How the Red Cross played a key role in aftermath of the Tulsa Race Massacre

We're just over a month away from the anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre.


Next month marks a grim milestone in Oklahoma: It'll be 100 years since "Black Wall Street" was burned to the ground.

We're just over a month away from the anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. As we get closer, sister station KOCO is committed to bringing you a history of what happened – uncovering details that haven’t been made public and looking ahead to the area's future.

They came across an organization on the right side of the law on that terrible night. The Red Cross not only documented the violence but responded to it as well.

There are pages and pages of documented conversations between victims and the Red Cross, including gut-wrenching accounts of murder and the desecration of an entire self-sustaining town unlike any other.

Without hesitation, a mob violently attacked a budding, successful Black community, declaring war on an already marginalized people and demolishing everything the residents of Greenwood had worked so hard to build.

Nothing was left but evidence of a crime based on race.

These documents give a voice to the unheard. Pictures piece together legalized hatred. Death in the streets. Homes and businesses obliterated. Desperation in the eyes of survivors.

"If you look at those photographs, you can tell that to me it looks like an atomic bomb was dropped in the Greenwood District," said Michelle Place, executive director of the Tulsa Historical Society.

One old picture shows the volunteer responders.

The head of the Red Cross, Maurice Willows, calling on his crews to respond as a matter of justice to human life.

"Mr. Willows came very early on – like, immediately, upon hearing about the massacre," Place said.

Red Cross was their official relief. The victims had no one but them to lean on.

"He came to Tulsa to set up the efforts for the American Red Cross," Place said. "There were many, many volunteers."

The devastation was so bad, Black people were forced to wear cards or tags in order to avoid being arrested after losing it all in the massacre.

They were similar to dog tags. They had names, addresses, birthdates, jobs and bosses’ names.

"When it happened it the midst of destruction, residents, men, women and children are gathered up and sent to three different detainee centers, some of them staying for eight days," Place said. "The town council decided that detainees could be released into the hands of their employers if the employer would come and vouch for them."

In the meantime, those who survived were thinking about how to get by.

They needed medical help, food and water. Experts say the Red Cross was on the right side of history. Assistance came without conditions.

"I think what we know about the Red Cross, their mission — it's not about taking sides. It's about providing aid and shelter and clothing — that's still their mission today," Place said.

So the response from the Red Cross meant more to the victims than words could express.

Through the organization, they were given medical assistance, food, temporary shelter and, essentially, protection.

A letter shows the community’s appreciation. Its writers say "Thank God for the Red Cross," and "The great Red Cross helping us as a race to shut out our lives that is evil."

Perhaps most telling is how the Red Cross continued its efforts months later, into the holiday season, attempting to provide as much joy as could be mustered.

A night the Red Cross and Greenwood's remaining Black community would – and could – never forget.