G is for the Greenwood Riots

“Thirty-five blocks of Greenwood were burned to the ground, wiping out businesses” that decimated the section of town.

tulsa_riots_theater.1406030191283The Greenwood riots of 1921 represent a piece of U.S. history that is not widely known. They took place in the part of Tulsa, OK known as the “Black Wall Street.” As this PBS link notes: “Most black people lived in the racially segregated ‘Greenwood’ section of the city, which contained stores, shops, hotels, banks, newspapers, schools, theaters, and restaurants. Greenwood had several wealthy black entrepreneurs…”

Indeed, following World War I, Tulsa boasted one of the most affluent African American communities in the country, which created resentment and “pure envy”, as Ebony magazine put it.
“By 1921, membership in the Ku Klux Klan was rapidly spreading throughout America and an active chapter had been formed in Tulsa. The riot was triggered over a Memorial Day weekend by a report in two white newspapers that a black youth had tried to rape — or at least assault — a young white woman elevator operator. One of the newspapers allegedly editorialized that the youth ought to be hanged,” although the Tulsa World, in an extensive history of the period, says that the publishing such a piece “does not seem likely. For one, the Tribune actually editorialized against lynching, both before and after the riot.”

In any case, a “group of armed African-American men rushed to the police station with the intention of preventing a lynching from occurring. There was no lynch mob but a confrontation developed between blacks and whites… As the news spread throughout the city, mob violence exploded. Thousands of whites rampaged through the black community, killing men and women, burning and looting stores and homes. Some blacks claimed that policemen had joined the mob; others claimed that a machine gun was fired into the black community and a plane dropped sticks of dynamite.
“When the National Guard arrived, it arrested blacks rather than white rioters. Some four thousand to five thousand men and women were held in custody for several days before being released. No whites were arrested even though many of the mob members openly boasted of what they did. Thirty-five blocks of Greenwood were burned to the ground, wiping out businesses” that decimated the section of town. “Reports of the number of blacks killed ranged from 25 to 300. Approximately 20 whites were killed.
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“Despite promises to help, the city did not support those who lost their homes and jobs despite claims for over 1.5 million dollars in damage. Most support came from the black community and a few sympathetic whites. Only in recent years has white Oklahoma begun to accept any responsibility for what happened.”

In this 2014 report, Greenwood riots survivors tell their stories. More recollections are out there, many from 2011, the 90th anniversary, in the New York Times and The Root, e.g. Here’s a video from the History Channel.

Wikipedia has White American riots in the United States. In response to the primarily black violence in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore police custody, Salon notes: “White pogroms against blacks are a fixture of American history.”

ABC Wednesday – Round 18

Bottom photo from here.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

30 thoughts on “G is for the Greenwood Riots”

  1. A sad, yet fascinating insight into American social history. In some ways, it reminded me of reports I’ve read of 19th century riots in my area of the UK. Although they were caused by relgion, rather than race, it seems that the two can be interchangeable where blind hatred and prejudice is concerned.

  2. Another disgraceful chapter in American history. I understand there is racism and hatred towards others who are “different” from oneself, but really, can’t we just understand we are all human beings? thanks for bringing this to our attention, Roger.

    abcw team

  3. I have yet to understand this part of American history -I remember my sociology teacher telling in class (70ties) that Af. Americans couldn’t come in certain towns, and visa versa – I still remember refraining from the question “Why” and I couldn’t get over the fact that when we went to a Black church on invitation, there were no Caucasions there. This makes me very sad – and even still today …

  4. Musical sidelight: The Gap Band was named for three major streets in Tulsa’s African-American community — Greenwood, Archer, Pine.

  5. You are right that many don’t know, I had not hear this. Thanks for the post, the more we know the more we can help others.

  6. Discrimination against other people has little to do with the colour of one’s skin. It is more a matter of traditions and religions which are incompatible.In our country too many cultures, which don’t tolerate foreign ways of life, are suddenly confronted with each other. Then humans change into ferocious animals.
    I wish you a peaceful week and weekend.
    Wil, ABCW Team

  7. Very interesting post ! I didn’t know about that. But I remember that I was shocked to see in the Yellowstone Park benches “for whites only” and that was in 1971 !!

  8. You’re right – I never heard or read about this.
    Thanks for betterment ( I read now a criminal nouvel by Penelope Williamson, there happens a lot Justice wrong with the blacks too)
    Greetings from Germany or
    привет (privet) that’s a greeting in Russian –

  9. Not something I had heard of, what terrible violence made worse by people not being compensated for loss of homes and businesses.

  10. Hi Roger,
    That is something I haven’t learned of before now,
    Most interestin,g but not in a pleasing way, I’m sad
    to say.
    Thankfully times are changing, but still a long way
    to go.
    Best wishes,
    ABCW team.

  11. While I read your post, I thought of the Trump supporters who believe that Trump becoming President will return the power back to where it belongs. Shudder. I am amazed how people do not understand that the politicians they put into power are the ones who make them insecure in all ways.

  12. Sad chapter of the US history. During my years in the US, I was fortunate enough to study with several African-American professors who often discussed the complex history of race in America. I also took some courses dealing with identity and race issues in American education system. Each nation has many such chapters in its past that it must deal with in educated, informed way so that a more equitable and just future can be built.

  13. The Klan was very active in the Hudson Valley. My father told me that when he was 5 or 6, which would be 1930 – 1931. he watched a silent parade by The Klan in the Village of Suffern in Rockland County where he grew up. The parade included all the leading citizens, including the mayor and top village officials. His stepfather was the Grand Dragon. He also told me that if you gave most merchants in the village the secret Klan handshake, you got a 10% discount. That kind of stuff gets written out of history.

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