Remembering Black Wall Street: The Tragic Tulsa Massacre

On May 31st, 1921, the thriving African American community of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, known as “Black Wall Street”, was viciously attacked by a mob of white people, resulting in the tragic massacre of more than 300 people and the destruction of hundreds of Black-owned homes and businesses. This atrocity, which remains one of the deadliest incidents of racial violence in American history, has been largely forgotten, and those affected never saw justice. In this blog post, we will remember the tragic Tulsa Massacre and pay tribute to the thriving community of Black Wall Street.  

Tulsa, Oklahoma
2021 _07_20 Tulsa OK USA Side view of bronze statue of man with cigar and gun against blue sky – from original photo from 1921 Race Massacre – in Reconciliation Park in downtown Tulsa Oklahoma

Background on Greenwood district and its significance as “Black Wall Street”

The Greenwood district was a neighborhood located in Tulsa, Oklahoma, predominantly inhabited by affluent Black residents.

– It earned the nickname “Black Wall Street” due to its economic success and thriving Black-owned businesses.

– The district spanned over 35 city blocks and housed more than 300 Black-owned businesses, including banks, hotels, restaurants, and theaters.

– Greenwood had its own educational institutions, hospitals, and libraries, contributing to its status as a self-sustaining and prosperous community.

– It provided employment opportunities for the Black population and became a symbol of economic empowerment and resilience.

– The success of Greenwood challenged racial stereotypes and showcased the potential for Black communities to thrive in a segregated society.

– The district was a hub of cultural and social activity, fostering a sense of pride and community among its residents. – Black Wall Street attracted national attention, with visitors from all over the country marveling at the achievements and prosperity of the neighborhood.

– The district’s significance lies in its representation of Black excellence, entrepreneurship, and economic self-sufficiency in the face of systemic racism and discrimination.

The events leading up to the Tulsa massacre

The Greenwood district in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was an exceptionally affluent Black neighborhood, often referred to as “Black Wall Street” due to its wealth and prosperity. However, on May 31, 1921, everything changed. It began with the accusation of a Black man, Dick Rowland, assaulting a white woman in an elevator. This allegation sparked a frenzy of racial tension that had been simmering under the surface for some time. The Tulsa Tribune, a local newspaper, sensationalized the incident with the headline, “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in an Elevator,” fanning the flames of racism and causing white mobs to gather outside the courthouse where Rowland was being held. Tensions boiled over into violence when a white man tried to take Rowland from the authorities. A group of armed Black men arrived to protect Rowland, and a firefight broke out. The next day, white mobs descended upon the Greenwood district, indiscriminately attacking Black residents and businesses. The local government did little to stop the violence and, in some cases, even supported the attacks. Over 300 Black people were killed, and hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed. The destruction was so severe that it was referred to as the “Tulsa Race Riot.” The accusation against Rowland was eventually dropped, and it was discovered that the elevator incident may have been a misunderstanding. Still, the damage had been done, and the lives of many Black people in Tulsa were forever changed. The events leading up to the massacre illustrate the deep-seated racial tensions that existed in America during this time, tensions that continue to affect us today.

Attack itself and the aftermath

On May 31 and June 1, 1921, the mob was armed and went on a rampage, killing more than 300 people and burning down hundreds of Black-owned homes and businesses. The National Guard was deployed, but instead of protecting the Black community, they assisted the white mob. The local government was also complicit in the violence and destruction. They authorized the use of planes to drop firebombs on Greenwood, making it the first time in history that a community had been attacked by aircraft. The attack continued for over 12 hours, and by the time it was over, the once-thriving neighborhood lay in ruins. Many survivors were left homeless, and thousands were forced to flee. The tragedy of the Tulsa massacre is a reminder of the deep-seated racism and violence that have plagued the United States for centuries.

It also highlights the need for reparations and recognition of the suffering endured by the Black community. The government and law enforcement officials failed to hold any of the perpetrators accountable for their actions. Instead, they arrested and imprisoned many Black residents who had been defending themselves and their homes during the attack. None of the white perpetrators were ever held responsible for their crimes, and the victims of the massacre were left to fend for themselves.

In fact, it was only in 2020, almost a century after the attack, that the first mass grave of Tulsa massacre victims was discovered, highlighting the ongoing neglect and lack of recognition of the tragedy. The Tulsa massacre also had a lasting impact on the Black community in Tulsa and beyond. The loss of homes and businesses meant the loss of generational wealth and financial security. Many Black families were forced to start over from scratch, and the scars of the trauma still linger.

The Tulsa massacre is often cited as one of the worst acts of racial violence in American history, yet it is a tragedy that is often overlooked and forgotten. The ongoing fight for reparations and recognition of the Tulsa massacre is essential for healing and justice. It is not enough to simply acknowledge the tragedy; action must be taken to right the wrongs of the past and provide reparations for the survivors and descendants of those affected by the attack. It is a painful reminder that, even in the 21st century, systemic racism and violence against Black communities still persist, and we must work towards true equality and justice for all.–MM

Judge Tosses Reparations Case From Last Known Tulsa Race Massacre Survivors (


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