Committed to Booker T’s dream for Black success,
Black Tulsans devoted themselves to business and self-help.
Investing as entrepreneurs and property owners,
they built a prosperous town of 10,000
with oil money during segregation.
Modelling enterprise and independence and
brimming with culture and vitality, they
daily demonstrated their humanity
through economic savvy and
upright, disciplined hard work.
Engaged as housekeepers, teachers, doctors, craftsmen, and attorneys,
this ebony town supported newspapers, stores, banks, a library, hotels, and churches,
networking for supplies and self-sufficiency with nearby
Black towns and farms for supplies and self-sufficiency.
Everything needed to prosper.
Across the tracks from thriving Greenwood sat boom town Tulsa.
Home to white Christian people who believed in their god given superiority.
Home to people who hired Greenwood folk to work for them.
Home to the Klan and many prospecting Southern sympathizers
conservative and liberal, educated at various levels,
striving to improve their own lives during segregation
while trying to stay ahead of their darker neighbors.
“Successful Blacks? Who do they think they are?
How dare they have things that I don’t have!
They don’t know their place.“
Few know the full truth of the initial happenings
on that fateful 31st day in May 1921. Some think
teenage Dick Rowland tripped and
unexpectedly fell into Sarah. No matter.
White Sarah Page’s scream from the elevator.
Black boy Rowland ran.
Rumors flew that that Black savage brute did the unthinkable,
tarnishing white womanhood.
This hearsay fanned the fuse of
churning toxic tensions about
white America’s deepest fears into an intense frenzied RAGE.
Revenge and a rush to lynch brought
a swarming, roiling mob down to the jail
where Rowland was held—
Knowing racial sentiments,
Black World War I vets
marched a small militia to the jail
to ensure Rowland might receive
a modicum of justice.
Only weeks earlier, a lynching had taken place.
Tensions flared as these Black men tried to guard
the Tulsa jail against the apoplectic white horde.
Though shots rang out
igniting the torch of mob rage with accelerant
and erupting chaos,
after an armed scuffle deep into the night,
and Rowland spared,
the vastly outnumbered Black vets retreated
back to Greenwood for the night.
By the break of dawn,
Tulsa’s seething fury,
leavened with swirling rumor, rabid hysteria,
covetous envy, and sanctioned superiority,
detonated on the residents of Black Greenwood.
As vigilante marauders invaded the thriving community,
they burned and pillaged a path through the town,
murdering with mirth
those who pleaded, resisted, or existed.
Slaughtering men, women, and children.
People they knew. . .
by the hundreds,
Black bodies in houses,
Black bodies in the streets,
Black Bodies in yards,
Black lifeless bodies strewn everywhere
Like trash, for all to see.
At the end of eighteen chaotic and terrifying hours on June 1, 1921,
Untold numbers of Black folk burned in their homes,
and killed in the streets,
At least 300 dead.
More than 1200 houses torched.
Cherished treasures ruined.
Over 60 businesses charred to cinders,
firebombed by planes,
ensuring complete destruction.
Churches, businesses, theatres, and hotels
razed to the ground.
35 square city blocks eradicated,
obliterating everything prosperous with grievous intent.
Legacy investments annihilated.
An entire community leveled to mere ashes and rubble.
As unspeakable terror filled the air.
Inconsolable cries of grief,
saturated screams of pain,
Tears of fierce resistance,
agitated whispers, and shocked silences
could only tell part of the story.
No matter how hard worked for,
could not make
Black humanity respected.
Of the survivors:
Some saddled with sorrow escaped,
never to return.
Thousands of stalwart others,
traumatized and scarred,
and rounded up for interminable months of internment,
remained—to find family
persist and resist.
Those survivors scrapped a way out of no way to
rebuild parts of segregated Greenwood
at their own expense,
without insurance or outside help.
They painstakingly rebuilt
a Black place to raise their families
with knowledge of prosperity with precarity.
With remorse, rare Tulsa officials acknowledged
the perpetration of indefensible horror
and unspeakable shame—in the beginning.
However, official stories that ruled the day
trafficked in blatant denials and burying lies
minimizing the costs to life and treasure.
Greenwood residents even blamed
for causing their own misery.
As white supremacy dictates,
No one was held accountable
for murdering dark precious souls and
no compensation provided
for decimated Black prosperity and
But truth will out.
Since 1921, Greenwood residents’ valorous resilience
Requires accompaniment by ever present stamina
Since this sacred ground continues to be a target.
Redlining, Urban Removal and
Interstate highway displacement
designed to foil
full revitalization of Greenwood
back to prosperity.
For a hundred years, the unheard stories of this heinous event
Have waited for a just airing
and healing time.
As this centennial anniversary arrives,
The ancestors have begun to call
Tulsa into an overdue reckoning for
the extermination of myriad lives and immense wealth
in a never to be repeated time of precarity.