Black Wall Street 1921. What Really Happened?
By Damon Owens
On May 31, 1921 the worst incident of racial violence in American history took place. This hate filled mob induced race riot anchored in hate and exacerbated by White domestic terrorism annihilated the wealthiest Black community in the United States located in Tulsa, OK. States located in Tulsa, OK.
Most of the city’s black residents lived in a suburb of Tulsa called Greensboro. Greensboro was a self-contained, self-sufficient un-apologetically Black community. It was a place that was sophisticated and modern that consisted of Black owned houses, banks, restaurants, law offices, dental offices, and a theatre.
In case you’re not familiar with the story, a young Black teenager named Dick Rowland walked into an elevator at the Drexel building, an office building on Main Street. During the elevator trip, a young white elevator operator named, Sarah Page, screamed at the top of her lungs and Rowland fled the scene. The police were called, and the next morning Dick Rowland was arrested. After taken into custody, word went out throughout the city that Rowland was to be lynched. A front-page story in the Tulsa newspaper reported that police had arrested Rowland for sexual assault.
Shortly thereafter, a mob of hundreds of white men gathered around the jail where Dick Rowland was being kept. Soon, a group of 75 Black men, some of whom were former World War 1 veterans arrived at the jail to protect Rowland and their community. The Sheriff arrived on the scene and convinced the group of Black men to leave the premises. A group of White men attempted to disarm one of the Black men, a shot was fired and everyone scattered. At the end of the gun fight, 12 people were killed: 10 White & 2 Black.
Soon, a large group of self-deputized whites killed more than 300 Blacks. The White men looted, bombed and burned to the ground 40 blocks and 1,265 African American homes, including hospitals, schools, churches, movie theatres and 150 Black businesses. The National Guard was dispatched and 9,000 African Americans were left homeless and lived in tents during the winter of 1921.
Damon L. Owens is a contributing editor and the president of the East County Black Business Alliance