We were surprised to learn that, in 1921, Tulsa, Oklahoma was the site of the biggest race riots the United States has ever seen. As a result, while in Tulsa, we decided to focus much of our attention on learning more about this huge tragedy in our country’s history and on visiting the sites wherein it took place.
We were struck by the ridiculousness and waste of it all. The riots began, allegedly, with Dick Rowland, a young, black ‘shoeshine’ accidentally losing his balance and falling on Sarah Page, a young, white, female elevator operator on his way up to the “colored restrooms” in the top floor of the Drexel Building in downtown Tulsa. From that interaction, the story got more and more inflated until the Tulsa Tribune was running headlines like “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in an Elevator.” Mobs of infuriated white men gathered. Shots were fired inside houses and businesses, and makeshift bombs were dropped on the Greenwood district, the most affluent African American part of town also known as “Black Wall Street.”
The tracks that separated the northern black part of town from the southern white part of town.
What started as an accident ended up costing downtown Tulsa 35 city blocks, over 1,200 residences, thirty-nine lives (and many more not reported), and thousands of injuries.
Some of the businesses were rebuilt, but many of the old houses were not. Now, the only remains of those houses are crumbling steps leading up to empty foundations. They’ve been left as a reminder both of what hate can do to a community as well as of how peace can ultimately win.