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Tulsa Race Riot 

A Report by the Oklahoma Commission 
to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 

February 28, 2001 


Cuf lie Ballard, Cojle 

Dr. BOB HacKbuin, OklahDma Ctl^ 

Jfl« Bums, Tulsa 

Vivian Cia*, Tulsa 

Rsp Abs Deutsche ndorl, Lowlan 


Jinn Uoyd, Tulsa 

Sfln. RDBgri Miiacflti, Waulfflmis, 

Jininilg L. Whits, Jr., Chewlari 

February 21, 2001 



T- D "Fete" Churcfiwel, Tulsa 


Sen MaMne Horner, TuIeh 
Rap. Don Ross, Tulsa 


Dr John Hope Runklin, CurhEm, NC 
Dr. BMtl EllstiKirth , Partland, OR 

Honorable Frank Keating 
Governor of Oklahoma 
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73105 

Honorable Larry Adair 

Speaker of the House of Representatives 

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73105 

Honorable Stratton Taylor 
President Pro Tempore of the Senate 
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 73105 

Honorable Susan Savage 

Mayor of Tulsa 

Tulsa, Oklahoma 741 19 

Members of the City Council 

City of Tulsa 

Tulsa, Oklahoma 741 19 

Dear Sir or Madam: 

Pursuant to House Joint Resolution 1035 (1997), as amended, I have the honor to transmithere with the 
Final Re port ofFindings and Recommendations of the 1921 TulsaRaceRiotCommission. There portin- 
cludes the commission's findings on each specific item assigned it by statute, and it also explains the 
methods 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 Commis sionfuUyunder stands thatitisneitherjudgenorjury. We have no bind ingle gal authority 
to assign culpability, to determine damages, to establish a remedy, or to order either restitution or repara- 
tions. However, in our interim report in February, 2000 the maj or ityofCom mis sioners declared that rep- 
arations to the historic Greenwood community in real and tangible form would be good public policy and 
do much to repair the emotional and physical scars of this terrible incident in our shared past. We listed 
several recommended courses of action including direct payments to riot survivors and descendants; a 
schol ar ship fund avail able to stu dents affected by the riot; es tab lish ment of an eco nomicdevelopmenten- 
terprise zone in the historic Greenwood district; a memorial for the riot victims. 

In the fi nal re port is sued to day, the maj or ity of Commis 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 are 
not intended to be all inclusive, but rather to give policy makers a sense of the Commission's feeUngs 
about reparations and a starting place for the creation of their own ideas. 




State Representative Don Ross 

Final 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 Ellsworth 

Airplanes 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. AlanH. 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 Br ophy (Oklahoma City University) 

Notes on Contributors 175 


State Senator Maxine Horner 

Chronological Maps of the Tulsa Race Riot 



By State Representative Don Ross 

Personal belongings and household goods had 
been removed from many homes and piled in the 
streets. On the steps of the few houses that re- 
mained sat feeble and gray Negro men and women 
and occasionally a small child. The look in their 
eyes was one of dejection and supplication. 
Judging from their attitude, it was not of material 
consequence to them whether they lived or died. 
Harmless themselves, they apparently could not 
conceive the brutality andfiendishness of men who 
would deliberately set fire to the homes of their 
friends and neighbors and just as deliberately 
shoot them down in their tracks. 

Tulsa Daily World, June 2, 1921 

A mob destroyed 35- square-blocks of the 
African American Community during the eve- 
ning of May 3 1 , through the afternoon of June 
1, 1921. It was a tragic, infamous moment in 
Oklahoma and the nation's history. The worse 
civil disturbance since the Civil War. In the af- 
termath of the death and destruction the people 
of our state suffered from a fatigue of faith — 
some still search for a statue of limitation on 
morality, attempting to forget the longevity of 
the residue of in jus tice that at best can leave lit- 
tle room for the healing of the heart. Perhaps 
this report, and subsequent humanitarian re- 
covery events by the governments and the 
good peo pie of the state will ex tract us from the 
guilt and confirm the commandment of a good 
and just God — leaving the deadly deeds of 
1921 buried in the call for redemption, histori- 
cal correctness, and repair. Then we can 
proudly sing together: 

"We know we belong to this land. 
"And the land we belong to is grand, 
and when we say, ay yippy yi ki yea, 
"We're only saying, you're doing fine 

"Oklahoma, you're 0-K-L-A-H-O-M-A, 
Oklahoma OK." 

Hopefully with this report, the feeling of the 
state will be quickened, the conscience of the 
brutal city will be ignited, the hypocrisy of the 
nation will be exposed, and the crimes against 
God and man denounced. Oklahoma can set 
such an example. It was Abolitionist Frederick 
Douglass who reminded a callous nation that 
"[A] government that can give lib erty in its Con- 
stitution ought to have the power to protect lib- 
erty, and impose civilized behavior in its 

Tulsa's Race Relations Are Ceremonial 

In the 80 years hence, survivor, descendants, 
and a bereaved community seeks that adminis- 
tration in some action akin to justice. Tulsa's 
race relations are more ceremonial — liken to a 
bad marriage, with spouses living in the same 
quarters but housed in different rooms, each es- 
caping one another by perpetuating a separate- 
ness of silence. The French political historian 
Alexis d'Tocqueville noted, "Once the majority 
has irrevocably decided a question, it is no lon- 
ger discussed. This is because the majority is a 
power that does not re spond well to crit i cism." 

I first learn about the riot when I was about 15 
from Booker T. Washington High School 
teacher and riot survivor W.D. Williams. In his 
slow, laboring voice Mr. W.D. as he was fondly 
known, said on the evening of May 31, 1921, 
his school graduation, and prom were canceled. 
Dick Rowland, who had dropped out of high 
school a few years before to become rich in the 
lucrative trade of shining shoes, was in jail, ac- 
cused of raping a white woman Sarah Page, "on 
a public elevator in broad daylight." After 
Rowland was arrested, angry white vigilantes 
gathered at the courthouse intent on lynching 
the shine boy. Armed blacks integrated the mob 
to protect him. There was a scuffle between a 
black and a white man, a shot rang out. The 
crowd scattered. It was about 10:00 a.m. A race 
riot had broken out. He said blacks defended 


their community for awhile, "but then the air- 
planes came dropping bombs." All of the black 
community was burned to the ground and 300 
people died." 

More annoyed than bored, I leaped from my 
chair and spoke: "Greenwood was never 
burned. Ain't no 300 people dead. We're too 
old for fairy tales." Calling a teacher a har was 
a capital offense Mr. W.D. snorted with a twist 
that framed his face with anger. He ignored my 
obstinacy and returned to his hyperbole. He 
finished his tale and dismissed the class. The 
next day he asked me to remain after class, and 
passed over a photo album with picture and 
post cards of Mount Zion Baptist Church on 
fire, the Dreamland Theater in shambles, 
whites with guns standing over dead bodies, 
blacks being marched to concentration camps 
with white mobs jeering, trucks loaded with 
caskets, and a yellowing newspaper article ac- 
count ing block af ter block of de struc tion - "30 , 
75 even 300 dead." Everything was just as he 
had described it. I was to learn later that 
Rowland was assigned a lawyer who was a 
prominent member of the Ku Klux Klan. 
"What you think, fat mouth?" Mr. W.D. asked 
his astonished student. 

After having talked to more than 300 riot 
survivors over the years, I have pondered that 
question for 45 years. The report raises the 
same question Mr. W.D. asked me. I now ask 
the Oklahoma Legislature, the City and 
County of Tulsa: "What do you think?" To un- 
derstand the full context of Mr. W.D.'s ques- 
tion is a travelogue of African American 
history, Oklahoma blacks in particular. It in- 
cludes. The Seven Year War and the birth of 
the nation, the infamous Trail of Tears, the 
Civil War, the allotment of Indian Territory, 
statehood, segregation, black towns, and the 
African American on Greenwood Avenue. 
Each was a preponderance of the fuel that ig- 
nited the 1921 race war in Tulsa. 

A bit of American history with an 
African-American perspective 

During the Seven Year War, Indians in the 
Ohio Valley sided with the French against 
Great Britain in a losing effort. Canada and 
other territories were ceded to the British. 

Treaties were sign with the tribes protecting 
their right to hold their lands. The treaties were 
ignore by the colonial governors. The colonies 
also soon discovered that rum and slaves were 
profitable commodities. One of the most enter- 
prising — if unsavory — trading prac tices of the 
time was the so-called "triangular trade." Mer- 
chants and shippers would purchase slaves off 
the coast of Africa for New England rum, then 
sell the slaves in the West Indies where they 
would buy molasses to bring home for sale to 
the local rum producers. In debt after the French 
and Indian War, England began to tax the colo- 
nies to pay for occupation. The measure was re- 
sisted, and the colonies began to prepare its 
Declaration of Independence. In an early draft, 
Thomas Jefferson wrote: 

He (King Georgej has waged cruel war against 
human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights 
of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people 
who never offended him, captivating and carrying 
them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur 
miserable death in their transportation thither. This 
piratical warfare, the op pro brium of INFIDEL pow- 
ers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great 
Britain. Determined to keep open a market where 
MEN should be bought and sold, he has prostituted 
his negative for suppressing every legislative at- 
tempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable com- 
merce. And that this assemblage of horrors might 
want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting 
those very people to rise in arms among us, and to 
purchase that lib erty of which he has deprived them, 
by murdering the people on whom he also obtruded 
them: thus paying off former crimes committed 
against the LIBERTIES of one people, with crimes 
which he urges them to commit against the LIVES of 

[This version was removed from the Declaration of Independ- 
ence after protest from southern colonies, and planted the seed 
of the Civil War to come.] 

The Revolutionary War was fought and a 
constitution was presented and approved by the 
colonies. It would sanction slavery and human 
bondage as the law of the land. Broken treaties 
and genocide slowly moved Indians for the 
Ohio Valley, while other treaties settled them in 
the rich farm lands of the south. The southern 
tribes held slaves, but also offered the runaway 

sanctuary, in some case tribal membership and 
rights. During the administration of Andrew 
Jackson, a direct assault on Indian lands was 
launched. Phony treaties corrupts chiefs and 
intra- tribal rivalry would lead to warring fac- 
tions, assassinations and divide the tribal lead- 
ers, instigating their removal from their 
southern homelands. This odyssey, during the 
1830s and before, the lives of blacks and Na- 
tive Americans would be linked on the infa- 
mous, cruel "Trail of Tears." On long marches 
under extreme du ress and hard ship, the trail led 
to present-day Oklahoma, Kansas and Ne- 
braska. Indian Territory would be split by the 
creation of the Kansas and Nebraska territories 
and after the Civil War abolished in 1907 with 
the entrance of Oklahoma as a state. Pressed by 
rival chiefs many of the tribes officially sided 
with the Confederacy. Afterward, many for- 
mer black slaves. Freemen, were registered as 
members of the tribes and offered sections of 
the Indian land allotments. After the govern- 
ment opened Oklahoma for settlement more 
blacks came seeking freedom from southern 
oppression and for new opportunities in the 
Promised Land. Of the more than 50 all black 
towns, more than 20 were located in the new 
state, the more prosperous were Boley and 

Oklahoma history re-recorded 

Attorney B.C. Franklin, one of the genuine 
heroes in the aftermath of the race war heeded 
the call to settle into Indian Territory. He was 
the father of historian Dr. John Hope Franklin, 
who served as consultant scholars for this re- 
port and an earlier inspiration in my inquiry of 
the riot. In his memoirs attorney Franklin 
wrote of two men, whom he called "very rich 
Negroes" and the "greatest leaders" — O.W. 
Gurley and J.B. Stradford. In 1908, Gurley, 
constructed the first building, a rooming house 
and later the home of Vernon A.M.E. Church, 
on a muddy trail that would become the Black 
Wall Street of America. According to B.C. 
Franklin, Gurley bought 30 or 40 acres, plotted 
them and had them sold to "Negroes only." At- 
torney Franklin's account of the settlement of 
Greenwood, shattered earlier notions of blacks 
being forced in a section of town. It now ap- 

pears the division was self-imposed. "In the 
end," Attorney Franklin wrote, "Tulsa became 
one of the most sharply segregated cities in the 
country." One of the possible errors I find in the 
report is that Gurley lost $65,000 in the riot. In- 
deed, he is listed in City Commission reports of 
having lost $157,783. Today his fortune would 
be worth more than $1 million. 

J.B. Stradford, would later join Gurley on 
Greenwood, and build the finest hotel in the 
city, valued at $75,000. Before statehood, the 
territory had been seen by blacks as not only the 
Promised Land more notably as the nation's first 
all-black state, E.P. McCabe was the leading advo- 
cate of all-black towns and had migrated from Kan- 
sas and founded Langston, Oklahoma. A former 
Kansas auditor active in Republican politics, 
McCabe had also become the assistant auditor of 
Oklahoma. He would lead a crusade to press Presi- 
dent Benjamin Harrison into bringing "Indian Terri- 
tory" into the un ion as an all-black state. Against that 
back drop, Gur ley viewed his acres as a nat u ral ur ban 
evolution from the rural trend of organizing black 
towns. White Dem o crats pre pared for the State Con- 
stitutional Convention by using the black statehood 
issues and racist attacks against their Republican 
"Nigger loving opponents." Both Democrats and 
Republicans would disenfranchise blacks during the 
balloting for control of the convention. The Demo- 
crats won and sometimes with the Ku Klux Klan as 
allies maintains political control of the state into the 
millennium. After statehood the first bill passed by 
the Oklahoma Legislature was the infamous 'Senate 
Bill One' that tightly segregated the state. 

Stradford, and his friend A.J. Smitherman, pub- 
lisher of the Tulsa Star newspaper, were brave tena- 
cious advocates on behalf of their race. After 
Stradford was acquitted for violating Oklahoma Jim 
Crow laws, in 1912, the hotel owner filed a lawsuit 
in the State Su preme Court su ing the Mid land Val ley 
Railroad for false imprisonment. In a narrowly in- 
terpreted decision the court opined the unconstitu- 
tionality of the Jim Crow law did not affect the right 
of the conductor to rely upon it. Similarly, the court 
rested upon a case filed by E.P. McCabe challenging 
Oklahoma's segregation dismissing the McCabe ar- 
gument as irrelevant to the case. Four years later 
Stradford petitioned the Tulsa City Commission 
against its segregationist ordinance that "such a law 


is to cast a stigma upon the colored race in the eyes 
of the world; and to sap the spirit of hope for justice 
before the law from the race itself." The Tulsa City 
Ordinance would remain on the books until the 
civil rights movement of the 1960s. From his 
unpublished memoirs, Stradford was accused 
as being an instigator of the riot, but contended 
he was not present. He said initially the sheriff 
contacted him and other black leaders for their 
assistance in protecting Rowland. However, 
when they arrived the sheriff said he could 
handle it and would call them when needed. 
Thus, the men left. The courthouse mob grew 
and there was no call to them for assistance. 
Armed and filled with moonshine, the men re- 
turned to the courthouse. According to 
Stradford a white man attempted in take a gun 
from one of the blacks "our boys shot into the 
crowd and a number were killed and wounded. 
Under the threat of lynching, Stradford es- 
caped to Independence, Kansas and from there 
to Chicago, where his descendants reside to 
this day. 

A.J. Smitherman wrote passionately about 
the rights of blacks from the daily newspaper 
columns. In 1917, the brave and fearless pub- 
lisher traveled to Dewey, Oklahoma in the 
middle of a race riot where a white mob had 
pulled the accused from the jail, lynched him, 
and burned the homes and businesses in the 
black sec tion. His in ves ti ga tion led to the ar rest 
of 36 white men including the mayor. In 1918, 
he stood with black farmers and local law offi- 
cers in Bristow averting a lynching of an inno- 
cent black man accused of raping a white 
woman. Smitherman was involved in similar 
incidents in Beggs, Okmulgee, Haskell, and 
Muskogee, Oklahoma. He and Stradford were 
among the leading black citizens arrested for 
causing the riot. Both fled. Smitherman died in 
Buffalo, New York after publishing newspa- 
pers there and in Springfield, Massachusetts. 
His descendants now live in Florida and North 
Carolina. From my view there were black and 
whites that stood gallantly in face of a hostile 
community. Among those were Judge L. J. 
Mar tin who called for rep a ra tions and set out to 
raise $500,000 from the city's wealthy elite, 
only to be ousted by the mayor from the city' s 

welfare committee; Cyrus Avery, treasurer of 
the relief committee who raised funds to house 
and feed the black refugees; Maurice Willow, 
the Red Cross director whose work saved many 
lives and through his effort food, shelter, medi- 
cal and hospital care was provided; Franklin, 
Stradford, Gurley, and Smitherman, aforemen- 
tioned in his report. 

From my Memories of early oral histories of 
blue suits and Klan sheets 

"I teach U.S. History and those decisions that 
brought us to the riot," Seymour Williams my 
high school history professor said to me 45 
years ago. He and W.D. Williams (no relations) 
for many years tutored me on their experience 
and prodded others of their generation to tell me 
the story. "The riot isn't known much by young 
teachers. Many were born after the riot and it 
was banned by book pub lish ers, as much as U.S. 
history about blacks and slavery. I could teach a 
course on just what has been left out of history." 
Why the silence in our community? The old 
man then introduced this student to his assess- 
ment. "Blacks lost everything. They were afraid 
it could happen again and there was no way to 
tell the story. The two Negro newspapers were 
bombed. With the unkept promises, they were 
too busy just trying to make it." He added. 
There were a lot of big shot rednecks at that 
courthouse who ran the city and still do. Sinclair 
Oil Company owned one of the airplanes used to 
drop fire bombs on people and buildings. "Polite 
white people want to excuse what happen as be- 
ing caused by trouble-making blacks and white 
trash ruffians. "Nope," he said, noting that 
blacks did not like to talk about the riot. "The 
killers were still run ning loose and they're wear- 
ing blue suits as well as Klan sheets." During 
that time, whites seeking opportunity could not 
circulate among the rich and poweriful without 
Klan credentials. "Hell, Robert Hudson, the 
law yer as signed to Rowland was a char ter mem- 
ber of the Klan. In the aftermath of the riot, 
where could Negroes find justice?" He further 
noted, "Lot of people were killed. Many, many 
Negroes." I only vividly remember the stories 
of Professor and Mr. W.D. The other 300 or 
more voices have blended in to one essay. Still I 
hold all their collective anger, fear, and hope. 



Reparations: It happened. There was mur- 
der, false imprisonment, forced labor, a 
cover-up, and local precedence for restitution. 
While the official damage was estimated at 
$1.5 million, the black community filed more 
than $4 million in claims. All were denied. 
However, the city commission did approved 
two claims exceeding $5,000 "for guns and 
ammunition taken during the racial distur- 
bance of June 1." In his memoirs Stradford re- 
called the guards acted like wild men. "The 
militia had been ordered to take charge, but in- 
stead they joined the rioter." His view is sup- 
ported by action of the governor in a concerted 
effort to rid the National Guard of the Ku Klux 
Klan in 1922. The preponderance of the infor- 
mation demands what was promised. Whether 
it was Ku Klux Klan instigated, land specula- 
tor' s conspiracy, inspired by yellow journal- 
ism, or random acts, it happened. Justice 

demands a closure as it did with Japanese Amer- 
icans and Holocaust victims of Germany. It is a 
moral obhgation. Tulsa was likely the first city 
in the to be bombed from the air. There was a 
pre ce dent of pay ments to at least two whites vic- 
tims of the riot. The issue today is what govern- 
ment entity should provide financial repair to 
the survivors and the condemned community 
that suffered under vigilante violence? The Re- 
port tells the story, let justice point the finger 
and begin the reconciliation! 

And Finally 

Vigilantes under deputized and under the 
color of law, destroyed the Black Wall Street of 
America. Some known victims were in un- 
marked graves in a city owned cemetery and 
others were hauled off to unknown places in full 
view of the National Guard. The mob torched 
the soul of the city, an evil from which neither 
whites nor blacks have fully recovered. 


(Courtesy McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa). 

Final Report of the Oklahoma Commission to Study 
The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 

Compiled by Danney Goble 

The 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Commission origi- 
nated in 1997 with House Joint Resolution No. 
1035. The act twice since has been amended, first 
in 1998, and again two years later. The final re- 
writing passed each legislative chamber in 
March and became law with Govemor Frank 
Keating' s signature on April 6, 2000. 

In that form, the State of Oklahoma ex- 
tended the commission's authority beyond that 
originally scheduled, to February 28, 2001. 
The statute also charged the commission to 
produce, on that date, "a final report of its find- 
ings and recommendations" and to submit that 
report "in writing to the Govemor, the Speaker 
of the House of Representatives, the President 
Pro Tempore of the Senate, and the Mayor and 
each member of the City Council of the City of 
Tulsa, Oklahoma." 

This is that report. It accounts for and com- 
pletes the work of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot 

A series of papers accompanies the report. 
Some are written by scholars of national stature, 
others by experts of international acclaim. Each 
addresses at length and in depth issues of ex- 
pressed legislative interest and matters of enor- 
mous public consequence. As a group, they 
comprise a uniquely special and a uniquely signif- 
icant contribution that must be attached to this re- 
port and must be studied carefully along with it. 

Nonetheless, the supporting documents are 
not the report, itself. The scholars' essays have 
their purposes; this commission's report has an- 
other. Its purpose is contained in the statutes that 
first ere ated this com mis sion, that later ex tended 
its life, and that each time gave it the same set of 
mandates. That is why this report is an account- 
ing, presented officially and offered publicly, of 
how Oklahoma's 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Com- 
mission has conducted its business and ad- 
dressed its statutory obhgations. 

Its duties were many, and each presented im- 
posing challenges. Not least was the challenge 

of preparing this report. Lawmakers scheduled 
its deadline and defined its purpose, and this 
report meets their requirements. At the same 
time, four years of intense study and personal 
sacrifice surely entitlecommissionmembersto 
add their own expectations. Completely rea- 
sonable and entirely appropriate, their desires 
deserve a place in their report as well. 

