As Dick Rowland sat in a jail cell at the Tulsa courthouse on Tuesday, the news of his arrest and rumors about his alleged rape of Sarah Page flew through town. Egged on by an inflammatory op-ed in the Tulsa Tribune, a white mob bent on a lynching began assembling outside the courthouse. By that evening, the crowd of hundreds had swelled to thousands. Meanwhile in the office of the Tulsa Star newspaper, Greenwood’s most prominent citizens debated the proper course of action. Some young veterans of the recent world war were determined to defend Rowland, with their lives if necessary, while older, cooler heads urged caution and restraint.
Both sides would gather at the courthouse Tuesday night, armed with their fists, guns and moonshine. Anything — or anyone — could set them off.
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