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Death in a Promised Land

The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921

Scott Ellsworth

Publication Year: 1992

When a crows began to gather outside the jail in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on the evening of May 31, 1921, the fate of one of its prisoners, a young black male, seemed assured. Accused of attempting to rape a white woman, Dick Rowland was with little doubt about to be lynched. But in another part of town, a small group of black men, many of them World War I veterans, decided to risk lives for a different vision of justice. Before it was all over, Tulsa had erupted into one of America's worst racial nightmares, leaving scores dead and hundreds of homes and businesses destroyed. Exhaustively researched, 'Death in a Promised Land' is compelling story of racial ideologies, southwestern politics, and yellow journalism, and of an embattled black community's struggle to hold onto its land and freedom. More than just the chronicle of one of the nation's most devastating race riots, this critically acclaimed study of American race relations is, above all, a gripping story of terror and lawlessness, and of courage, hedonism, and human perserverance.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press

Cover, Title Page, Copyright

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Contents, List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-xiii

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pp. xv-xvii

In the spring of 19211 was only six years old, but the events in Tlilsa in late May and early June were permanently etched in my mind. For some years my family had been living in Rentiesville, an all-Negro village some sixty-five miles south...

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Prelude: In the Promised Land

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pp. 1-7

Bill Williams once asked his father why he had come to Oklahoma. "Well," he replied, "I came out to the promised land." Indeed, when John Williams and his wife Loula came to Tulsa during the first years of the twentieth century...

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1. Boom Cities

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pp. 8-16

Tulsa was a boom city in a boom state. Between 1890 and 1920, the population of the land which became the state of Oklahoma increased seven and one-half times; the total population in 1920 was over two million. Thirteen other...

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2. Race Relations and Local Violence

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pp. 17-44

Whereas Tulsa's growth in the early twentieth century was virtually unmatched by any other American city, Tulsa's race riot was far from being the only event of its kind in the nation. Indeed, the happenings in Tulsa in the spring...

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3. Race Riot

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pp. 45-70

Roy Helton's death was of special significance to black Tulsans, whose brethren throughout the state were more and more the victims of white mobs. Any faith in the city's white law enforcement officials had been shattered...

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4. Law, Order, and the Politics of Relief

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pp. 71-97

The aftermath of the riot provides us with a valuable view of the interworkings of power, race relations, and racial ideologies in Tulsa. The various responses to the riot revealed both humanitarianism and greed, mutual aid...

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5. The Segregation of Memory

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pp. 98-107

It is part of our nature as human beings—whether as individuals, groups, or societies—that we create "pasts" with which we can live. If the reality of our history poses questions about our lives of today which are too painful or ominous...

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Epilogue: Notes on the Subsequent History of "Deep Greenwood"

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pp. 108-111

The rebuilding of black Tulsa after the riot, particularly that of "Deep Greenwood," is a story of almost as great importance as the riot itself. Perhaps more than anything else, this rebuilding was a testament to the courage...

Appendix I

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pp. 113-114

Appendix II

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pp. 115-117


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pp. 119-137

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Essay on Sources

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pp. 139-150

Researching the history of the Tulsa race riot over a period of five years proved to be an experience that was both exhilarating and frustrating. More time than I care to think about was spent trying to track down sources which...

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pp. 151-153

Had it not been for the help of three historians, this book most likely would not have been written. John Strawn, of Portland, Oregon, opened my eyes to the substance of the nation's past in his brilliantly constructed...


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pp. 155-159

E-ISBN-13: 9780807151501
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807117675

Page Count: 184
Publication Year: 1992