This Day in Black History: May 31, 1921

The Tulsa Race Riots began.

Posted: 05/31/2012 07:00 AM EDT
3rd June 1921: Martial law in Tulsa, Oklahoma after the race riots. Injured and wounded prisoners are being taken to hospital by National guardsmen. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

On May 31, 1921, the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma erupted into the most destructive race riot the country has ever experienced. Violence broke out after angry mobs of whites called for the lynching of 19-year-old Dick Rowland after he was wrongly accused of raping white elevator attendant Sarah Page.


The Greenwood District was home to the wealthiest African-American community in the United States often referred to as the “Black Wall Street.” During the two days of violence, the Greenwood District was burned to the ground, leaving more than 10,000 homeless and countless others out of work. Despite being outnumbered by whites ten to one, on June 1, the National Guard was called in to disarm the crowds of Blacks and several witnesses reported aerial bombs being dropped on sections of Greenwood.


In 1997, after decades of denials, a state commission launched an official investigation on the incident and, in 2001, issued a report which determined that reparations should be paid to the remaining riot survivors.



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(Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)