Blood and Oil: The History of Tulsa (Episode #144)

America marked this year the 100th anniversary of the race massacre that destroyed the Greenwood district of Tulsa, the so-called “Black Wall Street,” but left out of the commemorations were the contexts that led to the outbreak of civil violence: the town’s Indian origins in the Trail of Tears; the massive cattle and oil booms that gave rise to a powerful and organized class of business magnates; the city’s chaotic and crime-ridden expansion, which fueled vigilantism, including lynchings of both white and black victims; and the patriotic frenzy of the First World War and the Red Scare, with its hysterical fear of Bolshevism and revolution. Finally, we consider the recovery of Tulsa from the shocks of the 1921 massacre, the Klan’s reign of terror, and the Depression, after which it has evolved into a comparatively liberal cultural capital amidst the conservative Plains Midwest. Tulsa is an extreme example in miniature of America’s tumultuous and confused rise to industrial power.

Also see Myth of the Month 21: The Old West

Suggested further reading: Courtney Ann Vaugh-Roberson and Glen Vaughn-Roberson, “City in the Osage Hills.”

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