UNITED STATES

99 years ago today, America was shaken by one of its deadliest acts of racial violence

Jun 1, 2020, 6:09 AM
Tulsa race massacre...
Photograph of damage from the Tulsa Race Riot, Tulsa, Oklahoma, June 1921. (Photo by Oklahoma Historical Society/Getty Images)
(Photo by Oklahoma Historical Society/Getty Images)

    (CNN) — As Americans’ rage over racial injustice boils over into a sixth day of protests, Monday also marks the 99th anniversary of one of the worst acts of racial violence the country has ever seen.

This year’s anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre comes amid nationwide demonstrations sparked by the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old unarmed black man who died last week at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

And while Floyd’s name along with his repeated plea, “I can’t breathe,” have been exclaimed by thousands of protesters, the victims’ names of the Tulsa race massacre have been rarely spoken as the incident went unmentioned for decades in classrooms across the state.

Here’s how the massacre, also known as the Tulsa Race Riot, unfolded.

It started with an elevator encounter

In the 1920s, the Greenwood District was dubbed “Black Wall Street” as the community boasted more than 300 black-owned businesses, including two theaters, doctors, pharmacists and even a pilot who owned his own private airplane.

The success of this black community, however, caused some white people in Tulsa to become envious and angry, according to Mechelle Brown, director of programs at the Greenwood Cultural Center.

They commented, “‘How dare these negroes have a grand piano in their house, and I don’t have a piano in my house’,” Brown told CNN’s Sara Sidner in 2016.

The tension reached its tipping point after an elevator incident between a 17-year-old white girl named Sarah Page and a 19-year-old black man named Dick Rowland.

Page worked as an elevator operator and Rowland would use the elevator almost every day.

“This particular day after the elevator doors closed and Sarah Page and Dick Rowland were alone in the elevator a few moments, there was a scream,” Brown said.

After the elevator doors opened, Roland ran and was later arrested. Page initially claimed that she was assaulted, Brown said.

Other historic accounts say Rowland tripped leaving the elevator, grabbed Page’s arm, she screamed and an onlooker went to authorities.

While Page never pressed charges, authorities did, and by the end of the day the rumor was that Page had been raped.

White armed mobs storm Greenwood

On May 31, a group of black and white men confronted each other at the courthouse where Roland was being held. After shots were fired, all hell broke loose.

Outnumbered African Americans retreated to Greenwood District, but early morning the next day, a white mob started to loot and burn businesses in Greenwood, according to the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum.

In a span of just 24 hours, 35 square blocks were burned and over 1,200 houses destroyed. Contemporary reports of deaths began at 36, but historians now believe as many as 300 people died, according to the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum.

At the end of the violence, Black Wall Street had been decimated. Photos show dead African American residents lying in the streets. The scene was recreated in the first episode of the HBO series “Watchmen.”

Absent from history books

In the decades following the 1921 massacre, it was largely unacknowledged.

“Oklahoma schools did not talk about it. In fact, newspapers didn’t even print any information about the Tulsa Race Riot,” US Senator James Lankford of Oklahoma told CNN affiliate KFOR in 2018. “It was completely ignored. It was one of those horrible events that everyone wanted to sweep under the rug and ignore.”

Oklahoma leaders announced in February that the state would move forward with embedding the story of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre into the curriculum of all Oklahoma schools.

The city of Tulsa continues to investigate what happened to the victims’ bodies and has been digging for mass graves.

Same themes of racial injustice stand today

Protests erupted across the nation in cities including Atlanta, Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Washington over the weekend, with demonstrators demanding justice for Floyd who died at the hands of former police officer, Derek Chauvin.

Chauvin was fired after video footage showed him with his knee on Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes, 46 seconds in total. He was charged last Friday with third-degree murder and second degree manslaughter. The other three police officers involved have yet to be charged.

“As you watch protests today, remember the #TulsaRaceMassacre,” nonprofit organization ColorofChange tweeted Sunday. “The fight to end police brutality won’t end #UntilJusticeIsReal.”

The-CNN-Wire
™ & © 2020 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

Today’s Top Stories

United States

President Joe Biden speaks during a news conference on the final day of the NATO summit in Madrid, ...
DARLENE SUPERVILLE and ZEKE MILLER Associated Press

Biden says transatlantic alliance has adapted to new threats

Biden's comments came at a press conference in Madrid at the conclusion of the annual meeting of NATO leaders and after he attended a summit with the Group of Seven advanced democratic economies in the Bavarian Alps.
1 day ago
A Rite Aid logo is displayed on its store...
HALELUYA HADERO, AP Reporter

Amazon, Rite Aid cap purchase of emergency contraceptives

Retailers limiting purchases is standard practice that helps retailers prevent stockpiling and reselling at higher prices.
1 day ago
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul stands with Lieutenant governor Antonio Delgado during their primary ele...
STEVE PEOPLES AP National Politics Writer

Takeaways from first primaries since Roe v. Wade overturned

The abortion debate consumed the nation this week, but there was no race where it mattered more than Colorado's Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, where businessman Joe O'Dea became one of the only abortion-rights-supporting Republicans in the nation to win a statewide primary this year.
2 days ago
Freshly pressed vinyl records are produced in a stamper at the United Record Pressing facility Thur...
DAVID SHARP Associated Press

Manufacturers struggle to keep pace with vinyl record demand

The Recording Industry Association of America says record album sales grew 61% last year — and reached $1 billion for the first time since the 1980s.
4 days ago
U.S. Representative Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) speaks during the fifth of eight planned public hearings ...
Annie Grayer, CNN

January 6 committee unexpectedly adds new hearing for Tuesday

The announcement came as a surprise to many as the committee had said it was not going to resume its hearings until mid-July.
4 days ago
Bodycam footage from the Moab Police Department that shows them talking with Brian Laundrie is seen...
Jamiel Lynch and Chenelle Woody, CNN

Lawyer releases pages from Brian Laundrie’s notebook in which he admits to killing Gabby Petito

Eight pages of Brian Laundrie's notebook were released Friday by the Laundrie family attorney. The notebook was found near Brian Laundrie's remains.
7 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Tax Harassment...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Joseph Smith Memorial Building...
Temple Square

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is an icon of Salt Lake City | Why hosting an event at this beautiful location will make you a hero this year

Here's why hosting an event at the iconic Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City will make you a hero this year.
99 years ago today, America was shaken by one of its deadliest acts of racial violence