The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 occurred during a 14 hour period from May 31 to June 1, 1921. It was the worst of a series of white riots against African-American communities of that time. During the First World War wage rates and
working conditions dramatically improved for many American workers and the Federal government enforced a “labor truce” after the at times extremely violent labor battles of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While there was a relative boom as wages increased during the war, labor unrest rose in the immediate post-war period as employers attempted to return wage rates and working conditions to pre-war levels. Troops returning from Europe were rapidly demobilized with no plan for reintegration into the civilian economy. In northern cities white working class people feared economic competition and insecurity in the wake of the “Great Migration” when over half a million black people migrated to northern cities during the war. Increasing tension resulted from African-Americans workers often being used as strikebreakers. Ironically, these post-war tensions dovetailed with the anti-Communist “Red Scare” in the wake of the Russian Revolution, with fears spread by Justice Department spokesmen that returning black soldiers would disseminate “Bolshevik” ideas to radicalized communities.
The Tulsa Riot was prefigured in what became known as the “Red Summer” of 1919 when social tensions exploded and white mobs attacked black communities in more than three dozen US cities during the summer and early autumn of that year. The worst of these appears to have been in Chicago where at least 38 people died and 500 were injured. High death tolls also occurred in rioting in Washington, DC and Elaine, Arkansas. In some cities, notably Chicago, black people fought back and attempted to defend their homes and property.
Tulsa, Oklahoma was originally settled by the Creek and Lochapoka tribes in 1836 in what was then Indian Territory. In the later 19th century Indian land was expropriated in several waves and white settlement increased. In several Land Runs much of the land was auctioned to white settlers. Tulsa itself was incorporated in January 18, 1898 and Oklahoma became a state in 1907. Most Oklahoma settlers came from Southern states and carried with them a legacy of racism. Like much of the Southern US Oklahoma and Tulsa enforced Jim Crow segregation. The 1907 Oklahoma State constitution effectively disenfranchised most blacks, prohibiting them from sitting on juries, or holding local elective office. In 1916 Tulsa passed an ordinance prohibiting blacks and whites from residing on any block where three-fourths or more of the residents were of the other race, mandating racial segregation. Although the US Supreme Court declared this unconstitutional in 1917, the ordinance remained on the books. mentions that three weeks before the riot a middle aged black couple was arrested and fined the then sizable sum of $10 for refusing to sit in the back of a streetcar.
The Ku Klux Klan began a revival in 1915 and became a major presence in Oklahoma in 1921.It has been estimated that Tulsa had 3,200 residents in the Klan in 1921 out of a population of about 72,000. As elsewhere in the Southern US lynching was common. Between Oklahoma’s declaration of statehood in 1907 and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 31 people were lynched, 26 of whom were black. One famous Oklahoma lynching was that of a mother and son, Laura and L.D. Nelson, who were lynched in 1911 in the town of Okemah. Charley Guthrie, the father of folksinger Woody Guthrie, was a participant. In Tulsa, in 1920 a mob lynched a white man, Roy Belton, who was accused of hijacking and shooting a taxi driver.
Despite this hostile environment due partly to the efforts of Edwin McCabe, Oklahoma did have many thriving black towns, populated by settlers from other states, especially neighboring Kansas. McCabe, an African-American lawyer and politician, encouraged black migration to Oklahoma and attempted to gain support for a project to make Oklahoma an all black state. From 1900 to 1906 the black population of the territory doubled.
Tulsa was in the center of the Oklahoma oil region. Oil strikes in the area in the early 1900s remade the city. An oil strike at Glen Pool in 1905, the largest oil discovery at the time, caused global oil prices to plummet and made Oklahoma the world center of oil exploration. By 1909 there were 126 oil companies based in Tulsa. The population of Tulsa rose from 7,298 in 1907 to 72,000 in 1920.The city was called the “Oil Capital of the World” and became a major financial center. A boomtown atmosphere prevailed.
Racial tensions in Tulsa were intertwined with a morass of corruption in the city. According to in the early 20th century Tulsa was controlled by a corrupt vice ring which allowed bordellos, illegal gambling, whiskey (during the early days of Prohibition) and the almost open robbery of stores and banks, with only a thin chance of conviction or arrest of the criminals. According to “The Eruption of Tulsa” an article by William White, an NAACP official reporting on the Tulsa riot, published in the Nation in the summer of 1921,6 out of 100 citizens of Tulsa were under indictment for a crime at the time of the 1921 riot, with little likelihood of ever being brought to trial. White and other writers mention that, because of the “get rich quick” mentality prevalent among more law abiding citizens, there was widespread apathy towards politics and political corruption.
