Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma 1921               Documentary Film                    And              Tulsa Race RiotA...
Tulsa Race RiotA Report by the Oklahoma Commission  to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921          February 28, 2001       ...
February 21, 2001Honorable Frank Keating                                            Honorable Susan SavageGovernor of Okla...
TABLE OF CONTENTSPrologue  State Representative Don RossFinal Report of the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Ri...
PrologueBy State Representative Don Ross  Personal belongings and household goods had            “Oklahoma, you’re O-K-L-A...
their community for awhile, “but then the air-             Treaties were sign with the tribes protectingplanes came droppi...
sanctuary, in some case tribal membership and        pears the division was self-imposed. “In therights. During the admini...
is to cast a stigma upon the colored race in the eyes        welfare committee; Cyrus Avery, treasurer ofof the world; and...
Reparation?                     demands a closure as it did with Jap a nese Amer-   Reparations: It happened. There was mu...
(Courtesy McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa).  Final Report of the Oklahoma Commission to Study             The Tulsa ...
of preparing this report. Lawmakers scheduled         neth Kendricks replaced her as OHRC’s interimits deadline and define...
childhood memories but seasoned wisdom                     his advice for another. Dr. Scott Ellsworth, a na-rooted in eig...
mission’s special nature yielded much more. It         centrated on a few short hours of a mid-sizedseemed that every time...
“provide adequate proof to the Commission”                    (papers like the Chicago Defender and thethat he or she was ...
1921. Af ter eighty years, could any one re mem-           All of that work is complete. As the commis-ber the kind of det...
them were already doing. Eddie Faye Gates,                Lloyd uncovered and saved them, they werefor one, had pulled out...
later writers and scholars to a never ending            1982. He cites that new evidence at least 148game of hide-and-go-s...
scholars, and other experts to investigate those           claims; many have never even heard them. In aquestions and offe...
An Invisible Empire rally at Belle Isle, Oklahoma City in 1923. Dur ing the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan flourished across Okla...
provable position — if one looks at certain evi-       questions will have two, quite a few even more.dence in certain way...
By the time the ad di tional Na tional Guard units from Oklahoma City ar rived in Tulsa the riot had pretty much run its c...
Despite being numerically at a disadvantage, black Tulsansfought valiantly to protect their homes, their businesses, andth...
Re building af ter the                                                                                                    ...
Af ter math of the riot (Cour tesy Green wood Cul tural Cen ter).   These things are not myths, not rumors, not           ...
well be cast to the winds. Any recommenda-            one. For both, the motive was not to injuretions that it might offer...
Although Oklahoma had been plagued by lynchings since the ter ri to rial days, with the com ing of statehood, more and mor...
(Courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society).hanging from the bridge, her little boy dan -       early use: as a postcard. Peopl...
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report
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Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report

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Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report

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  • I continue to be disappointed that more people to not know about this tragic and important event in history. The longer America continues to sweep its true and ugly history under the carpet, the longer the path to living out its true creed, that All Men Are Created Equal. This film needs prime-time exposure on a major network channel. So, why hasn't it been?
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Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma Race Riot of 1921: A Documentary Film and Commission Report

  1. 1. Black Wall Street, Tulsa Oklahoma 1921 Documentary Film And Tulsa Race RiotA Report by the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 February 28, 2001
  2. 2. Tulsa Race RiotA Report by the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 February 28, 2001 i
  3. 3. February 21, 2001Honorable Frank Keating Honorable Susan SavageGovernor of Oklahoma Mayor of TulsaOklahoma City, Oklahoma 73105 Tulsa, Oklahoma 74119Honorable Larry Adair Members of the City CouncilSpeaker of the House of Representatives City of TulsaOklahoma City, Oklahoma 73105 Tulsa, Oklahoma 74119Honorable Stratton TaylorPresident Pro Tempore of the SenateOklahoma City, Oklahoma 73105Dear Sir or Madam: Pursuant to House Joint Resolution 1035 (1997), as amended, I have the honor to trans mit here with theFinal Re port of Find ings and Rec om men da tions of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Com mis sion. The re port in-cludes the commission’s findings on each specific item assigned it by statute, and it also explains themethods and processes that led to those findings. In addition, the commission has exercised the option,granted it by law, to make recommendations concerning reparations related to the tragedy. This Com mis sion fully un der stands that it is nei ther judge nor jury. We have no bind ing le gal authorityto assign culpability, to determine damages, to establish a remedy, or to order either restitution or repara-tions. However, in our interim report in Feb ru ary, 2000 the ma jor ity of Com mis sioners declared that rep-arations to the historic Greenwood community in real and tangible form would be good public policy anddo much to repair the emotional and physical scars of this terrible incident in our shared past. We listedseveral recommended courses of action including direct payments to riot survivors and descendants; aschol ar ship fund avail able to stu dents af fected by the riot; es tab lish ment of an eco nomicde vel op ment en-terprise zone in the historic Greenwood district; a memorial for the riot victims. In the fi nal re port is sued to day, the ma jor ity of Com mis sioners con tinue to sup port these recommenda-tions. While each Commissioner has their own opinion about the type of reparations that they would ad-vocate, the majority has no question about the appropriateness of reparations. The recommendations arenot intended to be all inclusive, but rather to give policy makers a sense of the Commission’s feelingsabout reparations and a starting place for the creation of their own ideas. ii
  4. 4. TABLE OF CONTENTSPrologue State Representative Don RossFinal Report of the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 1 Compiled by Dr. Danney Goble (University of Oklahoma)History Knows No Fences: An Overview 21 Dr. John Hope Franklin (James B. Duke Professor Emeritus, Duke University) Dr. Scott Ellsworth (Consultant to the Commission)The Tulsa Race Riot 37 Dr. Scott EllsworthAirplanes and the Riot 103 Richard Warner (Tulsa Historical Society)Confirmed Deaths: A Preliminary Report 109 Dr. Clyde Snow (Consultant to the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner)The Investigation of Potential Mass Grave Locations for the Tulsa Race Riot 123 Dr. Robert Brooks (State Archaeologist) Dr. Alan H. Witten (University of Oklahoma)History Uncovered: Skeletal Remains As a Vehicle to the Past 133 Dr. Lesley Rankin-Hill (University of Oklahoma) Phoebe Stubblefield (University of Florida)Riot Property Loss 143 Larry O’Dell (Oklahoma Historical Society)Asessing State and City Culpability: The Riot and the Law 153 Alfred Brophy (Oklahoma City University)Notes on Contributors 175Epilogue State Senator Maxine HornerChronological Maps of the Tulsa Race Riot iii
  5. 5. PrologueBy State Representative Don Ross Personal belongings and household goods had “Oklahoma, you’re O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A,been removed from many homes and piled in the Oklahoma OK.” Hopefully with this report, the feeling of thestreets. On the steps of the few houses that re- state will be quickened, the conscience of themained sat feeble and gray Negro men and women brutal city will be ignited, the hypocrisy of theand occasionally a small child. The look in their nation will be exposed, and the crimes against God and man denounced. Oklahoma can seteyes was one of de jec tion and sup pli ca tion. such an example. It was Abolitionist FrederickJudging from their attitude, it was not of material Douglass who reminded a callous nation thatconsequence to them whether they lived or died. “[A] government that can give lib erty in its Con- stitution ought to have the power to protect lib-Harmless themselves, they apparently could not erty, and im pose civ ilized behav ior in itsconceive the brutality and fiendishness of men who administration.”would deliberately set fire to the homes of their Tulsa’s Race Relations Are Ceremonialfriends and neighbors and just as deliberately In the 80 years hence, survivor, descendants,shoot them down in their tracks. and a bereaved community seeks that adminis- tration in some action akin to justice. Tulsa’s Tulsa Daily World, June 2, 1921 race relations are more ceremonial — liken to a bad marriage, with spouses living in the same A mob destroyed 35-square-blocks of the quarters but housed in different rooms, each es-African American Community during the eve- caping one another by perpetuating a separate-ning of May 31, through the afternoon of June ness of silence. The French political historian1, 1921. It was a tragic, infamous moment in Alexis d’Tocqueville noted, “Once the majorityOklahoma and the nation’s history. The worse has irrevocably decided a question, it is no lon-civil disturbance since the Civil War. In the af- ger discussed. This is because the majority is atermath of the death and destruction the people power that does not re