'No one was spared': Nearly a century later, the history of Tulsa race massacre still haunts many

The president's decision to hold a rally in Tulsa, originally on Juneteenth, put a new spotlight on the city's racial history. The story of Black Wall Street, a thriving community disintegrated by hate, is a dark story that many people in the country do not know.

The tale of bloodshed on Black Wall Street took place nearly 100 years ago. The victims’ stories fraught with terror and violence, spurred on by racism. There were loss of lives and everything the community built over the course of time was gone in a matter days.

“It started in the Drexel Building with a shoeshiner named Dick Rowland,” Dexter Nelson II said. “There was an altercation with him and a white elevator operator named Sarah Page.”

From that moment, rage stemming from the incident would end up being the downfall of what so many worked so hard to create in world tainted by segregation and prejudice.

Both black and white people were responding.

“We see black mob thinking that Dick Rowland is going to be lynched instead of seeing his day in court. Then we see white mob come to meet the black mob, then we see an altercation. There was a shot fired and then the massacre broke out,” Nelson said.

It's at that moment the destruction and physical downfall took place. Sheer chaos. The pictures inside Greenwood Cultural Center depict those very defining moments.

“This was a move against the black residents in this community,” Nelson said.

So it unraveled.

“There was looting. There was murder. There were all sorts of debauchery,” Nelson said.

Explaining no one was safe -- age or gender didn't change the color of their skin. And so, the same fate befell hundreds.

“No one was spared; babies were attacked. Children, adults,” Nelson said.

By morning, Black Wall Street was on fire. People were devastated and left with nothing.

“Thirty-six city blocks were burnt down to the ground,” Nelson said.

We are told the people who survived and stayed were resilient, eventually, picking up the pieces starting all over again.

“It never got that 36-city block venture, but as far as it being rebuilt, they rebuilt what they could,” Nelson said.

They were pushing to once again have their own thriving community.

“They went from wealth to ashes to these structures that they built themselves. This is without insurance. This is black excellence at its finest,” Nelson said.

We were escorted to a church that was burned down in the massacre, but the basement survived the damage.

“Our basement is the only thing that survived the worst race massacre in all American history 1921,” said Kristyn Paschal with the historic Vernon AME Church.

The artifacts inside serve as reminders.

“These are soil collections of victims from the massacre collected in the area where they were believed to have been killed,” Paschal said. “So just out of respect for them not having proper burials, we wanted to make sure they were honored some way.”

Paschal said they can feel the presence of the people in this legendary town, although they say no one died here.

"Sometime walking down here you can feel the spirits still alive,” Paschal said.

Documents show the survivors who stayed to rebuild. And in fact, the room has special meaning the church and history of the Greenwood massacre, meeting under the rubble the Sunday after.

“They didn't want to rebuild right away, they still saw fit to come worship God,” Paschal said.

The original chairs are still inside the church, aging close to 100 years old. They are pieces of history the folks who live here want you to know about and want you to see for yourself, saying it's a way to remember the lives lost and more.


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