American Pogrom:

Tulsa, Oklahoma
May 31–June 1, 1921

Once upon a time, spurred—ironically—by segregation, the Black residents of the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma, worked hard and built not only nice shops and houses but their own professional class—lawyers, dentists, bankers, and more. People called it “Black Wall Street.” (White newspapers called Greenwood “Little Africa” and other names, but that is a story for another day.)

During the Memorial Day weekend of 1921, White Tulsans’ simmering resentment found its pretext for boiling over. It’s most likely the case a that shoeshine boy (Black), on his way to the restroom he was allowed to use, simply bumped into the young female elevator operator (White), who yelped. Neither thought much of the incident—but it was reported to authorities and by local media as an attempted assault. The young lady, who’d left town for the weekend after finishing her shift, was reportedly appalled to discover on her return that they’d thrown a pogrom just for her.

The Tulsa Tribune, an afternoon daily, ran a front page story on May 31st headlined, “Nab Negro For Attacking Girl In an Elevator.” The story was apparently “… torn out of the Tribune’s existing archived May 31 edition sometime before microfilming,” but a copy mailed for the June 1st state edition survives.

The young man was never charged, but was nevertheless was held in jail until October.

Read a recently-rediscovered first-person account; and more from JSTOR Daily, History Channel and the Zinn Education Project, plus the 2001 report by the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 (titled even then “The Tulsa Race Riot.“)

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