Together, then, both the law's requirements 
and the commissioners' resolves guide this re- 
port. Designed to be both concise and com- 
plete, this is the report that law requires the 
1921 Tulsa Race Riot Commission to submit 
to those who represent the people. Designed to 
be both compelling and convincing, this also is 
the report that the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Com- 
mission chooses to offer the peo pie whom both 
lawmakers and the commissioners serve. 
♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Commission shall consist of eleven 
(11) members .... 

The legislative formula for commission 
membership assured it appropriate if unusual 
composition. As an official state inquiry, the 
state's interest was represented through the ex- 
ecutive, legislative, and administrative 
branches. The governor was to appoint six 
members, three from names submitted by the 
Speaker of the House, three from nominees 
provided by the Senate PresidentPro Tempore. 
Two state officials — the directors of the 
Oklahoma Human Rights Commission 
(OHRC) and of the Oklahoma Historical Soci- 
ety (OHS) — also were to serve as ex officio 
members, either personally or through their 

Reflecting Tulsa's obvious interest, the res- 
olution directed the city's mayor to select the 
commission's final three members. Similar to 
the gubernatorial appointments, they were to 
come from names proposed by Tulsa's City 
Commission. One of the mayor's appointees 
had to be "a survivor of the 1921 Tulsa Race 
Riot incident"; two had to be current residents 
of the his toric Green wood com mu nity , the area 
once devastated by the "incident." 

The commission began with two ex officio 
members and ended with two others. After 
Oracle Monson resigned in March 2000, Ken- 

neth Kendricks replaced her as OHRC 's interim 
director and its representative to the commis- 
sion. Blake Wade directed the historical society 
until Dr. Bob Blackburn succeeded him in 1999. 
Blackburn had been Wade's designated repre- 
sentative to the commission anyway. In fact, the 
commission had made him its chairman, a posi- 
tion he would hold until June 2000. 

Governor Frank Keating' s six appointees in- 
cluded two legislators, each from a different 
chamber, each from an opposite party, each a 
former history teacher. Democrat Abe 
Deutschendorf ' s par tic i pa tion in the de bate over 
the original house resolution echoed his linger- 
ing interest in history and foretold his future de- 
votion to this inquiry. As a history teacher, 
Rob ert Milacek had in eluded Tulsa' s race riot in 
his classes. Little did he know that he, himself, 
would contribute to that history as a Republican 
legislator, but he has. 

Governor Keating turned to metropolitan 
Tulsa for two appointees. T. D. "Pete" 
Church well's father serviced African- American 
businesses in the Greenwood district, and 
Church well has main tained con cern for that com- 
munity and with the 1921 riot that nearly de- 
stroyed it. He was Blackburn's replacement as 
chairman during the commission's closing 
months. Although bom in Oklahoma City, Jim 
Lloyd and his family moved to Turley (the com- 
munity just north of Greenwood) when he was 
three. Raised in Tulsa, he graduated from Nathan 
Hale and the University of Tulsa's College of 
Law. He now practices law in Sand Springs and 
lives in Tulsa. 

The governor's other appointees entered the 
inquiry less with geographical than with profes- 
sional connections to Tulsa and its history. Cur- 
rie Ballard lives in Coyle and serves 
neighboring Langston University as histo- 
rian-in-residence. Holding a graduate degree in 
history, Jimmie White teaches it and heads the 
social science division for Connors State Col- 

Tulsa Mayor Susan Savage appointed the 
commission' s fi nal three mem bers. If only five in 
1921, Joe Bums met the law's requirement that 
one mayoral appointee be a survivor of the 1921 
"incident." He brought the commission not faint 

childhood memories but seasoned wisdom 
rooted in eight de cades of life in the Green wood 
community and with Greenwood' s people. 

As the resolution specified, Mayor Savage's 
other two appointees live in contemporary 
Greenwood, but neither took a direct route to 
get there. Eddie Faye Gates's path began in 
Preston, Oklahoma, passed through Alabama's 
Tuskegee Institute, and crisscrossed two conti- 
nents before it reached Tulsa in 1968. She 
spent the next twenty-four years teaching its 
youngsters and has devoted years since re- 
searching and writing her own memoirs and 
her community's history. Vivian 
Clark- Adams's route took nearly as many 
twists and turns, passing through one military 
base after another until her father retired and 
the family came to Oklahoma in 1961. Trained 
at the University of Tulsa, Dr. Vivian 
Clark-Adams serves Tulsa Community Col- 
lege as chair of the liberal arts division for its 
southeast campus. 

In the November 1997, organizing meeting, 
commissioners voted to hire clerical assistants 
and expert consultants through the OHS. (The 
legislature had added $50,000 to the agency's 
base appropriations for just such purposes.) 
They then scheduled their second meeting for 
December 5 to accommodate the most appro- 
priate and most eminent of all possible authori- 

John Hope Frank lin is the son of Green wood 
attorney B. C. Franklin, a graduate of Tulsa's 
Booker T. Washington High School (Fisk and 
Harvard, too), and James B. Duke Professor of 
History Emeritus at Duke University. Recipi- 
ent of scores of academic and literary awards, 
not to mention more than a hundred honorary 
doctorates, Franklin came back for another 
honor. He received the Peggy V. Helmerich 
Distinguished Author Award on December 4 
and stayed to meet and help the commission on 
the fifth. 

Commissioners were dehghted to learn that 
Franklin was anxious to serve, even if he con- 
fessed the contributions limited by age (he was 
eighty-two at the time) and other obligations. 
They enthusiastically made John Hope Frank- 
lin their first consultant, and they instantly took 

his advice for another. Dr. Scott Ellsworth, a na- 
tive Tulsan now living in Oregon, was a Duke 
graduate who already had written a highly re- 
garded study of the riot. Ellsworth became the 
second consultant chosen; he thereafter 
emerged first in importance. 

As its work grew steadily more exacting and 
steadily more specialized, the commission 
turned to more experts. Legal scholars, 
archeologists, anthropologists, forensic special- 
ists, geophysicists — all of these and more 
blessed this commission with technical exper- 
tise impossible to match and unimaginable oth- 
erwise. As a research group, they brought a 
breadth of vision and a depth of training that 
made Oklahoma's commission a model of state 

Ten consultantseventually provided them ex- 
pert advice, but the commissioners always ex- 
pected to depend mostly on their own resources, 
maybe with just a little help from just a few of 
their friends. Interested OHS employees were a 
likely source. Sure enough, a half-dozen or so 
pitched in to search the agency's library and ar- 
chives for riot-related materials. 

That was help appreciated, if not entirely un- 
expected. What was surprising — stunning, re- 
ally — was something else that happened in 
Oklahoma City. As the commission's work at- 
tracted interest and gathered momentum. Bob 
Blackburn noticed something odd: an unusual 
number of people were volunteering to work at 
the historical society. Plain, ordinary citizens, 
maybe forty or fifty of them, had asked to help 
the commission as unpaid researchers in the 
OHS collections. 

At about that time, Dick Warner decided that 
he had better start making notes on the phone 
calls he was fielding for the Tulsa County His- 
torical Society. People were calling in, wanting 
to contribute to the inquiry, and they just kept 
calling. After two months, his log listed entries 
for 148 local calls. Meanwhile, Scott Ellsworth 
was back in Oregon, writing down information 
vol un teered by some of the three hun dred call ers 
who had reached him by long distance. 

Most commission meetings were in Tulsa, 
each open to any and all. Oklahoma's Open 
Meetings Law required no less, but this com- 

mission's special nature yielded much more. It 
seemed that every time the commissioners met 
at least one person (usually several) greeted 
them with at least some thing (usu ally a lot) that 
the commission needed. 

Included were records and papers long pre- 
sumed lost, if their existence had been known 
at all. Some were official documents, pulled 
together and packed away years earlier. Un- 
covered and examined, they took the commis- 
sion back in time, back to the years just before 
and just after 1921. Some were musty legal re- 
cords saved from the shredders. Briefs filed, 
dockets set, law suits decided — each opened 
an avenue into another corner of history. Pages 
after pages laid open the city commission' s de- 
liberations and decisions as they affected the 
Greenwood area. Overlooked records from the 
National Guard offered overlooked perspec- 
tives and illuminated them with misplaced cor- 
respondence, lost after-action reports, obscure 
field manuals, and self-typed accounts from 
men who were on duty at the riot. Maybe there 
was a family' streasuredcollectionof yellowed 
newspaper clippings; an envelope of faded 
photographs; a few carefully folded letters, all 
handwritten, each dated 1921. 

One meaning of all of this is obvious, so ob- 
vious that this report pauses to affirm it. 

Many have questioned why or even if any- 
one would be interested now in events that 
happened in one city, one time, one day, long 
ago. What business did today's state lawmak- 
ers have in something so old, so local, and so 
deservedly forgotten? Surely no one cares, not 

An answer comes from hundreds and hun- 
dreds of voices. They tell us that what hap- 
pened in 1921 in Tulsa is as alive today as it 
was back then. What happened in Tulsa stays 
as important and remains as unresolved today 
as in 1921. What happened there still exerts its 
power over people who never lived in Tulsa at 

How else can one explain the thousands of 
hours volunteered by hundreds of people, all to 
get this story told and get it told right? How 
else can one explain the regional, national, 
even international attention that has been con- 

centrated on a few short hours of a mid-sized 
city's history? 

As the introductory paper by Drs. Franklin 
and Ellsworth recounts, the Tulsa disaster went 
largely unacknowledged for a half-century or 
more. After a while, it was largely forgotten. 
Eventually it became largely unknown. So 
hushed was mention of the subject that many 
pronounced it the final victim of a conspiracy, 
this a conspiracy of silence. 

That silence is shattered, utterly and perma- 
nently shattered. What ever else this com mission 
has achieved or will achieve, it already has made 
that possible. Regional, national, and interna- 
tional media made it certain. The Dallas Morn- 
ing News, the Los Angeles Times, the New York 
Times, National Public Radio (NPR), every 
American broadcast television network, cable 
outlets delivering Cinemax and the History 
Channel to North America, the British Broad- 
casting Corporation — this merely begins the 
attention that the media focused upon this com- 
mission and its inquiry. Many approached it in 
depth (NPR twice has made it the featured daily 
broadcast). Most returned to it repeatedly (the 
New York Times had carried at least ten articles 
as of February 2000). All considered it vital 
public information. 

Some — including some commission mem- 
bers — thought at least some of the coverage 
was at least somewhat unbalanced. They may 
have had a point, but that is not the point. 

Here is the point: The 1921 Tulsa Race Riot 
Commission is pleased to report that this past 
tragedy has been extensively aired, that it is now 
remembered, and that it will never again be un- 

^ ♦ ♦ 

The Commission shall undertake a study to 
[include] the identification of persons. . . . 

No one is certain how many participated in 
the 1921 riot. No one is certain how many suf- 
fered how much for how long. Certainty is re- 
served for a single quantifiable fact. Every year 
there remain fewer and fewer who experienced 
it personally. 

Legislation authorizing this commission di- 
rected that it seek and locate those survivors. 
Specifically, it was to iden tify any per son able to 

"provide adequate proof to the Commission" 
that he or she was an "actual resident" of "the 
'Greenwood' area or community" at the time 
of the riot. The commission was also to iden- 
tify any person who otherwise "sustained an 
identifiable loss . . . resulting from the ... 1921 
Tulsa Race Riot." 

Some considered this the commission's 
most difficult assignment, some its most im- 
portant duty, some its most compelling pur- 
pose. They all were right, and had Eddie Faye 
Gates not assumed personal and experienced 
responsibility for that mandate, this commis- 
sion might have little to report. Because she 
did, however, it principally reports what she 
and those who worked with her were able to 
accomplish in the commission's name. 

Commissioner Gates's presence gave this 
commission a considerable and welcomed 
head start. She already had included several 
riot victims among the early pioneers whom 
she had interviewedfor They Came Searching: 
How Blacks Sought the Promised Land in 
Tulsa. The book finished, she had an informal 
list of survivors, but the list kept changing. 
Death erased one name after another. Others 
appeared. Many were of old people who had 
left Oklahoma years, even decades, ago; but 
she heard about them and patiently tracked 
them down. As lawmakers were authorizing 
this inquiry, the count stood at thirteen, nine- 
teen if all the leads eventually panned out. No 
one presumed that even nineteen was close to 
final, but no one knew what the accurate total 
might be either. 

At its very first organizing meeting on No- 
vember 14, 1997, this commission established 
a "subcommittee on survivors," headed by 
Commissioner Gates and including Commis- 
sioner Burns and Dr. Clark-Adams. From that 
moment onward, that subcommittee has ag- 
gressively and creatively pursued every possi- 
ble av e nue to iden tify ev ery po s si ble sur vi vor . 

Letters sent over Dr. Ellsworth's signature 
to Jet and Ebony magazines urged readers to 
contact the commission if they knew of any 
possibilities. From Gale 's Directory of Publi- 
cations, Commissioner Gates targeted the na- 
tion's leading African- American newspapers 

(papers like the Chicago Defender and the 
Pittsburgh Courier), appealing publicly for sur- 
vivors or to anyone who might know of one. The 
commission's website, created and maintained 
by the Oklahoma Historical Society, promi- 
nently declared a determination to identify and 
register every survivor, everywhere. For affir- 
mation, it posted the official forms used as the 
subcommittee's records, including instructions 
for their completion and submission. 

An old-fashioned, intensely personal web 
turned out to be more productive than the thor- 
oughly modern, entirely electronic Internet. 
Like historical communities everywhere, mod- 
em Greenwood maintains a rich, if informal, so- 
cial network. Sometimes directly, sometimes 
distantly, it connects Greenwood's people, 
sometimes young, sometimes old. Anchoring its 
interstices are the community's longest resi- 
dents, its most active citizens, and its most 
prominent leaders. 

One quality or another would describe some 
members of this commission. After all, these are 
the very quahfications that lawmakers required 
for their appointments. Others share those same 
qualities and a passion for their community's 
history as well. Curtis Lawson, Robert 
Littlejohn, Hannibal Johnson, Dr. Charles 
Chris to pher, Mable Rice, Keith Jemison, Rob ert 
and Blanchie Mayes — all are active in the 
North Tulsa Historical Society, all are some of 
the community's most respected citizens, and 
all are among this commission's most valuable 

The initial pub lished no tices had early re suits. 
Slowly they began to compound upon them- 
selves. The first stories in the national and inter- 
national media introduced a multiplying factor. 
Thereafter, each burst of press attention seemed 
to increase what was happening geometrically. 
People were contacting commissioners, some 
coming forward as survivors, more suggesting 
where or how they might be found. Names came 
in, first a light sprinkle, next a shower, then a 
downpour, finally a flood. 

Old city directories, census reports, and other 
records verified some claims, but they could 
confirm only so much. After all, these people 
had been chil dren, some of them in fants, back in 

1921. After eighty years, could any one re mem- 
ber the kind of details — addresses, telephone 
numbers, property descriptions, rental agree- 
ments, business locations — someone else 
could verify with official documents? Not 
likely. In fact, these were exactly the kind of 
people most likely to have been ignored or lost 
in every public record. Officially, they might 
have never existed. 

Except that they did, and one who looked 
long enough and hard enough and patiently 
enough could confirm it — that is, if one knew 
where to look and whom to ask. 

That is what happened. Name-by-name, 
someone found somebody who actually knew 
each person. In fact, that is how many names 
surfaced: a credible figure in the community 
knew how to find older relatives, formerneigh- 
bors, or departed friends. Others could be con- 
firmed with equal authority. Maybe someone 
knew the claimant's family or knew someone 
that did. If a person claimed to be kin to some- 
one or offered some small detail, surely some- 
one else knew that relative or remembered the 
same detail as well. Some of those details 
might even be verified through official docu- 

It was a nee es sary pro cess but slow and del i- 
cate, too. As of June 1998, twenty-nine survi- 
vors had been identified, contacted, and 
registered. (The number did not include six- 
teen identified as descendants of riot victims.) 
It took another fourteen months for the total to 
reach sixty-one. It would have been higher, ex- 
cept that three of the first twenty-nine had died 
in those months. This deadline had an ominous 
and compelling meaning. 

Work immediately shifted through higher 
gears. In March 2000, the identification pro- 
cess finished for forty-one survivors then liv- 
ing in or near Tulsa. Just a few more still 
needed to be contacted. The real work remain- 
ing, however, involved a remarkable number 
of survivors who had turned up outside of 
Oklahoma. Following a recent flurry of media 
attention, more than sixty out-of-state survi- 
vors had been located. They lived everywhere 
from California to Florida, one in Paris, 

All of that work is complete. As the commis- 
sion submits its report, 118 persons have been 
identified, contacted, and registered as living 
survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. (Another 
176 per sons also have been reg is tered as de scen- 
dants of riot victims.) 

The 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Commission 
thereby has discharged the mandate regarding 
the identification of persons. 


The Commission shall . . . gather information, 
identify and interview witnesses . . . , preserve 
testimony and records obtained, [and] examine 
and copy documents . . . havinghistorical signif- 

Whatever else this commission already has 
achieved or soon will inspire, one accomplish- 
ment will re mainin definitely. Untilrecently,the 
Tulsa race riot has been the most important least 
known event in the state's entire history. Even 
the most resourceful of scholars stumbled as 
they neared it for it was dimly lit by evidence 
and the evidentiary record faded more with ev- 
ery passing year. 

That is not now and never will be true again. 
These few hours — from start to finish, the ac- 
tual riot consumed less than sixteen hours — 
may now comprise the most thoroughly docu- 
mented moments ever to have occurred in 
Oklahoma. This commission's work and the 
documentary record it leaves behind shines 
upon them a light too bright to ignore. 

The Oklahoma Historical So ci ety was search- 
ing its existing materials and aggressively pur- 
suing more before this commission ever 
assembled. By the November 1997, organizing 
meeting. Bob Blackburn was ready to announce 
that the society already had ordered prints from 
every known source of every known photograph 
taken of the riot. He was contacting every major 
archival depository and research library in the 
country to request copies of any riot-related ma- 
terials they might hold themselves. Experienced 
OHS professionals were set to research impor- 
tant but heretofore neglected court and munici- 
pal records. 

This was news welcomed by commission 
members. It as sured early mo men tum for the j ob 
ahead, and it complemented work that some of 

them were already doing. Eddie Faye Gates, 
for one, had pulled out every transcript of ev- 
ery interview that she had made with a riot wit- 
ness, and she was anxious to make more. Jim 
Lloyd was another. Lloyd akeady had found 
and copied transcripts from earlier interviews, 
including some with Tulsa police officers pres- 
ent at the riot. He also had a hunch that a fellow 
who knew his way around a courthouse just 
might turn up all sorts of information. 

That is how it be gan, but that was just the be- 
ginning. In the months ahead, Larry O'Dell 
and other OHS employees patiently excavated 
mountains of information, one pebble at a 
time, as it were. They then pieced together tiny 
bits of fact, carefully fitting one to another. 
One by one, completed puzzles emerged. Ar- 
ranged in different dimensions, they made 
magic: a vision of Greenwood long since van- 

Master maps, both of the community on the 
eve of the riot and of the post- riot residue, iden- 
tified every single piece of property. For each 
parcel, a map displayed any structure present, 
its owner and its use. If commercial, what 
firms were there, who owned them, what busi- 
nesses they were in. If residential, whether it 
was rented or owned. If the former, the land- 
lord's name. If the latter, whether it was mort- 
gaged (if so, to whom and encumbered by what 
debt.) For both, lists identified each of its occu- 
pants by name. 

It was not magic; it was more. Larry O'Dell 
had rebuilt Greenwood from records he and 
other researchers had examined and collected 
for the commission. Every building permit 
granted, every warranty deed recorded, every 
property appraisal ordered, every damage 
claim filed, every death certificate issued, ev- 
ery burial record maintained — the commis- 
sion had copies of every single record related 
to Greenwood at the time of the riot. 

Some it had only because Jim Lloyd was 
right. Able to navigate a courthouse, he ran 
across complete records for some 150 civil 
suits filed after the race riot. No one remem- 
bered that they even existed; they had been 
misplaced for thirty-five years. When Jim 

Lloyd uncovered and saved them, they were 
scheduled for routine shredding. 

The commission gathered the most private of 
documents as well. Every form registering ev- 
ery survivor bears notes recording information 
taken from every one of 118 persons. With 
Kavin Ross operating the camera, Eddie Faye 
Gates videotaped interviews with about half of 
the survivors. Each is available on one of nine 
cassettes preserved by the commission; full 
transcripts are being completed for all. Sympa- 
thetic collectors turned over transcripts of an- 
other fifty or more. Some had been packed away 
for twenty, even thirty years. 

Others, includingseveralresourceful amateur 
historians, reproduced and gave the commission 
what amounted to complete documentary col- 
lections. There were sets of municipal records, 
files from state agencies, reports kept by social 
services, press clippings carefully bound, pri- 
vately owned photographs never publicly seen. 

People who had devoted years to the study of 
one or more aspects of the riot supplied evi- 
dence they had found and presented conclusions 
they had reached. Beryl Ford followed the com- 
mission' s work as a Tulsan legendary for his de- 
votion to his city and its history. William 
O'Brien attended nearly every commission 
meeting, sometimes to ask questions, some- 
times to answer them, once to deliver his own 
full report on the riot. Robert Norris prepared 
smaller, occasional reports on military topics. 
He also dug up and turned over files from Na- 
tional Guard records. Others located affidavits 
filed with the State Supreme Court. The military 
reports usually had been presumed lost; the le- 
gal papers always had been assumed unimpor- 

Commissioners were surprised to receive so 
much new evidence and pleased to see that it 
contributed so much. They were delighted to 
note that so much came from black sources, that 
it documented black experiences and recorded 
black observations. 

It had not always been that way. Too many 
early journalists and historians had dismissed 
black sources as unreliable. Too few early li- 
brarians and archivists had preserved black 
sources as important. Both thereby condemned 

later writers and scholars to a never ending 
game of hide-and-go-seek, the rules rigged so 
no one could win. 

