Margaret Fosmoe ’85 | January 21, 2021
Gunfire blazed on the streets and sidewalks of the flourishing African American quarter of Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 1, 1921, as white mobs looted and burned homes, businesses and churches. The Oklahoma National Guard imposed martial law. Some Black residents were arrested, and thousands more were rounded up and interned in makeshift camps. By the time the violence ended, the city’s Greenwood District lay in ruins. More than 800 people were injured and as many as 300 people may have died.
The total number of people killed has never been determined because some victims were buried in unmarked mass graves while the bodies of others, according to eyewitnesses, were removed by train or thrown into the Arkansas River. The investigation of an all-white grand jury produced few charges and no convictions for the deaths, injuries or property damage.
Many Americans have never heard of the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, one of the deadliest outbreaks of white violence against a Black community in American history, but for James O. Goodwin ’61, the events that took place in his hometown nearly 20 years before he was born shaped his life. Goodwin, 81, is a lifelong Tulsa resident, practicing attorney and longtime publisher of The Oklahoma Eagle, the city’s Black newspaper. His grandparents were Greenwood residents.
At the time of the massacre, the district was known as “Black Wall Street,” reputedly the wealthiest African American community in the United States. Many residents worked as domestics or laborers for white Tulsans who made their fortunes in Oklahoma’s oil boom. In those days of strict segregation, Black citizens spent their earnings in Greenwood’s thriving stores, restaurants, theaters and jazz joints, and they patronized Black physicians and attorneys.
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