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In 1921, Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood District, known as Black Wall Street, was one of the most prosperous African-American communities in the United States. But on May 31 of that year, the Tulsa Tribune reported that a black man, Dick Rowland, attempted to rape a white woman, Sarah Page. Whites in the area refused to wait for the investigative process to play out, sparking two days of unprecedented racial violence. Thirty-five city blocks went up in flames, 300 people died, and 800 were injured. Defense of white female virtue was the expressed motivation for the collective racial violence.
Accounts vary on what happened between Page and Rowland in the elevator of the Drexel Building. Yet as a result of the Tulsa Tribune’s racially inflammatory report, black and white armed mobs arrived at the courthouse. Scuffles broke out, and shots were fired. Since the blacks were outnumbered, they headed back to Greenwood. But the enraged whites were not far behind, looting and burning businesses and homes along the way.
The state of Oklahoma had only two airports, yet six black families owned their own planes.
Nine thousand people became homeless, Josie Pickens writes in Ebony. This “modern, majestic, sophisticated, and unapologetically black” community boasted of “banks, hotels, cafés, clothiers, movie theaters, and contemporary homes.” Not to mention luxuries, such as “indoor plumbing and a remarkable school system that superiorly educated black children.” Undoubtedly, less fortunate white neighbors resented their upper-class lifestyle. As a result of a jealous desire “to put progressive, high-achieving African-Americans in their place,” a wave of domestic white terrorism caused black dispossession.