Tom Hanks says the Tulsa race riots were systematically ignored in 1921, calls for movies to portray the burden
Between May 31 and June 1, 1921, a mob of 10,000 white men descended on the Tulsa community of Greenwood, attacking black residents and setting fires to businesses.
Many of them had weapons and some were replaced by city officials. It led to the worst act of racial violence in US history, with more than 800 people hospitalized and 6,000 black residents interned in buildings across the city.
The final death toll has never been confirmed, with estimates between 75 and 300 dead. About 10,000 black residents were left homeless and the incendiary bombs caused more than $1.5 million in damage.
A group of National Guard troops, with rifles with bayonets attached, escort unarmed African-American men to the detention center in Convention Hall
After World War I, Tulsa was recognized for its affluent African American community known as the Greenwood District.
The community was often referred to as the “Black Wall Street” for its thriving businesses and residential area, but in June 1921, the community was nearly destroyed during the Tulsa Race Riot.
The area was fraught with racial and political tensions with soldiers returning from fighting in Europe, the revival of the Klu Klux Klan, and the memory of the end of the Civil War in 1865.
There was also an economic slump in Tulsa, driving up unemployment, and heightened tensions between white veterans and professional, educated African Americans who populated Greenwood.
In 1919, the ‘Red Summer’, tensions caused industrial towns in the Midwest and Northeast to experience major race riots.
The events leading up to the riots began on May 30, 1921, when a young black shoe shiner named Dick Rowland was in an elevator with a woman named Sarah Page.
The details of what followed vary from person to person and it’s unclear what actually happened, but Rowland was arrested the next day by Tulsa police, with reports suggesting Rowland assaulted Page.
Police questioned Page and determined that Rowland attacked her, although no written statement has ever been produced to support her claims.
During the Tulsa Riot, 35 city blocks were completely destroyed and more than 800 people were treated for injuries. Historians believe as many as 300 people were killed in the riots
Then that evening a report was published in the Tulsa Tribune of May 31, 1921, with an accompanying editorial stating that a lynching was planned for that night.
Hundreds of men then gathered around the prison where Rowland was being held. They ran into a group of black men who supported Rowland.
This started a showdown between black and white gunmen at the courthouse, with the white men demanding that Rowland be lynched while the black men tried to protect him.
During a struggle between two men in the mob over a gun, shots were fired and a white man was shot, forcing the African-American group to retreat to the Greenwood District.
In the early morning hours of June 1, 1921, Greenwood was looted and burned by an estimated 10,000 white rioters, who poured into the street and shot residents. Aircraft are also said to have dropped incendiary bombs on the area.
Many of the white mafia who had recently returned from World War I and had been trained in the use of firearms are said to have shot black Americans on the spot.
Pictured: Part of the Greenwood District on fire during the race riots, Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA, June 1921. More than 1,400 homes and businesses were destroyed. The caption of the photo above says ‘Burning of church where ammunition was stored – during Tulsa Race Riot-6-1-21’
In addition, more than 1,400 homes and businesses were destroyed and nearly 10,000 people were left homeless.
The riots lasted for two days, and Governor Robertson declared martial law and National Guard troops were called to Tulsa.
During the riots, 35 city blocks were completely destroyed. Historians believe as many as 300 people were killed in the riots – mostly black Americans – and more than 800 people were treated for injuries.
Bodies were buried in mass graves, while families of those killed during the riots were held in prison under martial law according to Scott Ellsworth, a historian from the University of Michigan, in December.
The families of the deceased were never told whether their loved ones died in the massacre, or where they were buried, and no funerals were held.
Until the 1990s, the massacre was rarely mentioned in the history books, and in 2001 the Race Riot Commission was organized to review the details of the deadly riot.