Grambling, Louisiana – November 14, 2022 – Dr. Alicia Odewale, an African diaspora archaeologist and assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Tulsa, recently appeared at Grambling State University to give a presentation on reanalysis historical evidence of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Her work does not focus on the attack itself, but rather on the trauma and triumph of the community afterwards.
Dr. Odewale’s session, “Greenwood: A Century of Resilience”, discussed the events that occurred over a period of approximately 18 hours – from May 31 to June 1, 1921 – when a white mob attacked residents, homes and businesses in the Black Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Okla.
Findings from Odewale’s research project, “Mapping Historic Trauma in Tulsa 1921-2021,” documented the personal stories of Greenwood residents while mapping evidence of their resilience.
Most of Tulsa’s 10,000 black residents in 1921 lived in a neighborhood called Greenwood which included a thriving business district sometimes called Black Wall Street. Using evidence from his research, Odewale gave an in-depth view of the socio-economic and racial climate and digested the encounters that occurred before and after the tragic event.
On May 30, 1921, Dick Rowland, a young black teenager, entered an elevator in the Drexel Building on South Main Street in Tulsa.
At some point after this, the young white elevator operator, Sarah Page, screamed and Rowland fled the scene. The police were called to the office building and the next morning they arrested Rowland.
A front-page article in the Tulsa Tribune on the afternoon of May 30, 1921 reported that police arrested Rowland for sexually assaulting Page.
As evening fell, a crowd of white people had gathered outside the courthouse, demanding that the sheriff hand over Rowland. Sheriff Willard McCullough refused and his men barricaded themselves on the top floor of the sheriff’s office to protect the black teenager.
At around 9 p.m. that evening, a group of around 25 armed black men – many believed to be World War I veterans – came to the courthouse and offered to help guard Rowland, but was turned away by the sheriff.
Shortly after, some of the white mob reportedly tried unsuccessfully to break into the nearby National Guard armory.
When a group of about 75 armed black men returned to the courthouse around 10 p.m., they were met by about 1,500 white men, some of whom were armed. The group of black men later retreated to Greenwood after gunfire broke out at the courthouse.
After a night of unrest, including the murder of an unarmed black man in a movie theater, thousands of white citizens at dawn poured into the Greenwood district, looting and burning homes and businesses on an area of 35 blocks. Firefighters who arrived to help put out the fires later
“The first shots were fired at 10 p.m. on May 31, 1921, 1,256 houses were looted by the white mob and set on fire,” Odewale told those present during the presentation.
“In 1921 the death toll was 36. Today it is said that approximately more than 300 people were murdered.”
In the decades that followed, Odewale said not only was there no effort to commemorate the events of the event, but rather there were deliberate efforts to cover them up by the media and school systems. public.
Odewale also spoke of the resilience and perseverance of those who survived the event and their families.
“Greenwood was determined to rebuild,” Odewale said, “Despite all of this, Greenwood still came back bigger and better than he was before.”
GSU student Lescia Valmond, a double major in biology and history from Dominica, felt sufficiently engaged by the presentation that she also attended another talk Odewale gave to a history class. African American later on Monday afternoon.
“She was very articulate in her presentation and grounded in facts,” Valmond said. “A lot of times when black people talk about black history, a lot of people believe their talk is based purely on sentiment. But her presentation was based on evidence of what she looked for. She doesn’t just publishing falsified information She has published factual figures to back up what she says.
Valmond admitted that she had read a lot about the event before hearing Odewale’s presentation.
“There were still a lot of new things that she said that I didn’t know exactly because the global web doesn’t provide as much information about the geography and the exact people involved,” Valmond said. “She touched on a lot of gray areas and with the visualization she provided so we could see what happened, that’s the part I liked the most.”
In a post-event interview, Dr Odewale said she hoped her presence at Grambling State offered students real insight into personal resilience and challenged fears to blaze a different path.
“You can follow whatever you want to do, even if it’s something no one else is doing,” Odewale said. “Even though it’s something the people who love you don’t normally do. If you’re interested, maybe God put it in your heart for a reason and it’s something you can pursue, even if you are perhaps the first to lead this way.