spond well to crit i cism.”of our state suffered from a fatigue of faith — I first learn about the riot when I was about 15some still search for a statue of limitation on from Booker T. Wash ing ton High Schoolmorality, attempting to forget the longevity of teacher and riot survivor W.D. Williams. In histhe residue of in jus tice that at best can leave lit- slow, laboring voice Mr. W.D. as he was fondlytle room for the healing of the heart. Perhaps known, said on the evening of May 31, 1921,this report, and subsequent humanitarian re - his school graduation, and prom were canceled.covery events by the governments and the Dick Rowland, who had dropped out of highgood peo ple of the state will ex tract us from the school a few years before to become rich in theguilt and confirm the commandment of a good lucrative trade of shining shoes, was in jail, ac-and just God — leaving the deadly deeds of cused of raping a white woman Sarah Page, “on1921 buried in the call for redemption, histori- a public el evator in broad daylight.” Aftercal cor rect ness, and repair. Then we can Rowland was arrested, angry white vigilantesproudly sing together: gathered at the courthouse intent on lynching “We know we belong to this land. the shine boy. Armed blacks integrated the mob“And the land we belong to is grand, to protect him. There was a scuffle between aand when we say, ay yippy yi ki yea, black and a white man, a shot rang out. The“We’re only say ing, you’re do ing fine crowd scattered. It was about 10:00 a.m. A raceOklahoma.” riot had broken out. He said blacks defended iv
  6. 6. their community for awhile, “but then the air- Treaties were sign with the tribes protectingplanes came dropping bombs.” All of the black their right to hold their lands. The treaties werecommunity was burned to the ground and 300 ignore by the colonial governors. The coloniespeople died.” also soon discovered that rum and slaves were More annoyed than bored, I leaped from my profitable commodities. One of the most enter-chair and spoke: “Green wood was never prising — if unsavory — trading prac tices of theburned. Ain’t no 300 people dead. We’re too time was the so-called “triangular trade.” Mer -old for fairy tales.” Calling a teacher a liar was chants and shippers would purchase slaves offa capital offense Mr. W.D. snorted with a twist the coast of Africa for New England rum, thenthat framed his face with anger. He ignored my sell the slaves in the West Indies where theyobstinacy and returned to his hyperbole. He would buy molasses to bring home for sale tofinished his tale and dismissed the class. The the local rum producers. In debt after the Frenchnext day he asked me to remain after class, and and Indian War, England began to tax the colo-passed over a photo album with picture and nies to pay for occupation. The measure was re-post cards of Mount Zion Baptist Church on sisted, and the colonies began to prepare itsfire, the Dreamland Theater in sham bles, Declaration of Independence. In an early draft,whites with guns standing over dead bodies, Thomas Jefferson wrote:blacks being marched to concentration campswith white mobs jeering, trucks loaded with He (King George) has waged cruel war againstcaskets, and a yellowing newspaper article ac- human nature itself, violating its most sacred rightscount ing block af ter block of de struc tion – “30, of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people75 even 300 dead.” Everything was just as he who never offended him, captivating and carryinghad described it. I was to learn later that them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incurRowland was assigned a lawyer who was a miserable death in their transportation thither. Thisprominent member of the Ku Klux Klan. piratical war fare, the op pro brium of INFIDEL pow-“What you think, fat mouth?” Mr. W.D. asked ers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Greathis astonished student. Britain. Determined to keep open a market where After having talked to more than 300 riot MEN should be bought and sold, he has prostitutedsurvivors over the years, I have pondered that his negative for suppressing every legislative at-question for 45 years. The report raises the tempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable com-same question Mr. W.D. asked me. I now ask merce. And that this assemblage of horrors mightthe Oklahoma Leg is la ture, the City and want no fact of distinguished die, he is now excitingCounty of Tulsa: “What do you think?” To un- those very people to rise in arms among us, and toderstand the full context of Mr. W.D.’s ques- pur chase that lib erty of which he has de prived them,tion is a travelogue of African Amer ican by murdering the people on whom he also obtrudedhistory, Oklahoma blacks in particular. It in - them: thus paying off former crimes committedcludes, The Seven Year War and the birth of against the LIBERTIES of one people, with crimesthe nation, the infamous Trail of Tears, the which he urges them to commit against the LIVES ofCivil War, the allotment of Indian Territory, another.statehood, segregation, black towns, and the [This version was removed from the Declaration of In de pend-African American on Greenwood Avenue. ence after protest from southern colonies, and planted the seed of the Civil War to come.]Each was a preponderance of the fuel that ig- The Revolutionary War was fought and anited the 1921 race war in Tulsa. constitution was presented and approved by the A bit of American history with an colonies. It would sanction slavery and human African-American perspective bondage as the law of the land. Broken treaties During the Seven Year War, Indians in the and genocide slowly moved Indians for theOhio Valley sided with the French against Ohio Valley, while other treaties settled them inGreat Britain in a losing effort. Canada and the rich farm lands of the south. The southernother territories were ceded to the British. tribes held slaves, but also offered the runaway v
  7. 7. sanctuary, in some case tribal membership and pears the division was self-imposed. “In therights. During the administration of Andrew end,” Attorney Franklin wrote, “Tulsa becameJackson, a direct assault on Indian lands was one of the most sharply segregated cities in thelaunched. Phony treaties corrupts chiefs and country.” One of the possible errors I find in theintra-tribal rivalry would lead to warring fac - report is that Gurley lost $65,000 in the riot. In-tions, assassinations and divide the tribal lead- deed, he is listed in City Commission reports ofers, in sti gat ing their re moval from their having lost $157,783. Today his fortune wouldsouthern homelands. This odyssey, during the be worth more than $1 million.1830s and before, the lives of blacks and Na - J.B. Stradford, would later join Gurley ontive Americans would be linked on the infa- Greenwood, and build the finest hotel in themous, cruel “Trail of Tears.” On long marches city, valued at $75,000. Before statehood, theunder extreme du ress and hard ship, the trail led territory had been seen by blacks as not only theto present-day Oklahoma, Kansas and Ne- Promised Land more notably as the nation’s firstbraska. Indian Territory would be split by the all-black state, E.P. McCabe was the leading advo-creation of the Kansas and Nebraska territories cate of all-black towns and had migrated from Kan-and after the Civil War abolished in 1907 with sas and founded Langston, Oklahoma. A formerthe entrance of Oklahoma as a state. Pressed by Kan sas audi tor ac tive in Re pub li can pol i tics,rival chiefs many of the tribes officially sided McCabe had also become the assistant auditor ofwith the Confederacy. Afterward, many for - Oklahoma. He would lead a crusade to press Presi-mer black slaves, Freemen, were registered as dent Benjamin Har ri son into bring ing “In dian Ter ri-members of the tribes and offered sections of tory” into the un ion as an all-black state. Against thatthe Indian land allotments. After the govern- back drop, Gur ley viewed his acres as a nat u ral ur banment opened Oklahoma for settlement more evolution from the rural trend of organizing blackblacks came seeking freedom from southern towns. White Dem o crats pre pared for the State Con-oppression and for new opportunities in the stitutional Convention by using the black statehoodPromised Land. Of the more than 50 all black issues and racist attacks against their Republicantowns, more than 20 were located in the new “Nigger loving opponents.” Both Democrats andstate, the more prosperous were Boley and Republicans would disenfranchise blacks during theLangston. balloting for control of the convention. The Demo- Oklahoma history re-recorded crats won and sometimes with the Ku Klux Klan as Attorney B.C. Franklin, one of the genuine allies maintains political control of the state into theheroes in the aftermath of the race war heeded millennium. After statehood the first bill passed bythe call to settle into Indian Territory. He was the Oklahoma Legislature was the infamous ‘Senatethe father of historian Dr. John Hope Franklin, Bill One’ that tightly segregated the state.who served as consultant scholars for this re - Stradford, and his friend A.J. Smitherman, pub -port and an earlier inspiration in my inquiry of lisher of the Tulsa Star newspaper, were brave tena-the riot. In his memoirs attorney Franklin cious advocates on be half of their race. Afterwrote of two men, whom he called “very rich Stradford was acquitted for violating Oklahoma JimNegroes” and the “greatest leaders” — O.W. Crow laws, in 1912, the hotel owner filed a lawsuitGurley and J.B. Stradford. In 1908, Gurley, in the State Su preme Court su ing the Mid land Val leyconstructed the first building, a rooming house Railroad for false imprisonment. In a narrowly in-and later the home of Vernon A.M.E. Church, terpreted decision the court opined the unconstitu-on a muddy trail that would become the Black tionality of the Jim Crow law did not affect the rightWall Street of America. According to B.C. of the conductor to rely upon it. Similarly, the courtFranklin, Gurley bought 30 or 40 acres, plotted rested upon a case filed by E.P. McCabe challengingthem and had them sold to “Negroes only.” At- Oklahoma’s segregation dismissing the McCabe ar-torney Franklin’s account of the settlement of gument as irrelevant to the case. Four years laterGreenwood, shattered earlier notions of blacks Stradford petitioned the Tulsa City Commissionbeing forced in a section of town. It now ap - against its segregationist ordinance that “such a law vi
