there was an attack by air- dropped firebombs and shot at people indiscriminately

Sheriff declared martial law by noon following day

Aftermath - 191 businesses destroyed, a school, several churches, a hospital

The boy was safely taken out of Tulsa never to return again, all charges against him dropped

Future attempts to rebuild Greenwood section thwarted, city tried to re-zone the property making it too expensive to rebuild

Tulsa Race Riot Commission- 1996

Numbers:

10,000 blacks left homeless
35 city blocks destroyed
as many as 300 deaths

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