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Racial Reverberations - The Tulsa Race Riot

Jan 30, 2008
The Tulsa Race Riot was an event that occurred in May of 1921 during a time of great civil unrest in the United States. Lynching was not uncommon during the time and the Ku Klux Klan played a large part in segregating many areas of the US, including the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

The riot itself began as a possible misunderstanding between a male black youth and a female white youth. Many accounts of the riots, its origins and its aftereffects remain questionable, but seeing as a large scale search was not implemented, it is reasonably safe to assume that this young man did not assault the female in question as stated in some accounts. Regardless, a local newspaper chose to write a sensationalist article stating that the young man, who was detained by police for questioning, would be lynched. The actual existence of this article is contested, but many first hand accounts state that it was in fact printed.

The ensuing public reaction created a snowball effect that left many dead, wounded, or homeless. As each hour passed after the initial event, a crowd grew outside the courthouse where the accused young man was being held. It was stated that the crowd, if nothing else, looked like a lynch mob. Many black citizens came, armed, to the courthouse to support the sheriff in protecting this young man from the growing mob. They were turned away. Despite the sheriff fortifying the courthouse against the mob, the officers and protectors of this young man were becoming grossly outnumbered. Tensions mounted and arms and ammunition were not longer hidden. Not long after, a second contingent of blacks from the Greenwood area arrived, and were turned away once more at the courthouse while trying to support the sheriff against the growing mob.

Gunfire broke out, killing both white and black, veterans and civilians. Unfortunately, the first white death lit the fuse on the time bomb sitting outside of the courthouse. Throughout the night numerous black owned businesses were burned as were homes and the people inside them. The Greenwood neighborhood was too outnumbered, and families ran for their lives. Despite the running, the indiscriminate shooting and burning that the whites were doing killed and injured many. Over 30 city blocks were destroyed by the raging fires before the nightmare was over, leaving over 10,000 homeless. This was one of, if not the worst, race riot in American history.
About the Author
Ian Spellfield explores the most frequently used African American names through the lens of history in his blog, Black Ghetto Baby Names.
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