President Biden to Visit Tulsa on 100th Anniversary of Tulsa Race Massacre
Tulsa’s massacre was one of the worst incidents of racial violence in the country’s history.
Tulsa is the site of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, which destroyed hundreds of Black businesses and is presumed to have left between 100 and 300 Black people dead. It was one of the worst incidents of racial violence in American history.
The White House has not yet announced details of Biden's trip. Biden’s visit to the city on the centennial underscores the renewed push to acknowledge the massacre which occurred in the city’s Greenwood District, which was known as “Black Wall Street.” The story of what occured has been left out of American history and ignored on the national level, NBC News reported.
The last-known living survivors of the massacre testified before a congressional committee considering reparations for survivors and their descendants last week.
"I have lived through the massacre every day. Our country may forget this history, but I cannot," Viola Fletcher, 107, the oldest living survivor of the massacre, told Congress.
On May 31, 1921, white groups attacked the Greenwood-area of Tulsa, which was lauded for its prosperous black businesses and often called the “Black Wall Street.” Those white mobs burned the area to the ground and murdered numerous people in a span of 18 hours. The massacre began after a Black teen, Dick Rowland, got onto an elevator with a white elevator operator, Sarah Page, at the Drexel building in the city. Rowland was accused of rape.
Historian Scott Ellsworth, who has been studying the massacre for over four decades, said no one knows what actually happened.
“He might have tripped and fallen onto her when he entered the elevator. We don't know. But the next day, the Tulsa Tribune, which was the city's afternoon daily newspaper, instead portrayed this unknown incident as an attempt, an interracial rape attempt by this young man,” Ellsworth told Inside Edition Digital in 2020. "It also ran an editorial entitled, 'To Lynch a Negro Tonight,' on the editorial page. Essentially calling for a white lynch mob to take Rowland out of the jail at the top floor of the county courthouse and lynch him.”
Within a few hours a lynch mob began growing at the courthouse and demanded the sheriff hand over the teen, which police would not.
Around 75 armed Black men, including World War I veterans, showed up to the courthouse in hopes of helping guard Rowland, but the group was met with a mob of more than 1,000 white men who also had weapons, according to History.com. Shots were fired and the Black men retreated to Greenwood. A night of terror then ensued.
“The riot really took place in two different phases. As soon as the shooting began at the courthouse, the white lynch mob, they didn't care any longer about Dick Rowland. They were now out to get any African American they could,” Ellsworth said. “That's exactly what they set out to do. Innocent Black men and women who were working downtown were murdered by mob members. The Tulsa Police Force, meanwhile, showed up, broke into pawn shops and started out handing rifles and pistols and shotguns to members of the mob who were not armed, and telling them to 'Get an N-word. Get a gun and get an N-word.'"
Ellsworth added that the Black community, specifically the men who were at the courthouse, fought back the white people attempting to invade Greenwood, although some white men did fire guns into homes. There were also a few fires. During the night, though, more white people started to organize and at least 2,000 invaded Greenwood in the early morning hours.
“Any African Americans who fought back were murdered, others fled the city as quickly as possible. Systematically, building by building, house by house, the white mob would loot and then set things on fire. By the end of the day, Greenwood was gone,” Ellsworth said.
As this took place, the Black population was being arrested and held under armed guard in internment camps throughout the city.
The charges against Dick Rowland were dropped hours after the massacre. He left the city and never returned, according to reports. The official tally of death was marked 36, but historians now believe that number was in the hundreds.
Tulsa’s newspapers didn’t mention the riots for decades and it was not taught about in Tulsa’s schools. There was also no memorial for the people who died. It wasn’t until historians in the 1970s started to research that they dug up history on what really happened.
In 1996, on the 75th anniversary of the massacre, a memorial was finally placed in front of Greenwood Cultural Center for the people who died. In 1997, the Tulsa Race Riot Commission was formed, and in 2001, a report by the commission determined that 100 to 300 people were actually killed.
In 2018, the commission was renamed 1921 Race Massacre Commission.
Last year, President Donald Trump planned to hold his first campaign rally since the outbreak of the coronavirus on Juneteenth in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but then announced he would change the date. Juneteenth is a holiday celebrated by America’s Black community to commemorate the end of slavery. Its date comes from the abolishment of slavery in Texas, the last rebel state, on June 19, 1865.
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