Walter F. White: “The Eruption of Tulsa”


The race riot in Tulsa, Oklahoma, of May 31–June 1, 1921, “the night Tulsa died,” stands as one of the more disgraceful episodes in American history. Among its first chroniclers was Walter F. White, whose article “The Eruption of Tulsa” appeared in The Nation magazine on July 29 that year. The riot was sparked by a rumor of a sexual assault that was picked up by a city newspaper. Events quickly spiraled out of control as mobs gathered. On the night of May 31 and continuing until noon the following day, gangs of white and black citizens waged open warfare on one another, with white gangs shooting black citizens in public and torching and vandalizing homes and businesses in Tulsa’s black Greenwood district. Roughly thirty-five blocks in Greenwood, including more than twelve hundred homes and numerous businesses, were destroyed by fire, and some ten thousand people were left homeless. Although the official death toll was put at thirty-nine, few who have studied the event,...

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Ku Klux Klan parade down Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C. in the 1920s (Library of Congress)

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