  8. 8. is to cast a stigma upon the colored race in the eyes welfare committee; Cyrus Avery, treasurer ofof the world; and to sap the spirit of hope for justice the relief committee who raised funds to housebefore the law from the race itself.” The Tulsa City and feed the black refugees; Maurice Willow,Ordinance would remain on the books until the the Red Cross director whose work saved manycivil rights movement of the 1960s. From his lives and through his effort food, shelter, medi-unpublished memoirs, Stradford was accused cal and hospital care was provided; Franklin,as being an instigator of the riot, but contended Stradford, Gurley, and Smitherman, aforemen-he was not present. He said initially the sheriff tioned in his report.contacted him and other black leaders for their From my Memories of early oral histories ofassistance in protecting Rowland. However, blue suits and Klan sheetswhen they arrived the sheriff said he could “I teach U.S. History and those decisions thathandle it and would call them when needed. brought us to the riot,” Seymour Williams myThus, the men left. The courthouse mob grew high school history professor said to me 45and there was no call to them for assistance. years ago. He and W.D. Williams (no relations)Armed and filled with moonshine, the men re- for many years tutored me on their experienceturned to the court house. Ac cord ing to and prodded others of their generation to tell meStradford a white man attempted in take a gun the story. “The riot isn’t known much by youngfrom one of the blacks “our boys shot into the teachers. Many were born after the riot and itcrowd and a number were killed and wounded. was banned by book pub lish ers, as much as U.S.Under the threat of lynching, Stradford es- history about blacks and slavery. I could teach acaped to Independence, Kansas and from there course on just what has been left out of history.”to Chicago, where his descendants reside to Why the silence in our community? The oldthis day. man then introduced this student to his assess- A.J. Smitherman wrote passionately about ment. “Blacks lost everything. They were afraidthe rights of blacks from the daily newspaper it could happen again and there was no way tocolumns. In 1917, the brave and fearless pub- tell the story. The two Negro newspapers werelisher traveled to Dewey, Oklahoma in the bombed. With the unkept promises, they weremiddle of a race riot where a white mob had too busy just trying to make it.” He added,pulled the accused from the jail, lynched him, There were a lot of big shot rednecks at thatand burned the homes and businesses in the courthouse who ran the city and still do. Sinclairblack sec tion. His in ves ti ga tion led to the ar rest Oil Company owned one of the airplanes used toof 36 white men including the mayor. In 1918, drop fire bombs on people and build ings.” Po litehe stood with black farmers and local law offi- white people want to excuse what happen as be-cers in Bristow averting a lynching of an inno- ing caused by trouble-making blacks and whitecent black man accused of raping a white trash ruffians. “Nope,” he said, noting thatwoman. Smitherman was involved in similar blacks did not like to talk about the riot. “Theincidents in Beggs, Okmulgee, Haskell, and killers were still run ning loose and they’re wear-Muskogee, Oklahoma. He and Stradford were ing blue suits as well as Klan sheets.” Duringamong the leading black citizens arrested for that time, whites seeking opportunity could notcausing the riot. Both fled. Smitherman died in circulate among the rich and powerful withoutBuffalo, New York after publishing newspa- Klan credentials. “Hell, Robert Hudson, thepers there and in Springfield, Massachusetts. law yer as signed to Rowland was a char ter mem-His descendants now live in Florida and North ber of the Klan. In the aftermath of the riot,Carolina. From my view there were black and where could Negroes find justice?” He furtherwhites that stood gallantly in face of a hostile noted, “Lot of people were killed. Many, manycommunity. Among those were Judge L. J. Negroes.” I only vividly remember the storiesMar tin who called for rep a ra tions and set out to of Professor and Mr. W.D. The other 300 orraise $500,000 from the city’s wealthy elite, more voices have blended in to one essay. Still Ionly to be ousted by the mayor from the city’s hold all their collective anger, fear, and hope. vii
  9. 9. Reparation? demands a closure as it did with Jap a nese Amer- Reparations: It happened. There was mur - icans and Holocaust victims of Germany. It is ader, false im pris on ment, forced la bor, a moral obligation. Tulsa was likely the first citycover-up, and local precedence for restitution. in the to be bombed from the air. There was aWhile the official damage was estimated at pre ce dent of pay ments to at least two whites vic-$1.5 million, the black community filed more tims of the riot. The issue today is what govern-than $4 million in claims. All were denied. ment entity should provide financial repair toHowever, the city commission did approved the survivors and the condemned communitytwo claims exceeding $5,000 “for guns and that suffered under vigilante violence? The Re-ammunition taken during the racial distur- port tells the story, let justice point the fingerbance of June 1.” In his memoirs Stradford re- and begin the reconciliation!called the guards acted like wild men. “The And Finallymilitia had been ordered to take charge, but in- Vigilantes under deputized and under thestead they joined the rioter.” His view is sup- color of law, destroyed the Black Wall Street ofported by action of the governor in a concerted America. Some known victims were in un-effort to rid the National Guard of the Ku Klux marked graves in a city owned cemetery andKlan in 1922. The preponderance of the infor- others were hauled off to unknown places in fullmation demands what was promised. Whether view of the National Guard. The mob torchedit was Ku Klux Klan instigated, land specula- the soul of the city, an evil from which neithertor’s conspiracy, inspired by yellow journal- whites nor blacks have fully recovered.ism, or random acts, it happened. Justice viii
  10. 10. (Courtesy McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa). Final Report of the Oklahoma Commission to Study The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921Compiled by Danney Goble The 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Commission origi- A series of papers accompanies the report.nated in 1997 with House Joint Resolution No. Some are written by scholars of national stature,1035. The act twice since has been amended, first others by experts of international acclaim. Eachin 1998, and again two years later. The final re- addresses at length and in depth issues of ex-writing passed each legislative chamber in pressed legislative interest and matters of enor-March and became law with Governor Frank mous public consequence. As a group, theyKeating’s signature on April 6, 2000. comprise a uniquely special and a uniquely signif- In that form, the State of Oklahoma ex- icant contribution that must be attached to this re-tended the commission’s au thor ity be yond that port and must be studied carefully along with it.originally scheduled, to February 28, 2001. Nonetheless, the supporting documents areThe statute also charged the commission to not the report, itself. The scholars’ essays haveproduce, on that date, “a final report of its find- their purposes; this commission’s report has an-ings and recommendations” and to submit that other. Its purpose is contained in the statutes thatreport “in writing to the Governor, the Speaker first cre ated this com mis sion, that later ex tendedof the House of Representatives, the President its life, and that each time gave it the same set ofPro Tempore of the Senate, and the Mayor and mandates. That is why this report is an account-each member of the City Council of the City of ing, presented officially and offered publicly, ofTulsa, Oklahoma.” how Oklahoma’s 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Com - This is that report. It accounts for and com- mission has conducted its business and ad-pletes the work of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot dressed its statutory obligations.Commission. Its duties were many, and each presented im- posing challenges. Not least was the challenge 1
  11. 11. of preparing this report. Lawmakers scheduled neth Kendricks replaced her as OHRC’s interimits deadline and defined its purpose, and this director and its representative to the commis-report meets their requirements. At the same sion. Blake Wade directed the historical societytime, four years of intense study and personal until Dr. Bob Blackburn succeeded him in 1999.sacrifice surely en ti tle com mis sion mem bers to Blackburn had been Wade’s designated repre-add their own expectations. Completely rea - sentative to the commission anyway. In fact, thesonable and entirely appropriate, their desires commission had made him its chairman, a posi-deserve a place in their report as well. tion he would hold until June 2000. Together, then, both the law’s requirements Governor Frank Keating’s six appointees in-and the commissioners’ resolves guide this re- cluded two legislators, each from a differentport. Designed to be both concise and com - chamber, each from an opposite party, each aplete, this is the report that law requires the for mer his tory teacher. Dem o crat Abe1921 Tulsa Race Riot Commission to submit Deutschendorf’s par tic i pa tion in the de bate overto those who represent the people. Designed to the original house resolution echoed his linger-be both compelling and convincing, this also is ing interest in history and foretold his future de-the report that the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Com- votion to this inquiry. As a history teacher,mission chooses to of fer the peo ple whom both Rob ert Milacek had in cluded Tulsa’s race riot inlawmakers and the commissioners serve. his classes. Little did he know that he, himself, w w w would contribute to that history as a Republican The Commission shall consist of eleven legislator, but he has.