This commission's work changes the game 
forever. Every future scholar will have access 
to everything ev ery one ever had when the orig- 
inal source was white. In fact, they will have a 
lot more of it. They also will have more from 
sources few had before when the original 
source was black. 

Because they will, the community future 
scholars will behold and the property they will 
describe was a community of black people, oc- 
cupied by black people. The public records 
they will examine involved black people and 
affected black people. Objects they will touch 
came from black people. Interviews they will 
hear and transcripts they will read were re- 
corded from black people. The evidence they 
will explore reveals experiences of black peo- 

Consider what so much new information 
and what so many new sources can mean for 
future historians. Consider what it already has 
meant for one. 

Read closely Scott Ellsworth's accompany- 
ing essay, "The Tulsa Riot," a rather simple ti- 
tle, as titles go. Much more sophisticated is the 
title he gave the book he wrote in 1982, Death 
in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 

It is fair that they have different titles. They 
tell somewhat different stories in somewhat 
different ways. The chief difference is that the 
one titled so simply tells a tale much more so- 

For one thing, it is longer. The report at- 
tached here filled 115 typed pages in the tell- 
ing; the comparable portion of the book prints 
en tirely in 25 pages. The re port has to be Ion ger 
be cause it has more to re port, sto ries not told in 
the first telling. It offers more because it draws 
upon more evidence. The report packs 205 
footnotes with citations for its story; 50 did the 
job for the first one. 

Within that last difference is the difference 
that causes every other difference. To write 
this report, Scott Ellsworth used evidence he 
did not have — no one had it — as recently as 

1982. He cites that new evidence at least 148 
times. He had information from black sources 
accessible now because of this commission. 
That knowledge contributed to Scott 
Ellsworth's citations from black newspapers, 
black interviews, or black writings. He cites 
black sources at least 272 times. 

No wonder the two are different. From now 
on, everything can be different. They almost 
have to be. 

Before there was this commission, much was 
known about the Tulsa race riot. More was un- 
known. It was buried somewhere, lost some- 
where, or somewhere undiscovered. No longer. 
Old records have been reopened, missing files 
have been recovered, new sources have been 
found. Still being assembled and processed by 
the Oklahoma Historical Society, their total vol- 
ume passed ten thousand pages some time ago 
and well may reach twenty thousand by the time 
everything is done. 

The di men sions of twenty thou sand pages can 
be measured physically. Placed side-by-side, 
they would reach across at least ten yards of li- 
brary shelving, filling every inch with new in- 
formation. The significance of these twenty 
thousand pages has to be gauged vertically and 
metaphorically though. Stacked high, they 
amount to a tower of new knowledge. Rising to 
reach a new perspective, they offer visions 
never seen before. 

The 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Commission 
thereby has discharged the mandate to gather 
and preserve a record of historical significance. 
♦ ♦ ♦ 

The Com mission shall. . . develop a historical 
record of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot .... 

The commission's first substantive decision 
was to greet this obligation with a series of ques- 
tions, and there was compelling reason why. 
Eighty years after the fact, almost as many unre- 
solved questions surround the race riot as did in 
1921 — maybe even more. Commissioners 
knew that no "historical record" would be com- 
plete unless it answered the most enduring of 
those questions — or explain why not. That was 
reason enough for a second decision: Commis- 
sioners agreed to seek consultants, respected 

scholars, and other experts to investigate those 
questions and offer answers. 

Their findings follow immediately, all with- 
out change or comment, each just as the com- 
mission received it. Accompanying papers 
present what scholars and others consider the 
best answers to hard questions. The reports de- 
fine their questions, either directly or implic- 
itly, and usually explain why they need 
answers. The authors give answers, but they 
present them with only the confidence and ex- 
actly the precision they can justify. Most re- 
trace the route they followed to reach their 
positions. All advance their positions openly. 
If they sense themselves in hostile territory, 
some stake their ground and defend it. 

The commissioners harbor no illusion that 
every reader will accept their every answer to 
every question. They know better. Why should 
everyone else? None of them do. All eleven 
have reservations, some here, some there. 
Some dispute this point; some deny that one. 
Some suggest other possibilities. Some insist 
upon po si tions squarely op po site the schol ars ' . 

None of that matters. However they divide 
over specifics, they also are united on princi- 
ples. Should any be in need, they endorse and 
recommend the route they took to reach their 
own consensus. The way around an enraged 
showdown and the shortest path to a responsi- 
ble solution is the line that passes through 
points ahead. Each point marks a big question 
and an important answer. Study them care- 

What was the total value of property de- 
stroyed in the Tulsa race riot, both in 1921 's 
dollars and in today's? Larry O'Dell has the 
numbers. Any one of them could be a little off, 
probably none by very much. Could a lawyer 
argue, and might a judge decree, that citizens 
hv ing now had a duty to make that good, had to 
repay those losses, all because of something 
that hap pened eighty years ago? Al fred Brophy 
can make the case, and he does. 

Over eight decades, some Tulsans (mostly 
black Tulsans) have insisted that whites at- 
tacked Greenwood from the air, even bombed 
it from military airplanes. Other Tulsans 
(mostly white Tulsans)have denied those 

claims; many have never even heard them. In a 
sense, it is a black-or-white question, but Rich- 
ard S. Warner demonstrates that it has no 
black-or-white answer. 

He proves it absolutely false that military 
planes could have employed military weapons on 
Greenwood. He also proves it absolutely true that 
civilian aircraft did fly over the riot area. Some 
were there for police reconnaissance, some for 
photography, some for other legitimate purposes. 
He also thinks it reasonable to believe that others 
had less innocent use. It is probable that shots 
were fired and that incendiary devices were 
dropped, and these would have contributed to 
riot-related deaths or de struc tion. How much? No 
one will ever know: History permits no 
black-or-white answer. 

Can modem science bring light to old, dark 
rumors about a mass grave, at least one, proba- 
bly more, somewhere in Tulsa? Could those ru- 
mors be true? If true, where is one? Robert L. 
Brooks and Alan H. Witten have answers. Yes, 
science can address those rumors. Yes, there are 
many reasons to believe that mass graves exist. 
Where? They can point precisely to the single 
most likely spot. They can explain why scien- 
tists settle on that one — explain it clearly 
enough and completely enough to convince 
non-scientists, too. Without making a scratch on 
the ground, they can measure how deep it has to 
be, how thick, how wide, how long. Were the 
site to be exhumed and were it to yield human 
re mains, what would any one learn? Quite a bit if 
Lesley Rankin-Hill and Phoebe Stubblefield 
were to examine them. 

How many people were killed, anyway? At 
the time, careful calculations varied almost as 
much as did pure guesses — forty, fifty, one 
hundred, two hundred, three hundred, maybe 
more. After a while, it became hard to distin- 
guish the calculations from the guesses. By 
now, the record has become so muddied that 
even the most careful and thorough scientific in- 
vestigation can offer no more than a preliminary 
possible answer. 

Clyde Collins Snow's inquiry is just as care- 
ful and just as thorough as one might expect 
from this forensic anthropologist of interna- 
tional reputation, and preliminary is the word 







1 ^^ ^^ 






^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^K ni 


An Invisible Empire rally at Belle Isle, Oklahoma City in 1923. Duringthe 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan flourished across Oklahoma, 
claim ingtens of thou sandsmem bers (Courtesy OklahomaHis tori calSo ci ety). 

that he insists upon for his findings. By the 
most conservative of all possible methods, he 
can identify thirty-eight riot victims, and he 
provides the cause of death and the burial site 
for each of them. He even gives us the names of 
all but the four burned beyond recognition. 

That last fact is their defining element. 
Thirty-eight is only the number of dead that 
Snow can identify individually. It says nothing 
of those who lost their lives in the vicious riot 
and lost their personal identities in records 
never kept or later destroyed. An accurate 
death count would just begin at thirty-eight; it 
might end well into the hundreds. Snow ex- 
plains why as many as 150 might have to be 
added for one reason, 18 more for another rea- 
son. What nei ther he nor any one can ever know 
is how many to add for how many reasons. 
That is why there will never be a better answer 
to the question of how many died than this: 
How many? Too many. 

For some questions there will never be an- 
swers even that precise. Open for eighty years 
and open now, they will remain open forever 
be cause they are too large to be filled by the ev- 
idence at hand. 

Some of the hardest questions surround the 
evidence, itself. Evidence amounting to per- 

sonal statements — things said to have been 
seen, heard, or otherwise observed — raises an 
entire set of questions in itself. Surely some 
statements are more credible than others, but 
how credible is that? Most evidence is incom- 
plete; it may be suggestive but is it dispositive? 
Evidence often inspires inference, but is the in- 
ference reasonable or even possible? Evidence 
is usually ambiguous, does it mean this or does it 
mean that? Almost every piece of evidence re- 
quires an interpretation, but is only one interpre- 
tation possible? Responsibilities will be 
assigned, decisions will be evaluated, judg- 
ments will be offered — on what basis? 

These are not idle academic musings. On the 
contrary: This small set of questions explains 
why so many specific questions remain open. 
They explain how people — reasonable, 
fair-minded, well-intended people — can dis- 
agree so often about so much. 

Consider a question as old as the riot itself. At 
the time, many said that this was no spontaneous 
eruption of the rabble; it was planned and exe- 
cuted by the elite. Quite a few people — includ- 
ing some members of this commission — have 
since stud led the ques tion and are per suaded that 
this is so, that the Tulsa race riot was the result 
of a conspiracy. This is a serious position and a 


provable position — if one looks at certain evi- 
dence in certain ways. 

Others — again, including members of this 
commission — have studied the same question 
and examined the same evidence, but they have 
looked at it in different ways. They see there no 
proof of conspiracy. Selfish desires surely. Aw- 
ful effects certainly. But not a conspiracy. Both 
sides have evidence that they consider convinc- 
ing, but neither side can convince the other. 

Another nagging question involves the role of 
the Ku Klux Klan. Everyone who has studied the 
riot agrees that the Klan was present in Tulsa at 
the time of the riot and that it had been for some 
time. Everyone agrees that within months of the 
riot Tulsa's Klan chapter had become one of the 
nation's largest and most powerful, able to dic- 
tate its will with the ballot as well as the whip. 
Everyone agrees that many of the city's most 
prom i nent men were klans men in the early 1 920s 
and that some re mained klans men through out the 
decade. Everyone agrees that Tulsa's atmo- 
sphere reeked with a Klan-like stench that oozed 
through the robes of the Hooded Order. 

Does this mean that the Klan helped plan the 
riot? Does it mean that the Klan helped execute 
it? Does it mean that the Klan, as an 
organization, had any role at all? 

Or does it mean that any time thousands of 
whites assembled — especially if they assembled 
to assault blacks — that odds were there would be 
quite a few klansmen in the mix? Does the pres- 
ence of those individuals mean that the institution 
may have been an instigator or the agent of a plot? 
Maybe both? Maybe neither? Maybe nothing at 
all? Not everyone agrees on that. 

Nor will they ever. Both the conspiracy and 
the Klan questions remain what they always 
have been and probably what they always will 
be. Both are examples of nearly every problem 
inherent to historical evidence. How reliable is 
this oral tradition? What conclusions does that 
evidence permit? Are these inferences reason- 
able? How many ways can this be interpreted? 

And so it must go on. Some questions will 
always be disputed because other questions 
block the path to their answers. That does not 
mean there will be no answers, just that there 
will not be one answer per one question. Many 

questions will have two, quite a few even more. 
Some answers will never be proven. Some will 
never be disproved. Accept it: Some things can 
never be known. 

That is why the complete record of what began 
in the late evening of May 31 and continued 
through the moming of June 1 will never quite es- 
cape those hours, themselves. They forever are 
darkened by night or enshrouded by day. 

But history has a record of things certain for 
the hours between one day's twilight and the 
next day's afternoon. These things: 

• Black Tulsans had every reason to believe that 
Dick Rowland would be lynched after his arrest 
on charges later dismissed and highly suspect 
from the start. 

• They had cause to believe that his personal 
safety, like the defense of themselves and their 
community, depended on them alone. 

• As hostile groups gathered and their confronta- 
tion worsened, municipal and county authori- 
ties failed to take actions to calm or contain the 

• At the eruption of violence, civil officials se- 
lected many men, all of them white and some of 
them participants in that violence, and made 
those men their agents as deputies. 

• In that capacity, deputies did not stem the vio- 
lence but added to it, often through overt acts 
themselves illegal. 

• Public officials provided firearms and ammuni- 
tion to individuals, again all of them white. 

After loot ingblackhomes, the white rioters set them on fire. Here, 
Thomas and Lottie Gentry's home at 537 N. Detroit — the third 
house from the left — bursts into flame (Courtesy Department of 
Spe cialCollec tions, McFarlin Li brary, Uni versity ofTulsa) . 


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. Some 
contemporary eyewitnesses, however, were critical of the time that it took for the State Troops to deploy outside of the downtown 
business district (CourtesyOklahomaHistoricalSociety). 

Units of the Oklahoma National Guard partici- 
pated in the mass arrests of all or nearly all of 
Greenwood's residents, removed them to 
other parts of the city, and detained them in 
holding centers. 

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 structure — including 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 
neighborhood referred to commonly as "Lit- 

tle Africa" and politely as the "Negro 

Although the exact total can never be deter- 
mined, credibleevidence makes it probable that 
many people, likely numbering between one 


■M ] 

al—!— .-„^^B 

Greenwood District prior to the riot (Courtesy Greenwood 
Cultural Center). 


Despite being numerically at a disadvantage, black Tulsans 
fought valiantly to protect their homes, their businesses, and 
their community. But in the end, the city 's African-American 
population was simply outnumbered by the white invaders 
(Courtesy Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Li- 
brary, University ofTidsa). 

Identification card (Courtesy Bob Hower). 

\ 92 1 Tulsa RjH! KjuL "**!«»* «t- Uttrtu ' 


lu Huu hcnir uiAis be i.i ■■ K^ l^nrmir^ ■«* 

ipm^tn tel'ui (tut 01 ilai diu. 

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(Courtesy Greenwood CulturalCenter). 

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 

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- 


Re building after the 
destruction (Cour- 
tesy Greenwood 
CulturalCen ter) . 

building; in fact, municipal authorities acted 
initially to impede rebuilding. 

In the end, the restoration of Greenwood after 
its systematic destruction was left to the vic- 
tims of that destruction. 

Maurice Wil lowsHospi tal. While Tulsa ofji cials turned away some offers 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 itwas theAmeri can Red Cross, which re mained in Tulsa 
for months following the riot, provided the most sustained relief effort. Maurice Willows, the compassionate director of the Red 
Cross re lief, kept a his tory of the events. (Cour tesyBob Hower). 


After math of the riot (Courtesy Greenwood Cultural Center). 

These things are not myths, not rumors, not 
speculations, not questioned. They are the his- 
torical record. 

The 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Commission 
thereby has discharged the mandate to develop 
ahistoricalrecordof the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. 

♦ ♦ ♦ 

The final report of the Commission's 
findings and recommendations . . . may con- 
tain specific recommendations about 
whether or not reparations can or should be 
made and the appropriate methods 

Unlike those quoted before, these words 
give this commission not an obhgation but an 
opportunity. Nearly every commissioner in- 
tends to seize it. 

A short letter sent toGovemor Frank Keating 
as a preliminary report in February, 2000 de- 
clared the majority's view that reparations could 
and should be made. "Good public policy," that 
letter said, re quired no less. This re port main tains 
the same, and this report makes the case. 

Case, reparations — the words, themselves, 
seem to summon images of lawyers and court- 
rooms, along with other words, words like cul- 
pability, damages, remedies, restitution. Each is 
a term used in law, with strict legal meaning. 
Some times commissioners use those words, too, 
and several agree — firmly agree — that those 
words describe accurately what happened in 
1921 and fit exactly what should happen now. 

Those, however, are their personal opinions, 
and the commissioners who hold them do so as 
private citizens. Even the most resolute of its 
members recognizes that this commission has a 
very different role. This commission is neither 
court nor judge, and its members are not a jury. 
The commission has no binding legal authority 
to assign culpability, to determine damages, to 
establish a remedy, or to order either restitution 
or reparations. In fact, it has no judicial author- 
ity whatsoever. 

It also has no reason or need for such author- 
ity. Any judgments that it might offer would be 
without effect and meaning. Its words would as 


well be cast to the winds. Any recommenda- 
tions that it might offer neither have nor need 
judicial status at all. Statutes grant this com- 
mission its authority to make recommenda- 
tions and the choice of how — or even if — to 
exercise that authority. 

The commission's majority is determined to 
exercise its discretion and to declare boldly and 
directly their purpose: to recommend, inde- 
pendent of what law allows, what these com- 
missioners be lieve is the right thing to do. They 
propose to do that in a dimension equal to their 
purpose. Courts have other purposes, and law 
operates in a different dimension. Mistake one 
for the other — let this commission assume 
what rightly belongs to law — does worse than 
miss the point. It ruins it. 

Think of the difference this way. We will 
never know exactly how many were killed dur- 
ing the Tulsa race riot, but take at random any 
twenty-five from that unknown total. What we 
say of those we might say for every one of the 
others, too. 

Considering the twenty-five to be homi- 
cides, the law would approach those as 
twenty-five acts performed by twenty-five 
people (or thereabouts) who, with twenty-five 
motives, committed twenty-five crimes 
against twenty-five persons. That they oc- 
curred within hours and within a few blocks of 
each other is irrelevant. It would not matter 
even if the same person committed two, three, 
ten of the murders on the same spot, moments 
apart. Each was a separate act, and each (were 
the 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? Of 
course there is. There is a far better way. 

Were these twenty-five crimes or one? Did 
each have a sep arate mo tive, or was there a sin- 
gle intent? Were twenty-five individuals re- 
sponsible, those and no one else? The burning 
of 1,256 homes — if we understand these as 
1,256 acts of arson committed by 1,256 crimi- 
nals driven by 1,256 desires, if we understand 
it that way, do we understand anything at all? 

These were not any number of multiple acts 
of homicide; this was one act of horror. If we 
must name the fires, call it outrage, for it was 

one. For both, the motive was not to injure 
hundreds of people, nearly all un seen, almost all 
un known. The in tent was to in tim i date one com- 
munity, to let it be known and let it be seen. 
Those who pulled the triggers, those who struck 
the matches — they alone were lawbreakers. 
Those who shouted encouragement and those 
who stood si lently by — they were re spon si ble . 

These are the qualities that place what hap- 
pened in Tulsa outside the realm of law — and 
not just in Tulsa, either. Lexington, Sapulpa, 
Norman, Shawnee, Lawton, Claremore, Perry; 
Waurika, Dewey, and Marshall — earlier 
purges in every one already had targeted entire 
black communities, marking every child, 
woman, and man for exile. 

There is no count of how many those people 
numbered, but there is no need to know that. 
Know that there, too, some thing more than a bad 
guy had committed something more than a 
crime against something more than a person. 
Not someone made mad by lust, not a person 
gripped by rage, not a heartbroken party of ro- 

Lynching believed to be at Mannford, Oklahoma (Courtesy 
Oklahoma Historical Sociery). 


Although Oklahoma had been plagued by lynchings since the territorialdays,withthe coming of statehood, more and more of the 
victims were African American. Of the thirty-three lynchings that occurred in Oklahoma between 1907 and 1920, including this 
one, which occurred at Okemah, fully twenty-seven of the vie tims were black (Courtesy of Cur rie Ballard). 

sons from voting. Lengthen that list to the indef- 
inite, write down names to the infinite — one 
still will not reach the point. For that, one line, 
one word is enough. The point was to keep a 
race, as a race, away from the polls. 

Jim Crow laws — the segregation commands 
of Oklahoma's statutes and of its constitution — 
worked that way, too. Their object was not to 
keep some exhausted mother and her two young 
children out of a "white car" on a train headed 
somewhere like Checotah and send them walk- 
ing six miles home. (Even if John Hope Franklin 
could recall that about his own mother and sister 
and himself as he accepted the Helmerich 
Award some three-quarters of a century after- 
wards.) No, the one purpose was to keep one 
race "in its place." 

When Laura Nelson was lynched years earlier 
in Okemah, it was not to punish her by death. It 
was to terrify the living. Why else would the 
lynchers have taken (and printed and copied and 
posted and distributed) that photograph of her 

mance gone sour, not one or any number of in- 
dividuals but a collective body — acting as one 
body — had coldly and deliberately and sys- 
tematically assaulted one victim, a whole com- 
munity, intending to eliminate it as a 
community. If other black communities heard 
about it and learned their lessons, too, so much 
the better; a littleintimidation went a long way. 
All of this happened years before, most fifteen 
or twenty years be fore Dick Rowland landed in 
jail, but they re mained vivid in the re cent mem- 
ories of Greenwood's younger adults. 

This, or something quite like it, was almost al- 
ways what happened when the subject was race. 
Here was nothing as amorphous as racism. Here 
were discrete acts — one act, one town — each 
consciously calculated to have a collective effect 
not against a person but against a people. 

And is that not also the way of Oklahoma' s 
voting laws at the time? The state had amended 
its constitution and crafted its laws not to keep 
this person or that person or a whole list of per- 


(Courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society). 

hanging from the bridge, her little boy dan- 
gling beside her? 

The lynchers knew the purpose; the photog- 
rapher just helped it along. The purpose had 
not changed much by 1921, when another pho- 
tographer snapped another picture, a long shot 
showing Greenwood's ruin, smoke rising from 
fires blazing in the background. "RUNING 
wrote across it, candor atoning for misspelling. 
No doubt there. No shame either. 

Another photograph probably was snapped 
the same day but from closer range. It showed 
what just days before must have been a human 
being, maybe one who had spent a warm day in 
late May work ing and talk ing and laugh ing. On 
this day, though, it was only a grotesque, 
blackened form, a thing, really, its only sign of 
humanity the charred remains of arms and 
hands forever raised, as if in useless supplica- 

Shot horizontally, that particular photo still 
turns up from time to time in the form of an 

early use: as a postcard. People must have 
thought it a nice way to send a message. 

