“--- were dead. Figures are omitted [because] NO ONE KNOWS.” —Red Cross Report
On Memorial Day 1921, a Black shoe shiner named Dick Rowland rode in an elevator with white operator Sarah Page. The next day, Rowland was detained inside the Tulsa, Oklahoma, courthouse for the alleged assault of Page. Meanwhile, Tulsans gathered outside the courthouse to either witness or prevent Rowland’s possible lynching. During this gathering, shots rang out. For the next 24 hours, white mobs invaded the Greenwood District—a thriving and vibrant Black business and residential neighborhood in Tulsa also known as Black Wall Street. The mobs bombed, looted, set fire to buildings, and shot at random while Black residents defended their homes and businesses. Hundreds fled, and unknown numbers were killed.
The American Red Cross immediately responded, arriving the next day to find 35 city blocks completely destroyed and 10,000 people in need of relief. The Tulsa Race Massacre was the first time the Red Cross mobilized to provide relief outside of a natural disaster. From June through December, the Red Cross provided food, shelter, and medical care that would enable Black Tulsans to slowly rebuild the district over the next 10 years.
The massacre was widely reported at the time, and records like those displayed here document many facets of the story. Yet, for decades the massacre was rarely mentioned publicly in Tulsa and was omitted from most mainstream American history texts and curricula. Today, active investigations into possible mass graves, inclusion in educational curricula, dramatic depictions in television and film, and other reconciliation efforts are being made to attempt to bring awareness, healing, and closure.
Banner Image: Photograph of People Standing Amid Rubble in the Greenwood District, June 1, 1921. National Archives, Records of the American National Red Cross, 1881–2008
The 100th Anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre Featured Document Display is made possible in part by the National Archives Foundation through the generous support of The Boeing Company.