Tulsa race riots discussed by students at Teachers College

Junior Lanette Sims leads presentation about incident in 'Black Wall Street.'

As part of the month-long installment of Black History 101, students gathered in Teachers College Wednesday to learn the history and background of the Tulsa race riot of 1921.

The presentation was done by junior Lanette Sims. It told the story of "Black Wall Street," a nickname given to the Greenwood section of Tulsa, Ok., which consisted of mostly African-Americans.

The community was known for its prosperity due to the booming oil business in the area, and there were many black-owned businesses, including hospitals, law firms and banks.

"Blacks were in 'Little Africa,' which was composed of nearly 10,000 African-American men, women and children," Sims said.

During her presentation, Sims showed slides of Greenwood before, during and after the riots. Burning homes, buildings and casualties danced across the screen.

The riot stemmed from an incident involving a black man named Dick Rowland and Sarah Page, a white elevator operator who accused Rowland of rape when he bumped into her while stepping into the elevator. Rowland was arrested the next day on May 31, 1921. A crowd of nearly 2,000 people gathered outside of the courthouse at around 9:30 that evening.

According to Sims, shots rang out, leaving many dead at the courthouse, both black and white. A large number of whites were sworn in as "Special Deputies" at police headquarters and ordered to get a weapon and shoot African-Americans on sight.

"African-Americans were shot dead in the street," Sims said. "The National Guard was called in, but were outnumbered."

Sims said the first fires were set at 1 a.m. on June 1, targeting African-American homes and businesses. The fire department attempted to intervene, only to be chased away by whites.

In the aftermath, more than 600 businesses were lost and more than 3,000 African-Americans were dead.

"In a matter of 12 hours 'Black Wall Street' was destroyed," Sims said. "The refugees of this riot were left with nothing but the clothes on their backs."

Reparations for the damages include an establishment of an economic development enterprise zone in the historic area of the Greenwood District and direct payment to survivors and their descendants. Rowland was acquitted of all charges and survived the riot.

Junior Nataki Sanders said while it is the last session for Black History Month, it will not be the last Black History 101.

"This is something we're trying to do all year round because we do believe in educating ourselves about black history, which is everyone's history," she said.


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