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21 Heartbreaking Pictures From The Aftermath Of The Tulsa Massacre

On the morning of June 1, 1921, white mobs set fire to Tulsa's Black Wall Street, killing as many as 300 Black residents and leaving thousands more without shelter and livelihoods.

Posted on June 18, 2020, at 1:37 p.m. ET

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Following World War I, the Greenwood District of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was a mecca for Black entrepreneurship and home to a vibrant community of upper- and middle-class Black families who embodied the optimism of the American dream. With the city of Tulsa thoroughly segregated, the central hub of the Greenwood District became known as β€œBlack Wall Street” for its economic strength and influence. Black-owned businesses, banks, and schools ensured that the local economy was not only thriving, but was also reflective of the community in which they served. Similar to the Harlem Renaissance concurrently unfolding on the East Coast, Tulsa's Black Wall Street brought forth the promise of a brighter tomorrow and offered a roadmap for what success could look like for Black communities in the 20th century.

In the early hours of June 1, 1921, white rioters set fire to the Greenwood District, looting businesses and killing as many as 300 Black residents, leaving thousands more without shelter. Days earlier, a 19-year-old Black shoeshine named Dick Rowland was accused by a white store clerk of sexually assaulting a white, 17-year-old elevator operator named Sarah Page. In only a matter of hours, the promise and glory of Black Wall Street had been reduced to ashes. It was later determined by police that Rowland had accidentally stumbled into the elevator and had only grabbed the attendant's arm to avoid falling.

But the damage had already been done. News of the alleged assault spread across white communities in Tulsa, inciting racially motivated violence across the city. According to a 2001 report by Tulsa officials titled Race Riot Commission Report, "At the eruption of violence, civil officials selected many men, all of them white and some of them participants in that violence, and made those men their agents as deputies." Under the watch of these newly ordained police officers, white mobs proceeded to torch the Greenwood District, stealing valuables and killing all those who resisted. The report goes on, "Not one of these criminal acts was then or ever has been prosecuted or punished by government at any level: municipal, county, state, or federal."

For nearly a century, these events would often be described as the Tulsa Race Riots, although this name does not accurately account for the mass murder and destruction of property inflicted upon an entire community of Black citizens. In recent years, many are looking to the Tulsa massacre with renewed perspective on the legacy of racially motivated hate in the US. The massacre was once again placed in the forefront of the national conversation on race when President Donald Trump scheduled a campaign rally in Tulsa on the June 19 holiday of Juneteenth, which commemorates the end of slavery in the US. The president has since rescheduled his rally for the following day.

These pictures capture the horrific aftermath of one of the worst racially motivated attacks on Black people in US history.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

The aftermath of the Tulsa massacre, in June 1921.

Oklahoma Historical Society / Getty Images

A group of National Guard troops, carrying rifles with bayonets attached, escort unarmed Black men to the detention center at the Tulsa convention hall in June 1921.

Oklahoma Historical Society / Getty Images

People search through rubble after the Tulsa massacre in June 1921.

Oklahoma Historical Society / Getty Images

The body of a Black man on the ground beside train tracks following the Tulsa massacre in June 1921.

Library of Congress

Tulsa's Greenwood District is left in ruins on June 1, 1921.

Historical / Getty Images

Black smoke billows from fires during the Tulsa massacre in the Greenwood District, June 1921.

Oklahoma Historical Society / Getty Images

A church is left in ruins following the Tulsa massacre in June 1921.

Oklahoma Historical Society / Getty Images

A couple walks across a street with smoke rising in the distance after the Tulsa massacre in June 1921.

DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist

Left: Captured Black residents are transported to the Tulsa convention hall on June 1, 1921. Right: The body of a Black man in the street on June 1, 1921.

Oklahoma Historical Society / Getty Images

Clouds of black smoke rise over the rubble of buildings destroyed in the Tulsa massacre in June 1921.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

This photo shows the aftermath of the massacre at the east corner of Greenwood Avenue and East Archer Street in June 1921.

Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Injured and wounded men are taken to the hospital by National Guard troops on June 3, 1921.

Library of Congress

Inside the ARC hospital where patients injured during the Tulsa massacre are being treated months later, Nov. 1, 1921.

Historical / Getty Images

Detained residents are transported in Tulsa in June 1921. A man holding a rifle sits on the running board.

DeGolyer Library, Southern Methodist University

Left: A truck transports the bodies of the dead on June 1, 1921. Right: A man combs through the ruins of his home on June 1, 1921.

Bettmann / Bettmann Archive

Black residents of Tulsa line up to receive meals from good Samaritans on June 1, 1921.

Library of Congress

The entrance to a refugee camp on the Tulsa Fairgrounds, 1921.

Oklahoma Historical Society / Getty Images

A Red Cross tent constructed for victims of the Tulsa massacre in June 1921.

Oklahoma Historical Society / Getty Images

A Black man with a camera inspects the skeletons of iron beds rising above the ashes of a burned-out block in Tulsa, June 1921.


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