Well, since they've been in the news lately, I guess I'll node the story.

Oklahoma in the early 20th century was a strange hodgepodge of farmers, oil barons, rich folk, poor folk, black and white and every sort of person you can imagine, all trying to carve out a living from the 'new' (read : stolen from the Indians) land in the middle of the United States. There was a large contingent of African-Americans spread out through the state, with a large community centered in north Tulsa. There was also a large contingent of Kluxers, and in the first two decades of Oklahoma's existence, there was a lynching every two years.

So, jump up to May 1921. A black man named Dick Rowland called an elevator but was somehow late entering it. This being the 20s, elevator doors would close and crush anyone between them, so Dick jumped through and ran into the only person on the lift, a white woman named Sarah Page. Page panicked, left the elevator as soon as she could, and hurried over to the police to press charges of attempted rape. (Ed. Note : Honey, don't flatter yourself.) Rowland was arrested and put in jail to await trial. There was no apparent wrongdoing on the part of the police here, and in fact, they supposedly sided with Rowland at this time.

The main Tulsa paper of the time, the Tribune, picked up on it. There was a frontpage headline, reports of how Rowland had scratched up Page's hands and face, and that Page was a 17 year old orphan working her way through college (both of which, days later, were admitted to be complete fictions). An editorial ran on page 2, I think; all copies are lost, but most agree that it urged a lynching.

Two mobs met at the courthouse, where Rowland was being held. One was composed of 75 to 100 black men, the other 1500 to 2000 white people. It is known that one of the black men brought a gun; a scuffle ensued between him and a white man for the gun; and a shot went off. And with that opening shot, the race (riot) begun.

Guns and ammunition were stolen from a dozen (white-owned) businesses. The mob grew, reports ranging from 5000 to 12,000 people. They invaded the prosperous black section of Tulsa, the Greenwood area. Just twelve hours later, somewhere between 26 and 36 city blocks were destroyed. The area of town once known around the country as 'the Black Wall Street' was devastated. The official death toll was 36, but most people at least triple that.

Most of the leaders of the black community were dead or seriously injured. All doctor's offices, dentistries, and pharmacies in the area were destroyed. All churches were burned. Most businesses were looted clean. Even worse, at least some of the carnage was legal - around 500 men were deputized in a mass ceremony during the riot, supposedly to help control the riot. Most of these 'deputies' accepted their new post in life and celebrated by looting and pillaging.

As of today, there's a debate on whether the city of Tulsa is culpable for damages caused by these 'deputies'. If so, the city may be liable for up to 1.5 million in damages... in 1921 dollars.

And, on a side note - you'll hear that most Tulsans do not know that this ever happened. That's somewhat true - most older Tulsans are completely unaware that the tiny strip of businesses on Greenwood Avenue were once the heart of a thriving district. But, personally, I've learned about these riots since the 5th grade.

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