Tulsa Race Massacre

Tulsa Race Massacre

The Tulsa Race Massacre, also known as the Tusla Race Riots, began with an incident that took place on May 30, 1921, in which Dick Rowland, a young black teenager, entered an elevator at the Drexel office building. The elevator operator, a young white woman named Sarah Page, screamed during that time for reasons unknown, which caused Rowland to flee the scene. The next morning, police arrested Dick Rowland for alleged sexual assault against Sarah Page. By evening, “an angry white mob gathered outside of the courthouse, demanding the sheriff hand over Rowland. Sheriff Willard McCullough refused, and his men barricaded the top floor to protect the Black teenager” (History).

That same evening, 25 armed black men offered help guarding Rowland, but were turned away by the sheriff. However, with rumors of a possible lynching, a larger group of 75 armed black men returned to the courthouse and were met by nearly 1,500 white men, some of which were armed. Shots were fired, and the hours that followed would be deadly,  chaotic, and destructive.

“Over the next several hours, groups of white Tulsans—some of whom were deputized and given weapons by city officials—committed numerous acts of violence against black people” (History). The predominantly black Greenwood District would be essentially destroyed by the angry white mob, with homes, businesses, schools, and churches being deliberately burned.

By noon on June 1, 1921, the riot had effectively ended, before the National Guard arrived. In the following hours, Rowland would be let free to go with the charges against him dropped.

Date of event: May 31-June 1, 1921


  • According to a state commission examination in 2001 confirmed 36 fatalities, but it is believed that there were as many as 300 fatalities; >800 injured (History) (Tulsa History)
  • 35 city blocks with 1,256 homes and “virtually every other structure-including churches, schools, businesses, even a hospital, and library” destroyed (Tulsa History)
  • Around 6,000 people detained

Related Resources:

HSDL search:  Reparations | Violent Extremsim | Racism


Photo: Tulsa aftermath, Greenwood District 1921



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