Two KKK members in the 1920s. (23139.G291, John Dunning Political Collection, Oklahoma Historical Society Research Division).

Violence

At times in the past whites committed violent acts against African Americans. Several lynchings of African Americans occurred in Oklahoma. Lynching is where a group of people murder someone, usually by hanging, instead of going through the legal process of a trial.

The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) was a racist secret society that had many members in Oklahoma. They wanted a society with no blacks, Jews, or Catholics. The KKK tried to scare African Americans, especially to keep them from voting. They also got members elected to government positions in order to keep segregation and prevent African Americans from voting.

Tulsa Race Riot

The Tulsa Race Riot occurred in 1921 in the Greenwood district of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Due to segregation this district consisted almost entirely of African American homes, churches, and businesses. For years before the riots tensions between the two races grew.  Lynching around the country, happening from the late 1900s to the mid-1920s, led any racial minority to fear lynching and mob mentality.

One day a young African American man named Dick Rowland was accused of hurting a white woman. The sheriff arrested him and took him to the courthouse. An angry white mob gathered outside. They wanted to capture him and hang him before giving him the chance to have a legal and fair trial. Many people in the mob had weapons.

Several African American men heard about Rowland and the growing white mob. They armed themselves with guns. They went to the courthouse on two different occasions to offer the sheriff help protecting Rowland. On the second trip to the courthouse, some white men yelled for an armed black man to hand over his weapon. He refused, a fight began, and a gun went off.  This action, in front of the courthouse, was the start of the riot.


View the front page of the
Tulsa World, June 6, 1921

That night there was fighting in the streets. The next morning groups of white men gathered in various locations near the train tracks in Tulsa to attack the African American neighborhood called Greenwood. At dawn they started shooting at African Americans. Many tried to fight back but they were outnumbered. Many fled their homes and were shot. Others were captured and led to detention facilities. White people set fires to homes, churches, and businesses. They also looted, which means stealing, from the homes and businesses before they set them on fire. 

Many blacks fled Tulsa during the riot. With all of their neighborhoods and homes burned to the ground, many never returned. Many others stayed. Left homeless, many slept in tents for a long time at the location where their homes once stood. Eventually, they started to rebuild their homes and their community.

Although we can only estimate, the Tulsa Race Riots killed around seventy-five to one hundred people, but possibly as many as three hundred people, left about nine thousand people homeless, and destroyed about forty square blocks in Tulsa. No white Tulsans were ever arrested or tried for their attack on Greenwood.


Tulsa Race Riot, (15583-A, Oklahoma Historical Society Photograph Collection,
Oklahoma Historical Society Research Division).


Ruins from the Tulsa Race Riot (15583-A, Oklahoma Historical Society Photograph Collection,
Courtesy of the Oklahoma Historical Society Research Division).


Tulsa Race Riot (15583-D, Oklahoma Historical Society Photograph Collection,
Oklahoma Historical Society Research Division).


Tulsa Race Riot, (16939, Oklahoma Historical Society Photograph Collection,
Oklahoma Historical Society Research Division).


Women and children digging through the rubble after the Tulsa Race Riot (20280.8, Oklahoma
Historical Society Photograph Collection, Courtesy of the Oklahoma Historical Society Research Division).

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