What Was the Tulsa Race Massacre?
In Tulsa Oklahoma, a group of scientists and historians is on the verge of unearthing chunk of the city's past that has long been buried and one. Some people may prefer to keep that way. It's a potential mass grave from worst single incident of interracial violence in American history. Beginning may thirty first in nineteen twenty one thousands of armed white. Tulsen's invaded black section of the booming oil town, terrorizing its residence looting, their homes and businesses and burning to the ground, some thirty five square blocks of the city. Before the rampage was over more than ten thousand black people were left homeless, and more than six thousand were turned in camps where they'd stay in some cases for months. We spoke with Scott, Ellsworth, a native Tulsa and a professor of African American history at the University of Michigan. Ellsworth is the author of the Nineteen Eighty two book death in a Promised Land, one of the first books to take a comprehensive historical look at the Tulsa race massacre previously mystically called the Tulsa race riot of nineteen twenty one. He said to this day. We don't know how many died. Reasonable estimates range from I would say forty to his high as three hundred. When the unmarked suspected mass grave and a Tulsa cemetery is excavated in July of two thousand twenty. It may provide a few answers to exactly what happened over those two days and nineteen twenty one. It will be for many a literal. Reopening of a wound festered within the city for nearly a century. The Tulsa massacre of nineteen twenty one did not a word often used to describe such events erupt. The city simply reached. What now seems an inevitable breaking point? In early nineteen, twenty one tulsa was awash cash from the oil boom. The good fortune reached into the north section of the city, mostly populated by black Americans. That later to be known as the Black Wall Street contained one hundred ninety one businesses, including hotels feed store, a roller rink cleaners, mom and pop stores and restaurants plus offices for doctors, dentists and lawyers. The area had at least five churches to a library movie theater and a hospital. Like the rest of the city at that time, the black area also known as Greenwood had its problems alcohol, even under prohibition was readily available. Illegal drugs were easy to find to. As we're gambling and prostitution the whole city, not just greenwood struggled with crime end with lawless punishment less than a year before a white teenager, accused of murder, was taken from jail cell and lynched by a white mob. The police did little to protect him. And Racial Violence against black people was commonplace, even though thousands of black Americans had just returned from fighting in World War. One Jim Crow Laws and pervasive racist attitudes meant that equality remained nothing more than a dream for black Americans and many white Americans. Wanted to keep it that way. Ellsworth route and in two thousand one report commissioned by the State of Oklahoma on then called riot that quote during the weeks and months leading up to the riot, there were more than a few white Tulsen's who only feared. The color line was in danger of being slowly erased a believed that this was already happening. So into that explosive milieu, a black teenaged boy, working as a shoeshiner, had a brief run in with a white teenage girl operating elevator. and. The fuse was lit. The boy was taken into custody. A group of more than two thousand angry white people, some intent on lynching him, possibly prompted by an inflammatory editorial in a white run newspaper gathered on the courthouse steps some armed black war, veterans and others squared off with them there and soon shots were fired. White people from all over the city began their march on the green. What area to tamp down? What many white people saw as an uprising? Their stories of black citizens being murdered in their homes interrupted in their evening prayers. The terror went on for eighteen hours into June first. Despite their sworn duty to serve and protect neither Tulsa police, nor any other government agency assisted the black population. Instead Tulsa police officers helped set some buyers, an all white unit of the National Guard joined the invaders. Other. Public officials provided guns and AMMO two white men. The KKK got involved a semi functioning machine gun was on black. Tulsen's and some reports indicate the airplanes dropped homemade fire starters. Despite being largely outnumbered black Tulsen's fought to protect their homes and businesses and most of all. Greenwood. But in the end, scores of black people and some white people were killed in. Greenwood was left in ruins. The exact numbers of injured and dead. Even after what's to be uncovered in three suspected mass graves may never be known. It's still unclear exactly what happened between the Black Shoeshine Boy Dick Rowland and the white. Elevator Goal Sarah page to spark the massacre. Though one thing is known. She refused to bring charges. Roland was vindicated. For years. Tulsa refused to acknowledge in any meaningful way. What had happened in nineteen twenty one. Nobody has ever been charged or prosecuted for the crimes that occurred during those eighteen or so hours, even those who grew up there ellsworth included were not taught that part of the city's history. The Tulsa race massacre became a terrible and closely held secret. That began to change with Ellsworth's defeated promised land, and some earlier work, then in nineteen ninety-five, when members of the national media descended on Oklahoma City after the bombing of the federal building, they were informed of this other more terrible episode of domestic terrorism in the state's history. More news accounts and more books of the massacre followed and twenty nineteen, the HBO Comic Book Superhero Series Watchmen inspired in part by Tulsa, enlightened many to the story. But pulses failed efforts to come to grips with its deadly past has left scars. Ellsworth said city was robbed of its honesty. You have entire generations growing up in Tulsa who've never heard of this your people growing up with a false reality, a false vision of the land they were on I mean imagine if today right now that you had young people growing up in Manhattan, who had never heard of nine eleven, but there were no books to talk about nine eleven that it's as if it didn't exist. The race massacre was a gigantic myth in the history of Tulsa it was deliberately buried for a long time. With the honor thing of one of at least three suspected mass graves and Tulsa next month will mark another step in the long road to understanding and perhaps one day recovery.