Greenwood was a prosperous African-American enclave of 11,000 in an era of severe racial oppression, in the early 20th century known as “Little Africa”. It was a 36 block area in the north side of Tulsa surrounding Greenwood Avenue and bordered by Pine Street to the North, Cincinnati and Lansing Streets to the west and east and separated from white Tulsa in the south by the Frisco rail line. The district had 21 churches, 212 restaurants, 2 movie theaters, several nightclubs,and 400 businesses. The Tulsa Star, which promoted black unity and achievement, was published in Greenwood. The Stratford Hotel in Greenwood was the largest black owned hotel in the US. Detroit Avenue was an area of expensive homes where the area’s doctors, lawyers, and businessman lived. The prosperous commercial area along Greenwood Avenue became known as the “Negro Wall Street” (today called the “Black Wall Street”). It was home to lawyers, doctors and other professionals, which included several multi-millionaires. In 1921 fifteen highly regarded doctors lived in the district, including A.C. Jackson, a nationally renown surgeon. Jackson was killed during the rioting. According to an article by Greenwood schools, although poorly funded were of high quality.
Greenwood was founded by O.W. Gurley, an African-American landowner from Arkansas. Gurley resigned from a presidential appointment under Grover Cleveland and participated in the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889. Later, in 1907 he bought 40 acres in Tulsa which he specified was only to be resold to black people, at a time when black land ownership was rare. J.B. Stradford, an African-American businessman, also contributed to the development of Greenwood. Stradford believed that African-Americans should collectively pool their resources and help one another’s businesses. In 1899 he moved to Tulsa and bought large tracts of real estate in northeast Tulsa which he resold to African-Americans. Stradford later built the Stradford Hotel.
The Tulsa Race Riot began with an incident between Dick Rowland, a 19 year old African-American who worked as a shoeshiner in front of the Drexel Building, located on South Main Street, and Sarah Page, a 17 year old white woman who worked as the elevator operator. On May 30, Memorial Day, while Rowland was leaving the elevator, Page let out a scream. A clerk from Renberg’s, a clothing store on the first floor of the Drexel Building, heard the scream and went to the elevator to investigate. He reported that he saw Page in a distraught state and a black man running. Assuming Page had been assaulted, the clerk contacted the authorities.
The details of the incident are not known. It has been suggested that Rowland tripped and grabbed Page’s arm in an attempt to steady himself or that Rowland stepped on Page’s toe.
Several writers have considered the fact that both Rowland and Page were working on Memorial Day, then as now a holiday, to be unusual. It is also believed that they had probably known each other-Rowland worked near the Drexel Building and the only bathroom he could use was at the top of the Drexel Building, necessitating him to frequently use the elevator which Page operated. It has been claimed by a relative of Rowland that Rowland and Page had some sort of romantic or sexual history, which would have been very dangerous for them during that era, although no evidence of this has appeared.
The full identities of both Dick Rowland and Sarah Page are unknown to this day. Rowland seems to have been fairly well known at the time of the elevator incident and was believed to have been the son of a couple who owned a boarding house on East Archer Street, although there is disagreement about his actual age and the identity of his birth parents. Rowland was well known and liked by members of the Tulsa legal community, who were often Rowland’s customers. Page was reported at the time to have been an orphan working her way though business college but there is evidence to suggest that she was actually 15, originally from Kansas City and was waiting for a divorce to be finalized.
The police probably questioned Page but no surviving transcript of their interview or report has survived. According to James Hirsch in his book Riot and Remembrance:The Tulsa Race War and Its Legacy, Page told the police that she would not press charges. Rowland was arrested the following morning by Detective Henry Carmichael and Henry Pack, one of two black policeman on Tulsa’s 45 man force and placed in the Tulsa city jail at First and Main. Given the intense racism of the period and fear of black male sexuality Rowland was in an extremely dangerous situation.