(11) members . . . . Governor Keating turned to metropolitan The legislative formula for commission T ulsa for two ap point ees. T. D. “Pete”membership assured it appropriate if unusual Churchwell’s father serviced African-Americancomposition. As an official state inquiry, the busi nesses in the Green wood dis trict, andstate’s interest was represented through the ex- Churchwell has main tained con cern for that com-ec u tive, leg is la tive, and ad min is tra tive munity and with the 1921 riot that nearly de-branches. The governor was to appoint six stroyed it. He was Blackburn’s replacement asmembers, three from names submitted by the chairman during the commis sion’s closingSpeaker of the House, three from nominees months. Although born in Oklahoma City, Jimprovided by the Senate Pres i dent Pro Tem pore. Lloyd and his family moved to Turley (the com-Two state officials — the directors of the munity just north of Greenwood) when he wasOklahoma Hu man Rights Com mis sion three. Raised in Tulsa, he graduated from Nathan(OHRC) and of the Oklahoma Historical Soci- Hale and the University of Tulsa’s College ofety (OHS) — also were to serve as ex officio Law. He now practices law in Sand Springs andmembers, either personally or through their lives in Tulsa.designees. The governor’s other appointees entered the Reflecting Tulsa’s obvious interest, the res- inquiry less with geographical than with profes-olution directed the city’s mayor to select the sional connections to Tulsa and its history. Cur-commission’s final three members. Similar to rie Ballard lives in Coyle and servesthe gubernatorial appointments, they were to neigh bor ing Langston Uni versity as histo-come from names proposed by Tulsa’s City rian-in-residence. Holding a graduate degree inCommission. One of the mayor’s appointees history, Jimmie White teaches it and heads thehad to be “a survivor of the 1921 Tulsa Race social science division for Connors State Col -Riot incident”; two had to be current residents lege.of the his toric Green wood com mu nity, the area Tulsa Mayor Susan Savage appointed theonce devastated by the “incident.” commission’s fi nal three mem bers. If only five in The commission began with two ex officio 1921, Joe Burns met the law’s requirement thatmembers and ended with two others. After one mayoral appointee be a survivor of the 1921Gracie Monson resigned in March 2000, Ken- “incident.” He brought the commission not faint 2
  12. 12. childhood memories but seasoned wisdom his advice for another. Dr. Scott Ellsworth, a na-rooted in eight de cades of life in the Green wood tive Tulsan now living in Oregon, was a Dukecommunity and with Greenwood’s people. graduate who already had written a highly re - As the resolution specified, Mayor Savage’s garded study of the riot. Ellsworth became theother two appointees live in contemporary sec ond con sul tant cho sen; he there af terGreenwood, but neither took a direct route to emerged first in importance.get there. Eddie Faye Gates’s path began in As its work grew steadily more exacting andPres ton, Oklahoma, passed through Al a bama’s steadily more special ized, the commissionTuskegee Institute, and crisscrossed two conti- turned to more ex perts. Le gal schol ars,nents before it reached Tulsa in 1968. She archeologists, anthropologists, forensic special-spent the next twenty-four years teaching its ists, geophysicists — all of these and moreyoungsters and has devoted years since re- blessed this commission with technical exper-searching and writing her own memoirs and tise impossible to match and unimaginable oth-h e r c o m mu nity’s his tory. Vivian erwise. As a research group, they brought aClark-Adams’s route took nearly as many breadth of vision and a depth of training thattwists and turns, passing through one military made Oklahoma’s commission a model of statebase after another until her father retired and inquiry.the family came to Oklahoma in 1961. Trained Ten con sul tants even tu ally provided them ex-at the Uni ver sity of Tulsa, Dr. Vivian pert advice, but the commissioners always ex -Clark-Adams serves Tulsa Community Col- pected to depend mostly on their own resources,lege as chair of the liberal arts division for its maybe with just a little help from just a few ofsoutheast campus. their friends. Interested OHS employees were a In the November 1997, organizing meeting, likely source. Sure enough, a half-dozen or socommissioners voted to hire clerical assistants pitched in to search the agency’s library and ar-and expert consultants through the OHS. (The chives for riot-related materials.legislature had added $50,000 to the agency’s That was help appreciated, if not entirely un-base appropriations for just such purposes.) expected. What was surprising — stunning, re-They then scheduled their second meeting for ally — was something else that happened inDecember 5 to accommodate the most appro- Oklahoma City. As the commission’s work at -priate and most eminent of all possible authori- tracted interest and gathered momentum, Bobties. Blackburn noticed something odd: an unusual John Hope Frank lin is the son of Green wood number of people were volunteering to work atattorney B. C. Franklin, a graduate of Tulsa’s the historical society. Plain, ordinary citizens,Booker T. Washington High School (Fisk and maybe forty or fifty of them, had asked to helpHarvard, too), and James B. Duke Professor of the commission as unpaid researchers in theHistory Emeritus at Duke University. Recipi- OHS collections.ent of scores of academic and literary awards, At about that time, Dick Warner decided thatnot to mention more than a hundred honorary he had better start making notes on the phonedoctorates, Franklin came back for another calls he was fielding for the Tulsa County His-honor. He received the Peggy V. Helmerich torical Society. People were calling in, wantingDistinguished Author Award on December 4 to contribute to the inquiry, and they just keptand stayed to meet and help the commission on calling. After two months, his log listed entriesthe fifth. for 148 local calls. Meanwhile, Scott Ellsworth Commissioners were delighted to learn that was back in Oregon, writing down informationFranklin was anxious to serve, even if he con- vol un teered by some of the three hun dred call ersfessed the contributions limited by age (he was who had reached him by long distance.eighty-two at the time) and other obligations. Most commission meetings were in Tulsa,They enthusiastically made John Hope Frank- each open to any and all. Oklahoma’s Openlin their first consultant, and they in stantly took Meetings Law required no less, but this com - 3
  13. 13. mission’s special nature yielded much more. It centrated on a few short hours of a mid-sizedseemed that every time the commissioners met city’s history?at least one person (usually several) greeted As the introductory paper by Drs. Franklinthem with at least some thing (usu ally a lot) that and Ellsworth recounts, the Tulsa disaster wentthe commission needed. largely unacknowledged for a half-century or Included were records and papers long pre - more. After a while, it was largely forgotten.sumed lost, if their existence had been known Eventually it became largely unknown. Soat all. Some were official documents, pulled hushed was mention of the subject that manytogether and packed away years earlier. Un - pronounced it the final victim of a conspiracy,covered and examined, they took the commis- this a conspiracy of silence.sion back in time, back to the years just before That silence is shattered, utterly and perma-and just after 1921. Some were musty legal re- nently shattered. What ever else this com mis sioncords saved from the shredders. Briefs filed, has achieved or will achieve, it already has madedockets set, law suits decided — each opened that possible. Regional, national, and interna-an avenue into another corner of history. Pages tional media made it certain. The Dallas Morn-after pages laid open the city commission’s de- ing News, the Los Angeles Times, the New Yorkliberations and decisions as they affected the Times, National Public Radio (NPR), everyGreenwood area. Overlooked records from the American broadcast television network, cableNational Guard offered overlooked perspec- outlets delivering Cinemax and the Historytives and illuminated them with misplaced cor- Channel to North America, the British Broad -respondence, lost after-action reports, obscure casting Corporation — this merely begins thefield manuals, and self-typed accounts from attention that the media focused upon this com-men who were on duty at the riot. Maybe there mission and its inquiry. Many approached it inwas a fam ily’s trea sured col lec tion of yel lowed depth (NPR twice has made it the featured dailynewspaper clippings; an envelope of faded broadcast). Most returned to it repeatedly (thephotographs; a few carefully folded letters, all New York Times had carried at least ten articleshandwritten, each dated 1921. as of February 2000). All considered it vital One meaning of all of this is obvious, so ob- public information.vious that this report pauses to affirm it. Some — including some commission mem - Many have questioned why or even if any- bers — thought at least some of the coverageone would be interested now in events that was at least somewhat unbalanced. They mayhappened in one city, one time, one day, long have had a point, but that is not the point.ago. What business did today’s state lawmak- Here is the point: The 1921 Tulsa Race Rioters have in something so old, so local, and so Commission is pleased to report that this pastdeservedly forgotten? Surely no one cares, not tragedy has been extensively aired, that it is nowanymore. remembered, and that it will never again be un- An answer comes from hundreds and hun - known.dreds of voices. They tell us that what hap - W w wpened in 1921 in Tulsa is as alive today as it The Commission shall undertake a study towas back then. What happened in Tulsa stays [include] the identification of persons. . . .as important and remains as unresolved today No one is certain how many participated inas in 1921. What happened there still exerts its the 1921 riot. No one is certain how many suf -power over people who never lived in Tulsa at fered how much for how long. Certainty is re -all. served for a single quantifiable fact. Every year How else can one explain the thousands of there remain fewer and fewer who experiencedhours volunteered by hundreds of people, all to it personally.get this story told and get it told right? How Legislation authorizing this commission di -else can one explain the regional, national, rected that it seek and locate those survivors.even international attention that has been con- Specifically, it was to iden tify any per son able to 4