It still sends a message, too big to be jotted 
down in a few lines; but, then, this message is 
not especially nice either. The message is that 
here is an im age of more than a sin gle vie tim of a 
single episode in a single city. This image pre- 
serves the symbol of a story, preserves it in the 
same way that the story was told: in 

(Courtesy Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Li- 
brary, University ofTidsa). 


See those two photos and understand that 
the Tulsa race riot was the worst event in that 
city's history — an event without equal and 
with out excuse. Under stand, too, that it was the 
worst explosion of violence in this state's his- 
tory — an ep i sode late to be ac knowl edged and 
still to be repaired. But understand also that it 
was part of a message usually announced not 
violently at all, but calmly and quietly and de- 

Who sent the message? Not one person but 
many acting as one. Not a "mob;" it took forms 
too calculated and rational for that word. Not 
"society;" that word is only a mask to conceal 
responsibility within a fog of imprecision. Not 
"whites," because this never spoke for all 
whites; sometimes it spoke for only a few. Not 
"America," because the federal government 
was, at best, indifferent to its black citizens 
and, at worse, oblivious of them. Fifty years or 
so after the Civil War, Uncle Sam was too 
complacent to crusade for black rights and too 
callous to care. Let the states handle that — 
states like Oklahoma. 

Except that it really was not "Oklahoma" ei- 
ther. At least, it was not all of Oklahoma. It was 
just one Oklahoma, one Oklahoma that is dis- 
tinguishable from another Oklahoma partly by 
purpose. This Oklahoma had the purpose of 
keeping the other Oklahoma in its place, and 
that place was subordinate. That, after all, was 
the object of suffrage requirements and segre- 
gation laws. No less was it the intent behind ri- 
ots and lynching s, too. One Oklahoma was 
putting the other Oklahoma in its place. 

One Oklahoma also had the power to effect 
its purpose, and that power had no need to rely 
on occasional explosions of rage. Simple vio- 
lence is, after all, the weapon of simple people, 
people with access to no other instruments of 
power at all. This Oklahoma had access to 
power more subtle, more regular, and more 
formal than that. Indeed, its ready access to 
such forms of power partially defined that 

No, that Oklahoma is not the same as gov- 
ern ment, used here as a rhe tor i cal trick to make 
one accountable for the acts of the other. Gov- 
ernment was never the essence of that 

Oklahoma. Government was, however, always 
its potential instrument. Having access to gov- 
ernment, however employed, if employed at all 
— just having it — defined this Oklahoma and 
was the essence of its power. 

The acts recounted here reveal that power in 
one form or another, often several. The Tulsa 
race riot is one example, but only an example 
and only one. Put alongside it earlier, less publi- 
cized pogroms — for that is what they were — 
in at least ten other Oklahoma towns. Include 
the systematic disfranchisement of the black 
electorate through constitutional amendment in 
1910, reaffirmed through state statute in 1916. 
Add to that the constitution's segregation of 
Oklahoma's public schools, the First Legisla- 
ture's segregation of its public transportation, 
local segregation of Oklahoma neighborhoods 
through municipal ordinances in Tulsa and else- 
where, even the statewide segregation of public 
telephones by order of the corporation commis- 
sion. Do not forget to include the lynchings of 
twenty-three African-Americans in twelve 
Oklahoma towns during the ten years leading to 
1921. Stand back and look at those deeds now. 

In some government participated in thedeed. 

In some government performed the deed. 

In none did government prevent the deed. 

In none did government punish the deed. 

And that, in the end, is what this inquiry and 
what these recommendations are all about. 
Make no mis take about it: There are mem bers of 
this commission who are convinced that there is 
a compelling argument in law to order that pres- 
ent governments make monetary payment for 
past governments' unlawful acts. Professor Al- 
fred Brophy presses one form of that argument; 
there doubtless are others. 

This is not that legal argument but another 
one altogether. This is a moral argument. It 
holds that there are moral responsibilities here 
and that those moral responsibilities require 
moral responses now. 

It gets down to this: The 1921 riot is, at once, 
a representative historical example and a unique 
historical event. It has many parallels in the pat- 
tern of past events, but it has no equal for its vio- 
lence and its completeness. It symbolizes so 
much endured by so many for so long. It does it. 


Shock and despair accompany the aftermath of the Tulsa Race Riot 
(Courtesy of the Library of Congress). 

(Cour tesyBob Hower) . 

however, in one way that no other can: in the 
living flesh and blood of some who did endure 

These paradoxes hold answers to questions 
often asked: Why does the state of Oklahoma 
or the city of Tulsa owe anything to anybody? 
Why should any individual tolerate now 
spending one cent of one tax dollar over what 
happened so long ago? 

The answer is that these are not even the 
questions. This is not about individuals at all 
— not any more than the race riot or anything 
hke it was about individuals. 

This is about Oklahoma — or, rather, it is 
about two Oklahomas. It must be about that be- 
cause that is what the Tulsa race riot was all 
about, too. That riot proclaimed that there were 
two Oklahomas; that one claimed the right to 
push down, push out, and push under the other; 
and that it had the power to do that. 

That is what the Tulsa race riot has been all 
about for so long afterwards, why it has lin- 
gered not as a past event but lived as a present 
entity. It kept on saying that there remained 
two Oklahomas; that one claimed the right to 
be dismissive of, ignorant of, and oblivious to 
the other; and that it had the power to do that. 

That is why the Tulsa race riot can be about 
something else. It can be about making two 
Oklahomas one — but only if we understand 
that this is what reparation is all about. Because 
the riot is both symbolic and singular, repara- 
tions become both singular and symbolic, too. 
Compelled not legally by courts but extended 
freely by choice, they say that individual acts of 
reparation will stand as symbols that fully ac- 
knowledge and finally discharge a collective re- 

Because we must face it: There is no way but 
by government to represent the collective, and 
there is no way but by reparations to make real 
the responsibility. 

Does this commission have specific recom- 
mendations about whether or not reparations 
can or should be made and the appropriatemeth- 
ods? Yes, it surely does. 

When commissioners went looking to do the 
right thing, that is what nearly all of them found 
and what they recommended in last year's pre- 
liminary report. To be sure they had found the 
right thing, they have used this formal report to 
explore once more the distant terrain of the 
Tulsa race riot and the forbidding territory in 
which it lies. Now, they are certain. Reparations 
are the right thing to do. 

What else is there to do? What else is there to 


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Dr. BOB BlachJium. OklafioniaCity ' 

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Rep Abe DeulEctiendDrl . Lewion S > Rap. Don Rass.Tulsa 

Eddie Faye Soles, TUsa (5?Y' ¥ 'T+'l 'T+'l -» i i" -t i^ .^ 

JlmUcy^d.Tjisa CU^tdsn mllCe mt0t OT 1921 adimsohs 

3fln.nDtier1MilaMK,Wau<onil6, -^i^^T.**-*.* ^^v-i*-*- ^»»*-* *-* ^.^.^^ Dr. John Hope Franklin. DumHm, NG 

JinmieL. wniifl, Jr, Chacutah Dr. Ecoll EllsuKirlh.Parllancl, OR 

February 7, 2000 

The Honorable Frank Keating 
Governor of the State of Oklahoma 
State Capitol building 
Oklahoma City, OK 73105 

Dear Governor Keating: 

The Tulsa Race Riot Commission, established by House Joint Resolution No. 1035, is pleased to 
submit the following preliminary report. 

The primary goal of collecting historical documentation on the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 has been 
achieved. Attachment A is a summary listing of the record groups that have been gathered and 
stored at the Oklahoma Historical Society. Also included are summaries of some reports and the 
full text of selected documents to illustrate the breadth and scope of the collecting process. How- 
ever, the Commission has not yet voted on historical findings, so these materials do not necessar- 
ily represent conclusions of the Commission. 

At the last meeting, held February 4, 2000, the Commission voted on three actions. They are: 

1) The Issue of Restitution 

Whereas, the process of historical analysis by this Commission is not yet complete. 
And Whereas, the archeological investigation into casualties and mass burials is not yet com- 

And Whereas, we have seen a continuous pattern of historical evidence that the Tulsa Race Riot 
of 1921 was the violent consequence of racial hatred institutionalized and tolerated by official 
federal, state, county, and city policy. 

And Whereas, government at all levels has the moral and ethical responsibility of fostering a 
sense of community that bridges divides of ethnicity and race. 

And Whereas, by statute we are to make recommendations regarding whether or not reparations 
can or should be made to the Oklahoma Legislature, the Governor of the State of Oklahoma, and 
the Mayor and City Council of Tulsa, 

That, we, the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Commission, recommend that restitution to the historic 
Greenwood Community, in real and tangible form, would be good pubUc policy and do much to 
repair the emotional as well as physical scars of this most terrible incident in our shared past. 

2) The Issue of Suggested Forms of Restitution in Priority Order 

The Commission recommends 

1) Direct payment of reparations to survivors of the Tulsa Race Riot. 

2) Direct payment of reparations to descendants of the survivors of the Tulsa Race 

3) A scholarship fund available to students affected by the Tulsa Race Riot. 

4) Establishment of an economic development enterprise zone in the historic area of 
the Greenwood District. 

5) A memorial for the reburial of any human remains found in the search for unmarked 
graves of riot victims. 

3) The Issue of an Extension of the Tulsa Race Riot Commission 

The Commission hereby endorses and supports House Bill 2468, which extends the life of the 
Commission in order to finish the historical report on the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. 

We, the members of the Tulsa Race Riot Commission, respectfully submit these findings for 
your consideration. 

(Courtesy Special Collections Department, McFarlin Library, University ofTulsa). 

History Knows No Fences: An Overview 

By John Hope Franklin and Scott Ellsworth 

As the centennial of Oklahoma statehood 
draws near, it is not difficult to look upon the 
history of our state with anything short of awe 
and won der. In ninety-three short years, whole 
towns and cities have sprouted upon the prai- 
ries, great cultural and educational institutions 
have risen among the blackjacks, and the 
state's agricultural and industrial output has far 
surpassed even the wildest dreams of the 
Boomers. In less than a century, Oklahoma has 
transformed itself from a rawboned territory 
more at home in the nineteenth century, into 
now, as a new millennium dawns about us, a 
shining example of both the promise and the 
reality of the American dream. In looking back 
upon our past, we have much to take pride in. 

But we have also known heartaches as well. 
As any honest history textbook will tell you, 
the first century of Oklahoma statehood has 
also featured dust storms and a Great De- 
pression, po lit i cal scan dais and Jim Crow leg is la- 

tion, tumbling oil prices and truckloads of Okies 
streaming west. But through it all, there are two 
twentieth century tragedies which, sadly enough, 
stand head and shoulders above the others. 

For many Oklahomans, there has never been 
a darker day than April 19, 1995. At two min- 
utes past nine o'clock that morning, when the 
northern face of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal 
Building in downtown Oklahoma City was 
blown inward by the deadliest act of terrorism 
ever to take place on American soil, lives were 
shattered, lives were lost, and the history of the 
state would never again be the same. 

One-hundred- sixty-eight Oklahomans died 
that day. They were black and white. Native 
American and Hispanic, young and old. And 
during the weeks that followed, we began to 
learn a little about who they were. We learned 
about Colton and Chase Smith, brothers aged 
two and three, and how they loved their 
playmates at the daycare center. We learned about 


Perhaps more than any thing else, what shocked most ob serv ers was the scope of the de stnic tion in Tulsa. Practically the entireAfrican 
Amer i can dis trict, stretch ing for more than a mile from Archer Street to the sec tion line, had been re duced toa waste land of burned out 
buildings, empty lots, andblackened trees (CourtesyDepartmentofSpe cialCollec tions,McFarlin Library, University ofTulsa). 

Captain Randy Guzman, U.S.M.C, and how he 
had commanded troops during Operation Desert 
Storm, and we leamed about Wanda Lee Howell, 
who always kept a Bible in her purse. And we 
leamed about Cartney Jean McRaven, a nine- 
teen-year-old Air Force enlistee who had been 
married only four days earlier. 

The Murrah Building bombing is, without 
any question, one of the great tragedies of 
Oklahoma history. And well before the last 
memorial service was held for the last victim, 
thousands of Oklahomans made it clear that 
they wanted what happened on that dark day to 
be remembered. For upon the chain-link fence 
surrounding the bomb site there soon appeared 
a makeshift memorial of the heart — of teddy 
bears and handwritten children's prayers, key 
rings and dreamcatchers, flowers and flags. 
Now, with the construction and dedication of 
the Oklahoma City National Memorial, there 
is no doubt but that both the victims and the 
lessons of April 19, 1995 will not be for got ten. 

But what would have come as a surprise to 
most of the state's citizens during the sad 
spring of 1995 was that there were, among 
them, other Oklahomans who carried within 
their hearts the painful memories of an equally 
dark, though long ignored, day in our past. For 

seventy-three years before the Murrah Building 
was bombed, the city of Tulsa erupted into a 
firestorm of hatred and violence that is perhaps 
unequaled in the peacetime history of the 
United States. 

For those hearing about the 1921 Tulsa race 
riot for the first time, the event seems almost im- 
possible to believe. During the course of eigh- 
teen terrible hours, more than one thousand 
homes were burned to the ground. Practically 
overnight, entire neighborhoods where families 
had raised their children, visited with their 
neighbors, and hung their wash out on the line to 
dry, had been suddenly reduced to ashes. And as 
the homes burned, so did their contents, includ- 
ing furniture and family Bibles, rag dolls and 
hand-me-down quilts, cribs and photograph al- 
bums. In less than twenty-four hours, nearly all 
of Tulsa' s African American residential district 
— some forty- square-blocks in all — had been 
laid to waste, leaving nearly nine-thousand peo- 
ple homeless. 

Gone, too, was the city's African American 
commercial district, a thriving area located 
along Greenwood Avenue which boasted some 
of the finest black-owned businesses in the en- 
tire Southwest. The Stradford Hotel, a modem 
fifty-four room brick establishment which 


The Gurley Building prior to the riot (Courtesy Greenwood 
Cidtural Center). 

housed a drug store, barber shop, restaurant 
and banquet hall, had been burned to the 
ground. So had the Gurley Hotel, the Red Wing 
Hotel, and the Midway Ho tel. Li terally doz ens of 
family-run businesses — from cafes and 
mom-and-pop grocery stores, to the Dreamland 
Theater, the Y.M.C.A. Cleaners, the East End 
Feed Store, and Osborne Monroe's roller skating 
rink — had also gone up in flames, taking with 
them the livelihoods, and in many cases the life 
savings, of literally hundreds of people. 

The offices of two newspapers — the Tulsa 
Star and the Oklahoma Sun — had also been de- 
stroyed, as were the offices of more than a dozen 
doctors, dentists, lawyers, realtors, and other 
professionals. A United States Post Office sub- 
station was burned, as was the all-black Frissell 
Memorial Hospital. The brand new Booker T. 
Washington High School building escaped the 
torches of the rioters, but Dunbar Elementary 
School did not. Neither did more than a 
half-dozen African American churches, includ- 
ing the newly constructed Mount Zion Baptist 
Church, an impressive brick tabernacle which 
had been dedicated only seven weeks earlier. 

Harsher still was the human loss. While we 
will probably never know the exact number of 
people who lost their lives during the Tulsa 
race riot, even the most conservative estimates 
are appalling. While we know that the 
so-called "official" estimate of nine whites and 
twenty- six blacks is too low, it is also true that 
some of the higher estimates are equally dubi- 
ous. All told, considerable evidence exists to 

suggest that at least seventy-five to 
one-hundred people, both black and white, were 
killed during the riot. It should be added, how- 
ever, that at least one credible source from the 
period — Maurice Willows, who directed the 
relief operations of the American Red Cross in 
Tulsa following the riot — indicated in his offi- 
cial report that the total number of riot fatalities 
may have ran as high as three-hundred. 

We also know a little, at least, about who 
some of the victims were. Reuben Everett, who 
was black, was a laborer who lived with his wife 
Jane in a home along Archer Street. Killed by a 
gunshot wound on the morning of June 1, 1921, 
he is buried in Oaklawn Cemetery. George 
Wal ter Daggs, who was white, may have died as 
much as twelve hours earlier. The manager of 
the Tulsa office of the Pierce Oil Company, he 

' Dr. A. C. Jacksoitf 

<,.iiirl ll^^^I]WL.;■^l sr^l ArrlitT T'jUu t>ii:,. 

(Courtesy ofGreenwoodCulturalCenter). 

was shot in the back of the head as he fled from 
the initial gunplay of the riot that broke out in 
front of the Tulsa County Courthouse on the 
evening of May 31. Moreover, Dr. A. C. Jack- 
son, a renowned African American physician, 
was fatally wounded in his front yard after he 


The destruction affected the African American business section and the residential neighborhoods in 
North Tulsa (CourtesyWestemHistoryCollections, UniversityofOklahomaLibraries). 

had surrendered to a group of whites. Shot in 
the stomach, he later died at the National 
Guard Armory. But for every riot victim's 
story that we know, there are others — like the 
"unidentified Negroes" whose burials are re- 
corded in the now yellowed pages of old fu- 
neral home ledgers — whose names and life 
stories are, at least for now, still lost. 

By any standard, the Tulsa race riot of 1921 
is one of the great tragedies of Oklahoma his- 
tory. Walter White, one of the nation's fore- 
most experts on racial violence, who visited 
Tulsa during the week after the riot, was 
shocked by what had taken place. "I am able to 
state," he said, "that the Tulsa riot, in sheer bru- 
tality and willful destruction of life and prop- 
erty, stands without parallel in America."^ 

Indeed, for a number of observers through 
the years, the term "riot" itself seems some- 
how inadequate to describe the violence and 
conflagration that took place. For some, what 
occurred in Tulsa on May 31 and June 1, 1921 
was a massacre, a pogrom, or, to use a more 
modern term, an eth nic cleans ing. For oth ers, it 
was nothing short of a race war. But whatever 
term is used, one thing is certain: when it was 
all over, Tulsa's African American district had 
been turned into a scorched wasteland of va- 
cant lots, crumbling storefronts, burned 
churches, and blackened, leafless trees. 

Like the Murrah Building bombing, the Tulsa 
riot would forever alter life in Oklahoma. No- 
where, perhaps, was this more starkly apparent 
than in the matter of lynching. Like several other 
states and territories during the early years of the 
twentieth century, the sad spectacle of lynching 
was not uncommon in Oklahoma. In her 1942 
master' s thesis at the University of Oklahoma, 
Mary Elizabeth Estes determined that between 
the declaration of statehood on November 16, 
1907, and the Tulsa race riot some thirteen years 
later, thirty-two individuals — twenty-six of 
whom were black — were lynched in 
Oklahoma. But during the twenty years follow- 
ing the riot, the number of lynchings statewide 
fell to two. Although they paid a terrible price 
for their efforts, there is little doubt except by 
their actions on May 31, 1921, that black 
Tulsans helped to bring the barbaric practice of 
lynching in Oklahoma to an end. 

But unlike the Oklahoma City bombing, 
which has, to this day, remained a high profile 
event, for many years the Tulsa race riot practi- 
cally disappeared from view. For decades after- 
wards, Oklahoma newspapers rarely mentioned 
the riot, the state's historical establishment es- 
sentially ignored it, and entire generations of 
Oklahoma school children were taught little or 
nothing about what had happened. To be sure, 
the riot was still a topic of conversation, particu- 


larly in Tulsa. But these discussions — 
whether among family or friends, in barber 
shops or on the front porch — were private af- 
fairs. And once the riot slipped from the head- 
lines, its public memory also began to fade. 

Of course, any one who lived through the riot 
could never forget what had taken place. And 
in Tulsa's African American neighborhoods, 
the physical, psychological, and spiritual dam- 
age caused by the riot remained highly appar- 
ent for years. Indeed, even today there are 
places in the city where the scars of the riot can 
still be observed. In North Tulsa, the riot was 
never forgotten — because it could not be. 

But in other sections of the city, and else - 
where through out the state, the riot slipped fur- 
ther and further from view. And as the years 
passed and, particularly after World War II, as 
more and more families moved to Oklahoma 
from out-of-state, more and more of the state's 
citizens had simply never heard of the riot. In- 
deed, the riot was discussed so little, and for so 
long, even in Tulsa, that in 1996, Tulsa County 
District Attorney Bill LaFortune could tell a 
reporter, "I was bom and raised here, and I had 
never heard of the riot."'* 

How could this have happened? How could 
a disaster the size and scope of the Tulsa race 
riot become, somehow, forgotten? How could 
such a major event in Oklahoma history be- 
come so little known? 

Some observers have claimed that the lack 
of attention given to the riot over the years was 
the di rect re suit of noth ing less than a "con spir- 
acy of silence." And while it is certainly true 
that a number of important documents relating 
to the riot have turned up missing, and that 
some individuals are, to this day, still reluctant 
to talk about what happened, the shroud of si- 
lence that descended over the Tulsa race riot 
can also be accounted for without resorting to 
conspiracy theories. But one must start at the 

The riot, when it happened, was front-page 
news across America. "85 WHITES AND 
headline in the June 2, 1921 edition of the New 
York Times, while dozens of other newspapers 
across the country published lead stories about 

the riot. Indeed, the riot was even news overseas, 
clared The Times of London^ 

But something else happened as well. For in 
the days and weeks that followed the riot, edito- 
rial writers from coast-to-coast unleashed a tor- 
rent of stinging condemnations of what had 
taken place. "The bloody scenes at Tulsa, 
Oklahoma," declared the Philadelphia Bulletin, 
"are hardly conceivable as happening in Ameri- 
can civilization of the pres ent day." For ihcKen- 
tucky State Journal, the riot was nothing short of 
"An Oklahoma Disgrace," while the Kansas 
City Journal was revolted at what it called the 
"Tulsa Horror." From both big-city dailies and 
small town newspapers — from the Houston 
Post and Nashville Tennessean to the tiny Times 
of Gloucester, Massachusetts — came a chorus 
of criticism. The Christian Recorder even went 
so far as to declare that "Tulsa has become a 
name of shame upon America." 