After word spread of the incident local news papers quickly picked up the story. The Tulsa Tribune, one of two white owned papers in Tulsa, known for its sensationalism, broke the story on the afternoon of Rowland’s arrest with the headline, “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl In an Elevator”. The article claimed Rowland scratched Page, tore her clothes, and that he was now wanted for assault. ,An article on the website the918.org, 8 Things You Need To Know About The Tulsa Race Riot by Rev. James Jaynes, and The Questions Which Remain, an article on Tulsaworld.com the term “assault” was a well known and commonly used code word for rape and had been incendiary in triggering riots against black communities though out the US. According to the The Questions Which Remain there are accounts that that evening’s edition of the Tribune ran an editorial entitled “To Lynch Negro Tonight”, warning of a potential lynching of Rowland. All hard copies of that edition have been destroyed and the existence of this editorial is disputed.
The afternoon edition of the Tulsa Tribune came out at 3 pm. At 4 pm an anonymous caller told Police Commissioner J.M. Adkinson that Rowland would be lynched. After this threat he was moved to a more secure facility on the top floor of the Tulsa County Courthouse, which was near the border of the Greenwood district. Hundreds of people began gathering around the courthouse. By sundown at 7:30 pm the crowd , according to some accounts now numbering about two thousand, appeared to have the makings of a lynch mob. Adkinson and Police Chief John Gustafson wanted the newly elected sheriff of Tulsa County, Sheriff Willard McCullough, to take Rowland outside of town, a tactic which had been successfully used elsewhere to disperse lynch mobs.
With the memory of the lynching of Roy Belton the previous year still fresh, an event which The Questions Which Remain credits with destroying the career of his predecessor, Sheriff Jim Wooley, Sheriff McCullough did not want to take what he felt were unnecessary risks. Instead he took steps to increase security around the courthouse. McCullough’s deputies were organized into a defensive formation with gunmen on the rooftop, and the courthouse elevator was disabled, with men barricaded at the top of the stairs with orders to shoot intruders on sight. Tulsaworld.com mentions that there were no police inside the courthouse itself and suggests that bad relations between the sheriff’s and police departments may have contributed to the failure to control the situation. Interestingly the cell where Rowland had been moved to was the same cell from which Belton had been seized by a lynch mob the previous year.
The Questions Which Remain describe how at one point Sheriff McCullough went outside the building and attempted to talk the mob into going home but, according to a witness, he was shouted down.. About 8:20 pm three white men entered the courthouse, demanding Rowland. McCullough was able to turn them away. McCullough claimed that it was at this point that he ordered his men too disable the elevator and barricade themselves inside the jail. says that Police Chief Gustafson was less concerned about dispersing the crowd and more worried about armed blacks. At some point the police chief appealed to the Oklahoma National Guard commander for help “to clear the streets of negroes,” but was told that only the governor had the authority to call the local guard into service.
News of the Rowland incident and the standoff at the courthouse quickly reached Greenwood. Militant WW I veterans favored military action but older members of the community feared the consequences of a dangerous confrontation. Two contingents of blacks met with McCullough and his black deputy, Barney Cleaver and were given reassurances of Rowland’s safety. O.W. Gurley, the founder of Greenwood, walked to the courthouse and met with McCullogh, who assured him there would be no lynching. Returning to Greenwood, Gurley attempted to calm residents.
Tensions were further inflamed when a second lynching threat was called in to a northside movie theater. Though out the early evening Greenwood community leaders telephoned McCullough offering help but were told they were not needed. Major James Bell of the 180th Division of the Oklahoma National Guard also called McCullough and was given reassurances the situation was under control.
Sometime that evening rumors reached Greenwood that the white mob had stormed the jail. Around 7:30 pm a group of about 30 armed men, assembling in front of the Tulsa Star offices, marched and drove to the courthouse, offering to help but were told to go home by Sheriff McCullough and Deputy Cleaver.
Seeing armed black men members of the white mob at the courthouse went home to get their own guns. A group headed for the National Guard armory at Sixth Street and Norfolk Avenue, intending to get weapons. Major Bell had previously been informed of the growing civil unrest in Tulsa and he undertook measures to prevent a break in of the armory. At that time three National Guard units were stationed in Tulsa-a rifle company, a supply company, and a medical unit. Other than the medical unit, which later was primarily engaged in caring for wounded and injured blacks, the units had about 35 men under arms.
