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Tulsa Race Riot
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Tulsa Race Riot

The Tulsa Race Riot was the most devastating race riot in US history in terms of lives lost.

On May 31, 1921, Dick Rowland, a black shoe-shiner, was accused of assaulting Sarah Page, a white elevator operator in the Drexel Building. Following Rowland's arrest and the publication of a false newspaper story asserting a sexual assault, mobs of blacks and whites gathered near the jail, with the whites intending to lynch Rowland and the blacks to defend him. An alleged eyewitness account claims that the violence started on when a white man was killed while trying to wrest a gun from a black man.

This happened in the racially and politically tense atmosphere of northeastern Oklahoma. The area was a hotbed of Ku Klux Klan activity at that time.

By June 1, white mobs had invaded the segregated black part of town and destroyed the Greenwood district, known nationally as the "Black Wall Street" for its economic success. Hundreds of people were killed; dozens of businesses, 1,256 homes, many churches and a hospital were destroyed, in an area covering 35 blocks. Estimates of the dead range up to 300. After the governor declared martial law, black people were rounded up by the National Guard and put into the baseball stadium. Several black families, such as Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher's, fled for more peaceful cities.

No one was ever arrested or charged in the mass murder and arson that happened that day, although many white Tulsans to this day know who the perpetrators were and simply refuse to say it. This is because many of those responsible were the 'pillars of the community'.

In history books in Oklahoma for many generations there was little or no information about the riot, and it was often false or misleading. In later years, perhaps due to the massive immigration to Tulsa by outsiders, things have begun to come to light. There was a commission on the race riot in the late 90s/early 00s. However, survivors are still waiting for some kind of justice to be brought, perhaps in the form of reparations.

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