  14. 14. “provide adequate proof to the Commission” (papers like the Chicago Defender and thethat he or she was an “actual resident” of “the Pittsburgh Courier), appealing publicly for sur-‘Greenwood’ area or community” at the time vivors or to anyone who might know of one. Theof the riot. The commission was also to iden- commission’s website, created and maintainedtify any person who otherwise “sustained an by the Oklahoma Historical Society, promi-identifiable loss . . . resulting from the . . . 1921 nently declared a determination to identify andTulsa Race Riot.” register every survivor, everywhere. For affir- Some considered this the commission’s mation, it posted the official forms used as themost difficult assignment, some its most im - subcommittee’s records, including instructionsportant duty, some its most compelling pur - for their completion and submission.pose. They all were right, and had Eddie Faye An old-fashioned, intensely personal webGates not assumed personal and experienced turned out to be more productive than the thor -responsibility for that mandate, this commis- oughly modern, entirely electronic Internet.sion might have little to report. Because she Like historical communities everywhere, mod -did, however, it principally reports what she ern Greenwood maintains a rich, if informal, so-and those who worked with her were able to cial network. Sometimes directly, sometimesaccomplish in the commission’s name. distantly, it connects Greenwood’s people, Commissioner Gates’s presence gave this sometimes young, sometimes old. Anchoring itscommission a considerable and welcomed interstices are the community’s longest resi-head start. She already had included several dents, its most active citizens, and its mostriot victims among the early pioneers whom prominent leaders.she had in ter viewed for They Came Searching: One quality or another would describe someHow Blacks Sought the Promised Land in members of this commission. After all, these areTulsa. The book finished, she had an informal the very qualifications that lawmakers requiredlist of survivors, but the list kept changing. for their appointments. Others share those sameDeath erased one name after another. Others qualities and a passion for their community’sappeared. Many were of old people who had his tory as well. Curtis Law son, Rob e r tleft Oklahoma years, even decades, ago; but Littlejohn, Hannibal John son, Dr. Charlesshe heard about them and patiently tracked Chris to pher, Mable Rice, Keith Jemison, Rob ertthem down. As lawmakers were authorizing and Blanchie Mayes — all are active in thethis inquiry, the count stood at thirteen, nine - North Tulsa Historical Society, all are some ofteen if all the leads eventually panned out. No the community’s most respected citizens, andone presumed that even nineteen was close to all are among this commission’s most valuablefinal, but no one knew what the accurate total assets.might be either. The initial pub lished no tices had early re sults. At its very first organizing meeting on No- Slowly they began to compound upon them-vember 14, 1997, this commission established selves. The first stories in the national and inter-a “subcommittee on survivors,” headed by national media introduced a multiplying factor.Commissioner Gates and including Commis- Thereafter, each burst of press attention seemedsioner Burns and Dr. Clark-Adams. From that to increase what was happening geometrically.moment onward, that subcommittee has ag - People were contacting commissioners, somegressively and creatively pursued every possi- coming forward as survivors, more suggestingble av e nue to iden tify ev ery pos si ble sur vi vor. where or how they might be found. Names came Letters sent over Dr. Ellsworth’s signature in, first a light sprinkle, next a shower, then ato Jet and Ebony magazines urged readers to downpour, finally a flood.contact the commission if they knew of any Old city directories, census reports, and otherpossibilities. From Gale’s Directory of Publi- records verified some claims, but they couldcations, Commissioner Gates targeted the na - confirm only so much. After all, these peopletion’s leading African-American newspapers had been chil dren, some of them in fants, back in 5
  15. 15. 1921. Af ter eighty years, could any one re mem- All of that work is complete. As the commis-ber the kind of details — addresses, telephone sion submits its report, 118 persons have beennumbers, property descriptions, rental agree - identified, contacted, and registered as livingments, business locations — someone else survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. (Anothercould verify with official documents? Not 176 per sons also have been reg is tered as de scen-likely. In fact, these were exactly the kind of dants of riot victims.)people most likely to have been ignored or lost The 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Com missionin every public record. Officially, they might thereby has discharged the mandate regardinghave never existed. the identification of persons. Except that they did, and one who looked Wlong enough and hard enough and patiently The Commission shall . . . gather information,enough could confirm it — that is, if one knew identify and interview witnesses . . . , preservewhere to look and whom to ask. testimony and records obtained, [and] examine That is what happened. Name-by-name, and copy documents . . . hav ing his tor i cal signif-someone found somebody who actually knew icance.each person. In fact, that is how many names Whatever else this commission already hassurfaced: a credible figure in the community achieved or soon will inspire, one accomplish-knew how to find older relatives, for mer neigh- ment will re main in def i nitely. Un til re cently, thebors, or departed friends. Others could be con- Tulsa race riot has been the most important leastfirmed with equal authority. Maybe someone known event in the state’s entire history. Evenknew the claimant’s family or knew someone the most resourceful of scholars stumbled asthat did. If a person claimed to be kin to some- they neared it for it was dimly lit by evidenceone or offered some small detail, surely some- and the evidentiary record faded more with ev -one else knew that relative or remembered the ery passing year.same detail as well. Some of those details That is not now and never will be true again.might even be verified through official docu- These few hours — from start to finish, the ac-ments. tual riot consumed less than sixteen hours — It was a nec es sary pro cess but slow and del i- may now comprise the most thoroughly docu-cate, too. As of June 1998, twenty-nine survi- mented moments ever to have occurred invors had been iden ti fied, con tacted, and Oklahoma. This commission’s work and theregistered. (The number did not include six - documentary record it leaves behind shinesteen identified as descendants of riot victims.) upon them a light too bright to ignore.It took another fourteen months for the total to The Oklahoma Historical So ci ety was search-reach sixty-one. It would have been higher, ex- ing its existing materials and aggressively pur -cept that three of the first twenty-nine had died su ing more be fore this com mis sion everin those months. This deadline had an ominous assembled. By the November 1997, organizingand compelling meaning. meeting, Bob Blackburn was ready to announce Work immediately shifted through higher that the society already had ordered prints fromgears. In March 2000, the identification pro - every known source of every known photographcess finished for forty-one survivors then liv- taken of the riot. He was contacting every majoring in or near Tulsa. Just a few more still archival depository and research library in theneeded to be contacted. The real work remain- country to request copies of any riot-related ma-ing, however, involved a remarkable number terials they might hold themselves. Experiencedof survivors who had turned up outside of OHS professionals were set to research impor-Oklahoma. Following a recent flurry of media tant but heretofore neglected court and munici-attention, more than sixty out-of-state survi- pal records.vors had been located. They lived everywhere This was news welcomed by commissionfrom Cal i for nia to Florida, one in Paris, members. It as sured early mo men tum for the jobFrance! ahead, and it complemented work that some of 6
