Before the gunfire and flames, there was a hand-stitched dress—fitted and fine—that made Veneice Dunn feel beautiful. On May 31, 1921, she wasn’t thinking about how attacks on black communities had rocked Atlanta, St. Louis, Omaha, and Chicago in recent years. Or about how willing Tulsa law enforcement officials were to turn a blind eye to vigilante “justice.” Or even about Dick Rowland, the young black man arrested in Tulsa that morning on a more-than-questionable charge of “assault” on a white woman. Veneice was a junior at Booker T. Washington High School, and she was thinking about her prom.
But that very afternoon, a white friend of her father’s drove to the Dunn’s home in the thriving black section of Jim Crow-segregated Tulsa called Greenwood. He told them a crowd of angry white men with the makings of a lynch mob had gathered in front of the courthouse where Rowland was imprisoned. There were rumblings the evening’s planned violence wouldn’t stop with a lynching, he said. Greenwood was at risk, and the Dunns should stay with him in the country until the threat passed.
So Veneice packed a small bag, laid the lovely blue gown on her bed, and prayed her prom would go on the next evening as planned.