For many Oklahomans, and particularly for 
whites in positions of civic responsibility, such 
sentiments were most unwelcome. For regard- 
less of what they felt personally about the riot, 
in a young state where attracting new businesses 
and new settlers was a top priority, it soon be- 
came evident that the riot was a public relations 
nightmare. Nowhere was this felt more acutely 
than in Tulsa. "I suppose Tulsa will get a lot of 
unpleasant publicity from this affair," wrote one 
Tulsa-based petroleum geologist to family 
members back East. Reverend Charles W. Kerr, 
of the city's all-white First PresbyterianChurch, 
added his own assessment. "For 22 years I have 
been boosting Tulsa," he said, "and we have all 
been boosters and boasters about our buildings, 
bank ac counts and other as sets, but the events of 
the past week will put a stop to the bragging for a 
while."' For some, and particularly for Tulsa's 
white business and political leaders, the riot 
soon became something best to be forgotten, 
something to be swept well beneath history's 

What is remarkable, in retrospect, is the de- 
gree to which this nearly happened. For within a 
decade after it had happened, the Tulsa race riot 
went from being a front-page, national calamity, 
to being an incident portrayed as an unfortunate. 


Despite the aid given by the Red Cross, black Tidsans faced a 
gargan tuan taskin the re building of Green wood. Li terally thour 
sands were forced to spend the win ter ofl 921 -22 liv ing in tents 
(Courtesy Oklahoma Historical Society). 

but not really very significant, event in the state's 
past. Oklahoma history textbooks published dur- 
ing the 1920s did not mention the riot at all — 
nor did ones published in the 1930s. Finally, in 
1941, the riot was mentioned in the Oklahoma 
volume in the influential American Guide Series 
— but only in one brief paragraph.^ 

Nowhere was this historical amnesia more 
startling than in Tulsa itself, especially in the 
city's white neighborhoods. "For a while," 
noted former Tulsa oilman Osbom Campbell, 
"picture postcards of the victims in awful 
poses were sold on the streets," while more 
than one white ex-rioter "boasted about how 
many notches he had on his gun." But the riot, 
which some whites saw as a source of local 
pride, in time more generally came to be re- 
garded as a local embarrassment. Eventually, 
Osborn added, "the talk stopped."' 

So too, apparently did the news stories. For 
while it is highly questionable whether — as it 
has been alleged — any Tulsa newspaper actu- 
ally discouraged its reporters from writing 
about the riot, for years and years on end the 
riot does not appear to have been mentioned in 
the local press. And at least one local paper 
seems to have gone well out of its way, at 
times, to avoid the subject altogether. 

During the mid- 1930s, the Tulsa Tribune — 
the city's afternoon daily newspaper — ran a 
regular feature on its editorial page called "Fif- 
teen Years Ago." Drawn from back issues of 
the newspaper, the column highlighted events 

which had happened in Tulsa on the same date 
fifteen years earlier, including local news sto- 
ries, political tidbits, and society gossip. But 
when the fifteenth anniversary of the race riot 
arrived in early June, 1936, the Tribune ignored 
it completely — and instead ran the following: 


Miss Carolyn Skelly was a charming 
young hostess of the past week, having en- 
tertained at a luncheon and theater party for 
Miss Kathleen Sinclair and her guest. Miss 
Julia Morley of Saginaw, Mich. Corsage 
bouquets of Cecil roses and sweet peas 
were presented to the guests, who were 
Misses Claudine Miller, Martha Sharpe, 
Elizabeth Cook, Jane Robinson, Pauline 
Wood, Marie Constantin, Irene Buel, 
Thelma Kennedy, Ann Kennedy, Naomi 
Brown, Jane Wallace and Edith Smith. 

Mrs. O.H.P. Thomas will entertain for her 
daughter, Elizabeth, who has been attending 
Randolph Macon school in Lynchburg, Va. 

Central high school's crowning social 
event of the term just closed was the senior 
prom in the gymnasium with about 200 
guests in attendance. The grand march was 
led by Miss Sara Little and Seth Hughes. 

Miss Vera Gwynne will leave next week 
for Chicago to enter the University of Chi- 
cago where she will take a course in kinder- 
garten study. 

Mr. And Mrs. E.W. Hance have as their 
guests Mr. L.G. Kellenneyer of St. Mary's, 

Mrs. C.B. Hough and her son, Ralph, left 
last night for a three-months trip through 
the west and northwest. They will return 
home via Dallas, Texas, where they will 
visit Mrs. Hough's homefolk." 

Ten years later, in 1946, by which time the 
Tribune had added a "Twenty-Five Years Ago" 
feature, the newspaper once again avoided men- 
tioning the riot. It was as if the greatestcatastro- 
phe in the city's history simply had not 
happened at all.'' 

That there would be some reluctance toward 
discussing the riot is hardly surprising. Cities 


Dedication of the black M'allstreet me mo rialin 1996 at tended by Rob ertFairchild (Courtesy GreeriM'ood Cultural Center). 

and states — just like individuals — do not, as 
a general rule, like to dwell upon their past 
shortcomings. For years and years, for exam- 
ple, Oklahoma school children were taught 
only the most sanitized versions of the story of 
the Trail of Tears, while the history of slavery 
in Oklahoma was more or less ignored alto- 
gether. Moreover, during the World War II 
years, when the nation was engaged in a life or 
death struggle against the Axis, history text- 
books quite understandably stressed themes of 
national unity and consensus. The Tulsa race 
riot, needless to say, did not qualify. 

But in Tulsa itself, the riot had affected far 
too many families, on both sides of the tracks, 
ever to sink entirely from view. But as the 
years passed and the riot grew ever more dis- 
tant, a mindset developed which held that the 
riot was one part of the city's past that might 
best be forgotten altogether. Remarkably 
enough, that is exactly what began to happen. 

When Nancy Feldman moved to Tulsa dur- 
ing the spring of 1946, she had never heard of 
the Tulsa race riot. A Chicagoan, and a new 
bride, she accepted a position teaching sociol- 
ogy at the University of Tulsa. But trained in so- 
cial work, she also began working with the City 
Health Department, where she came into con- 

tact with Robert Fairchild, a recreation specialist 
who was also one of Tulsa' s handful of African 
American municipal employees. A riot survivor, 
Fairchild told Feldman of his experiences during 
the disaster, which made a deep impression on 
the young sociologist, who decided to share her 
discovery with her students.'^ 

But as it turned out, Feldman also soon 
learned something else, namely, that learning 
about the riot, and teaching about it, were two 
entirely different propo sitions. "During my first 
months at TU," she later recalled: 

I mentioned the race riot in class one day 
and was surprised at the universal surprise 
among my students. No one in this all- 
white class room of both vet er ans, who were 
older, and standard 18-year-old freshmen, 
had ever heard of it, and some stoutly de - 
nied it and questioned my facts. 

I invited Mr. Fairchild to come to class and 
tell of his experience, walking along the rail- 
road tracks to Turley with his brothers and sis- 
ter. Again, there was stout denial and, even 
more surprising, many students asked their 
parents and were told, no, there was no race 
riot at all. I was called to the Dean' s office and 
advised to drop the whole subject. 


The next semester, I invited Mr. 
Fairchild to come to class. Several times 
the Dean warned me about this. I do not be- 
lieve I ever suffered from this exercise of 
my freedom of speech . . . but as a very 
young and new instructor, I certainly felt 

For Feldman, such behavior amounted to 
nothing less than "Purposeful blindness and 
memory blocking." Moreover, she discovered, it 
was not limited to the classroom. "When I would 
mention the riot to my white friends, few would 
talk about it. And they certainly didn't want to."'** 

While perhaps surprising in retrospect, 
Feldman 's experiences were by no means 
unique. When Nancy Dodson, a Kansas native 
who later taught at Tulsa Junior College, 
moved to Tulsa in 1950, she too discovered 
that, at least in some parts of the white commu- 
nity, the riot was a taboo subject. "I was ad- 
monished not to mention the riot almost upon 
our arrival," she later recalled, "Because of 
shame, I thought. But the explanation was 
'you don't want to start another. '"'' 

The riot did not fare much better in lo cal his- 
tory ef forts. While Angle Debo did make men- 
tion of the riot in her 1943 history, Tulsa: From 
Creek Town to Oil Capital, her account was 
both brief and superficial. And fourteen years 
later, during the summer of 1957, when the 
city celebrated its "Tulsarama" - a week-long 
festival commemorating the semi-centennial 
of Oklahoma statehood — the riot was, once 
again, ignored. Some thirty-five years after it 
had taken the lives of dozens of innocent peo- 
ple, destroyed a neighborhood nearly 
one-square-mile in size in a firestorm which 
sent columns of black smoke billowing hun- 
dreds of feet into the air, and brought the nor- 
mal life of the city to a complete standstill, the 
Tulsa race riot was fast becoming little more 
than a historical inconvenience, something, 
perhaps, that ought not be discussed at all. 

Despite such official negligence, however, 
there were always Tulsans through the years who 
helped make it certain that the riot was not for- 
gotten. Both black and white, sometimes work- 
ing alone but more often working together, they 
collected evidence, preserved photographs, in- 

terviewed eyewitnesses, wrote about their find- 
ings, and tried, as best as they could, to ensure that 
the riot was not erased from history. 

None, perhaps, succeeded as spectacularly as 
Mary E. Jones Parrish, a young African Ameri- 
can teacher and journalist. Parrish had moved to 
Tulsa from Rochester, New York in 1919 or 
1920, and had found work teaching typing and 
shorthand at the all-black Hunton Branch of the 
Y.M.C.A.. With her young daughter, Florence 
Mary, she lived at the Woods Building in the 
heart of the African American business district. 
But when the riot broke out, both mother and 
daughter were forced to abandon their apart- 
ment and flee for their lives, run ning north along 
Greenwood Avenue amid a hail of bullets." 

Immediately following the riot, Parrish was 
hired by the Inter-Racial Commission to "do 
some reporting" on what had happened. 
Throwing herself into her work with her charac- 
teristic verve — and, one imagines, a borrowed 
typewriter — Parrish interviewed several eye- 
witnesses and transcribed the testimonials of 
survivors. She also wrote an account of her own 
harrowing experiences during the riot and, to- 
gether with photographs of the devastation and a 
partial roster of property losses in the African 
American community, Parrish published all of 
the above in a book called Events of the Tulsa 
Disaster. And while only a handful of copies ap- 
pear to have been printed, Parrish' s volume was 
not only the first book published about the riot, 
and a pioneering work of journalism by an Afri- 
can American woman, but remains, to this day, 
an invaluable contemporary account.'* 

It took another twenty-five years, however, 
until the first gen eral his tory of the riot was writ- 
ten. In 1946, a white World War II veteran 
named Loren L. Gill was attending the 

University of Tulsa. Intrigued by lingering sto- 
ries of the race riot, and armed with both consider- 
able energy and estimable research skills, GUI 
decided to make the riot the subject of his master' s 

The end result, "The Tulsa Race Riot," was, 
all told, an exceptional piece of work. Gill 
worked diligently to uncover the causes of the 
riot, and to trace its path of violence and de- 
struction, by scouring old newspaper and maga- 


zine articles, Red Cross records, and 
government documents. Moreover, Gill inter- 
viewed more than a dozen local citizens, in- 
cluding police and city officials, about the riot. 
And remarkably for the mid-1940's. Gill also 
in terviewedanumberof African American riot 
survivors, including Reverend Charles Lanier 
Netherland, Mrs. Dimple L. Bush, and the 
noted attorney, Amos T. Hall. And while a 
number of Gill's conclusions about the riot 
have not withstood subsequent historical scru- 
tiny, few have matched his determination to 
uncover the truth. ^° 

Yet despite Gill's accomplishment, the riot 
remained well-buried in the city's historical 
closet. Riot survivors, participants, and ob- 
servers, to be certain, still told stories of their 
experiences to family and friends. And at 
Tulsa's Booker T. Washington High School, a 
handful of teachers made certain that their stu- 
dents — many of whose fam i lies had moved to 
Tulsa after 1921 — learned at least a little 
about what had happened. But the fact remains 
that for nearly a quarter of a century after 
Loren Gill completed his master's thesis, the 
Tulsa race riot remained well out of the public 

But beneath the surface, change was afoot. 
For as the national debate over race relations 
intensified with the emergence of the modern 
civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, 
Tulsa's own racial customs were far from 
static. As the city began to address issues aris- 
ing out of school desegregation, sit-ins, job 
bias, housing discrimination, urban renewal, 
and white flight, there were those who believed 
that Tulsa's racial past — and particularly the 
race riot — needed to be openly confronted. 

Few felt this as strongly as those who had 
survived the tragedy itself, and on the evening 
of June 1, 1971, dozens of African American 
riot survivors gathered at Mount Zion Baptist 
Church for a program commemorating the fif- 
tieth anniversary of the riot. Led by W.D. Wil- 
liams, a longtime Booker T. Washington High 
School history teacher, whose family had suf- 
fered immense property loss during the vio- 
lence, the other speak ers that eve ning in eluded 
fellow riot survivors Mable B. Little, who had 

lost both her home and her beauty shop during 
the conflagration, and E.L. Goodwin, Sr., the 
publisher of the Oklahoma Eagle, the city's 
black newspaper. Although the audience at the 
ceremony — which included a handful of 
whites — was not large, the event represented 
the first public acknowledgment of the riot in 

But another episode that same spring also re- 
vealed just how far that Tulsa, when it came to 
owning up to the race riot, still had to go. The 
previous autumn, Larry Silvey, the publications 
manager at the Tulsa Chamber of Commerce, 
decided that on the fiftieth anniversary of the 
riot, the chamber' s magazine should run a story 
on what had happened. Silvey then contacted 
Ed Wheeler, the host of 'The Gilcrease Story," a 
pop u lar his tory pro gram which aired on lo cal ra- 
dio. Wheeler — who, like Silvey, was white — 
agreed to research and write the article. Thus, 
during the winter of 1970-71, Wheeler went to 
work, interviewing dozens of elderly black and 
white riot eyewitnesses, and searching through 
archives in both Tulsa and Oklahoma City for 
documents pertaining to the riot." 

But something else happened as well. For on 
two separate occasions that winter, Wheeler 
was approached by white men, unknown to him, 
who warned him, "Don't write that story." Not 
long thereafter, Wheeler's home telephone be- 
gan ring ing at all hours of the day and night, and 
one morning he awoke to find that someone had 
taken a bar of soap and scrawled across the front 
windshield of his car, "Best check under your 
hood from now on." 

But Ed Wheeler was a poor candidate for 
such scare tactics. A former United States Army 
infantry officer, the incidents only angered him. 
Moreover, he was now deep into trying to piece 
together the history of the riot, and was not 
about to be deterred. But to be on the safe side, 
he sent his wife and young son to live with his 
mother-in-law. ' 

Despite the harassment, Wheeler completed 
his article and Larry Silvey was pleased with 
the results. However, when Silvey began to lay 
out the story — complete with never-before- 
pub lished pho to graphs of both the riot and its af- 
termath chamber of commerce management 


Representative Don Ross at Greenwood and Archer (Courtesy Greenwood Cultural Center). 

killed the article. Silvey appealed to the cham- 
ber's board of directors, but they, too, refused 
to allow the story to be published. 

Determined that his efforts should not have 
been in vain, Wheeler then tried to take his 
story to Tulsa' s two daily newspapers, but was 
rebuffed. In the end, his article — called "Pro- 
file of a Race Riot" — was published in Impact 
Magazine, a new, black-oriented publication 
edited by a young African American journalist 
named Don Ross. 

"Profile of a Race Riot" was a hand-biting, 
path-breaking story, easily the best piece of 
writ ing pub lished about the riot in de cades. But 
is was also a story whose impact was both lim- 
ited and far from city wide. For while it has 
been reported that the issue containing 
Wheeler's story sold out "virtually overnight," 
the magazine's readership, which was not 
large to be gin with, was al mo st ex clu sively Af- 
rican American. Ultimately, "Pro file of a Race 
Riot" marked a turning point in how the riot 
would be written about in the years to come, 
but at the time that it was published, few 

Tulsans — and hardly any whites — even knew 
of its existence. ^^ 

One of the few who did was Ruth Sigler 
Avery, a white Tulsa woman with a passion for 
history. A young girl at the time of the riot, 
Avery had been haunted by her memories of the 
smoke and flames rising up over the African 
American district, and by the two trucks carry- 
ing the bodies of riot victims that had passed in 
front of her home on East 8th Street. 

Determined that the his tory of the riot needed 
to be preserved, Avery begin interviewing riot 
survivors, collecting riot photographs, and serv- 
ing as a one- woman research bureau for anyone 
interested in studying what had happened. Con- 
vinced that the riot had been deliberately cov- 
ered-up, Avery embarked upon what turned out 
to be a decades-long personal crusade to see 
that the true story of the riot was finally told.' 

Along the way, Avery met some kindred spir- 
its — and none more important that Mozella 
Franklin Jones. The daughter of riot survivor 
and prominent AfricanAmericanattorney Buck 
Colbert Franklin, Jones had long endeavored to 
raise awareness of the riot particularly outside 


of Tulsa's black community. While she was of- 
ten deeply frastrated by white resistance to con- 
fronting the riot, her accomplishments were far 
from inconsequential. Along with Henry C. 
Whitlow, Jr., a history teacher at Booker T. 
Washington High School, Jones had not only 
helped to desegregate the Tulsa Historical Soci- 
ety, but had mounted the first-ever major exhibi- 
tion on the history of African Americans in 
Tulsa. Moreover, she had also created, at the 
Tulsa Historical Society, the first collection of 
riot photographs available to the public. ^^ 

None of these activities, however, was by it- 
self any match for the culture of silence which 
had long hovered over the riot, and for years to 
come, discussions of the riot were often cur- 
tailed. Taken together, the fiftieth anniversary 
ceremony, "Profile of a Race Riot," and the 
work of Ruth Avery and Mozella Jones had 
nudged the riot if not into the spotlight, then at 
least out of the back reaches of the city's his- 
torical closet.^* 

Moreover, these local efforts mirrored some 
larger trends in American society. Nation- 
wide, the decade of the 1970s witnessed a vir- 
tual explosion of interest in the African 
American experience. Millions of television 
viewers watched Roots, the miniseries adapta- 
tion of Alex Haley's chronicle of one family's 
tortuous journey through slavery, while books 
by black authors climbed to the top of the 
bestseller lists. Black studies programs and de- 
partments were created at colleges from 
coast-to-coast, while at both the high school 
and university level, teaching materials began 
to more fully address issues of race. As schol- 
ars started to re-examine the long and turbulent 
history of race relations in America — includ- 
ing racial violence — the Tulsa riot began to 
receive some limited national exposure .^' 

Similar activities took place in Oklahoma. 
Kay M. Teall's Black History in Oklahoma, an 
impressive collection of historical documents 
published in 1971, helped to make the history of 
black Oklahomans far more accessible to teach- 
ers across the state. Teall's book paid significant 
attention to the story of the riot, as did Arthur 
Tolson's The Black Oklahomans: A History 
1541-1972, which came out one year later.^" 

In 1975, Northeastern State University histo- 
rian Rudia M. Halliburton, Jr. published The 
Tulsa Race War of 1921 . Adapted from an arti- 
cle he had published three years earlier in the 
Journal of Black Studies, Halliburton's book 
featured a remarkable collection of riot photo- 
graphs, many of which he had collected from his 
students. Issued by a small academic press in 
California, Halliburton's book received little at- 
tention outside of scholarly circles. Nonethe- 
less, as the first book about the riot published in 
more than a half-century, it was another impor- 
tant step toward unlocking the riot's history ."" 

In the end, it would still take several years — 
and other books, and other individuals — to lift 
the veil of silence fully which had long hovered 
over the riot. However, by the end of the 1970s, 
efforts were underway that, once and for all, 
would finally bring out into the open the history 
of the tragic events of the spring of 1921. 

Today, the Tulsa race riot is anything but 

During the past two years, both the riot itself, 
and the efforts of Oklahomans to come to terms 
with the tragedy, have been the subject of doz- 
ens of magazine and newspaper articles, radio 
talk shows, and television documentaries. In an 
unprecedented and continuing explosion of 
press attention, journalists and film crews from 
as far away as Paris, France and London, Eng- 
land have journeyed to Oklahoma to interview 
riot survivors and eyewitnesses, search through 
archives for documents and photographs, and 
walk the ground where the killings and burning 
of May 31 and June 1, 1921 took place. 

After years of neglect, stories and articles 
about the riot have appeared not only in 
Oklahoma magazines and newspapers, but also 
in the pages of the Dallas Morning News, The 
Economist, the Kansas City Star, the London 
Daily Telegraph, the Los Angeles Times, the 
National Post of Canada, the New York Times, 
Newsday, the Philadelphia Inquirer, US. News 
and World Report, USA Today, and the Wash- 
ington Post. The riot has also been the subject of 
wire stories issued by the Associated Press and 
Renter's. In addition, news stories and televi- 
sion documentaries about the riot have been pro- 
duced by ABC News Nightline, Australian 


Broadcasting, the BBC, CBS News' 60 Min- 
utes II, CNN, Cinemax, The History Channel, 
NBC News, National Public Radio, Norwe- 
gian Broadcasting, South African Broadcast- 
ing, and Swedish Broadcasting, as well as by a 
number of in- state television and radio sta- 
tions. Various web sites and Internet chat 
rooms have also featured the riot, while in nu- 
merous high school and college classrooms 
across America, the riot has become a subject 
of study. All told, for the first time in nearly 
eighty years, the Tulsa race riot of 1921 has 
once again become front-page news.^^ 

What has not made the headlines, however, 
is that for the past two-and-one-half years, an 
intensive effort has been quietly underway to 
investigate, document, analyze, and better un- 
derstand the history of the riot. Archives have 
been searched through, old newspapers and 
government records have been studied, and so- 
phisticated, state-of-the-art scientific equip- 
ment has been utilized to help reveal the 
potential location of the unmarked burial sites 
of riot victims. While literally dozens of what 
ap peared to be prom is ing leads for re li able new 
in for ma tion about the riot turned out to be lit tie 
more than dead ends, a significant amount of 
previously unavailable evidence — including 
long-forgotten documents and photographs — 
has been discovered. 

