Dedicated on October 27, 2010, Reconciliation Park is the first landmark in Tulsa History to memorialize the victims of the 1921 Race Riot. The park is the result of the 2001 Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, which has been called one of the worst civic disturbances in American history. Beyond memorializing this tragedy, Reconciliation Park is dedicated to commemorating the role that African Americans have played in building Oklahoma throughout the state’s history.
and open to the public, Reconciliation Park is home to several striking pieces
of art depicting both the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 and the African-American history of Oklahoma.
The two most prominent pieces were created by well-known Denver artist Ed
Dwight, who was the first African-American astronaut in history. Hope Plaza,
located at the park’s entry, is a triptych installation consisting of a granite
base and three larger-than-life bronze statues taken from actual photos of the
riots and their aftermath: Hostility features a white man armed for assault,
Humiliation depicts a African-American man with his hand raised in surrender,
and Hope shows the white Red Cross director carrying a African-American baby.
The installation is meant to convey the three overwhelming emotions Tulsans
experienced in response to the riot.
magnificent 25-foot tall Tower of Reconciliation is located at the center of
the park. The tower depicts scenes from African-American history in Oklahoma:
the migration of slaves who traveled the Trail of Tears alongside Native
Americans, the slave labor which helped build the Territory, the victory of the
1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry at the Battle of Honey Springs, the
migration of free African-American people into the new state of Oklahoma and
the foundation of all-African-American towns and neighborhoods, most notably
Greenwood. The Tower also honors Tulsa’s early African-American leaders,
including Mabel B. Little and Buck C. Franklin.
Park’s location is highly symbolic. On one side lies the historic
African-American community of Greenwood, which the neighborhood residents
rebuilt after it was destroyed in the riot. On the other side is the bustling Brady
Arts District, which had originally been named for local businessman, KKK member and riot watchman W. Tate Brady,
but was re-dedicated in 2014 as a memorial to Civil War photographer Matthew
Brady. While the park itself commemorates the victims of the riot, its location
demonstrates Tulsa’s willingness to finally acknowledge the importance of the
riot to the city’s history.
May 31, 1921, a standoff between a group of enraged white Tulsans and the
members of the African-American Greenwood community erupted in gunfire. Earlier
in the day, 19-year old African-American shoeshine boy Dick Roland had been arrested for
allegedly sexually assaulting 17-year old white elevator operator Sarah Page. The lack of witnesses, evidence, or a statement from Page herself did not stop the arrest from being made.
The situation boiled over when the white community formed a lynch mob, which events
mobilized the Greenwood residents to form a protection force. Both groups met
on the steps of the Tulsa courthouse where Rowland was being held, and demanded justice.
is speculated that the gunfire started when an African-American man, who had
been ordered by a white civilian to surrender his gun, scuffled for the weapon
and accidentally discharged a shot. The ensuing gunfire soon spread out into
the streets, with gunfights between the contingents lasting well into the
night. By 1 a.m. the following morning, the white mob began setting fire to the
Greenwood neighborhood. They then turned away the Tulsa Fire Department units
dispatched to subdue the blaze. Eyewitness accounts recalled seeing planes
dropping firebombs onto Greenwood from overhead, and records show that six
WWI-ear biplanes had been dispatched from the Curtiss-Southwest Field. By
sunrise the following day, over 36 city blocks—nearly the entirety of
Greenwood—had been burned to the ground. The official death count released by
the Tulsa World was 176, though it is believed to have been much higher, with
over 800 people admitted to local hospitals due to injuries sustained in the