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"Black Wall Street" on Fire: Remembering the Tulsa race riot

Courtenay Brown Special to the AmNews | 6/3/2013, 4:44 p.m.

This weekend marks the 92nd anniversary of the beginning of perhaps one of the worst race riots after World War I. It destroyed thousands of Black businesses and homes in Tulsa, which at the time was one of Oklahoma's largest African-American communities so prosperous it was nicknamed "Black Wall Street."

On May 31, 1921, local newspaper Tulsa Tribune reported that authorities arrested Dick Rowland, a Black man, after he had been accused of trying to rape a white elevator operator. Hours later, crowds of whites charged the Tulsa County Courthouse and demanded that the sheriff hand Rowland over to them, in an effort to take care of what had allegedly happened themselves. When the sheriff refused, whites planned to turn talk into aggressive action: the next morning, they would invade Greenwood, a neighborhood in Tulsa largely populated by Blacks. The outcome was a riot spilling over into the next morning that resulted in nearly 300 people dead and more than 35 city blocks ruined, according to a report by the Tulsa Race Riot Commission released in 2001.

In June of 2001, Oklahoma state legislators passed the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Reconciliation Act. This act provided college scholarships for the descendants of those who were living in Greenwood in 1921, a memorial to those killed in the riots, and efforts to stimulate economic growth in Greenwood.

The oldest survivor of the Riots, Otis G. Clark died in 2012 at age 109.

It was a horrific event that has almost been erased from history, as it remains absent from most history curriculums across the United States and, according to the New York Times, 2012 was the first year that details of the riot were taught in Tulsa public schools. While there have been efforts to raise awareness, no forms of compensation have been rewarded for the property that was ruined ninety-two years ago.