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Sunday, June 1st 2008

11:05 AM

The Tulsa Race Riots of 1921 Anniversary

Today marks the anniversary of the worst race riots in our nation’s history.  It was known as the Tulsa Riots of 1921. 

The trouble began on May 31, 1921 when a young black man named Dick Rowland was accused of assaulting a white girl named Sarah Page in an elevator. Although police questioned her, there was never a written account produced of her statement.  Whatever the conversation was between Page and the police, it is generally accepted that the police decided that what had happened between the two teenagers was something less than a serious assault.  In any event, the police did not launch a man-hunt for her alleged assailant.  They apparently knew who they were looking for, but they felt no great urgency.  

Whether or not an actual assault had occurred, Dick Rowland had reason to be afraid.  In those days, just an accusation of an assault on a white woman might incite violence.  He realized the seriousness of the situation, and Rowland fled to his mother's house in the Greenwood neighborhood.

The morning after the incident, Dick Rowland was located, booked on suspicion of assault, and taken to an interrogation room on the top floor of the Tulsa County Courthouse for questioning.


By late morning, news of the event had apparently reached the Tulsa Tribune. The newspaper broke the story in that afternoon's edition with the headline: 'Nab Negro for Attacking Girl In an Elevator', describing the alleged incident with the details that could be assembled on such short notice. It was, however, another article in the same paper that is credited with providing the misinformation which sparked the chain of events that ensued later that evening.

When it was all over, the area known as “Black Wall Street” was completely destroyed and it’s believed that more than 300 blacks were killed---although the official number only reported 39 deaths.

This is a part of history we do our best to shy away from because we know these people were mothers, fathers, other relatives and friends.  Even if our family members weren’t directly involved in the Tulsa Race Riot, it’s safe to say the majority of baby boomers have parents and grandparents who were either the racist culprits or the victims somewhere in America during that period.  The question is how much of that racist attitude is still a part of the baby boomers you know today? 

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