A hysterical white girl related that a nineteen-year-old colored boy attempted to assault her in the public elevator of a public office building of a thriving town of 100,000 in open daylight. Without pausing to find out whether or not the story was true, without bothering with the slight detail of investigating the character of the woman who made the outcry (as a matter of fact, she was of exceedingly doubtful reputation), a mob of 100-per-cent Americans set forth on a wild rampage that cost the lives of fifty white men; of between 150 and 200 colored men, women and children; the destruction by fire of $1,500,000 worth of property; the looting of many homes; and everlasting damage to the reputation of the city of Tulsa and the State of Oklahoma. -- Walter F. White, "The Eruption of Tulsa," The Nation, June 29, 1921
If the Sacco-Vanzetti Case was "the never-ending wrong," as writer Katherine Anne Porter put it, the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 was seldom even remembered. Its hundreds of victims were not commemorated in poems or novels or operas. Indeed it is only within the last decade that historians have begun to examine what happened and why. The state of Oklahoma appointed a Commission whose Report goes a long way toward rescuing the riot from oblivion. To read the report you will need Adobe® Acrobat Reader, which you can download here. The heart of the report is Scott Ellsworth's essay, pp. 37-102. It is a carefully researched and judiciously phrased account. Walter F. White's contemporary account in The Nation is also a highly useful source. Department of Special Collection, McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa has put nearly 100 photographs of the riot online. At right is a photo of a handful of the thousands of white Tulsans who invaded the Greenwood section of the city, drove out the black residents, and burned the entire area to the ground. Most of the white invaders were on foot, but some drove through the neighborhood shooting at passersby and into houses. Still others used private planes to fire from the air. Blacks resisted as best they could. There were several "fire fights" in which about fifty whites died.
As with Sacco-Vanzetti, we will use the Tulsa Riot as a jumping-off place. In one direction it leads us back to decades of racial violence following the Civil War and to the ongoing use of lynching by white mobs to keep blacks in "their place."
Here are some initial questions:
What happened to set off the Tulsa Race riot?
Info from The Eruption of Tulsa: The riot was the product of poor race relations and resentment of the blacks among the whites. In Tulsa blacks had an opportunity to prosper, and were no longer restricted to an inferior possition. Knowing this... A girl, Sara Page accused an African American boy, Dick Rowland, of assaulting her in an elevator. This unchecked report immediately led to the riot. The jail where the boy was taken to was the same jail where a white man had been lynched. The black community in Tulsa was concerned for the safety of Rowland. They offered to protect the jail from attack. At 9:15 they were informed that a mob had stormed the jail - this report proved to be untrue. They returned later and a white man attempted to disarm them and a shot was fired. The riot immediately ensued.
What happened once the riot began? >From The Eruption of Tulsa: The riot took the lives of 50 whites and 150-200 blacks. The damage due to the riot was $1,500,00.
What evidence is there of any role by the Ku Klux Klan in the riot? >From The Tulsa Race Riot: The Klu Klux Klan in Tulsa would have to be involved in the riot, it only makes sense. There were both people in Klu Klux Klan uniform and regularly dressed whites, so it wasn't only members. The question of whether or not the riot was planned by the Klan still remains unanswered.
The Washington D. C. Riot was provoked by a man accused of sexually assaulting a wife of a Navy man. A group of Navy men fueled with alcohol began moving through Washington and along the way picked up other brawlers turning the pack into a mob. The police turned their backs on the mobs and, when they did acknowledge the violent actions, they arrested more black men than white.
Blacks began to retaliate by driving around and firing randomly into groups of white men and women. After a great deal of violence, which resulted in several deaths and many injuries, Wilson mobilized 2,000 troops to stop the rioting. After "peace" was established, NAACP and others pushed for hearings to punish those involved but a Southern congressman blocked further persecution. (Washington Post Article)
When the black veterans returned from the war, they resented the way that the country welcomed them and treated other black men. The increasing numbers of public lynchings and white support rallies supported the theory that the KKK was largely involved with racist movements.
The Washington Riot was a clear example of the changes and controversy that our country was involved in. The 1920s was a time when the country was experiencing unbelievable changes from sexuality to racism; the country seemed to be chaotic, in a drunken stupor and high on life.
Based on these reports, what do you make of the Chicago riot?