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The Tulsa Race Riot or the Tulsa Massacre, Greenwood Massacre, or the Black Wall Street Massacre of 1921 is an event in which white rioters destroyed a prosperous black community in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Murdering as many as 300 black residents, leaving thousands of Tulsans homeless, businesses destroyed, and an entire neighborhood ransacked.

In both the real world and the world of Watchmen, about 11,000 black residents lived in the neighborhood of Greenwood in Tulsa. It was a rich, self-sufficient, and thriving community with banks, movie theaters, grocery stores, libraries, hotels, churches, homes etc. However, as part of the Jim Crow South, Tulsa was highly segregated. Lynching was as common as the presence of the KKK.

The trigger

On the morning of May 30th, in an elevator in a building in downtown Tulsa, two teenagers: a black shoeshiner named Dick Rowland and the white elevator operator named Sarah Page, met. What happened next triggered the later explosive tragedy. The common explanation is that Rowland stepped on Page's foot, and her cry called forth a clerk. Rowland expected what would happen to a black man found alone with a white woman if he were caught, so he ran. The police didn't think it was worth investigating until the next day, and what Page told them remains unknown.

On the morning of the 31st two police officers (one white and one black) went in to bring in Rowland. In an afternoon edition, the Tulsa Tribune featured an inflammatory headline: "Nab Negro for Attacking Girl In an Elevator." An hour later the death threats starting coming in, so the sheriff and officers barricaded Rowland in a cell at the County Courthouse.

In Greenwood, black Tulsans gathered at the Dreamland Theatre and planned to protect Rowland, After all, the police had never stopped lynchings before. So a group went down to the courthouse, which the white mob outside of were none-too-pleased about. A white Tulsan grabbed for a black Tulsan's gun and in the struggle, there was a shot.

Like a signal, white Tulsans took that as permission to unleash the rage that had existed as long as Greenwood did. The mob burned 39 city blocks in Greenwood down to rubble. Deputized white Tulsans "arrested" 6,000 black residents and held them in confinement camps for weeks.


In the aftermath, the City Commission passed fire ordinances that blocked Greenwood from being rebuilt. With no other choice, many black residents were forced to leave. Most of those victims killed were buried en masse in unmarked graves, and the whole story was practically buried too.[1]


  • Watchmen series producer, Damon Lindelof, was inspired to open the pilot episode with depictions of the massacre and base the series on racial tensions after reading "The Case for Reparations" (2014) by Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic. Many aspects of the series' plot center on the legacy of the graphic novel and the massacre in an alternate timeline in 2019 in Tulsa, where racial conflict remains high. The popularity of the HBO series was considered to be the first exposure to the Tulsa race massacre via the entertainment industry as its history was generally not widely discussed and had not been depicted in that form before.


  1. 1.0 1.1 The Illustrated Story Behind the Tulsa Massacre on HBO's Watchmen. Atlantic Re:think. The Atlantic. Retrieved on December 10, 2019.