Skip to main content

US: Provide Reparations for 1921 ‘Tulsa Race Massacre’

State, City Should Compensate Survivors, Descendants; Adopt Broad Plan

Reverend Robert Turner of the historic Vernon African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, damaged in the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, leads a reconciliatory pilgrimage of sorts from the Vernon AME to Tulsa City Hall every Wednesday, demanding “reparations now.” © 2019 Ian Maule/Tulsa World

(Washington, DC) – State and local authorities in Tulsa, Oklahoma should provide reparations for the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, when a white mob killed several hundred black people and destroyed a prosperous black neighborhood, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. They should promptly develop and carry out a comprehensive reparations plan, in close consultation with the local community, to address the harm caused by the massacre and its lasting impact.

Read a text description of this video

Chief Egunwale Amusan, Descendant of Tulsa Massacre SurvivorWhat’s the big deal about Tulsa?  What makes Tulsa significant than any other city? Well you’ve come to a place where not only a terrorist attack occurred but that terrorist attack there was no justice that followed that terrorist attack.

Greg Robinson, Community Activist And certainly, there is not a more clear example of a space where reparations is indeed needed than the Greenwood community here in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Reverend Robert Turner, Historic Vernon AME ChurchThe whole world is watching Tulsa, right? What happened in Greenwood, is being made known all over the world.

Dreisen Heath, Human Rights Watch In June 2020, Human Rights Watch went to Tulsa, Oklahoma to support our community partners and to celebrate Juneteenth, which marks the day enslaved people were declared free in the US. The event was held in Tulsa’s historic Greenwood district, the home of what was once a thriving, wealthy Black community. Greenwood was destroyed in 1921 in one of worst cases of racial violence in the history of the US.

Dreisen Heath, Human Rights Watch,  onstage at Tulsa’s Juneteenth celebration 

I stand here today, only because of the resolve of my ancestors, the unrelinquishing strength of my Tulsa family and friends and the possibilities that we can break from the chains of injustice. I was born here in Tulsa. My parents were patrons of Mount Zion which is often pictured in smoldering flames as a result of the targeted and vile racist destruction of the 1921 Tulsa race massacre.

Title: The Case for Reparations in Tulsa, Oklahoma

This video contains violent and disturbing images.

Viewer discretion advised.

Chief Egunwale Amusan, Descendant of Tulsa Massacre Survivor

When I hear my family and my predecessors talk about what Greenwood was like …I have to literally close my eyes so that I can imagine it. We’re talking about a four-square mile area where it’s like a metropolis.

Kristi Williams, Descendant of Survivors of the Tulsa Race Massacre

Greenwood was a Black community who had shared principles, shared values, who loved each other, who helped each other and that’s what kept it thriving.

Dreisen Heath, Human Rights Watch

On May 31, 1921 a white mob invaded Greenwood, after a young Black man was falsely accused of assaulting a white woman. The mob attacked Black residents and businesses, burning down the 35 square blocks of the district in under 24 hours, looting and destroying over 1200 homes, a dozen churches, and over 60 businesses.

Mother Randle, 106-year-old survivor of Tulsa Race Massacre

I guess I might have been five. I guess, I don’t know. Very small. I remember men coming through the house. They were white men. I don’t know what they called themselves. Ku Klux Klan or what they called themselves, were coming in and destroying the people’s homes, and burning them down. I heard people screaming and saw people running and hollerin’ and trying to get out of the way.

Dreisen Heath, Human Rights Watch

About 300 people were killed, the vast majority of them Black, and thousands of Black people were left homeless. Property damage claims from the time amount to tens of millions in today’s dollars.

Chief Egunwale Amusan, Descendant of Tulsa Massacre Survivor

As a descendant of a survivor of the Tulsa race massacre, I see my people who left and fled Tulsa in me.

They lost everything. They lost their homes, their dignity, the hope that came with them out of chattel slavery. That hope was destroyed in one night.

Damario Solomon- Simmons, Civil Rights Attorney

Because the city called this a riot and blamed the Blacks, African-Americans, my people. We couldn't collect on our insurance claims. And we know for a fact that the Black people in Greenwood couldn’t get a fair hearing. We know that. The people that they were going to go in front of, burnt them down.

Dreisen Heath, Human Rights Watch

A state government commission charged with investigating the Tulsa Race Massacre confirmed in a 2001 report that Tulsa officials, and the hundreds of white people they deputized, participated in the violence by looting, killing, and destroying property. No one was ever prosecuted or punished for these violent crimes.

Damario Solomon- Simmons, Civil Rights Attorney

We know that the city of Tulsa and the state of Oklahoma had a conspiracy of silence about what actually happened. I mean I went to school, right on this street, right on Greenwood and didn’t know anything about it until 1997, 1998.

Chief Egunwale Amusan, Descendant of Tulsa Massacre Survivor

And so, now all the attention that’s coming to Greenwood is something that I’ve always said, If we say their names enough, the bones will rattle the earth and people will hear it.

