This Day in History

May 31, 1921: Tulsa Massacre

Time Periods: Prosperity, Depression, & World War II: 1920 - 1944
Themes: African American, Laws & Citizen Rights, Racism & Racial Identity

In “Burning Tulsa: The Legacy of Black Dispossession,” Linda Christensen of Rethinking Schools describes how and why she and her colleagues teach about the “Tulsa race riot,”

One of the most violent episodes of dispossession in U.S. history. The term ‘race riot’ does not adequately describe the events of May 31—June 1, 1921 in Greenwood, a Black neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma. . . .

The historical record documents a sustained and murderous assault on Black lives and property. This assault was met by a brave but unsuccessful armed defense of their community by some black World War I veterans and others.

During the night and day of the riot, deputized whites killed more than 300 African Americans. They looted and burned to the ground 40 square blocks of 1,265 African American homes, including hospitals, schools, and churches, and destroyed 150 businesses. White deputies and members of the National Guard arrested and detained 6,000 black Tulsans who were released only upon being vouched for by a white employer or other white citizen. Nine thousand African Americans were left homeless and lived in tents well into the winter of 1921. . .

"Running the Negro out of Tulsa" | Zinn Education Project
We didn’t want students to get lost in the history of Tulsa, though it needs to be remembered; we wanted them to recognize the historical patterns of stolen wealth in Black, brown, and poor communities. We wanted them to connect the current economic struggles of people of color by staying alert to these dynamics from the past. We wanted them to see that in many ways Tulsa, or other historical Black communities are still burning, still being looted.

Also see The Massacre of Black Wall Street, an illustrated story by The Atlantic.

Find more resources below to teach about the Tulsa Massacre (including “Burned Out of Homes and History: Unearthing the Silenced Voices of the Tulsa Race Riot“) and the related events of Red Summer, 1919.