On this day, May 31, in 1921, in Oklahoma, at least 39 people were killed in the Tulsa Race Riot.

The violence began over an incident on Memorial Day, one day earlier. A 19-year-old black shoe shiner named Dick Rowland was accused of attempting to rape a 17-year-old white girl in an elevator at a department store.

Rowland was arrested, and word spread of a possible lynching. Hundreds of white vigilantes gathered around the courthouse. The sheriff barricaded the building to protect Rowland. About 30 armed black men arrived to help, and a shoot-out ensued. Within seconds, several blacks and whites lay dead.

Over two days, gun battles and fires erupted. Whites flew planes to shoot rißes and drop Þrebombs into what was then known as the Black Wall Street of America. Thousands of blacks ßed the city, only to return to Þnd their homes destroyed.

-- Scott McCabe