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Airplanes Over Greenwood

One or more airplanes flew over Greenwood during the battle and subsequent events, surveilling refugee movements and the direction and extent of fire damage. Tulsa police piloted the aircraft. They dropped containers with messages indicating the coordinates of fleeing residents to white search parties on the ground who were rounding them up.

Some African-American residents who experienced the destruction of the community claimed that these aircraft poured murderous rifle fire on and/or threw incendiaries or explosives down at the black citizenry. Mary Elizabeth Jones Parrish wrote in her 1928 book Events of the Tulsa Disaster, based on her own eyewitness recollections as a young black woman, “There was a great shadow in the sky, and, upon a second look, we discerned that this cloud was caused by fast-moving aeroplanes.”

Like fellow Greenwood contemporaries who also penned credible accounts of the holocaust, including Buck Franklin, Parrish relays other residents’ reports of aircraft attacking targets below, though she does not herself claim to have witnessed that. In 1931, ten years after the tragedy, Franklin wrote of “sidewalks covered with burning turpentine balls,” which he suggested must have been dropped from aircraft.

No white participant in the 1921 Tulsa Race War, nor white official, military officer or spokesman ever claimed that aircraft were used to attack African-Americans.