Dreisen Heath, Human Rights Watch

In the summer of 2020, the city of Tulsa finally began excavations for mass graves from 1921, exploring areas where eyewitnesses say black bodies were buried.  Neither the city nor the state has provided reparations in the form of compensation to the survivors and descendants of the massacre, as recommended by the 2001 Commission, or to the broader Black community in Tulsa. We know of three remaining survivors who are all over 100 years old so providing repair is urgent.

Damario Solomon- Simmons, Civil Rights Attorney, onstage at Juneteenth celebration

What are reparations? The root word means “to repair.” It’s very simple. We need to repair the damage that was done, not just in 1921 but the continual massacre that has happened ever since that day. 

Dreisen Heath, Human Rights Watch

Even after the tremendous losses the Black community suffered due to the massacre, government officials committed no public money to help Greenwood rebuild

Kristi Williams, Descendant of Tulsa Race Massacre Survivor

After the massacre, they rebuilt by 1925. And they did that in the face of white supremacy, Jane and Jim Crow and in the face of the very people who bombed and looted and destroyed and murdered blocks of a community.

Dreisen Heath – map

At its height, the Greenwood district was 35 square blocks. In the ‘30’s, parts of Greenwood were redlined, agencies designated it as higher risk for lenders. Urban renewal led to the building of highways through the district, displacing Black families. Then authorities built OSU-Tulsa and Oneok Field, a minor league baseball stadium in the historic district of Greenwood. Today, gentrification is now encroaching on Greenwood, leaving just a small triangular area just south of the highway. Yet neither of the survivors or the descendants of the Tulsa Massacre nor the broader Black community in Tulsa, got a meaningful share of the wealth.

Vanessa Hall-Harper, Tulsa City Council

Urban removal, the government calls it urban renewal, I’ll call it urban removal came through this community like they did in so many other Black communities And literally destroyed Greenwood.

Chief Amusan, Descendant of Massacre Survivor

Each time, they were denied an opportunity to collect generational wealth.  And so our families don’t know the same generational wealth that they knew in Greenwood.

Dreisen Heath, Human Rights Watch

100 years after the Tulsa Race massacre, the city remains highly segregated with most Black people living in North Tulsa. In 2019, Human Rights Watch analyzed data around policing, poverty, and racial inequality in the city. We found that:

Black Tulsans are twice as likely to be unemployed.

And the Black poverty rate is 35%.

And some neighborhoods that are predominantly black are subject to more aggressive policing, experiencing police stops at more than four times the rate of low-income white neighborhoods and 20 or more times the rate of wealthy white neighborhoods.

Dr.Tiffany Crutcher, Descendant of Race massacre survivor

And I can't help but reflect back on this very ground that we're standing, what my great-grandmother, Rebecca Brown Crutcher went through, and she had to flee and fight for that same right to live in the midst of racial terror violence. I can't help but think about that continual trauma that's been passed down my family line, you know, fast forwarding to 2016 with my brother.

Police radio with helicopter footage of Terence Crutcher killing

Mike I’m gonna hit the recorder.  This guy’s still walking.

And isn’t  following commands.

Time for taser I think.

Dr.Tiffany Crutcher, Descendant of Race massacre survivor

Police offers running when he was innocent, needing help.

Police radio with helicopter footage of Terence Crutcher killing

Gotta feeling that’s about to happen.

That’s a bad dude. Could  be on something.

Female voice: Shots fired! Shots fired.

Terence Crutcher was killed by Tulsa police in 2016.  

Dr. Tiffany Crutcher, Founder, Terence Crutcher Foundation

We’re still fighting to run outside. We’re still fighting just to sit on our sofa and eat ice cream or play video games with our nephew. Or birdwatch. Our outside isn’t free. We’re fighting just to be Black in America. And I believe that Tulsa is the microcosm of part of a broader issue that we’re facing all over this nation. And if we can get it right here, right in Tulsa, I believe we can get it right everywhere.

Dreisen Heath, Human Rights Watch

Many cities, states and institutions across the US are attempting to come to terms with their racist past and present with local forms of reparations.

Rosewood, Florida; Evanston, Illinois and the state of California are just a few places that have taken steps to address the inequalities brought on by systemic, anti-Black discrimination. Human Rights Watch has long been supportive of reparations by the federal government to account for the brutality of slavery and subsequent racist laws and institutions. In February 2021, I testified in front of US Congress about HR 40, a bill that explores a pathway to federal reparations.

Dreisen Heath, testimony for the House Subcommittee

If racial justice is ever to be achieved, repair needs to be part of the equation.

Dreisen Heath, Human Rights Watch

With mounting pressure from the public to address systemic racism the House Judiciary Committee held a vote on HR 40 and approved it. This offers new hope that an opportunity for racial healing will finally happen in the US.

Greg Robinson, Community Activist

I don’t believe we can have a conversation about moving forward as a country if we don’t have a conversation rooted in the truth of what has not been repaired in terms of this country’s treatment and usage of African-American labor, of African-American minds and frankly, and mostly of  African-American bodies. 

Kristi Williams, Descendant of Massacre Survivor

Give my people back land, give my people money that our ancestors built this country, built these corporations off their blood, sweat, tears, agony, pay them for that. Give us good policies to operate within this system.