All Tulsa Guard members were ordered to put on their uniforms and assemble at the armory. A crowd of between 300-400 whites came to the armory. A group attempted to break in though a window. Major Bell, commanding the Guard, told the crowd that his men inside the armory was armed and had orders to shoot anyone who tried to enter. The crowd then withdrew.
By late evening the situation at the courthouse was becoming increasingly tense. Several Tulsa community leaders, including Rev. Charles Kerr of the First Presbyterian Church, tried to talk the crowd out of mob action and convince people to go home. Kerr agreed to intervene after being asked for help from black clergyman and after discussing with his family. Kerr also later allowed refugees from the rioting to shelter in his church the next day. He was later acclaimed as the only Protestant minister recognized for his efforts to stop the race riot and also as one of the few white community leaders to do so. The crowd however, did not disburse.
Around 10 PM another group of about 75 armed Greenwood residents came to the courthouse, offering to help. The sheriff again persuaded them to leave. According to “The Questions Which Remain”, as they were complying, a white man, a former county investigator named E.S. MacQueen, attempted to disarm a black man, sometimes identified as Johnny Cole, in front of the courthouse. As MacQueen and Cole wrestled over the latter’s gun, it went off. A shot rang out and a melee ensued. As Sheriff McCullough later said, “all hell broke loose” There was a fusillade of shots. McCullough, who had been attempting to address the crowd, ran for cover to a nearby hotel. The details of ensuing events are not fully known and accounts are contradictory. The Questions Which Remain mentions the names of two white bystanders, an oil company executive and a bank employee, killed in the shooting. A group of whites, which included members of the police, broke into Bardon’s Sporting Goods store across the street from the courthouse and began looting it, taking guns and ammunition. Bardon’s was known to have been a frequent supplier of ammunition to the Tulsa police department.
The white mob began chasing blacks toward Greenwood, looting stores for weapons on the way. Panic ensued as the mob began firing on any blacks in the crowd. Blacks fired back. At one point moviegoers leaving a show were caught off guard by the mob and began fleeing. This initial fighting may have lasted less than a minute but at least twelve people were killed in this incident, ten white and two black. Scattered gun fighting continued in the northern area of the business district until midnight, when it appeared that all blacks had been pushed into Greenwood.
As the shooting rampage began Police Chief Gustafson mobilized the entire Tulsa police department, about 65 men, and Police Commissioner Adkinson commissioned as many as 400 special deputies. At this time the Oklahoma National Guard commander, Adjutant General Charles Barrett ordered the National Guard units in Tulsa to make themselves available to local authorities, although it would be some time before they could be mobilized to take action. The small number of National Guard then in Tulsa attempted to get between the combatants along the Frisco Railroad tracks and Detroit Avenue. Col. Rooney,the senior Guard commander, wanted to establish a defense perimeter around Greenwood but had to give up the idea.
Around 11 pm units of the Oklahoma National Guard assembled at the armory and set in motion a plan to subdue the rioters. However the Oklahoma National Guard commander was only able to get the signatures necessary from local authorities to take action around 1:30 am. The main difficulty the commander faced was reaching Sheriff McCullough, who was then barricaded in the stairwell leading to the courthouse jail with his men, threatening to shoot anyone who approached. A Tulsa World reporter was finally able to approach McCullough and apprise him of the situation.
Groups of Guardsmen were deployed in downtown Tulsa to guard the courthouse and police station, and to restore order along the Frisco tracks. They were joined by American Legion volunteers from Tulsa and surrounding towns. It appears that the National Guard was deployed primarily to protect white property. There were persistent rumors though out the night and early morning that hundreds of blacks were coming to invade Tulsa and join in a “Negro uprising”. Groups were sent to guard the city power plant and water works. Police, Legionnaires, and special deputies roamed the city in squads and rounded up blacks in servant quarters outside Greenwood and searched for the supposed invaders.
Blacks found outside Greenwood were rounded up and sent the Convention Center (now Brady Theater) on Brady Street, McNulty Park, a minor league baseball stadium, on 10th Avenue and later at the fairgrounds on Admiral Boulevard.
Around midnight a smaller, more determined group of white rioters gathered near the courthouse demanding Rowland be handed over for a lynching. They attempted to storm the building but were forced back by the sheriff and his deputies.
