The Tulsa Race Massacre is one of the worst acts of racial violence in American history – and, for decades, it remained one of the least known. During 6 p.m. from May 31 to June 1, 1921, a white mob attacked residents, homes, and businesses in the predominantly Black Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Reporting has largely been hushed up for decades, despite hundreds of people being killed and thousands left homeless.
Read an overview of the Tulsa Race Massacre here.
Black Wall Street had flourished as an autonomous hub
The violence in Tulsa in 1921 did more than just kill it, it also decimated 35 city blocks of what had once been a bustling and self-sustaining hub of the Greenwood neighborhood, commonly known as Black Wall Street.
African Americans had settled in the area after the Civil War, with Oklahoma becoming a safe haven for African Americans. Between 1865 and 1920, African Americans founded more than 50 black townships in the state. Soon the neighborhood of Greenwood, “built for blacks, by blacks,” flourished.
Learn more about Black Wall Street here.
The black entrepreneurs who developed Greenwood
African Americans in Tulsa pooled their resources and created wealth to foster business success in the autonomous district of Greenwood amid Jim Crow discrimination.
Among the early entrepreneurs was OW Gurley, who bought 40 acres of land on the north side of Tulsa, opened a rooming house, and provided loans to help other black people start their own businesses. JB Stradford has opened a luxury hotel considered the largest black-owned hotel in the country, with 54 suites, a billiard room, living room and dining room. During this time, AJ Smitherman founded the Star of Tulsa newspaper, a black newspaper based in Greenwood.
Learn more about these Greenwood entrepreneurs and others here.
Forces behind Greenwood’s success and demise
The Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma was a thriving town within a city – a symbol of pride, achievement, and wealth. The massacre that began on May 31, 1921 was sparked after a 19-year-old black man allegedly offended a 17-year-old white elevator worker and the story was battered in the local newspapers. Follow the forces of hell as Greenwood goes missing. And listen to the descendants of those directly affected by the massacre reflect on how their lives and families have been forever transformed.
Listen to “Blindspot: Tulsa Burning” from The HISTORY® Channel and WNYC Studios here.
Before and after the massacre
In May 2021, Viola Fletcher, 107, testified before Congress about the events of May 31, 1921: “I went to bed at my family’s house in Greenwood,” she said. “The neighborhood I fell asleep in that night was rich, not just in terms of wealth, but also in terms of culture… and heritage. My family had a beautiful house. We had good neighbors. I had friends to play with. I felt safe. I had everything a child could need. future.”
Then, she said, came the rampage, still alive in her mind 100 years later: “I still see black men being shot, black bodies lying in the street. I still smell smoke and see fire. I still see black businesses burned down. I still hear planes flying overhead. I hear the screams. “
See photos of Tulsa, before and after the 1921 attack here.
The role of planes in the Tulsa race massacre
When martial law was declared on June 1, 1921 to end the fighting, journalists, locals and others began to collect accounts on what exactly had happened during those 18 hours in the district. from Greenwood. Historians still assess the viability of witness reports of low-flying planes, raining bullets, or arsonists, which have become an enduring theme in the reconstruction of events.
It was known that only about 15 planes had been stored at local airfields in 1921, and it remains a mystery who possessed those used in the attack on Tulsa – and how exactly they were mobilized.
Learn more about what is known about the use of planes in the Tulsa Race Massacre here.
As devastating as the Tulsa Race Massacre was, subsequent generations of people, including those born and raised in Oklahoma, had never heard of the event until the 1990s. Several newspapers immediately covered the event. devastation, including the Tulsa World, the New York Times and London time. But the victims of the massacre were hastily buried in anonymous graves, and a culture of silence quickly became the norm.
Following a series of events that drew reporters to Oklahoma, local lawmakers created a commission to investigate the massacre. Eventually, story erupted in 1998 that there were potential mass graves in Greenwood.
See how the cover-up of the Tulsa Race Massacre was ultimately revealed here.
WATCH: Tulsa Burning: The 1921 Race Massacre, premiering Sunday May 30 at 8 / 7c on The HISTORY® Channel. Watch a preview now.