None of this, it must be added, could have 
been possible without the generous assistance of 
Oklahomans from all walks of life. Scores of se- 
nior citizens — including riot survivors and ob- 
servers, as well as the sons and daughters of 
policemen, Na tional Guards men, and riot par tic- 
ipants have helped us to gain a much clearer pic- 
ture of what happened in Tulsa during the spring 
of 1921. All told, literally hundreds of Oklaho- 
mans, of all races, have given of their time, their 
memories, and their ex per tise to help us all gain a 
better understanding of this great tragedy. 

This report is a product of these combined 
efforts. The schol ars who have writ ten it are all 
Oklahomans — either by birth, upbringing, 
residency, or family heritage. Young and 
not-so-young, black and white, men and 
women, we include within our ranks both the 
grandniece and the son of African American 

riot survivors, as well as the son of a white eye- 
witness. We are historians and archaeologists, 
forensic scientists and legal scholars, university 
professors and retirees. 

For the editors of this report, the riot also bears 
considerable personal meaning. Tulsa is our 
hometown, and we are both graduates of the Tulsa 
Public Schools. And although we grew up in dif- 
ferent eras, and in different parts of town — and 
heard about the riot, as it were, from different 
sides of the fence — both of our lives have been 
indelibly shaped by what happened in 1921. 

History knows no fences. While the stories 
that black Oklahomans tell about the riot often 
differ from those of their white coun ter parts, it is 
the job of the historian to locate the truth wher- 
ever it may lie. There are, of course, many legiti- 
mate areas of dispute about the riot — and will 
be, without a doubt, for years to come. But far 
more significant is the tremendous amount of 
information that we now know about the trag - 
edy — about how it started and how it ended, 
about its terrible fury and its murderous vio- 
lence, about the community it devastated and 
the lives it shattered. Neither myth nor "confu- 
sion," the riot was an actual, definable, and de- 
scribable event. In Oklahoma history, the 
central truths of which can, and must, be told. 

That won't always be easy. For despite the 
many acts of courage, heroism, and selflessness 
that occurred on May 31 and June 1, 1921 — 
some of which are described in the pages that 
follow — the story of the Tulsa race riot is a 
chronicle of hatred and fear, of burning houses 
and shots fired in anger, of justice denied and 
dreams deferred. Like the bombing of the 
Murrah Federal Building some seventy-three 
years later, there is simply no denying the fact 
that the riot was a true Oklahoma tragedy, per- 
haps our greatest. 

But, like the bombing, the riot can also be a 
bearer of lessons — about not only who we are, but 
also about who we would like to be. For only by 
looking to the past can we see not only where we 
have been, but also where we are going. And as the 
first one-hundred years of Oklahoma statehood 
draws to a close, and a new century begins, we can 
best honor that past not by burying it, but by facing 
it squarely, honestly, and, above all, openly. 



'For the so-called "official" estimate, see: Memorandum from Major Paul R. Brown, Surgeon, 3rd Infantry, 
Oklahoma National Guard, to the Adjutant General of Oklahoma, June 4, 1921, lo cated in the Attorney Gen eralsCivil 
Case Files, Record Group 1-2, Case 1062, State Archives Division, Oklahoma Department of Libraries. 

For the Maurice Wil lows es ti mates, see: "Di sas ter Re lief Report, Race Riot, June 192 1 ," p. 6, reprinted in Rob ert N. 
Hower, "An gels of Mercy " : TheAmeri can Red Cross and the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot (Tulsa: Home stead Press, 1993). 

'New York Call, June 10, 1921. 

'Mary Elizabeth Estes, "An Historical Survey of Lynchings in Oklahoma and Texas" (M.A. thesis. University of 
Oklahoma, 1942), pp. 132-134 

Jonathan Z. Larsen, "Tulsa Burning," Civilization, IV, I (February/March 1997), p. 46. 

^New York Times, June 2, 1921, p. 1. [London, England] The Times, June 2, 1921, p. 10. 

^ Philadelphia Bulletin,i\m&?>, 1921. \Pxsnkfoxi\ Kentucky State Journal, JuneS, 1921. "Mob Fury and Race Ha tred 
asaNationalDisgrace,"i/terar>'£)zge5/^, June 18, 1921, pp. 7-9. R.R. Wright, Jr., "Tulsa," ChristianRecorder, June 9, 

'Thegeologist, Rob ertF.Truex, was quoted in the i?oc/ze5ter [New York] Herald,i\meA, 1921. The Kerr quote is 
from "Causes of Riots Discussed in Pulpits of Tulsa Sunday," an unattributed June 6, 1921 article located in the 
Tuskegee Institute News Clipping File, microfilm edition. Series 1, "1921 — Riots, Tulsa, Oklahoma, " Reel 14, p. 


Joseph P. Thobum and Muriel H. Wright, Oklahoma: A History of the State and Its People (New York: Lewis 
HistoricalPublishing, 1929). Muriel H. Wright, The Story of Oklahoma (Oklahoma City: Webb PublishingCompany, 
1929-30). Edward Everett Dale and Jesse Lee Rader, Readings in Oklahoma History (Evanston, Illinois: Row, 
Peterson and Company, 1930). Victor E. Harlow, Oklahoma: Its Origins and Development (Oklahoma City: Harlow 
Publishing Company, 1935). Muriel H. Wright, Our Oklahoma (Guthrie: Co-operative Publishing Company, 1939). 
[Oklahoma Writers' Project] Oklahoma: A Guide to //ze5'oo«er5'tote (Nor man: University of Oklahoma Press, 1941), 
pp. 208-209. 

Osbom Campbell, Let Freedom Ring (Tokyo: Inter-Nation Company, 1954), p. 175. 

In 197 1 , a Tulsa Tri bune re porter wrote that, "For 50 years The Tribune did not re hash the story [of the riot] ."See: 
"Murderous Race Riot Wrote Red Page in Tulsa History 50 Years Ago," Tulsa Tribune, June 2, 1971, p. 7A. A very 
brief ac count of the riot that not only gave the wrong dates for the conflict, but also claimed that "No one knew then or 
remembers how the shooting began — appeared in the Tulsa World on November 7, 1949. 

On the reluctance of the local press to write about the riot, see: Brent Stapes, "Un earthing a Riot" TVew York Times 
Magazine ,Dq cember 19, 1999, p. 69; and, oralhistory interview with Ed Wheeler, Tulsa, February 27, 1998, by Scott 

^^ Tulsa Tribune, June 2, 1936, p. 16 

^^Ibid., May 31, 1946, p. 8; and June 2, 1946, p. 8. 

TheTulsa FForW, to its credit, did men tion the riot in its "Just 30 Years Ago" col umns in 1951. Tulsa World. June. 1, 
1951, p. 20; June 2, 1951, p. 4; and June 4, 1951, p. 6. 

" Telephone interview with Nancy Feldman, Tulsa, July 17, 2000. Letter from Nancy G. Feldman, Tulsa, July 19, 
2000, to Dr. Bob Blackburn, Oklahoma City. 

On Robert Fairchild see: Oral History Interview with Robert Fairchild, Tulsa, June 8, 1978, by Scott Ellsworth, a 
copy of which can be found in the Special Collections Department,McFarlinLibrary,Univeisity of Tulsa; and, Eddie 
Faye Gates, They Came Searching: How Blacks Sought the Promised Land in Tulsa (Austin: Eakin Press, 1997), pp. 

''' Feldman letter, op cit. 

'^Letter from Nancy Dodson, Tulsa, June 4, 2000, to John Hope Franklin, Durham, North Carolina. 

Angle Debo, Tulsa: From Creek Town to Oil Capital (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1943). 

On the "Tulsarama," see: Bill Butler, ed., "Tulsarama! Historical Souvenir Program," and Quentin Peters, "Tulsa, 
I.T.," two circa-1957 pamphlets located in the Tulsa history vertical subject files at the Oklahoma Historical Society 
library, Oklahoma City. 

Mary E. Jones Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster (N.p., n.p., n.d.). in 1998. A reprint edi tion of Parrish' s book 
was published by Out on a Limb Publishing in Tulsa. 

Tulsa City Directory, 1921 (Tulsa: Polk-Hoffhine Directory Company, 1921). 


^^ Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster (rpt. ed.; Tulsa: Out on a Limb Publishing, 1998), pp. 27, 31-77, 1 15-126. 

Prior to the pub li ca tion of Parrish' s book, how ever, a "book let about the riot was is sued by the Black Dis patch Press 
of Oklahoma City in July, 1921. Written by Martin Brown, the booklet was titled, "Is Tulsa Sane?" At present, no 
copies are known to exist. 

" Loren L. Gill, "The Tulsa Race Riot" (M.A. thesis. University of Tulsa, 1946). 

^^ Ibid. According to his thesis adviser, William A. Settle, Jr., Gill was later highly critical of some of his original 
interpretations. During a visit to Tulsa during the late 1960s, after he had served as a Peace Corps volunteer. Gill told 
Settle that he bad been "too hard" on black Tulsans. 

'' ScottEllsworih, Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 (Baton 

Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982), pp. 104-107. Gina Henderson and Marlene L. Johnson, "Black 
Wall Street," Emerge, ) 4 (February, 2000), p. 71. 

The lack of public recognition given to the riot during this period was not limited to Tulsa's white community. A 
survey of back issues of the Oklahoma Eagle — long the city's flagship African American newspaper — revealed 
neither any articles about the riot, nor any mention of any commemorative ceremonies, at the time of the twenty-fifth 
anniversary of the riot in 1946. The same also applied to the thirtieth and fortieth anniversaries in 1951 and 1961. 

Oklahoma Eagle, June 2, 197 1, pp. 1, 10. Tulsa Tribune, June 2, 197 1, p. 7A. Sam Howe Verhovek, "75 Years 
Later, Tulsa Confronts Its Race Riot," New York Times, May 31, 1996, p. 12A. Interview with E.L. Goodwin, Sr., 
Tulsa, No vem ber 21 , 1976, in Ruth Sigler Avery, Fear: The Fifth Horse man — A Doc u men tary of the 1921 Tulsa Race 
Riot, unpublished manuscript. 

See also: Mable B. Little, Fire on Mount Zion: My Life and History as a Black Woman in American (Langston, OK: 
The Black Think Tank, 1990); BethMacklin, "'Home' Important inTulsan'sLife,"rM/5a FFor/(i,November30, 1975, 
p. 3H; and Mable B . Lit tie, "A His tory of the Blacks of North Tulsa and My Life (A True Story)," type script dated May 
24, 1971. 

Telephone interview with Larry Silvey, Tulsa, August 5, 1999. Oral history interview with Ed Wheeler, Tulsa, 
February 27, 1998, by Scott Ellsworth. See also: Brent Stapes, "Unearthing a Riot, " New York Times Magazine, 
December 19, 1999, p. 69. 

Ed Wheeler interview. 

' Ibid. Larry Silvey interview. Ed Wheeler, "Profile of a Race Riot," Impact Magazine, IV (June- July 197 1). 
Staples, "Unearthing a Riot," p. 69. 

'^ Avery, Fear: The Fifth Horseman. William A. Settle, Jr. and Ruth S. Avery, "Report of December 1978 on the 
TulsaCounty His tor i cal So ci ety ' s Oral His tory Pro gram," type scriptlo catedatthe Tulsa HistoricalSociety. Telephone 
interview with Ruth Sigler Avery, Tulsa, September 14, 2000. 

' ' Mozella Jones Collection, Tulsa His tor i cal So ci ety. John Hope Frank lin and John Whit tingon Frank lin, eds. , My 
Life and An Era: The Auto biography of BuckColbert Frank lin(BatonRouge:LouisianaStat&lJniYersity Press, 1997). 
John Hope Franklin, "Tulsa: Prospects for a New Millennium," remarks given at Mount Zion Baptist Church, Tulsa, 
June 4, 2000. 

Whitlow also was an authority on the history of Tulsa's African American community. See: Henry C. Whitlow, Jr., 
"A History of the Greenwood Era in Tulsa," a paper presented to the Tulsa Historical Society, March 29, 1973. 

'*Dur ing this same pe riod, a num ber of other Tulsans also en deav ored to bring the story of the riot out into the open. 
James Ault, who taught sociology at the University of Tulsa during the late 1960s, interviewed a number of riot 
survivors and eyewitnesses. So did Bruce Hartnitt, who directed the evening pro grams at Tulsa Junior College during 
the early 1970s. Harnitt' s father, who had managed the truck fleet at a West Tulsa refinery at the time of the riot, later 
told his son that he had been ordered to help transport the bodies of riot victims. 

Telephone interview with James T. Ault, Omaha, Nebraska, February 22, 1999. Oral history interview with Bruce 
Hartnitt, Tulsa, May 30, 1998, by Scott Ellsworth. 

''John Hope Franklin and Alfred A. Moss, Jr., From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans, 7th 
edi tion (New York: Al fred A. Knopf, 1994), p. 476. Rich ard Maxwell Brown, Strain of Violence : His tori calStudiesof 
American Violence and Vigilantism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975). Lee E. Williams and Lee. E. 
Williams 11, Anatomy of Four Race Riots: Racial Conflict in Knoxville, Elaine (Arkansas), Tulsa and Chicago, 
1919-1921 (Hattiesburg: University and College Press of Mississippi, 1972). 

Kay M.Teall, ed.. Black His tory in Oklahoma: A Re source Book (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma City Pub lie Schools, 
1971). Arthur Tolson, The Black Oklahomans: A History, 1541-1972 (New Orleans: Edwards Printing Company, 

Rudia M. Halliburton, Jr., The Tulsa Race War of 1921 (San Francisco: R and E Research Associates, 1975). 


Following the publication of Scott Ellsworth's Death in a Promised Land in 1982, a number of books have been 
pub lished which deal ei ther di rectly or in di rectly with the riot. Among them are: Mabel B . Little, Fire on Mount Zion 
(1990); Robert N. Hower, "Angels of Mercy": The American Red Cross and the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot (Tulsa: 
Homestead Press, 1993); Eddie Faye Gates, They Came Searching (1997); Dorothy Moses DeWitty, Tulsa: A Tale of 
Two Cities (Langston, OK: Melvin B. Tolson Black Heritage Center, 1997); Danney Goble, Tulsa!: Biography of the 
American City (Tulsa: Council Oak Books, 1997); and, Hannibal B. Johnson, Black Wall Street: From Riot to 
Renaissance in Tulsa's Historic Greenwood District (Austin: Eakin Press, 1998). 

The riot has inspired some fictionalized treatments as well, including: Ron Wallace and J.J. Johnson, Black Wall 
Street. A Lost Dream (Tulsa: Black Wall Street Publishing, 1992); Jewell Parker Rhodes, Magic City (New York: 
Harper CoUings, 1997); a children's book, Hannibal B. Johnson and Clay Portis, Up From the Ashes: A Story About 
Building Community (Austin: Eakin Press, 2000); and a musical, "A Song of Greenwood," book and music by Tim 
Long and Jerome Johnson, which premiered at the Greenwood Cultural Center in Tulsa on May 29, 1998. 

And more books, it should be added, are on the way. For as of the summer of 2000, at least two journalists were 
un der con tract with na tional pub lish ers to re search and write books about the riot and its leg acy . Fur ther more, a num ber 
of Tulsans are also said to be involved with book projects about the riot. 

Oklahoma newspapers have, not surprisingly, provided the most expansive coverage of recent riot-related news. 
In particular, see: the reporting of Melissa Nelson and Christy Watson in the Daily Oklahoman; the numerous 
non-bylined stories in the Oklahoma Eagle; and the extensive coverage by Julie Bryant, Rik Espinosa, Brian Ford, 
Randy Krehbiel, Ashley Parrish, Jimmy Pride, Rita Sherrow, Rob ert S . Walters, and Heath Weaver in the Tulsa World. 

For examples of national and international coverage, see: Kelly Kurt's wire stories for the Associated Press (e.g., 
"Survivorsof 1921RaceRiotHear Their Horror Re told,"5'a« Diego Union-Tribune, August 10, 1999,pA6); V.Dion 
Haynes, "Panel Digs Into Long-Buried Facts About Tulsa Race Riot," Chicago Tribune, May 16, 1999, Sec. 1, p. 6-, 
Frederick Burger "The 1921 Tulsa Race Riot: A Holocaust America Wanted to Forget," The Crisis, CVII, 6 
(November-December 1999), pp. 14-18; Arnold Hamilton,"PanelUrges Reparations in TulsaRiot,"£)a//a5Mor«/«g 
News, February 5, 2000, pp. lA, 22A; "The Riot That Never Was," The Economist, April 24, 1999, p. 29; Tim 
Madigan, "Tulsa's Terrible Secret," Ft Worth Star-Telegram , January 30, 2000, pp. IG, 6-7G; Rick Montgomery, 
"Tulsa Looking for the Sparks That Ignited Deadly Race Riot", Kansas City Star, September 8, 1999, pp. Al, AlO; 
James Langton, "Mass Graves Hold the Secrets of American Race Massacre, " London Daily Telegraph, March 29, 
1999; Claudia KoUcer, "A City's Buried Shame," Los Angeles Times, October 23, 1999, pp. Al, A16; Jim Yardley, 
"Panel Recommends Reparations in Long-Ignored Tulsa Race Riot," New York Times, February 5, 2000, pp. Al, AlO; 
Martin Evans, "A Costly Legacy," Newsday, November 1, 1999; Gwen Florio, "Oklahoma Recalls Deadliest Race 
Riot," Philadelphia Inquirer , May 31, 1999, pp. Al, A9; Ben Fenwick, "Search for Race Riot Answers Leads to 
Graves," Renter's wire story #13830, September 1999; Warren Cohen, "Digging Up an Ugly Past," U.S. News and 
WorldReport, January 31, 2000, p. 26; Tom Kenworthy, "Oklahoma Starts to Face Up to '21 Massacre," USA Today, 
Feb ru ary 1 8, 2000, p. 4A; and Lois Romano, "Tulsa Airs a Race Riot' s Leg acy," Washington Post, Jan u ary 19, 2000, 
p. A3. 

The riot has also been the subject of a number of television and radio news stories, documentaries, and talk shows 
during the past two years. The more comprehensive documentaries include: "The Night Tulsa Burned," The History 
Channel, February 19, 1999; "TulsaBurning,"<50M/«Mte5//, November 9, 1999; and, 'TheTulsaLynchingof 1921: A 
Hidden Story", Cinemax, May 31, 2000. 


(Cour tesy Department of Spe cial Col lee tions, McFarlin Li brary, Uni versity ofTulsa). 

The Tulsa Race Riot 

By Scott Ellsworth 

His tory does not take place in a vac num. 

Historical events, be they great or small, do 
not exist in isolation, but are a product of the 
age during which they occurred. Often times, 
the reasons why a particular historical incident 
turned out the way it did can be readily located, 
while for others, the causes may be more diffi- 
cult to locate. In both cases, one rule still holds 
true: that the events of the past cannot be sepa- 
rated from the era when they occurred. 

The same applies to the Tulsa race riot as 
well. To understand the riot, one cannot begin 
with the first shot that was fired, nor even with 
the seemingly insignificant chain of events that 
led to the first signs of real trouble. Rather, we 
must be gin with the spirit of the times. Only see- 
ing the world as Tulsans did in 1921, and by 
grasping both their passions and their fears, can 
we comprehend not only how this great tragedy 
could occur, but why, in the end, that it did. 

Of all the qualities that impressed 
out-of-town visitors about Tulsa in the days be- 
fore the race riot, one of them was just how new 
and up-to-date everything seemed. From the 
modern office buildings that were rising up out 
of downtown, to the electric trolleys that rum- 
bled back and forth along Main Street, to the 
rows of freshly painted houses that kept push- 
ing the city limits further and further into the 
surrounding countryside, compared to other cit- 
ies, Tulsa was nothing short of an over night sen- 
sation. In deed, Tulsa had grown so much and so 
fast — in a now-you-don't-see-it, now-you-do 
kind of fashion — that local boosters called it 
the Magic City. 

The elixir which had fueled this remarkable 
growth was, of course, oil. The discovery of the 
nearby Glenn Pool — reputed to be the "richest 
small oil field in the world" — in 1905, and by 
the farsightedness of local leaders to build a 
bridge across the Arkansas River one year ear- 



T- -^B.r KJiA^ 

A birds eye view of Tulsa in 1918 (Courtesy Mark Adkinson). 

lier, the sleepy rural crossroads known as 
Tulsa, Indian Territory was suddenly cata- 
pulted into the urban age. 

By 1910, thanks to the forest of derricks 
which had risen up over the nearby oil fields, 
Tulsa had mushroomed into a raucous boom- 
town of more than 10,000. Astonishingly, its 
real growth was only beginning. As the word 
began to spread about Tulsa — as a place 
where fortunes could be made, lives could be 
re built, and a fresh start could be had — peo pie 
literally began to pour in from all over the 
country. Remarkably enough, by 1920, the 
population of greater Tulsa had skyrocketed to 
more than 100,000. 

The city that these newcomers had built was, 
in many ways, equally remarkable. Anchored 
by the oil industry, and by its new role as the 
hub of the vast Mid-Continent Field, by 1921 
Tulsa was home to not only the offices of more 
than four-hundred differ ent oil and gas com pa- 
nies, but also to a score of oil field supply com- 
panies, tank manufacturers, pipe line 
companies, and refineries. While the city also 
enjoyed its role as a regional commercial cen- 
ter, serving nearby farms and ranches, for good 

rea son it was al ready be ing re ferred to as the Oil 
Capital of the World. 

Despite its youth, Tulsa also had acquired, by 
1921, practically all of the trappings of older, 
more established American cities. Four differ- 
ent railroads — the Frisco, the Santa Fe, the 
Katy, and the Mid land Val ley — served the city, 
as did two separate inter-urban train lines. A 
new, all-purpose bridge spanned the Arkansas 
River near Eleventh Street, while street repair, 
owing to the ever-increasing numbers of auto- 
mobiles, was practically constant. By 1919, 
Tulsa also could boast of having its own com- 
mercial airport. 

