October 29, 1917, the home of J. Edgar Pew, a wealthy oil man, was bombed. The Tulsa World used yellow journalism to blame the I.W.W. because their leadership was against the war (and portrayed as pro-German). A week after the bombing the police will raid the I.W.W. local’s offices and arrest 12 men, including the local secretary, placed under a high bond even though no incriminating evidence was found. The men were found guilty at their trial, fined $100, and remanded to jail. That night near midnight they were supposedly being moved to county jail when they were “hi-jacked” by the Knights of Liberty taken to a remote location west of town, stripped to the waist, tied to a tree, whipped until their backs were bloodied, then tarred and feathered. They were freed and told to leave town and not come back.
In 1920, Roy Belton, a white accused murderer, had been removed from the 3rd floor of the courthouse jail (supposedly the most secure part of the jail) and lynched by a mob. This made Tulsa blacks fearful that a black inmate would not be safe.
Race Riot Details
Greenwood was a thriving black neighborhood in Tulsa.
On May 30, 1921, a young boot-black named Dick Rowland went to the Drexel building. His purpose--to use the restrooms on the top floor.
Around 10:30 pm another armed black group arrived at the courthouse amid the news that the white crowd numbered nearly 2000.
The sheriff encouraged the blacks to leave and they appeared to be doing so when a white man tried to disarm a tall black veteran. A shot was fired and the race war was on.
Additional gunfire was exchanged. Outnumbered the blacks began to retreat back toward Greenwood.
Some of the whites broke into McGee’s Hardware and other stores to steal guns and ammunition
The 1st fire was started near 1:00 am on June 1, 1921
Through the remainder of the night and early morning the white mob moved into the Greenwood District shooting, wounding, killing, and burning until the defenders were finally subdued.
Not all whites supported the rioters. Some of Greenwood’s nearest neighbors helped the black defenders.
“During … rioting, over 800 people were admitted to local hospitals with injuries, an estimated 10,000 were left homeless, 35 city blocks composed of 1,256 residences were destroyed by fire, and $1.8 million (nearly $17 million after adjustment for inflation) in property damage.” (Wikipedia)
The number of dead is disputed. Official reports place the dead at 39; 26 black, 13 white. However a more accurate number may be closer to 300.
Oklahoma National Guard troops arrived from Oklahoma City about 9:00 am, and placed the city under martial law by about noon.
No one was held accountable for the riot. Sarah Page declined to file charges against Dick Rowland. He was released from jail