  16. 16. them were already doing. Eddie Faye Gates, Lloyd uncovered and saved them, they werefor one, had pulled out every transcript of ev- scheduled for routine shredding.ery interview that she had made with a riot wit- The commission gathered the most private ofness, and she was anxious to make more. Jim documents as well. Every form registering ev -Lloyd was another. Lloyd already had found ery survivor bears notes recording informationand copied transcripts from earlier interviews, taken from every one of 118 persons. Withincluding some with Tulsa police officers pres- Kavin Ross operating the camera, Eddie Fayeent at the riot. He also had a hunch that a fellow Gates videotaped interviews with about half ofwho knew his way around a courthouse just the survivors. Each is available on one of ninemight turn up all sorts of information. cassettes preserved by the commission; full That is how it be gan, but that was just the be- transcripts are being completed for all. Sympa-ginning. In the months ahead, Larry O’Dell thetic collectors turned over transcripts of an -and other OHS employees patiently excavated other fifty or more. Some had been packed awaymountains of information, one pebble at a for twenty, even thirty years.time, as it were. They then pieced together tiny Others, in clud ing sev eral re source ful am a teurbits of fact, carefully fitting one to another. historians, reproduced and gave the commissionOne by one, completed puzzles emerged. Ar- what amounted to complete documentary col -ranged in different dimensions, they made lections. There were sets of municipal records,magic: a vision of Greenwood long since van- files from state agencies, reports kept by socialished. services, press clippings carefully bound, pri - Master maps, both of the community on the vately owned photographs never publicly seen.eve of the riot and of the post-riot residue, iden- People who had devoted years to the study oftified every single piece of property. For each one or more aspects of the riot supplied evi-parcel, a map displayed any structure present, dence they had found and presented conclusionsits owner and its use. If commercial, what they had reached. Beryl Ford followed the com-firms were there, who owned them, what busi- mission’s work as a Tulsan legendary for his de-nesses they were in. If residential, whether it votion to his city and its history. Williamwas rented or owned. If the former, the land- O’Brien attended nearly every commissionlord’s name. If the latter, whether it was mort- meeting, sometimes to ask questions, some-gaged (if so, to whom and encumbered by what times to answer them, once to deliver his owndebt.) For both, lists identified each of its occu- full report on the riot. Robert Norris preparedpants by name. smaller, occasional reports on military topics. It was not magic; it was more. Larry O’Dell He also dug up and turned over files from Na -had rebuilt Greenwood from records he and tional Guard records. Others located affidavitsother researchers had examined and collected filed with the State Supreme Court. The militaryfor the commission. Every building permit reports usually had been presumed lost; the le -granted, every warranty deed recorded, every gal papers always had been assumed unimpor-property appraisal ordered, every damage tant.claim filed, every death certificate issued, ev- Commissioners were surprised to receive soery burial record maintained — the commis- much new evidence and pleased to see that itsion had copies of every single record related contributed so much. They were delighted toto Greenwood at the time of the riot. note that so much came from black sources, that Some it had only because Jim Lloyd was it documented black experiences and recordedright. Able to navigate a courthouse, he ran black observations.across complete records for some 150 civil It had not always been that way. Too manysuits filed after the race riot. No one remem- early journalists and historians had dismissedbered that they even existed; they had been black sources as unreliable. Too few early li -misplaced for thirty-five years. When Jim brarians and archivists had preserved black sources as important. Both thereby condemned 7
  17. 17. later writers and scholars to a never ending 1982. He cites that new evidence at least 148game of hide-and-go-seek, the rules rigged so times. He had information from black sourcesno one could win. accessible now because of this commission. This commission’s work changes the game T h a t k n o w l edge c o n t r i b u t e d t o S c o t tforever. Every future scholar will have access Ellsworth’s citations from black newspapers,to everything ev ery one ever had when the orig- black interviews, or black writings. He citesinal source was white. In fact, they will have a black sources at least 272 times.lot more of it. They also will have more from No wonder the two are different. From nowsources few had before when the original on, everything can be different. They almostsource was black. have to be. Because they will, the community future Before there was this commission, much wasscholars will behold and the property they will known about the Tulsa race riot. More was un -describe was a community of black people, oc- known. It was buried somewhere, lost some-cupied by black people. The public records where, or somewhere undiscovered. No longer.they will examine involved black people and Old records have been reopened, missing filesaffected black people. Objects they will touch have been recovered, new sources have beencame from black people. Interviews they will found. Still being assembled and processed byhear and transcripts they will read were re- the Oklahoma Historical Society, their total vol-corded from black people. The evidence they ume passed ten thousand pages some time agowill explore reveals experiences of black peo- and well may reach twenty thousand by the timeple. everything is done. Consider what so much new information The di men sions of twenty thou sand pages canand what so many new sources can mean for be measured physically. Placed side-by-side,future historians. Consider what it already has they would reach across at least ten yards of li-meant for one. brary shelving, filling every inch with new in - Read closely Scott Ellsworth’s accompany- formation. The significance of these twentying essay, “The Tulsa Riot,” a rather simple ti- thousand pages has to be gauged vertically andtle, as titles go. Much more sophisticated is the met a phor i cally though. Stacked high, theytitle he gave the book he wrote in 1982, Death amount to a tower of new knowledge. Rising toin a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of reach a new perspective, they offer visions1921. never seen before. It is fair that they have different titles. They The 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Com missiontell somewhat different stories in somewhat thereby has discharged the mandate to gatherdifferent ways. The chief difference is that the and preserve a record of historical significance.one titled so simply tells a tale much more so- w w wphisticated. The Com mis sion shall . . . de velop a his tor i cal For one thing, it is longer. The report at- record of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot . . . .tached here filled 115 typed pages in the tell - The commission’s first substantive decisioning; the comparable portion of the book prints was to greet this obligation with a series of ques-en tirely in 25 pages. The re port has to be lon ger tions, and there was compelling reason why.be cause it has more to re port, sto ries not told in Eighty years after the fact, almost as many unre-the first telling. It offers more because it draws solved questions surround the race riot as did inupon more evidence. The report packs 205 1921 — maybe even more. Commissionersfootnotes with citations for its story; 50 did the knew that no “historical record” would be com-job for the first one. plete unless it answered the most enduring of Within that last difference is the difference those questions — or explain why not. That wasthat causes every other difference. To write reason enough for a second decision: Commis-this report, Scott Ellsworth used evidence he sioners agreed to seek consultants, respecteddid not have — no one had it — as recently as 8
  18. 18. scholars, and other experts to investigate those claims; many have never even heard them. In aquestions and offer answers. sense, it is a black-or-white question, but Rich- Their findings follow immediately, all with- ard S. Warner demonstrates that it has noout change or comment, each just as the com- black-or-white answer.mission received it. Accompanying papers He proves it absolutely false that militarypresent what scholars and others consider the planes could have employed mil i tary weap ons onbest answers to hard questions. The reports de- Greenwood. He also proves it absolutely true thatfine their questions, either directly or implic- civilian aircraft did fly over the riot area. Someitly, and usu ally ex plain why they need were there for police reconnaissance, some foranswers. The authors give answers, but they photography, some for other legitimate purposes.present them with only the confidence and ex- He also thinks it reasonable to believe that othersactly the precision they can justify. Most re - had less innocent use. It is probable that shotstrace the route they followed to reach their were fired and that incendiary devices werepositions. All advance their positions openly. dropped, and these would have contributed toIf they sense themselves in hostile territory, riot-related deaths or de struc tion. How much? Nosome stake their ground and defend it. one will ever know: His tory per mits no The commissioners harbor no illusion that black-or-white answer.every reader will accept their every answer to Can modern science bring light to old, darkevery question. They know better. Why should rumors about a mass grave, at least one, proba-everyone else? None of them do. All eleven bly more, somewhere in Tulsa? Could those ru-have reservations, some here, some there. mors be true? If true, where is one? Robert L.Some dispute this point; some deny that one. Brooks and Alan H. Witten have answers. Yes,Some suggest other possibilities. Some insist science can address those rumors. Yes, there areupon po si tions squarely op po site the schol ars’. many reasons to believe that mass graves exist. None of that matters. However they divide Where? They can point precisely to the singleover specifics, they also are united on princi- most likely spot. They can explain why scien-ples. Should any be in need, they endorse and tists settle on that one — explain it clearlyrecommend the route they took to reach their enough and completely enough to convinceown consensus. The way around an enraged non-scientists, too. Without making a scratch onshowdown and the shortest path to a responsi- the ground, they can measure how deep it has toble solution is the line that passes through be, how thick, how wide, how long. Were thepoints ahead. Each point marks a big question site to be exhumed and were it to yield humanand an important answer. Study them care- re mains, what would any one learn? Quite a bit iffully. Lesley Rankin-Hill and Phoebe Stubblefield What was the total value of property de- were to examine them.stroyed in the Tulsa race riot, both in 1921’s How many people were killed, anyway? Atdollars and in today’s? Larry O’Dell has the the time, careful calculations varied almost asnumbers. Any one of them could be a little off, much as did pure guesses — forty, fifty, oneprobably none by very much. Could a lawyer hundred, two hundred, three hundred, maybeargue, and might a judge decree, that citizens more. After a while, it became hard to distin-liv ing now had a duty to make that good, had to guish the calculations from the guesses. Byrepay those losses, all because of something now, the record has become so muddied thatthat hap pened eighty years ago? Al fred Brophy even the most care ful and thor ough sci en tific in-can make the case, and he does. vestigation can offer no more than a preliminary Over eight decades, some Tulsans (mostly possible answer.black Tulsans) have insisted that whites at- Clyde Collins Snow’s inquiry is just as care-tacked Greenwood from the air, even bombed ful and just as thorough as one might expectit from mili tary airplanes. Other Tulsans from this forensic anthropologist of interna-(mostly white Tulsans)have de nied those tional reputation, and preliminary is the word 9
