This rare footage of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre was sourced by Lee Roy Chapman and is presented by the Center for Public Secrets.
by Randy Hopkins
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. The new series 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.
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