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In what became known as the "Red Summer" of 1919, industrial cities across the Midwest and North experienced severe race riots, most often led against blacks by ethnic whites among recent immigrant groups, who competed with blacks for jobs.
In Chicago and some other cities, blacks defended themselves for the first time with force but were outnumbered.
Northeastern Oklahoma was in an economic slump that increased unemployment.
Since 1915, the Ku Klux Klan had been growing in urban chapters across the country, particularly since veterans had been returning from the war.
Some black people claimed that policemen had joined the mob; others said that National Guardsmen fired a machine gun into the black community and a plane dropped sticks of dynamite.
In an eyewitness account discovered in 2015, Greenwood attorney Buck Colbert Franklin described watching a dozen or more planes, which had been dispatched by the city police force, drop burning balls of turpentine on Greenwood's rooftops. Both black and white residents who stayed in the city were silent for decades about the terror, violence, and losses of this event.
At the same time, black veterans pushed to have their civil rights enforced, believing they had earned full citizenship by military service.
Black professionals: doctors, dentists, lawyers, and clergy, served the community.
Because of residential segregation in the city, most classes of blacks lived together in Greenwood.
The Oklahoma Bureau of Vital Statistics officially recorded 39 dead, but the American Red Cross estimated 300.
The riot began over a Memorial Day weekend after a young black man was accused of raping a young white female elevator operator at a commercial building.
A confrontation developed between blacks and whites; shots were fired, and some whites and blacks were killed.