  19. 19. An Invisible Empire rally at Belle Isle, Oklahoma City in 1923. Dur ing the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan flourished across Oklahoma,claim ing tens of thou sands mem bers (Cour tesy Oklahoma His tor i cal So ci ety).that he insists upon for his findings. By the sonal statements — things said to have beenmost conservative of all possible methods, he seen, heard, or otherwise observed — raises ancan identify thirty-eight riot victims, and he entire set of questions in itself. Surely someprovides the cause of death and the burial site statements are more credible than others, butfor each of them. He even gives us the names of how credible is that? Most evidence is incom-all but the four burned beyond recognition. plete; it may be suggestive but is it dispositive? That last fact is their defining element. Evidence often inspires inference, but is the in-Thirty-eight is only the number of dead that ference reasonable or even possible? EvidenceSnow can identify individually. It says nothing is usually am big u ous, does it mean this or does itof those who lost their lives in the vicious riot mean that? Almost every piece of evidence re -and lost their personal identities in records quires an interpretation, but is only one interpre-never kept or later destroyed. An accurate ta tion pos si ble? Re spon si bil ities will bedeath count would just begin at thirty-eight; it assigned, decisions will be evaluated, judg-might end well into the hundreds. Snow ex - ments will be offered — on what basis?plains why as many as 150 might have to be These are not idle academic musings. On theadded for one reason, 18 more for another rea- contrary: This small set of questions explainsson. What nei ther he nor any one can ever know why so many specific questions remain open.is how many to add for how many reasons. They ex plain how peo ple — rea son able,That is why there will never be a better answer fair-minded, well-intended people — can dis -to the question of how many died than this: agree so often about so much.How many? Too many. Consider a question as old as the riot it self. At For some questions there will never be an - the time, many said that this was no spontaneousswers even that precise. Open for eighty years eruption of the rabble; it was planned and exe-and open now, they will remain open forever cuted by the elite. Quite a few people — includ-be cause they are too large to be filled by the ev- ing some members of this commission — haveidence at hand. since stud ied the ques tion and are per suaded that Some of the hardest questions surround the this is so, that the Tulsa race riot was the resultevidence, itself. Evidence amounting to per - of a conspiracy. This is a serious position and a 10
  20. 20. provable position — if one looks at certain evi- questions will have two, quite a few even more.dence in certain ways. Some answers will never be proven. Some will Others — again, including members of this never be disproved. Accept it: Some things cancommission — have studied the same question never be known.and examined the same evidence, but they have That is why the complete record of what beganlooked at it in different ways. They see there no in the late evening of May 31 and continuedproof of conspiracy. Selfish desires surely. Aw- through the morning of June 1 will never quite es-ful effects certainly. But not a conspiracy. Both cape those hours, themselves. They forever aresides have evidence that they consider convinc- darkened by night or enshrouded by day.ing, but neither side can convince the other. But history has a record of things certain for Another nagging question involves the role of the hours between one day’s twilight and thethe Ku Klux Klan. Everyone who has studied the next day’s afternoon. These things:riot agrees that the Klan was present in Tulsa at • Black Tulsans had every reason to believe thatthe time of the riot and that it had been for some Dick Rowland would be lynched after his arresttime. Everyone agrees that within months of the on charges later dismissed and highly suspectriot Tulsa’s Klan chapter had become one of the from the start.nation’s largest and most powerful, able to dic - • They had cause to believe that his personaltate its will with the ballot as well as the whip. safety, like the defense of themselves and theirEveryone agrees that many of the city’s most community, depended on them alone.prom i nent men were klans men in the early 1920sand that some re mained klans men through out the • As hostile groups gathered and their confronta-decade. Everyone agrees that Tulsa’s atmo- tion worsened, municipal and county authori-sphere reeked with a Klan-like stench that oozed ties failed to take actions to calm or contain thethrough the robes of the Hooded Order. situation. Does this mean that the Klan helped plan the • At the eruption of violence, civil officials se-riot? Does it mean that the Klan helped execute lected many men, all of them white and some ofit? Does it mean that the Klan, as an them participants in that violence, and madeorganization, had any role at all? those men their agents as deputies. Or does it mean that any time thousands of • In that capacity, deputies did not stem the vio-whites assembled — especially if they assembled lence but added to it, often through overt actsto assault blacks — that odds were there would be themselves illegal.quite a few klansmen in the mix? Does the pres- • Public officials provided firearms and ammuni-ence of those individuals mean that the institution tion to individuals, again all of them white.may have been an instigator or the agent of a plot?Maybe both? Maybe neither? Maybe nothing atall? Not everyone agrees on that. Nor will they ever. Both the conspiracy andthe Klan questions remain what they alwayshave been and probably what they always willbe. Both are examples of nearly every probleminherent to historical evidence. How reliable isthis oral tradition? What conclusions does thatevidence permit? Are these inferences reason-able? How many ways can this be interpreted? And so it must go on. Some questions willalways be disputed because other questionsblock the path to their answers. That does not Af ter loot ing black homes, the white ri ot ers set them on fire. Here,mean there will be no answers, just that there Thomas and Lottie Gentry’s home at 537 N. Detroit—the thirdwill not be one answer per one question. Many house from the left—bursts into flame (Courtesy Department of Spe cial Col lec tions, McFarlin Li brary, Uni ver sity of Tulsa). 11
  21. 21. By the time the ad di tional Na tional Guard units from Oklahoma City ar rived in Tulsa the riot had pretty much run its course. Somecontemporary eyewitnesses, however, were critical of the time that it took for the State Troops to deploy outside of the downtownbusiness district (Cour tesy Oklahoma His tor i cal So ci ety).• Units of the Oklahoma National Guard partici- tle Af rica” and po litely as the “Ne gro pated in the mass arrests of all or nearly all of quarter.” Greenwood’s residents, removed them to • Although the exact total can never be deter- other parts of the city, and detained them in mined, credibleevidence makes it probable that holding centers. many people, likely numbering between one• Entering the Greenwood district, people stole, damaged or destroyed personal prop - erty left behind in homes and businesses.• People, some of them agents of government, also deliberately burned or otherwise de- stroyed homes credibly estimated to have numbered 1,256, along with virtually every other struc ture — in clud ing churches, schools, businesses, even a hospital and li - brary — in the Greenwood district.• Despite duties to preserve order and to pro - tect property, no government at any level of- fered adequate resistance, if any at all, to what amounted to the destruction of the Greenwood District prior to the riot (Courtesy Greenwood Cultural Center). neighborhood referred to commonly as “Lit- 12
  22. 22. Despite being numerically at a disadvantage, black Tulsansfought valiantly to protect their homes, their businesses, andtheir community. But in the end, the city’s African-Americanpopulation was simply outnumbered by the white invaders(Courtesy Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Li-brary, Uni ver sity of Tulsa).Identification card(Courtesy Bob Hower). (Cour tesy Green wood Cul tural Cen ter). and three hundred, were killed during the riot. • Not one of these criminal acts was then or ever has been prosecuted or punished by gov- ernment at any level, municipal, county, state, or federal. • Even after the restoration of order it was offi- cial policy to release a black detainee only upon the application of a white person, and then only if that white person agreed to accept responsibility for that detainee’s subsequent behavior. • As private citizens, many whites in Tulsa and neighboring communities did extend invalu- able assistance to the riot’s victims, and the re- lief efforts of the American Red Cross in particular provided a model of human behav- ior at its best. • Although city and county government bore much of the cost for Red Cross relief, neither contributed substantially to Greenwood’s re - 13