Though out the early hours of Wednesday morning gunfights between groups of whites and blacks went on. For a time this was concentrated along the Frisco tracks, the dividing line between the commercial districts of the white and black areas. In one incident passengers on an incoming train were caught in the crossfire and were forced to take cover on the floor of the train as the train took hits from both sides.
Whites began making forays by car into the Greenwood district firing into businesses and residences. Around 1 am the white mob began setting fires in businesses on Archer Street, in the commercial area on the edge of Greenwood. Crews from the Tulsa Fire Department were turned back at gunpoint. By 4 am it was estimated that two dozen black owned businesses had been set on fire. Gun battles continued though out the early morning, although at a lower level. Greenwood residents fired back to defend their property.
The Questions That Remain says that later later statements by witnesses claimed that men in uniform, either National Guardsmen or ex-servicemen, carried oil into Greenwoods and after looting homes, set fire to them. Tulsa police seemed to have been involved in the mayhem. Several witnesses later identified out of uniform officers among the arsonists. V.B. Bostic, a black deputy sheriff, said he was led out of him home by a white traffic officer, who then set fire to his house.
As news of the rioting spread some Greenwood residents began taking up arms to defend their community while many began leaving the area.
At the 5 am sunrise, according to some reports, either a train whistle or a siren was heard. Many rioters took this as a signal to launch an all out assault on Greenwood. After a white man was killed by a sniper in Greenwood after he stepped out from behind the Frisco train depot a charge was led by five white men in a car, all of whom were killed by gunfire. Crowds of rioters poured into Greenwood. Terrified residents fled for their lives as the large mob swept though Greenwood. Rioters shot indiscriminately, killing many residents and began looting buildings and houses. Several Greenfield residents later testified that whites broke into homes and ordered residents on to the street, where they were at risk for being shot or sent to a detention center.
Dr A.C. Jackson, the renowned African-American surgeon, was killed. After mob attacks on his home Jackson defended it and his family. Jackson was convinced to surrender to a white Guard officer whom he knew after he was assured no harm would come to him and he would be protected. He was sent under guard to Convention Hall. On the way there Jackson was shot and killed by a rioter.
At dawn, a force of about 1500 National Guard and others entered Greenwood from the south and the west with orders to take into custody unarmed blacks and subdue any who resisted. Survivors said this resembled an invading army. Most Greenwood residents , terrified,either fled or surrendered peacefully. However some residents continued armed resistance. The Guard reported engaging in short skirmishes moving down Standpipe Hill, near the present day Tulsa campus of the University of
Oklahoma. Rumors spread that the newly built Mount Zion Baptist Church was being used as a fortress and that twenty caskets of rifles had been delivered to the church, but no evidence of this has been found. The National Guard reported a long battle at the church in which 50 blacks “fought like tigers”. When the gunmen refused to come out the church, worth the then huge sum of $80,000, was set on fire, destroying all but the basement.Rev James Jaynes in 8 Things You Need To Know About The Tulsa Race Riot relays an alternate account of this event in which white rioters set up a machine gun emplacement on the top of a hill where it fired down into a the church ,killing many.
According to Tim Madigan in The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 law enforcement officials, presumably the Oklahoma State Police, dispatched six WW I biplanes from Curtiss-Southwest Field outside Tulsa. Officials later said the planes were to provide reconnaissance and protect against a “Negro uprising”.Eyewitness testimony from survivors however described attacks from the air, with planes carrying whites firing rifles and dropping incendiary bombs on buildings, homes, and fleeing families.
By early Wednesday morning most of Tulsa’s black citizens had fled Tulsa in a mass exodus while an undetermined number of blacks were held at various detention centers though out the city.
Around 9:15 Wednesday morning 109 troops from the Oklahoma National Guard commanded by Adjutant General Charles Barnett arrived in Tulsa by special train. Before legally taking action to the rioting Bartlett had to again notify local authorities, including the mayor, the sheriff, and the police chief. While Bartlett contacted the authorities his troops ate breakfast. Bartlett summoned reinforcements from other Oklahoma cities. Martial law in Tulsa was declared at 11:49 am and by noon most of the violence had finally been suppressed.
