This rare footage of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre was sourced by Lee Roy Chapman and is presented by the Center for Public Secrets.
The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 was accomplished in less than 24 hours, but setting the stage for that horrific event took more than three years. A new series of articles by Randy Hopkins explores how Tulsa's most elite citizens and government officials helped make one of America's cruelest acts of domestic terrorism possible, if not inevitable.
On November 10, 1917, a birth announcement for the “Modern Ku Klux Klan” appeared in a front-page headline of the Tulsa Daily World. The Klan’s birth pains were colorfully described by the newspaper’s managing editor, who had just witnessed the “Tulsa Outrage”—the kidnapping and torture of seventeen union organizers.
The words passed down a dark, narrow stairway through the corridors of the Tulsa County Courthouse and into the jammed streets outside — “We got him, boys, we got him!” Cheers erupted from a thousand nighttime spectators, gaining volume as a nineteen-year-old white man everyone then called Tom Owens, hands bound, was led outside by armed, masked men.
On Tuesday afternoon, May 31, 1921, a newspaper article titled “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl In an Elevator” hit the streets of downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma. In modern parlance, “Nab Negro” was fake news. Its deceit married hatred and bred hysteria. One hundred years later, the outcome is called the Tulsa Race Massacre.
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.
On Tuesday, May 31, 1921, Tulsa police officials “feared the explosive combination of forces” resulting from the news of Diamond Dick Rowland’s arrest.[i] If so, the police did a good job of concealing their fears. Besides allowing the off-duty police to stay in bed, they neglected to summon a force that could have easily prevented trouble...
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.
While most relevant historical and contemporary documents refer to Dick "Rowland,” it is now clear that the correct spelling was “Roland.’ This is shown by Dick Roland's sworn affidavit of September 16, 1921 (shown above). Apart from direct quotations, the Roland spelling will be used throughout so as to finally give Dick Roland a “say” in his own history.
An incident in Tulsa’s downtown Drexel Building spiraled into the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. Much like Roland himself, Page remains known today only through the accumulated legend of sparse news articles and the speculations of historians. As it turns out, most of Sarah Page’s legend is untrue. Fortunately, it is now possible to meet the real person at the center of Tulsa’s race war.
In 2019, Tulsa Mayor G. T. Bynum kicked off the City of Tulsa’s mass graves investigation. Pledging to do things “the right way,” the Mayor appointed a Committee consisting of descendants of Massacre victims and leaders in Tulsa’s Black community to hold the City “accountable.” Yet, as the Race Massacre centennial came and went, promises faded and the Oversight Committee was all but cast aside.
The title picture shown above is that of James Jones taken from the 1921 yearbook of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Booker T. Washington High School. Jones has long been viewed as the teenager at the center of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre
"Diamond Dick" Rowland. Now, thanks to the efforts of his classmates, it is possible to view unpublicized photos of the mysterious James Jones, as well as other, remarkable new evidence.
Unfortunately, since the following letter was sent to the Council in March, the City’s treatment of the 1921 Graves Investigation’s Public Oversight Committee and the public at large has continued to deteriorate. It appears the Mayor’s Office gave no advance notice of the June 21 “presentation” to the Oversight Committee. The time of the presentation was set to discourage attendance and “technical issues” limited comments from some Committee members.
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