The Plot to Kill "Diamond Dick Rowland" and the Tulsa Race Massacre - Part Two

By Randy Hopkins –

Article from the Tulsa Tribune state-edition on June 1st, 1921 courtesy of The Oklahoma Historical Society.


Part Two - The Police Nab A Negro

Shortly after 3 p.m. on Tuesday, May 31, 1921, anyone who picked up a copy of the afternoon Tulsa Tribune newspaper was exposed to a front-page article titled “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl In an Elevator.” The odds that the reader’s attention would be drawn to the article was heightened by the outcries of the paper’s newsboys, who used it to hawk the paper. The article was both false and, where literally true, misleading.

The article opened by proclaiming that “A negro delivery boy who gave his name to the police as “Diamond Dick” but who has been identified as Dick Rowland was arrested…” for attempting to assault the 17-year-old white elevator operator in the Drexel building on Monday.

Off the bat, the reader learned that the culprit boldly gave the now incriminating nickname to the police, requiring them to unwind his identity. There is, however, only the thinnest chance that the police were unaware of the real Dick Rowland.[i] Rowland’s shoe stand was in a popular pool hall at the northeast corner of Third and Main, the hub of downtown Tulsa. Tulsa Police Chief John Gustafson’s detective agency was right across the street on the northwest corner in the Bliss Building. The police station was around the corner on Second between Main and Boulder. Half a block to the south was the Drexel building and two more blocks south stood the Ketchum Hotel, where Gustafson lived. The chief, whose routine term for negroes was “niggers,” would have passed the intersection commuting between home and work.[ii] Even allowing for exaggeration, surviving descriptions of Rowland wearing a diamond ring, flashing cash, hanging out at jazz clubs where he was “one of the best dancers in Tulsa’s negro quarter,” and, of course, having an “eye for the ladies” would have turned heads and raised eyebrows.[iii]