The 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre: Images of A Community In Terror
Photos provided by the Tulsa Historical Society & Museum.
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Detention - The Tulsa Race Massacre focused the racist anger of whites who lived in the area around Tulsa, Okla., on the prosperous Greenwood District and a mob treated the community like criminals. In this image a group of African American men being marched down a street toward a detention center.
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Street Scene - A white man looks around an intersection during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Blacks were targeted during the violence, forcing many to flee their communities and hide from their assailants.
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Under Siege - A postcard shows Black Tulsans being marched to the city's convention Hall during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre.
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A Dream Destroyed - One of the most popular prominent Black-owned businesses was the Williams Dreamland Theatre in the Greenwood District. It was opened in 1914 by John Wesley Williams and his wife Loula Thomas Cotten Williams. The upper story of the building contained the Alexander Hotel operated by Alexander Carr. But it was destroyed along with many blocks of other residences and businesses in the massacre.
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Fields of Despair - Some spaces were so decimated nothing but empty fields were left after the violence subsided. In this Greenwood District photo of the ruins, a tent is visible at the far right. On the left several African Americans stand underneath a shed with a metal roof.
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A Plague of Violence - It is unclear how many Black people were arrested, but whites who were deputized by law enforcement, along with the Oklahoma National Guard jailed many of them, blaming them for the violence. Here a group of African American men being led into Convention Hall holding their hands in the air. Many of the white men in the photo are holding guns, and some are watching from the windowsills of the building.
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The Innocent Victims - Children were the most innocent victims of the violence. Today only three people -- who were children at the time -- are still living who were eyewitnesses to the assault. Here, two African American siblings are shown. The young girl on the left is named Virginia. Her brother, on the right, is named Buddy. They stand near the Booker T. Washington High School building.
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Unimaginable Damage - Historians have estimated 300 people died in the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and 1,200 homes and 191 Black-owned businesses in a 35-square-block area were destroyed. About 10,000 Black Tulsans were left homeless. This photo shows nine individuals in the street viewing the destruction.
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An Uncertain Future - As many as 10,000 people were displaced in the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Many Black residents left Tulsa never to return, although an unknown number did stay and attempt to rebuid. This photo shows a small truck loaded with people and a woman sits with her legs dangling from the back.
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A Family Question - African American siblings Buddy and Virginia stand with a Black man identified as Horace Hughes. It is not known how many families were separated from one another during the siege, nor what happened to those who were orphaned.
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Children Unspared - An unidenfitied Black boy stares into the camera. His photo was taken by American Red Cross personnel who had come to assist victims of the attack.
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Police Violence of Yesteryear - Police gave litle assistance to Greenwood District residents during the attack as many of them joined the mob attacking the Black population. In this photo, a group of African Americans witness two white men, one a uniformed officer, detain and lead one African American man away.
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Aid From the Red Cross - American Red Cross worker Jeanne Prout holding an African American boy. She came to Tulsa from Memphis to work in the relief effort. According to the Oklahoma Historical Society, a Red Cross official from St. Louis named Maurice Willows convinced the organization's leadership to declare Tulsa a natural disaster area. Workers remained in Tulsa, giving aid to citizens for monrths.
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The Face of Hope - Many of the Greenwood District's residents were only a generation or two from enslavement. They had come to the area having left other places in the South seeking better opportunities. The oil industry attraced Black investors, who in turn sold land to Black entrepreneurs, who build what came to be known as "Black Wall Street." Here a Black woman is photographed near the Booker T. Washington High School.
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A Lifelong Scar - A Black baby in the care of the American Red Cross. Multiple accounts of the survivors of the violence are listed on the John Hope Franklin Center's website. One of the accounts, from Ruth Dean Nash, five years old at the time, outlined the emotions of the survivors: "I was so traumatized by that riot, I don't remember much about anything, except for my terror. I'll never forget that."
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Hidden History - An unidentified African American girl wears a white dress and large white ribbons in her hair. Many residents in Tulsa today say their parents and grandparents never spoke much, if at all about the massacre, leaving the current generation to learn that their ancestors were successful entrepreneurs before their community was attacked.
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Who's Really To Blame? - A Black man with his hands up in the air while being detained. While newspapers of the day blamed Black residents for inciting the riot, the historical record places the blame squarely on white racists. However, none of them were ever held criminally liable for anything that happened.
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Staying Close - An African American girl holding her younger sibling in a photograph taken in the Greenwood District following the massacre.
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Children Rendered Alone - Children who survived the massacre stand in front of a temporary house with canvas roof constructed by the American Red Cross.
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The Displaced - Although the Black community began to rebuild after the Tulsa race massacre, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society, thousands of people were forced to live in tents during the winter of 1921-22. Here. a young African American boy standing near three tents that the American Red Cross erected for the displaced.