The Week (US)

What happened?


Dick Rowland, a 19-year-old Black shoeshiner, stepped into an elevator in the Drexel building in downtown Tulsa to use the “coloreds only” restroom on the top floor. The elevator operator was a 17-year-old white girl, Sarah Page, who ran out of the elevator screaming. No one knows what happened; in the Black community, it was said that Rowland tripped and grabbed onto Page’s arm. The next day, The Tulsa Tribune ran a front-page story saying Rowland “scratched and tore her clothes,” an accusation that in that era was tantamount to an attempted rape. Rowland was arrested by police, and a lynch mob of hundreds of men quickly assembled outside the courthouse, demanding Rowland be handed over. A group of about 75 Black men rushed to the scene to protect Rowland. A scuffle broke out between the two groups, a gun discharged, and witnesses said “all hell broke loose.” That night, a white mob of more than 1,000—including police officers—descended on Greenwood for a

13-hour orgy of violence.

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