On May 30, 1921 a young black man named Dick Rowland, stumbled into a white woman, while entering an elevator. He was accused of assault, and arrested the next day. Newly rich from oil Tulsa, was a Ku Klux Klan town. Rowland was sentenced to be hanged. The Tulsa Tribune called for a “Negro lynching tonight.”
The white mob was surprised when they were met by several dozen armed black men, dressed in their World War I uniforms. This led to a racist three day destruction of the black neighborhood of Greenwood. The Red Cross reported 300 mostly dead black people.
Greenwood called “Little Africa,” was a relatively wealthy community. White mobs, many deputized, destroyed every house, store, church or school. The mob met resistance from an armed black population. Governor Robertson declared martial law. The National Guard arrived with machine gun mounted trucks, and airplanes hovering over Greenwood. It was the first time an American city was bombed from the air, by the US government.
Over 6,000 black people, were round up and held in the convention center and fairgrounds, as long as eight days. The homeless were shuttled into a tent city, where typhoid and malnutrition took over. Blacks were allowed out of the convention center, with a tag, with an employers name. Thosands fled the city.
Attempts to turn Greenwood into an industrial zone were unsuccessful. For several years, it was deprived of paved streets, running water, and garbage collection.