By noon of June 1 Greenwood had been emptied of most of its inhabitants. A few blacks hid in downtown churches or with white employees but the majority had either fled or were being held in detention. Though out Wednesday afternoon and Thursday National Guard patrols went into the countryside to pick up fleeing blacks, some who had made it to neighboring cities. According to some made it as far as Kansas City and a fair number of former Greenwood residents never returned. At or en route to the detention centers, blacks were subject to harassment, humiliation, and robbery. Many lived at the fairgrounds camp, for the next several weeks, which at its height housed 5,000 ,living like refugees.
The number of killed and injured remains unknown to this day. Estimates range from dozens to several hundred. James Hirsch in Riot and Remembrance:The Tulsa Race War and Its Legacy recounts Maurice Williams, a Red Cross social worker, reporting that at least 300 blacks were killed and that, in a rush to bury bodies, few records of burials were kept.(. Approximately 800 people had been admitted to local hospitals during the rioting. They are believed to have been mostly white,although Mentions that blacks were brought to white hospitals and a National Guard medical provided care for blacks
The business district of Tulsa was completely destroyed. This included 191 businesses, several churches, a hospital, and a junior high school. The Red Cross estimated that 1,256 houses were burned and 215 were looted. Estimates put the real estate and personal property damage at property damage at $30 million in 2015 dollars. Most insurance claims were denied.10,000 were left homeless,
A grand jury convened the second week of June blamed armed blacks at the courthouse as the main cause of the riot. Agitation for social equality, which was then taken to mean racial intermarriage, and lax law enforcement were blamed as indirect causes. Eighty eight indictments were served, mostly to blacks, bur few seemed to have been served.
In another trial in July Police Chief Gustafson was found guilty of neglect of duty, corruption, and conspiring to free He was removed from office. Gustafson continued his private detective practice.
According to Dick Rowland was kept in the county prison until the day after the riot, when the police secretly transported him out of town. The case against him was dropped in September following a letter from Sarah Page saying she did not wish to press charges. Little is known about his life afterwards. The whereabouts of Sarah Page after the riot is also unknown.
A few weeks after the riot a group appointed by the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce, led by W. Tate Brady, a Tulsa community leader and business promoter devised a scheme to make Greenwood prohibitively expensive by means of new building codes, forcing blacks to move further north from Tulsa, and enabling white businessmen to buy up land rezoned as commercial or industrial. This scheme however, was over turned by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, who ruled it unconstitutional.
In April of 1922 the 1,700 member of the Klan held a march though downtown Tulsa. In the Tulsa city and county elections of that year Klan candidates took every office up for election. In August of the following year the governor of Oklahoma declared martial law in Tulsa County because of Klan activity.
The Tulsa riot gave impetus to organizations like the African Black Brotherhood who believed that blacks could never achieve full equality under capitalism. The ABB, formed in 1919, grew in fame and membership in the wake of the Tulsa riot.
Despite opposition and punitive zoning laws designed to prevent reconstruction, the residents of Greenwood rebuilt after the riot. Within five years much of the district was rebuilt, and again became a vital black community, although it never fully recovered from the devastation of the riot. By 1942 the community had more than 240 black-owned businesses. The district began a gradual decline as the early residents died or moved away. Desegregation in the 1960s led to a major economic decline as black family owned businesses were undermined. In the 1970s much of Greenwood was demolished to make way for a freeway bisecting the district. The University of Oklahoma Tulsa campus and Langston University were also built in that area. Today Greenwood is a depressed community, under served by supermarkets and other facilities.
For decades the Tulsa riot was little known and rarely mentioned, even by African-Americans living in Tulsa. A June 19, 2011 New York Times article, As Survivors Dwindle, Tulsa Confronts Pastby C.L .Sulzberger says current revival of interest in the Tulsa Race Riot is largely due to the efforts of Don Ross, a magazine publisher and former state representative. In 2001 Ross and Oklahoma State Representative Maxine Horner introduced legislation to create the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Commission. Survivors of the riot have received some official recognition but efforts to establish reparations have failed.
Sulzberger says that since retirement, Ross has distanced himself from efforts for compensation, saying there was not enough interest from blacks or whites.
Since retiring, Mr. Ross has extracted himself from those efforts, believing that neither blacks nor whites were committed to the task. He no longer even speaks to the survivors. “I cut that connection,” he said. “It was too heartbreaking.”