Here’s how much the Tulsa race massacre cost

Abu Mubarik May 31, 2021
The Tulsa massacre began on May 31, 1921, and lasted for two days. (Getty Images)

“Personal belongings and household goods had been removed from many homes and piled in the streets. On the steps of the few houses that remained sat feeble and gray Negro men and women and occasionally a small child. The look in their eyes was one of dejection and supplication. Judging from their attitude, it was not of material on sequence to them whether they lived or died. Harmless themselves, they apparently could not conceive the brutality and fiendishness of men who would deliberately set fire to the homes of their friends and neighbors and just as deliberately shoot them down in their tracks,” the Tulsa Daily World reported on the Tulsa massacre that began on May 31, 1921, and lasted for two days.

Tulsa, Okla., was regarded as one of the most successful Black neighborhoods. However, in May 1921, the city came under attack by a white mob, killing hundreds of residents, burning more than 1,250 homes, and erasing years of Black success.

It all started when on May 30, 1921, Dick Rowland, a 19-year-old African American shoe shiner was accused of rape. Rowland, according to CNN, ran out from an elevator in a downtown building after the elevator’s teen operator let out a scream of rape.

The news went viral. Rowland was arrested. The incident was reported by a white-owned local newspaper calling for Rowland’s lynching. Rowland was processed and taken to court on May 31, 1921, however, tensions between the White mob who went to the courthouse to lynch Rowland and the Black residents who were also around to ensure his safety escalated into a 24-hour-long armed confrontation.

A White mob eventually attacked and destroyed the properties of the Black inhabitants living in Greenwood, which was at that time the most affluent African-American community in the United States. It was even known as the “Black Wall Street” as it was home to highly successful and profitable Black-owned businesses. Reports on the aftermath of the incident — which became known as the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre — are varied. However, a recent investigation by the Tulsa Race Riot Commission revealed that almost 300 lives were lost. More than 1,200 homes were destroyed.

One factor that drove the violence was resentment toward black prosperity, according to the New York Times. Besides the destruction of properties, the 1921 massacre also destroyed inheritance that could be passed to generations. “When the violence ended, Tulsa Negroes were homeless,” the Journal of Black Studies noted in 1972.

A 2001 state commission report found that some $1.8 million, valued today at $27 million, in property was lost. So far, the state commission report is the most comprehensive on the massacre.

Also, a research paper published in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology valued the total cost of assets and commercial property lost at over $200 million. “If 1,200 median-priced houses in Tulsa were destroyed today, the loss would be around $150 million,” the researchers wrote. “The additional loss of other assets, including cash, personal belongings, and commercial property, might bring the total to over $200 million.”

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: May 31, 2021


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