Mask of Atonement: The Plan to Rebuild the Homes of Greenwood

By Randy Hopkins–

The front page of the Witchita Daily Eagle on June 3rd, 1921


On Thursday morning, June 2, 1921, one of Tulsa’s many problems was that of optics. A large chunk of the city had been obliterated in a matter of hours and an embarrassingly large portion of the city’s population had a hand in the obliterating. How this was going to look to outsiders was far from an irrelevant concern for many Tulsans, especially the city’s elite for whom pride in the city’s accomplishments was keen. To a nation relentlessly steeped in images of knuckle-dragging Huns savagely rending their enemies asunder during the World War, how would Tulsa look now? Would businesses go elsewhere? Would other “better citizens” from other places look down their noses?

Fortunately for those most concerned with the city’s image, relief arrived the very next day in the form of nationwide publicity that placed Tulsa in a far more favorable light, even a heroic one. Bold, black headlines in Friday’s Daily Oklahoman told readers, ”TULSA WILL REBUILD HOMES OF NEGROES.” The Chicago Tribune headlined that $500,000 would be raised for the effort. The New York Tribune reported it was to be “done in part as an atonement for the harm done, and also as an example for other cities” and that no difficulty was expected in obtaining the money. Newspapers from Lawton to Los Angeles and Pawhuska to Philadelphia spread the news.[i]

Courtesy of The Daily Oklahoman