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Photo: The Beryl Ford Collection/Rotary Club of Tulsa, Tulsa City-County Library and Tulsa Historical Society.

Dick Rowland and Ignition of the Tulsa Race Riot

BY http://www.arcadiapublishing.com/9781467111287/Tulsas-Historic-Greenwood-District

"Dick Rowland was an ordinary bootblack with no standing in the community. But when his life was threatened by a mob of whites, every one of the 15,000 Negroes of Tulsa, rich and poor, educated and illiterate, was willing to die to protect Dick Rowland." - Walter White, The Nation

A seemingly random encounter between two teenagers lit the fuse that set the Greenwood District alight. The alleged assault of a 17-year-old white girl, Sarah Page, by a 19-year-old black boy, Dick Rowland, in the elevator of a downtown building triggered unprecedented civil unrest.

A local newspaper, the Tulsa Tribune, stoked the embers of Tulsa's emerging firestorm: "Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in an Elevator." Authorities arrested Rowland and a white mob vowed to lynch him.

A small group of African Americans men marched to the courthouse to protect Rowland. Upon their arrival, law enforcement authorities implored them to retreat, assuring them of the teen's safety. Lynch talk persisted and more African American men assembled. They met and verbally engaged with the throngs of white men already massed. Two men struggled over a gun. The gun discharged and chaos erupted.

Assault charges were never filed against Rowland.


As featured in "Tulsa's Historic Greenwood District" written by Hannibal Johnson and published by Arcadia Publishing, best known for its iconic "Images of America" series, which chronicles the history of small towns and downtowns across the country.