Damario Solomon- Simmons, Civil Rights Attorney

And I believe that the Covid-19 break, coupled with what happened with George Floyd, opened up an opportunity that we can finally get to the root of all the disparities, the inequality and the discrimination which is anti-Black white supremacy

Reverend Robert Turner

So the very fact of reparations if they ever did it, would be given, will give a sense of hope and optimism that this country that I loved for so long, finally loves me back.

Hands up! Don’t shoot! Hands up! Don’t shoot!



















The 66-page report, “The Case for Reparations in Tulsa, Oklahoma: A Human Rights Argument,” details the destruction that left hundreds of people, most of them black, dead and more than 1,200 black-owned houses burned in Tulsa’s Greenwood neighborhood, then known as “Black Wall Street.” Human Rights Watch also described some of the subsequent policies and structural racism that prevented Greenwood and the broader North Tulsa community from thriving. In this context, the US Congress should also pass H.R. 40, a bill that would begin to address the ongoing harm from slavery. 

“It was almost 100 years ago that the Greenwood neighborhood in Tulsa was destroyed, but survivors of the massacre and their descendants are still suffering the consequences,” said Dreisen Heath, US program advocacy officer at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “Decades of black prosperity and millions of dollars in hard-earned wealth were wiped out in hours but nobody was ever held accountable and no compensation was ever paid.”  

The massacre occurred between May 31 and June 1, 1921, after a black man was accused of assaulting a white woman. A white mob, including people deputized and armed by city officials, descended on Greenwood, terrorized black families, and burned their community to the ground. About 35 square blocks – more than 1,200 black-owned houses, scores of businesses, a school, a hospital, a public library, and a dozen black churches – were destroyed and thousands were left homeless. The American Red Cross estimated the death toll at 300, but the exact number remains unknown. Only recently did officials begin limited excavations of unmarked mass graves.

Human Rights Watch, the National African American Reparations Commission, and the American Civil Liberties Union will join leaders from Tulsa and across the US on May 31, 2020 to open a series of virtual forums that will explore the enduring impact of the massacre and the path to reparations in Tulsa and for other African Americans.

In the immediate aftermath, the state declared martial law and the state and local authorities disarmed and arrested black people in Tulsa, moving them to internment camps where thousands of black Tulsans, then homeless, were forced to live in tents. Government officials committed no public money to help Greenwood rebuild. Rather, they impeded rebuilding, even rejecting offers of medical and reconstruction assistance from within and outside Tulsa.

No one was held responsible for the violent crimes, and city and state officials attempted to cover up the massacre for decades. This fall, for the first time, the Oklahoma Education Department will include the race massacre in its curriculum.

In 2003, civil rights lawyers sued Tulsa, its Police Department, and the state of Oklahoma, seeking restitution for the more than 200 survivors and their descendants. A court dismissed the suit, citing the state’s statute of limitations.

Ongoing de facto segregation, discriminatory policies, and structural racism have left black Tulsans, particularly those in North Tulsa, with a lower standard of living and fewer opportunities than other Tulsans. There are significant racial disparities in the city across multiple indicators, from access to health and nutritious food to education. Greenwood community members have expressed concern that the current economic investment plans are not sufficiently focused on supporting the community or preserving its black heritage, but rather on gentrifying the area.

“Tulsa stands out for the malicious destruction during the massacre, but the racist systems, policies, and practices that have harmed black Tulsans over decades are not unique,” Heath said. “In many ways, Tulsa is a microcosm of the United States.”

The massacre occurred in a broader context of systemic racism rooted in the US history of slavery, white supremacy, racist violence, and oppression, which continues across the United States today, Human Rights Watch said.

Under international human rights law, governments have an obligation to provide effective remedies for human rights violations like the Tulsa massacre, including through a range of reparations mechanisms.

Human Rights Watch has long supported the development of broader reparations plans to account for the cruelty of slavery and subsequent harm, and supports US House Resolution 40, to establish a commission to examine the impact of the slave trade and to recommend ways to address the harm, including apology and compensation. This bill has gained traction, with nearly 100 new co-sponsors, an indication of growing recognition of the importance of accounting for the impact of slavery and decades of racist, discriminatory laws and practices that followed and persist today.

The Tulsa and Oklahoma governments should act swiftly to provide reparations, including direct payments to the few massacre victims still living and their descendants, and to recover and identify remains that may be in mass graves. The state and local governments should promptly establish a comprehensive reparations plan such as by strengthening existing scholarship programs, funding memorials, and providing targeted investments in health, education, and economic opportunities, in close consultation with affected community members. Federal, state, and local authorities should also pass legislation to clear legal barriers to civil legal claims related to the massacre.

“Tulsa officials failed to deliver on promises to provide full reparation, harming black life in Tulsa from the massacre to the present day,” Heath said. “Government authorities have an opportunity to fully reckon with these historical and contemporary wrongs by finally doing what they should have done a long time ago – providing reparations to massacre descendants and the black people in Tulsa today.”

For more on the Virtual Forums on the Tulsa Race Massacre and Reparations, please visit:

To support a petition calling on the Tulsa and Oklahoma governments to make full reparations to survivors and descendants of the Tulsa Race Massacre, please visit: 

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.