Postcards Celebrating the Ruins of Black Neighborhoods After the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
July 29 2014 10:26 AM

Photo Postcards Made to Celebrate the Ruins of Black Neighborhoods After the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921

The Vault is Slate's history blog. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @slatevault, and find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

These images, made into postcards, commemorate the destruction brought on by the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, capturing the ruins that replaced the city's black neighborhoods after 18 hours of looting and burning. These postcards, like the images of lynching victims that circulated in the mail around the same time, served as souvenir objects for white collectors, celebrating the destruction that had taken place.

Although the origins of this violence are somewhat obscure, it seems that a chance encounter between Sarah Page, a young, white, female elevator operator, and Dick Rowland, a young black man riding her elevator, touched off the riot. On May 30, 1921, Rowland accidentally stepped on Page’s foot. Page screamed. In many places in the United States in the 1910s and 1920s, raciall -motivated vigilante violence was common. White Tulsans amplified the elevator incident, eventually accusing Rowland of rape.  

Advertisement

After attempting (and failing) to lynch Rowland, a mob of white vigilantes attacked black neighborhoods with guns and torches. The Greenwood district, which was rich in black-owned businesses, made an attractive target for white Tulsans bent on revenge. While the black residents tried to hold off the mob, numbers eventually prevailed, and much of Greenwood was burned.

Casualties numbered between 50 and 300, though precise numbers are hard to pin down. (I. Marc Carlson, a librarian and researcher at the University of Tulsa who maintains a website about the race riot, has compiled a list of the casualties, along with their injuries, as recorded in contemporary sources.) In a lasting blow to the community, around 1,200 homes were rendered uninhabitable.

In his book about the riots, law professor Alfred Brophy points out that black and white Tulsans each used photographs for their own purposes after the violence ended. White Tulsans celebrated the obliteration of the Greenwood district, buying and selling postcards like the ones below (as well as postcards featuring much more disturbing images).

Meanwhile, the newspaper Black Dispatch “offered its readers a three-foot-long picture” of the wreckage as a subscription incentive later in 1921. “Showing the ‘desolate, smoking ruins of the Tulsa Riot,’ ” Brophy writes, “the paper celebrated ‘the heroism of the valiant black men and women who have remained in Tulsa and made of that charnel house a fit place for our group to live.’ ” 

2TulsaPostcard
"Little Africa On Fire."

Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer Library.

6TulsaPostcard
"Ruins of the Tulsa Race Riot."

Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer Library.

5TulsaPostcard
"Ruins of the Tulsa Race Riot."

Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer Library.

4TulsaPostcard
"Burning of Church Where Amunition [sic] Was Stored."

Southern Methodist University, Central University Libraries, DeGolyer Library.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 18 2014 10:23 AM From Fringe to Mainstream: How We Learned to Panic About Terrorists Crossing the Border
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
The Vault
Sept. 18 2014 9:57 AM “The Sun Never Sets Upon the British Empire,” Explained in GIF by an Old Children’s Toy
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Television
Sept. 18 2014 8:53 AM The Other Huxtable Effect Thirty years ago, The Cosby Show gave us one of TV’s great feminists.
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 18 2014 10:07 AM “The Day It All Ended” A short story from Hieroglyph, a new science fiction anthology.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 18 2014 7:30 AM Red and Green Ghosts Haunt the Stormy Night
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?