May 31st is the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. Murder and destruction occurred in the African American district of Greenwood, Tulsa from May 31 to June 1, 1921. A white mob destroyed around 1,000 homes and businesses and killed approximately 300 African Americans. 10,000 African Americans were left homeless as a result of this attack.
The catalyst for the incident was the accusation that Dick Rowland, an African American shoe shiner, sexually assaulted a white female elevator operator named Sarah Page. Though it will never be known exactly what happened in the elevator, most historians believe Rowland simply stepped on Page’s foot. The accusation of sexual assault by Page led to the arrest of Rowland on May 31. Infuriated by a newspaper article in the Tulsa Tribune that stated Page was raped by Rowland, a white mob descended on the courthouse where Rowland was imprisoned, intending to lynch him. The sheriff barricaded the doors to prevent them from entering. A group of African American men, many of whom were First World War veterans, went to the courthouse to defend Rowland. Eventually shots rang out and the outnumbered African Americans retreated to Greenwood.
The white mob followed the group into Greenwood (once known as Black Wall Street) and proceeded to destroy it. Hundreds of African Americans were randomly shot and flourishing businesses were burnt down and looted. The National Guard arrived on June 1 to put an end to the violence. But by the time they arrived, most of Greenwood had been destroyed. Six thousand African Americans were imprisoned in the Tulsa Convention Hall and Fairgrounds for eight days following the massacre despite their community being attacked.
In the end, Dick Rowland was exonerated from the charge of sexually assaulting Sarah Page, but the violence in Tulsa was blamed on African Americans. What happened in Tulsa was not written or talked about until the 1970s, when scholars commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre.