Tulsa County


Tulsa County
County Seat - Tulsa

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Race Riot of 1921 

Here is a Link to the Race Riot Commission
Additional links at the bottom

On May 31, 1921, Tulsa's pace as a progressive, booming, civilized city was halted as a bitter race riot erupted. The riot had it's roots in a rumor involving a young black man and a white female elevator operator in the Drexel Building at Third and Main Streets. It was alleged by the woman that the man grabbed her by the arm in the elevator and she struck him about the head with her purse. He was arrested that afternoon by city police.

That night rumors began flying in the downtown area that the young man was to be lynched and many whites began gathering at the courthouse to see if a lynching party had been formed. Newspaper reports of that period state that an open touring car occupied by several black men drove up to the courthouse and a shot or two was fired. That was the spark that ignited the city into a mass of ugly people turning against each other with all the hatred they could muster.

Newspapers reported that blacks made an armed attack against the downtown district. Whites responded by breaking into every store in the downtown area, such as sporting goods and hardware stores, grabbing rifles, pistols, shotguns and ammunition. They launched an attack against the blacks and soon the riot shifted to the southern fringe of north Tulsa in the area of the Frisco tracks and Greenwood Avenue. The whites poured gunfire into the black area until midnight.

Tulsa's police force was small and not able to halt the rioters, so Mayor T.D. Evans asked the governor to send in the National Guard. Shortly after midnight, Guard units from Oklahoma City were sent to Tulsa by special train. While the Guard was on it's way, the white mob running amok in the Tulsa streets turned to arson.
The first fire was set near Archer Street and Boston Avenue. Fire companies answered the alarm, but the rioters drove them off and would not let them fight the fire.
At dawn on June 1, 1921, smoke hung over the north end of Tulsa. Since the previous midnight, the white rioters had burned 35 blocks of north Tulsa to the ground. Piles of bricks and rubble, a few chimneys and columns standing here and there in the ruins, was all that remained of the black area. The section looked like it had been hit by an atomic bomb.

Later that morning, the armed blacks made their last stand at the foot of Standpipe Hill. They were huddled in groups behind trees and in small buildings.

According to a report in the Tulsa Tribune newspaper, the National Guard mounted two machine guns and poured a deadly fire into the area. The black group then surrendered. They were disarmed and marched in columns to Convention Hall, the McNulty baseball park at 11th Street and Elgin Avenue, the Fairgrounds and a flying field east of Tulsa. Tulsa had a black population of about 7,000 at that time and many of them fled into the Osage Hills and to the surrounding towns to escape the riot. On the afternoon of June 2, the National Guard troops left the city, and Tulsans began giving assistance to the displaced blacks. It had been an ugly, wasteful and sad two days for the city. Ten whites and twenty-six blacks are known to have been killed.

There was no further violence from either side and several weeks after the riot, work started on rebuilding the burned-out area.

An Article published by Workers World Newspaper, June 10, 1999
An Article written by Ed Wheeler

Tulsa Reparations Coalition Link     
Tulsa Panel Seeks Truth                  

This page was last updated on 03/29/09


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