A new city hall had been built in 1917, a new 
federal building in 1915, and a new county 
courthouse in 1912. New schools and parks also 
had been dedicated, and in 1914, the city 
erected a magnificent new auditorium, the 3,500 
seat Convention Hall. Tulsa had grown so 
quickly ,in fact, that even the old city cemetery 
had to be closed to new burials. In its place, the 
city had designated Oaklawn Cemetery, located 
at Eleventh Street and Peoria Avenue, as the 
new city cemetery. 


In 1921, Tulsa could lay claim to two daily 
newspapers the Tulsa World, a morning paper, 
and a newly renamed afternoon daily, the 
Tulsa Tribune plus a handful of weeklies. Ra- 
dio had not arrived yet, but the city was con- 
nected to the larger world through four 
different telegraph companies. Telephone ser- 
vice also existed — with some ten-thousand 
phones in use by 1918 — although 
long-distance service was still in its infancy. 
While the city was linked both to nearby towns 
and to the state capital at Oklahoma City by a 
network of roads, rail travel was by far the fast- 
est and most reliable mode of transportation in 
and out of town. 

Seven different banks, some of which were 
capitalized at more than one-million dollars 
each, were located downtown, as were the of- 
fices of dozens of insurance agencies, invest- 
ment advisers, accounting firms, stock and 
bond bro ker ages, real es tate agen cies, and loan 
companies. By 1921, more than two-hundred 
attorneys were practicing in Tulsa, as were 
more than one-hundred-fifty doctors and sixty 

Frequently awash in money, the citizens of 
Tulsa had plenty of places to spend it from fur- 
niture stores, jewelry shops, and clothing 
stores to restaurants and cafes, motion picture 
theaters, billiard halls, and speakeasies. Those 
who could afford it could find just about any- 
thing in Tulsa, from the latest in fashion to the 
most modem home appliances, including vac- 
uum cleaners, electric washing machines and 
Victrolas. For those whose luck had run dry, 
the city had its share of pawnshops and sec- 
ond-hand stores.^ 

Many Tulsans were especially proud of the 
city's residential neighborhoods — and with 
good reason. From the workingman's castles 
that offered electric lighting, indoor plumbing, 
and spacious front porches, to the real castles 
that were being built by the oil barons, the city 
could boast of block after block of handsome, 
modern homes. While Tulsa was by no means 
without its dreary rooming houses and poverty 
stricken side streets, brand new neighborhoods 
with names like Maple Ridge, Sunset Park, 
Glen Acres, College Addition, Gurley Hill, 

and Irving Heights were built year after year. 
Some f the new homes were so palatial that they 
were regularly featured on picture postcards, 
chamber of commerce pamphlets, and other 
publications extolling the virtues of life in 

So too, not surprisingly, was down town. With 
its modem office buildings, its graceful stone 
churches, and its busy nightlife, it is easy to see 
why Tulsans — particularly those who worked, 
played, or worshiped downtown — were so 
proud of the city's ever- growing skyline. What 
the pamphlets and the picture postcards did not 
reveal was that, despite its impressive new ar- 
chitecture and its increasingly urbane affecta- 
tions, Tulsa was a deeply troubled town. As 
1920 tumed into 1921, the city would soon face 
a crossroads that, in the end, would change it 

However, chamber of commerce pamphlets 
and the picture postcards did not reveal every- 
thing. Tulsa was, in some ways, not one city but 
two. Practically in the shadow of downtown, 
there sat a community that was no less remark- 
able than Tulsa itself. Some whites disparag- 
ingly referred to it as "Little Africa," or worse, 
but it has become known in later years simply as 
Greenwood.' In the early months of 1921, it was 
the home of nearly ten-thousand African Ameri- 
can men, women, and children. 

Many had ties to the region that stretched 
back for generations. Some were the descen- 
dants of African American slaves, who had ac- 
companied the Creeks, Cherokees, and 
Choctaws on the Trail of Tears. Others were the 
children and grandchildren of runaway slaves 
who had fled to the Indian nations in the years 
prior to and during the Civil War. A few elderly 
residents, some of whom were later interviewed 
by WPA workers during the 1930s, had been 
born into slavery .'' 

However, most of Tulsa's African American 
residents had come to Oklahoma, like their 
white neigh bors, in the great boom years just be- 
fore and after statehood. Some had come from 
Mississippi, some from Missouri, and others 
had journeyed all the way from Georgia. For 
many, Oklahoma represented not only a chance 
to escape the harsher racial re al i ties of life in the 


B. C. Franklin (Courtesy John Hope Franklin). 

for mer states of the Old South, but was literally 
a land of hope, a place worth sacrificing for, a 
place to start anew. And come they did, in wag- 
ons and on horseback, by train and on foot. 
While some of the new set tiers came directly to 
Tulsa, many others had first lived in smaller 
com mu ni ties — many of which were all-black, 
or nearly so — scattered throughout the state. 

B.C. Franklin was one. Born in a small 
country crossroads about twenty miles south- 
west of Pauls Valley, Franklin's family had 
roots in Oklahoma that stretched back to the 
days of the old Chickasaw Nation during the 
Civil War. An intelligent and determined 
young man, Franklin had attended college in 
Tennessee and Georgia, but returned to Indian 
Territory to open up a law practice. He eventu- 
ally settled in Rentiesville, an all-black town 
located between Muskogee and Checotah, 
where he became not only the sole lawyer in 
town, but also its postmaster, its justice of the 
peace, and one of its leading businessmen. 
However, as his son John Hope Franklin later 
wrote, "there was not a decent living in all 
those activities. "Thus, inFebruary 1921, B.C. 
Franklin moved to Tulsa in the hopes of setting 
up a more lucrative practice.^ 

Franklin' s experiences, how ever, were hardly 
unique, and scattered about Greenwood were 
other busi ness men andbusi ness women who had 
first tried their luck in smaller communities. In 
the end, however, their earlier difficulties often 
proved to be an asset in their new home. Full of 
energy and well-schooled in entrepre- 
neurialism, these new settlers brought consider- 
able business skills to Tulsa. Aided by the 
buoyant local economy, they went to work on 
building business enterprises that rested upon 
sturdier economic foundations. By early 1921, 
the community that they built was, by national 
standards, in many ways quite remarkable.* 

Running north out of the downtown commer- 
cial district — and shaped, more or less, like an 
elongated jigsaw puzzle piece — Greenwood 
was bordered by the Frisco railroad yards to the 
south, by Lan sing Street and the Mid land Val ley 
tracks to the east, and by Standpipe and Sunset 
Hills to the west. The section line, now known 
as Pine Street, had for many years been the 
northernmost boundary of the African Ameri- 
can settlement, but as Tulsa had grown, so had 
Greenwood. By 1921, new all-black housing de- 
velopments — such as the Booker T. Washing- 
ton and Dunbar Additions — now reached past 
Pine and into the open countryside north of the 

The backbone of the community, however, 
was Greenwood Avenue. Running north for 
more than a mile — from Archer Street and the 
Frisco yards all the way past Pine — it was not 
only black Tulsa's primary thoroughfare, but 
also possessed considerable symbolic meaning 
as well. Unlike other streets and avenues in 
Tulsa, which crisscrossed both white and black 
neighborhoods. Greenwood Avenue was essen- 
tially confined to the African Americancommu- 

The southern end of Greenwood Avenue, and 
adjacent side streets, was the home of the Afri- 
can American commercial district. Nicknamed 
"Deep Green wood," this sev eral block stretch of 
handsome one, two, and three-story red brick 
buildings housed dozens of black-owned and 
operated businesses, including grocery stores 
and meat markets, clothing and dry good stores, 
billiard halls, beauty parlors and barber shops. 


Cen teredalongbitsy Green woodAv e rme, Tulsa 'sAfri can-American commercialdis trictwasa bonafideAmeri can sue cess story. 
Home to literally dozens of black-owned and op erated businesses in the days before the riot, "Deep Greenwood" could also lay 
claim to a public li brary, a postal sub sta tion, a Y. M. C. A. branch, and the offices of two newspapers (Courtesy Don Ross). 

as well as the Economy Drag Company, Wil- 
liam Anderson's jewelry store, Henry Lilly's 
upholstery shop, and A.S. Newkirk's photog- 
raphy studio. A suit of clothes purchased at 
Elliott & Hooker's clothing emporium at 124 
N. Greenwood, could be fitted across the street 
at H.L. Byars' tailor shop at 105 N. Green- 
wood, and then cleaned around the comer at 
Hope Watson's cleaners at 322 E. Archer. 

There were plenty of places to eat including 
late night sandwich shops and barbecue joints 
to Doc's Beanery and Hamburger Kelly's 
place. Lilly Johnson's Liberty Cafe, recalled 
Mabel Little, who owned a beauty shop in 
Greenwood at the time of the riot, served 
home-cooked meals at all hours, while at the 
nearby Little Cafe, "people lined up waiting 
for their specialty — chicken or smothered 
steak with rice and brown gravy." A 
Coca-Cola, a sarsaparilla, or a soda could be 
bought at Roily and Ada Huff s confectionery 
on Archer between Detroit and Cincinnati. Al- 
though both the nation and Oklahoma were 
nominally dry, there were also places where a 
man or a woman could purchase a shot of 
bootleg whiskey or a milky-colored glass of 
Choctaw beer.' 

For a community of its size, the Greenwood 
business district could boast of a number of im- 
pressive commercial structures. John and Loula 
Williams, who owned the three-story Williams 
Building at the northwest corner of Greenwood 
Avenue and Archer Street, also operated the 
seven-hundred-fifty seat Dreamland Theater, 
that offered live musical and theatrical revues as 
well as silent movies accompanied by a piano 
player. Across the street from the Dreamland 
sat the white-owned Dixie Theater with seating 
for one-thousand, which made it the second 
largest theater in town. In nearby buildings were 
the offices of nearly all of Tulsa' s black law yers, 
realtors, and other professionals. Most impres- 
sively, there were fifteen African American 
physicians in Tulsa at the time of the riot, in - 
eluding Dr. A.C. Jackson, who had been de- 
scribed by one of the Mayo brothers as the 
"most able Negro surgeon in America".' ' 

The overall intellectual life of Greenwood 
was, for a community of its size, quite striking. 
There was not one black newspaper but two - the 
Tulsa Star and the Oklahoma Sun. African 
Americans were discouraged from utilizing the 
new Carnegie library downtown, but a smaller, 
all-black branch library had been opened on Ar- 


cher Street. Nationally recognized African 
American lead ers, such as W.E.B. DuBois, had 
lectured in Tulsa before the riot. Moreover, 
Greenwood was also home to a local business 
league, various fraternal orders, a Y.M.C.A. 
branch, and a number of women's clubs, the 
last of which were often led by the more than 
thirty teachers who taught in the city's sepa- 
rate — and, as far as facilities were concerned, 
decidedly unequal — African American pub- 
lic schools. 

The political issues of the day also attracted 
considerable interest. The Tulsa Star, in partic- 
ular, not only provided extensive coverage of 
national, state, and local political campaigns 
and election results, but also devoted signifi- 
cant column space for recording the activities 
of the local all-black Democratic and Republi- 
can clubs. Moreover, the Star also paid atten- 
tion to a number of quasi-political movements 
as well, including Marcus Garvey's Universal 
Negro Improvement Association, different 
back- to- Africa movements, and various na- 
tionalist organizations. One such group, the 
African Blood Brotherhood, later claimed to 
have had a chapter in Greenwood prior to the 

When it came to religious activity, however, 
there was no ques tion at all where Tulsa' s Afri- 
can American community stood. Church mem- 
bership in Tulsa ran high. On a per capita basis, 
there were more churches in black Tulsa than 
there were in the city's white community as 
well as a number of Bible study groups. Chris- 
tian youth organizations, and chapters of na- 
tional religious societies. All told, there were 
more than a dozen African American churches 
in Tulsa at the time of the riot, including First 
Baptist, Vernon A.M.E., Brown's Chapel, 
Morning Star, Bethel Seventh Day Adventist, 
and Par a dise Bap tist, as well as Church of God, 
Nazarene, and Church of God in Christ congre- 
gations. Most impressive from an architectural 
standpoint, perhaps, was the beautiful, brand 
new home of Mount Zion Baptist Church, 
which was dedicated on April 10, 1921 — less 
than eight weeks before the riot' ^ 

The new Mount Zion Baptist Church build- 
ing (constructed of brick and mortar) also was 

a tan gi ble sym bol, of the fact that Af ri can Amer- 
icans had also shared, to some degree, in 
Tulsa' s great economic boom. While modest in 
comparison with the fortunes being amassed by 
the city's white millionaires. Greenwood was 
home to some highly successful business entre- 
preneurs. O.W. Gurley, a black real estate devel- 
oper and the owner of the Gurley Hotel, 
reportedly suffered some $65,000 in losses dur- 
ing the riot. Even more impressive was the busi- 
ness resume of J.B. Stradford, whose assets 
were said to be nearly twice as large. Stradford, 
a highly successful owner of rental property, 
had borrowed $20,000 in order to construct his 
own hotel. Opened on June 1, 1918, the 
Stradford Hotel, a modern fifty-four room 
structure, instantly became not only one of the 
true jewels of Greenwood Avenue, butwas also 
one of the largest black-owned businesses in 

Most of the black-owned businesses in Tulsa 
were, of course, much more modest affairs. 

One of the Mann Grocery stores of the Greenwood district 
(Courtesy Greenwood Cul turalCenter) . 

Scattered about the district were numerous 
small stores, from two-seater barber shops to 
family-run grocery stores, that helped to make 
pre-riot Green wood, on a per ca pita ba sis, one of 
the most business-laden African Americancom- 
munities in the country. Grit, hard work, and de- 
termination were the main reasons for this 
success, as were the entrepreneurial skills that 
were imported to Tulsa from smaller communi- 
ties across Oklahoma. 

There were other reasons as well. Tulsa's 
booming economy was a major factor, as was 


the fact that, on the whole, Greenwood was not 
only the place where black Tulsans chose to 
shop, but was also practically the only place 
that they could. Hemmed in by the city's resi- 
dential segregation ordinance, African Ameri- 
cans were generally barred from patronizing 
white-owned stores downtown — or ran the 
risk of insult, or worse, if they tried. While 
many black Tulsans made a consciousdecision 
to patronize African American merchants, the 
fact of the matter was that they had few others 
places to go.^^ 

There was no dearth of African American 
consumers. Despite the growing fame of its 
commercial district, the vast majority of 
Greenwood's adults were neither businessmen 
nor businesswomen, but worked long hours, 
under trying conditions, for white employers. 
Largely barred from employment in both the 
oil in dus try and from most of Tulsa' s man u fac- 
turing fa cil i ties, these men and women toiled at 
difficult, often dirty, and generally menial jobs 
— the kinds that most whites considered be- 
neath them — as janitors and ditch-diggers, 
dishwashers and maids, porters and day labor- 
ers, domestics and service workers. Unsung 
and largely forgotten, it was, nevertheless, 
their paychecks that built Greenwood, and 
their hard work that helped to build Tulsa. ' '' 

Equally forgotten perhaps, are the housing 
conditions that these men and women returned 
to at the end of the day. Although Greenwood 
contained some beautiful, modem homes — 
par tic u larly those of the doc tors, busi ness own- 
ers, and ed u ca tors who lived in the fash ion able 
500 block of North Detroit Avenue along the 
shoulder of Standpipe Hill — most African 
Americans in pre-riot Tulsa lived in far more 
meager circumstances. According to a study 
conducted by the American Association of So- 
cial Workers of living conditions in black 
Tulsa shortly before the riot, some "95 percent 
of the Negro residents in the black belt lived in 
poorly constructed frame houses, without con- 
veniences, and on streets which were unpaved 
and on which the drain age was all surface."' ' 

Not all black Tulsans, however, lived in 
Greenwood. As the city boomed and the 
newly-minted oil tycoons built mansions, pur- 

chased touring cars, and in general sought to 
mimic the lifestyles of their more established 
counterparts back East, there was a correspond- 
ing boom in the market for domestic help. Such 
po si tions were often open to Af ri can Amer i cans 
as well as whites, and by early 1921, upward of 
two-hundred black Tulsans were re sid ing in oth- 
erwise all-white neighborhoods, especially on 
the city's ever growing south side. Working as 
maids, cooks, butlers, and chauffeurs, they lived 
in servant's quarters that, more often than not, 
were attached to garages located at the rear of 
their employer's property. 

For the men and women who lived and 
worked in these positions, a visit to Greenwood 
— be it to attend Sunday services, or simply to 
visit with family and friends — was often the 
highlight of the week. Whether they caught a 
picture show at the Dreamland or the Dixie, or 
merely window-shopped along Greenwood Av- 
enue, they, too, could take both pride and own- 
ership in what lay before them.' * Its poverty and 
lack of services notwithstanding, there was no 
question that Greenwood was an American suc- 
cess story. 

Yet, despite its handsome business district 
and its brand-new brick church, and the 
rags-to-riches careers of some of its leading citi- 
zens, neither Greenwood's present, nor its fu- 
ture, was by any means secure. By the spring of 
1921, trouble — real trouble — had been brew- 
ing in Tulsa for some time. When it came to is- 
sues of race — not just in Tulsa or in Oklahoma, 
but all across American — the problems weren't 
simply brewing. They had, in fact, already ar- 

In the long and often painful history of race 
relations in the United States, few periods were 
as turbulent as the years surrounding World War 
I, when the country exploded into an era of al- 
most unprecedented racial strife. In the year 
1919 alone, more than two dozen different race 
riots broke out in cities and towns across the na- 
tion. Unlike the racial dis tur bances of the 1 960s 
and the 1990s, these riots were characterized by 
the specter of white mobs invading African 
American neighborhoods, where they attacked 
black men and women and, in some cases, set 
their homes and businesses on fire.' ' 


These riots were set off in different ways. In 
Chicago, long-simmering tensions between 
blacks and whites over housing, recreation, 
and jobs were ignited one Sunday afternoon in 
late July 1919. A group of teenaged African 
American boys, hoping to find some relief 
from the rising temperatures, climbed aboard a 
homemade raft out on Lake Michigan. They 
ended up drifting opposite an all-white beach. 
The white beach-goers, meanwhile, who were 
already angered by an attempt by a group of 
black men and women to utilize that beach ear- 
lier that day, began hurling stones at the 
youths, killing one, and setting off nearly two 
weeks of racial terror. In the end, more than 
thirty-eight people — both black and white — 
were killed in Chicago, and scores and scores 
of homes were burned to the ground.^" 

A race riot in Washington, D.C., which 
broke out earlier that summer, followed a more 
ing for weeks that rapists were on the loose, a 
white woman claimed that she had been sexu- 
ally assaulted by two young African American 
men. Although she later admitted that her orig- 
i nal story was false, the white press built up the 
incident, and racial tensions rose. Then, on 
July 19, the Washington Post published yet an- 
other story of an alleged assault — 
"NEGROES ATTACK GIRL" ran the head- 
next day, the nation's capital erupted into ra- 
cial violence, as groups of white soldiers, sail- 
ors, and Marines began to "molest any black 
person in sight, hauling them off of streetcars 
and out of restaurants, chasing them up alleys, 
and beating them mercilessly on street cor- 
ners." At least six people were killed and more 
than a hundred were injured. After whites 
threatened to set fire to African American 
neighborhoods, order was finally restored 
when the secretary of war called out some 
two-thousand federal troops to patrol the 

Alleged sexual assaults played a role in two 
other race riots that broke out that year. In 
Knoxville, Tennessee, a white mob gathered 
outside the jail where a black male was being 
held for supposedly attacking a white female. 

Troops were called in to quell the disturbance, 
but the sol diers — all of whom were white — in- 
stead in vaded the Af ri can Amer i can dis trict and 
"shot it up." In Omaha, Nebraska, a similar situ- 
ation rapidly developed after William Brown, 
who was black, was arrested for allegedly as- 
saulting a young white girl. A mob of angry 
whites then stormed the courthouse where 
Brown was being held, shot him, hung him 
from a nearby lamppost, and then mutilated his 
body beyond recognition." 

The savage attack on William Brown brutally 
demonstrated just how pas sion ately many white 
Americans felt about situations involving inter- 
racial sexual relations. While this subject — 
which has a long and complicated history in the 
United States — cannot be dealt with in a de- 
tailed fashion here, suffice it to say that during 
the post- World War I era, and for many years 

African Amer leans rallied solidly be hind the nation'swar effort 
during World War I, and thousands of black soldiers served in 
France. Upon their re turn to the U. S., how ever, many blackvets 
found that the democracy that they had fought to protect over- 
seas was often unavailable to them back home (Courtesy 
Oklahoma Historical Society). 


before and after, perhaps no crime was viewed 
as more egregious by many whites than the 
rape, or attempted rape, of a white woman by a 
black male.^^ 

Riots, however, were not the only form of 
extralegal violence faced by African Ameri- 
cans during the World War I era. In 1919 
alone, more than seventy-five blacks were 
lynched by white mobs — including more than 
a dozen black soldiers, some of whom were 
murdered while still in uniform. Moreover, 
many of the so-called lynchings were growing 
ever more barbaric. During the first year fol- 
lowing the war, eleven African Americans 
were burned — alive — at the stake by white 

Across the nation, blacks bitterly resisted 
these at tacks, which were of ten made worse by 
the fact that in many instances, local police au- 
thorities were unable or unwilling to disperse 
the white mobs. As the violencecontinued, and 
the death count rose, more and more African 
American leaders came to the conclusion that 
nothing less than the very future of black men 
and women in America hung in the balance. 

World War I had done much to clarify their 
thinking. In the name of democracy, African 
Americans had solidly supported the war ef- 
fort. Black sol diers — who were placed in seg- 
regated units — had fought gallantly in France, 
winning the respect not only of Allied com- 
manders, but also of their Germanfoes. Having 
risked their lives and shed their blood in Eu- 
rope, many black veterans felt even more 
strongly that not only was it time that democ- 
racy was practiced back home, but that it was a 
long time overdue." 