  23. 23. Re building af ter the destruction (Cour - tesy Green w o o d Cul tural Cen ter). building; in fact, municipal authorities acted • In the end, the restoration of Greenwood after initially to impede rebuilding. its systematic destruction was left to the vic - tims of that destruction.Maurice Wil lows Hos pi tal. While Tulsa of fi cials turned away some of fers of out side aid, a number of individual white Tulsans pro-vided as sis tance to the city’s now vir tu ally home less black pop u la tion. But it was the Amer i can Red Cross, which re mained in Tulsafor months following the riot, provided the most sustained relief effort. Maurice Wil lows, the compassionate director of the RedCross re lief, kept a his tory of the events. (Cour tesy Bob Hower). 14
  24. 24. Af ter math of the riot (Cour tesy Green wood Cul tural Cen ter). These things are not myths, not rumors, not Case, reparations — the words, themselves,speculations, not questioned. They are the his- seem to summon images of lawyers and court -torical record. rooms, along with other words, words like cul - The 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Commission pability, damages, remedies, restitution. Each isthereby has discharged the mandate to develop a term used in law, with strict legal meaning.a his tor i cal re cord of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. Some times com mis sion ers use those words, too, w w w and several agree — firmly agree — that those The final report of the Commission’s words describe accurately what happened infindings and recommendations . . . may con- 1921 and fit exactly what should happen now.tain spe cific rec om men da tions about Those, however, are their personal opinions,whether or not reparations can or should be and the commissioners who hold them do so asmade and the appropriate methods . . . . private citizens. Even the most resolute of its Unlike those quoted before, these words members recognizes that this commission has agive this commission not an obligation but an very different role. This commission is neitheropportunity. Nearly every commissioner in- court nor judge, and its members are not a jury.tends to seize it. The commission has no binding legal authority A short letter sent toGovernor Frank Keating to assign culpability, to determine damages, toas a preliminary report in February, 2000 de- establish a remedy, or to order either restitutionclared the majority’s view that reparations could or reparations. In fact, it has no judicial author-and should be made. “Good public policy,” that ity whatsoever.letter said, re quired no less. This re port main tains It also has no reason or need for such author-the same, and this report makes the case. ity. Any judgments that it might offer would be without effect and meaning. Its words would as 15
  25. 25. well be cast to the winds. Any recommenda- one. For both, the motive was not to injuretions that it might offer neither have nor need hundreds of people, nearly all un seen, al most alljudicial status at all. Statutes grant this com - un known. The in tent was to in tim i date one com-mission its authority to make recommenda- munity, to let it be known and let it be seen.tions and the choice of how — or even if — to Those who pulled the triggers, those who struckexercise that authority. the matches — they alone were lawbreakers. The commission’s majority is determined to Those who shouted encouragement and thoseexercise its discretion and to declare boldly and who stood si lently by — they were re spon si ble.directly their purpose: to recommend, inde- These are the qualities that place what hap -pendent of what law allows, what these com- pened in Tulsa outside the realm of law — andmissioners be lieve is the right thing to do. They not just in Tulsa, either. Lexington, Sapulpa,propose to do that in a dimension equal to their Norman, Shawnee, Lawton, Claremore, Perry;purpose. Courts have other purposes, and law Waurika, Dewey, and Mar shall — ear lieroperates in a different dimension. Mistake one purges in every one already had targeted entirefor the other — let this commission assume black com mu ni ties, mark ing ev ery child,what rightly belongs to law — does worse than woman, and man for exile.miss the point. It ruins it. There is no count of how many those people Think of the difference this way. We will numbered, but there is no need to know that.never know exactly how many were killed dur- Know that there, too, some thing more than a bading the Tulsa race riot, but take at random any guy had committed something more than atwenty-five from that unknown total. What we crime against something more than a person.say of those we might say for every one of the Not someone made mad by lust, not a personothers, too. gripped by rage, not a heartbroken party of ro - Considering the twenty-five to be homi-cides, the law would ap proach those astwenty-five acts performed by twenty-fivepeople (or thereabouts) who, with twenty-fivemo tives, com mit ted twenty-five crimesagainst twenty-five persons. That they oc-curred within hours and within a few blocks ofeach other is irrelevant. It would not mattereven if the same person committed two, three,ten of the murders on the same spot, momentsapart. Each was a separate act, and each (werethe law to do its duty) merits a separate conse-quence. Law can apprehend it no other way. Is there no other way to understand that? Ofcourse there is. There is a far better way. Were these twenty-five crimes or one? Dideach have a sep a rate mo tive, or was there a sin-gle intent? Were twenty-five individuals re-sponsible, those and no one else? The burningof 1,256 homes — if we understand these as1,256 acts of arson committed by 1,256 crimi-nals driven by 1,256 desires, if we understandit that way, do we understand anything at all? These were not any number of multiple actsof homicide; this was one act of horror. If we Lynching believed to be at Mannford, Oklahoma (Courtesymust name the fires, call it outrage, for it was Oklahoma Historical Sociery). 16
  26. 26. Although Oklahoma had been plagued by lynchings since the ter ri to rial days, with the com ing of statehood, more and more of thevictims were African American. Of the thirty-three lynchings that occurred in Oklahoma between 1907 and 1920, including thisone, which occurred at Okemah, fully twenty-seven of the vic tims were black (Cour tesy of Cur rie Ballard).mance gone sour, not one or any number of in- sons from voting. Lengthen that list to the indef-dividuals but a collective body — acting as one inite, write down names to the infinite — onebody — had coldly and deliberately and sys - still will not reach the point. For that, one line,tematically assaulted one victim, a whole com- one word is enough. The point was to keep amu nity, in tend ing to elim i nate it as a race, as a race, away from the polls.community. If other black communities heard Jim Crow laws — the segregation commandsabout it and learned their lessons, too, so much of Oklahoma’s statutes and of its constitution —the better; a littleintimidation went a long way. worked that way, too. Their object was not toAll of this happened years before, most fifteen keep some exhausted mother and her two youngor twenty years be fore Dick Rowland landed in children out of a “white car” on a train headedjail, but they re mained vivid in the re cent mem- somewhere like Checotah and send them walk-ories of Greenwood’s younger adults. ing six miles home. (Even if John Hope Franklin This, or something quite like it, was almost al- could recall that about his own mother and sisterways what happened when the subject was race. and him self as he accepted the HelmerichHere was nothing as amorphous as racism. Here Award some three-quarters of a century after-were discrete acts — one act, one town — each wards.) No, the one purpose was to keep oneconsciously calculated to have a collective effect race “in its place.”not against a person but against a people. When Laura Nelson was lynched years earlier And is that not also the way of Oklahoma’s in Okemah, it was not to punish her by death. Itvoting laws at the time? The state had amended was to terrify the living. Why else would theits constitution and crafted its laws not to keep lynchers have taken (and printed and copied andthis person or that person or a whole list of per- posted and distributed) that photograph of her 17
  27. 27. (Courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society).hanging from the bridge, her little boy dan - early use: as a postcard. People must havegling beside her? thought it a nice way to send a message. The lynchers knew the purpose; the photog- It still sends a message, too big to be jottedrapher just helped it along. The purpose had down in a few lines; but, then, this message isnot changed much by 1921, when another pho- not especially nice either. The message is thattographer snapped another picture, a long shot here is an im age of more than a sin gle vic tim of ashowing Greenwood’s ruin, smoke rising from single episode in a single city. This image pre-fires blazing in the background. “RUNING serves the symbol of a story, preserves it in theTHE NEGRO OUT OF TULSA” someone same way that the story was told: inwrote across it, candor atoning for misspelling. black-and-white.No doubt there. No shame either. Another photograph probably was snappedthe same day but from closer range. It showedwhat just days before must have been a humanbeing, maybe one who had spent a warm day inlate May work ing and talk ing and laugh ing. Onthis day, though, it was only a grotesque,blackened form, a thing, really, its only sign ofhumanity the charred remains of arms andhands forever raised, as if in useless supplica-tion. Shot horizontally, that particular photo stillturns up from time to time in the form of an (Courtesy Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Li- brary, Uni ver sity of Tulsa). 18

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