They returned home to a nation not only 
plagued by race riots and lynchings, but also 
by a poisonous racial climate that, in many 
ways, was only grow ing worse. The very same 
years that saw the emergence of the United 
States as a major world power also witnessed, 
back home, the rise of some aggressive and in- 
sidious new forms of white racism. 

Moreover, the new racial climate was far 
from limited to the South. Less than fifty years 
after the Civil War, a number of northern cities 
began to bar African Americans from restau- 

rants and other public establishments, while in 
the classrooms of Ivy League colleges and uni- 
versities, a new scientific racism — which held 
that whites from northern Europe were innately 
superior to all other hu man groups — was all the 
rage. In Washington, the administration of Pres- 
ident Woodrow Wilson proposed dozens of 
laws which mandated discriminatory treatment 
against African Americans. And across the 
country, racist white politicians constantly 
preyed upon racial fear and hostility.''' They 
soon had a new ally. 

Re-established in Atlanta in 1915, the 
so-called second Ku Klux Klan had adopted 
both the name and familiar hooded robes of its 
nineteenth century predecessor, but in many 
ways was a brand new organization. Launched 
the same year that D.W. Griffith's anti-black 
blockbuster. The Birth of a Nation, was released 
in movie theaters nationwide, Klan organizers 
fanned out across the country, establishing 
powerful state organizations not only in the 
South, but also in places like New Jersey, Indi- 
ana, and Oregon. While African Americans 
were often the recipients of the political intimi- 
dation, beatings, and other forms of violence 
meted out by klansmen, they were not the only 
targets of the new reign of terror. Klan members 
also regularly attacked Jews, Catholics, Japa- 
nese Americans, and immigrants from southern 
Europe, as well as suspected bootleggers, adul- 
terers, and other alleged criminals.' 

Although still a young state, many of these 
national trends were well-represented in 
Oklahoma. Like their counterparts elsewhere, 
black Oklahomans had ralhed strongly behind 
the war effort, purchasing Liberty Bonds, hold- 
ing patriotic rallies and taking part in home 
front conservation efforts. More than a few Afri- 
can American men from Oklahoma — includ- 
ing a large number of Tulsans — had enlisted in 
the army. Some, like legendary Booker T. 
Washington High School football coach Sey- 
mour Williams, had fought in France.' 

But when Oklahoma's black World War I 
veterans finally returned to civilian life, they, 
too, came home to a state where, sadly enough, 
anti-black sentiments were alive and well. In 
1911, the Oklahoma state legislature passed the 


The Ku KluxKlan gripped Oklahoma in the 1 920s, this cer e mony was in Lone Grove (Coitr tesy West emHis tory 
Collection, University of Oklahoma Libraries). 

infamous "Grandfather Clause", which effec- 
tively ended voting by African Americans 
statewide. While the law was ruled unconstitu- 
tional by a unanimous vote by the U.S. Su- 
preme Court four years later, other methods 
were soon employed to keep black Oklaho- 
mans from the polls. Nor did the Jim Crow leg- 
islation stop there. In the end, the state 
legislature passed a number of segregation 
statutes, including one which made Oklahoma 
the first state in the Union to segregate its tele- 
phone booths. 

Racial violence, directed against black 
Oklahomans, also was a grim reality during 
this period. In large part owing to conditions of 
frontier lawlessness, Oklahoma had long been 
plagued by lynch ing s , and dur ing the ter ri to rial 
days, numerous suspected horse thieves, cattle 
rustlers, and outlaws, the vast majority of 
whom were white, had been lynched by white 
mobs. However, from 1911 onward, all of the 
state's lynching victims, save one, were Afri- 
can American. And during the next decade. 

twenty-three black Oklahomans — including 
two women — were lynched by whites in more 
than a dozen different Oklahoma communities, 
including Anadarko, Ardmore, Eufaula, 
Holdenville, Idabel, Lawton, Madill, 
Mannford, Muldrow, Norman, Nowata, 
Okemah, Oklahoma City, Purcell, Shawnee, 
Wagoner, and Wewoka.""" 

The Sooner State also proved to be fertile 
ground for the newly revived Ku Klux Klan. Es- 
timates vary, but at the height of its power in the 
mid- 1920s, it is believed that there were more 
than 100,000 klansmen in Oklahoma. Chapters 
existed statewide, and the organization's mem- 
bership rolls includedfarmers, ranchers, miners, 
oil field workers, small town merchants, big city 
businessmen, ministers, newspaper editors, po- 
licemen, educators, lawyers, judges, and politi- 
cians. Most Klan activities — including cross 
burnings, parades, night riding, whippings, and 
other forms of violence and intimidation — 
tended to be local in nature, although at one 
point the political clout of the state organization 


was so great that it managed to launch im- 
peachment proceedings against Governor John 
C.Walton, who opposed the Klan/' 

Tulsa, in particular, became a lively center 
of Klan activity. While membership figures 
are few and far between — one estimate held 
that there were some 3,200 members of the 
Tulsa Klan in December 1921 — perhaps as 
many as six-thousand white Tulsans, at one 
time or another, became members of the Klan 
including several prominent local leaders. At 
one Klan initiation ceremony, that took place 
in the countryside south of town during the 
summer of 1922, more than one-thousand new 
members were initiated, causing a huge traffic 
jam on the road to Broken Arrow. Tulsa also 
was home to a thriving chapter of the Women 
of the Ku Klux Klan as well as being one of the 
few cities in the country with an active chapter 
of the organization's official youth affiliate, 
the Junior Ku Klux Klan. There were Klan pa- 
rades, Klan funerals, and Klan fund-raisers in- 
cluding one wildly successful 1923 benefit 
that netted some $24,000, when 13 Ford auto- 
mobiles were raffled off. In time, the Tulsa 
Klan grew so solvent that it built its own brick 
auditorium, Beno Hall — short, it was said, for 
"Be No Nigger, Be No Jew, Be No Catholic" 
— on Main Street just north of downtown. 

The local Klan also was highly ac tive in pol- 
itics in Tulsa. It regularly issued lists of 
Klan-approved candidates for both state and 
local political offices, that were prominently 
displayed in Tulsa newspapers. According to 
one student of the Klan in Tulsa Country dur- 
ing the 1920s, "mayors, city commissioners, 
sher iff s, dis trict at tor ney s, and many other city 
and county office holders who were either 
klansmen or Klan supporters were elected, and 
reelected, with regularity." In 1923, three of 
the five members of the Oklahoma House of 
Representatives from Tulsa Country were ad- 
mitted klansmen. 

In addition to cross burnings, Tulsa Klan 
members also routinely engaged in acts of vio- 
lence and intimidation. Richard Gary, who 
lived off Admiral Boulevard during the early 
1920s, still has vivid memories of hooded 
klansmen, a soon-to-be horsewhipped victim 

sitting between them, heading east in open tour- 
ing cars. Suspected bootleggers, wife-cheaters, 
and automobile thieves were among the most 
common victims — but they weren't the only 
ones. In May 1922, black Deputy sheriff John 
Henry Smitherman was kidnaped by klansmen, 
who sliced off one of his ears. Fifteen months 
later, Na than Hantaman, a Jew ish movie projec- 
tionist, was kidnaped by Klan members, who 
nearly beat him to death. The city's Catholic 
population also was the target of considerable 
abuse, as Tulsa klansmen tried to force local 
businessmen to fire their Catholic employees.^ "* 

Not all white Tulsans, of course, or even a 
majority, belonged to the Ku Klux Klan in the 
1920s. Among the city' s white Protestants, there 
were many who disdained both the Klan's tac- 
tics and beliefs. Nonetheless, at least until the 
mid- 1920s, and in some ways all the way until 
the end of the decade, there is no doubt but that 
the Ku Klux Klan was a powerful force in the 
life of the city." 

Less easy to document, however, is whether 
the Klan was organized in Tulsa prior to the 
1921 race riot. While there have been a number 
of allegations over the years claiming that the 
Klan was directly involved in the riot, the evi- 
dence is quite scanty — in either direction — as 
to whether or not the Klan had an actual organi- 
zational presence in the city prior to August 
1921, some two months after the riot. However, 
since this is an area of continuing interest, it 
may prove help ful to ex am ine this ev i dence a bit 
more closely. 

According to the best available scholarship, 
the first Klan organizers to officially visit 
Oklahoma — George Kimbro, Jr. and George C. 
McCarron, both from Houston — did not arrive 
until the summer of 1920. Setting up headquar- 
ters in the Baltimore Building in downtown 
Oklahoma City, McCarron stayed on in the state 
capital, and began looking for future klansmen 
among the membership of the city's various 
white fraternal orders. According to Carter Blue 
Clark, whose 1976 doctoraldissertationremains 
the standard work on the history of the Ku Klux 
Klan in Oklahoma, McCarron "shortly had 
twelve Kleagles [assistant organizers] working 
out of his office selling memberships through- 


out the city, and very soon throughout the 
state." While Clark concluded that the Klan 
"could not be credited with precipitating the 
riot" — a finding shared by most scholars of 
the riot — he also determined that Klan orga- 
nizers had been active in the Tulsa region be- 

The fact that Tulsa would have been an early 
destination for Klan organizers — who, like 
their counterparts elsewhere, were paid on a 
commission basis — is entirely reasonable. 
Not only did Tulsa itself offer a large base of 
potential members, but the city was a likely 
jumping-off place for organizing the nearby oil 

Other evidence also points toward there be- 
ing members of the Klan in Tulsa prior to the 
riot. In the sermon he delivered on Sunday eve- 
ning, June 5, 1921 — only four days after the 
riot — Bishop E.D. Mouzon told parishioners 
at Boston Avenue Methodist Church that, 
"There may be some of you here tonight who 
are members of the Ku Klux Klan." Further- 
more, research conducted by Ruth Avery in the 
1960s and 1970s also points toward pre-riot 
Klan membership in Tulsa." 

However, other evidence suggests that, if 
anything, the Klan had a very limited presence 
in Tulsa before the riot. Throughout the first 
five months of 1921, for example, the Tulsa 
Tribune did not hesitate to print stories about 
Ku Klux Klan activities elsewhere, but gave 
no hint of there being any in Tulsa. 

Moreover, only one week before the riot, on 
May 22, 1921, the Tribune carried an adver- 
tisement for the May Brothers clothing store 
which poked fun at the Klan. Announcing that 
the downtown men's clothiers had created its 
own "Kool Klad Klan," the advertisement 
went on to explain that this was a "hot weather 
society" whose members would receive dis- 
counts on their purchases of summer clothing. 
"Men who join the K.K.K. pay less for their 
summer clothes and get more out of them," ran 
the ad copy, "Palm Beach is the favorite suit of 
most members." What went unspoken, how- 
ever, is that the May brothers were Jewish im- 
migrants from Russia, something that made 
them likely candidates for Klan harassment. 

The fact the brothers ran the advertisement 
would seem to suggest that on the eve of the 
riot, the existence of the Ku Klux Klan in Tulsa 
was far from common knowledge, perhaps re- 
flecting membership numbers that were still 

The riot would change all of that. Beginning 
with what one student of the history of the Klan 
described as "the first open sign of the Klan's 
presence in Tulsa" in early August 1921, more 
than two months after the riot, the Klan literally 
exploded across the city. On August 10, more 
than two-thousand people attended a lecture at 
Convention Hall by a Klan spokesman from At- 
lanta. Three weeks later, on the evening of Au- 
gust 31, some three-hundred white Tulsa men 
were initiated into the Klan at a ceremony held 
outside of town. Three days later, masked klans- 
men kid naped an al leged boot leg ger named J.E. 
Frazier and took him to a remote spot outside of 
Owasso and whipped him severely. After the 
county at tor ney sub se quently an nounced that he 
would take no action against the klansmen, and 
intimated that the victim probably got what he 
deserved, more whippings soon followed. With 
the attack on J.E. Frazier, Tulsa's Klan era be- 
gan in earnest. 

Despite the lack of convincing evidence link- 
ing the Klan to the outbreak of the riot in the 
months that followed, Klan organizers used the 
riot as a recruiting tool. The Klan lecturer from 
Atlanta who visited Tulsa in August 1921 de- 
clared that "the riot was the best thing that ever 
happened to Tulsa," while other Klan spokes- 
men preyed upon the heightened emotional 
state of the white community after the riot. 
However the pitch was made, it soon became 
abun dantly clear that Tulsa was prime re cruit ing 
territory for the Ku Klux Klan. Indeed, it had 
been for quite some time."* ' 

Despite the fact that segregation appeared to 
be gain ing ground state wide, in the months lead- 
ing up to the riot, more than a few white Tulsans 
instead feared, at least in Tulsa itself, that the 
opposite was true. Many were especially in- 
censed when black Tulsans disregarded, or 
challenged, Jim Crow practices. Others were 
both enraged at, and jealous of, the material 
success of some of Greenwood's leading citi- 


zens — feelings that were no doubt increased 
by the sharp drop in the price of crude oil, and 
the subsequent layoffs in the oil fields, that 
preceded the riot. Indeed, an unidentified 
writer for one white Tulsa publication, the Ex- 
change Bureau Bulletin, later listed "niggers 
with money" as one of the so-called causes of 
the catastrophe. During the weeks and months 
leading up to the riot, there were more than a 
few white Tulsans who not only feared that the 
color line was in danger of being slowly 
erased, but believed that this was already hap- 



Adding to these fears was the simple reality 
that, at the time, the vast majority of white 
Tulsans possessed almost no direct knowledge 
of the African American community whatso- 
ever. Although a handful of whites owned 
businesses in Greenwood, and a few others oc- 
casionally visited the area for one reason or an- 
other, most white Tulsans had never set foot in 
the African American district, and never 
would. Living in all-white neighborhoods, at- 
tending all-white schools and churches, and 
working for the most part in all- white work 
environments, the majority of white Tulsans in 
1921 had little more than fleeting contact with 
the city's black population. What little they 
knew, or thought they knew, about the African 
American community was susceptiblenotonly 
to ra cial ste reo types and deeply-ingrained prej- 
udices, but also to rumor, innuendo, and, as 
events would soon prove, what was printed in 
the newspaper. 

Such conditions, it turned out, proved help- 
ful to the Klan, and both before and after the 
riot, Klan organizers exploited the racial con- 
cerns of white Tulsans as a method of boosting 
membership. However, the organizers also 
used something else. Race relations was not 
the only major societal issue that weighed 
heavily on the minds of many Tulsans during 
the months that led up to the riot. Rather, they 
were also deeply concerned about something 
else — something that, in the end, proved to be 
a gateway to catastrophe. 

Of all the visitors who came to Tulsa in the 
months preceding the riot, not everyone left 
town with a positive image. Despite the city's 

new skyscrapers and impressive mansions, its 
booming oil industry and its rags-to-riches mil- 
lionaires, some visitors — like the federal agent 
who spent five days undercover in Tulsa in late 
April, 1921 — saw a far different side of local 
life. In his "Report on Vice Conditions in 
Tulsa", the agent had found that: 

Gambling, bootlegging and prostitution 
are very much in evidence. At the leading 
hotels and rooming houses the bell hops 
and porters are pimping for women, and 
also selling booze. Regarding violations of 
the law, these prostitutes and pimps solicit 
without any fear of the police, as they will 
invariably remind you that you are safe in 
these houses. 

The agent concluded, "Vice conditions in this 
city are extremely bad."" 

Few Tulsans, in those days, would have been 
surprised by the agent's findings. In addition to 
the city' s growing fame as the Oil Capital, Tulsa 
also was gaining something of a reputation — 
and not just regionally, but also among New 
York bankers and insurance men — as a 
wide-open town, a place where crime and crimi- 
nals were as much a part of the oil boom as well 
logs and drilling rigs. 

Most certainly, there was plenty of evidence 
to sup port such a con clu sion. Well-known gam- 
bling dens — like Dutch Weete's place three 
miles east of the fairgrounds, or Puss Hall's 
roadhouse along the Turley highway — flour- 
ished on the outskirts of town, while within the 
city, both a fortune in oil royalties, or a rough- 
neck's wages, could be gambled away, night af- 
ter night, in poker games in any number of 
hotels and rooming houses. 

During the Prohibition era, both Oklahoma 
and the nation were supposedly dry, although 
one would not know it from a visit to Tulsa. One 
well-known local watering hole flourished in 
the Boston Building, less that two blocks from 
police headquarters, while scattered across the 
city were a number of illegal bars offering corn 
whiskey, choc beer, or the latest rage, "Jake" or 
Jamaica gin ger. In Green wood, cus tom ers with a 
taste for live music with their whiskey might 
frequent Pretty Belle's place, while on the south 
side of town, the well-to-do oil set, it was said. 


purchased their liquor from a woman living at 
Third and Elgin. Hotel porters and bellhops 
regularly delivered pints and quarts to their 
guests, while an active bootlegging network 
operated out of the city' s drug stores and phar- 
macies. For customers who placed a premium 
on discretion, both bootleggers and taxi driv- 
ers alike would also make regular home deliv- 



Illegal drugs were also present. Morphine, 
cocaine, and opium could all be purchased in 
Tulsa, apparently without much difficulty. In- 
deed, one month before the riot, federal nar- 
cotics officer Charles C. Post, declared, "Tulsa 
is overrun with narcotics."''^ 

Hand-in-hand with this illegal consumption 
came a plenitude of other crime. Automobile 
theft was said to be so common in Tulsa prior 
to the riot, it was claimed, that "a number of 
companies have can celed all pol i cies on cars in 
Tulsa." Petty crimes, from housebreaking to 
traffic violations, were common fodder in the 
city's newspapers during this period — but so 
were more serious offenses. In the year pre ced- 
ing the riot, two Tulsa police officers had been 
killed on duty, while less than six weeks before 
the riot, Tulsa police officers were involved in 
a spectacular shoot-out with armed bandits at 
an east side rooming house. State As sis tant At- 
torney General George F. Short, who visited 
Tulsa during this same period, even went so 
far as to describe the local crime conditions as 
"apparently grave." 

While not everyone in town would have 
agreed with such a bleak assessment, there 
was no denying the fact that, on the eve of the 
race riot, the city had a serious crime problem. 
However, it was equally true that, in many 
ways, this was not only nothing new, but had 
more or less been a constant since the first 
heady days of the Glenn Pool and its attendant 
land swindles and get-rich-quick schemes. 
"Tulsans on the whole have had enough of the 
slime and crime that characterize a new com- 
munity which draws much of the bad with the 
good in a rich strike," mused one localeditorial 
writer, "But Tulsa has outgrown that stage."" 

A number of Tulsans had attempted, seem- 
ingly without a great deal of success, for years 

to do something about the local crime condi- 
tions. In 1914, the Ministerial Alliance had 
mounted a cam paign against gam bling and other 
forms of vice. Five years later, a group of 
well-known white leaders formed a "Commit tee 
of One Hundred" to combat local crime prob- 
lems. Two years after that, in early 1921, the 
group was revived, vowing to see that a "clean 
sweep of criminals is made here and that the 
laws are enforced."" 

However, there was a dark side to local 
anti-crime efforts as well. As young as the city 
of Tulsa was in the spring of 1921, it could al- 
ready claim a long history of vigilante activity. 
In 1894, a white man known as "Dutch John," 
who was suspected of being a cattle rustler, was 
reportedly lynched in Tulsa. Ten years later, in 
1904, a mob of whites gathered outside of the 
local jail, intending to lynch an African Ameri- 
can prisoner held inside, but were turned away 
by the mayor, a local banker, and, not the least, 
by the city marshall, who had drawn both of his 
guns on the mob." 

Although violence had been averted, that was 
far from the end of vigilantism in Tulsa. In 
1917, after the United States had entered World 
War I, a secret society calling itself the Knights 
of Liberty unleashed a local campaign of terror 
and intimidation against suspected slackers. 
Men no nites and other pac i fists, as well as po lit i- 
cal radicals. The group's most infamous action 

— that gained the attention of the national press 

— came in November 1917 when, with the en- 
cour age ment of the white press and the ap par ent 
cooperation of the local authorities, masked 
members of the Knights tarred and feathered 
more than a dozen local members of the Indus- 
trial Workers of the World, a radical union 
movement, and forced them out of town at gun- 

Even though the Knights of Liberty/I.W.W. 
in ci dent had been an all-white affair, it proved to 
be an important step along the road to the race 
riot. Not only did local law enforcement refuse 
to actively investigate the incident, but the se- 
cret society was praised by the white press for 
taking the law into its own hands, an important 
precedent for more such activities in the fu- 


Nevertheless, it would not be until nearly 
three years later, during the late summer of 
1920, that Tulsa would experience an incident 
that would prove to be the single most impor- 
tant precursor to the race riot. While all of its 
participants also were white, it, too, would 
have profound reverberations on both sides of 
the color line. 

It began on Saturday night, August 21, 1920, 
when a Tulsa cab driver named Homer Nida. 
was hired by two young men and one young 
woman to drive them to a dance in Sapulpa. 
Along the way, in the countryside past Red 
Fork, one of the men pulled out a revolver and 
forced Nida to pull over. Striking the terrified 
cab driver with the pistol, the gunman de- 
manded money. When Nida could not produce 
a sufficient amount of cash, the gunman shot 
Nida in the stomach and kicked him out onto 
the highway, as the trio sped off in the 
now-stolen taxi. Apassingmotoristdiscovered 
Nida a short while later, and rushed the se- 
verely wounded driver to a hospital. ^^ 

The next day, police in Nowata, acting on a 
tip, arrested an eighteen-year-old one-time 
telephone company employee named Roy 
Belton, who denied having had anything to do 
with the affair. Belton was taken to Homer 
Nida's hospital room in Tulsa, where the cab 
driver identified him as his assailant. Again, 
Belton denied the accusation. 

Two days later, however, Roy Belton who 
was now being held in the jail located on the 
top floor of the Tulsa County Courthouse 
changed his story. He admitted that he had 
been in the taxicab, and that he and his accom- 
plices had planned on robbing the driver. He 
insisted the shooting had been accidental. 
Belton claimed that the gun had been damaged 
when he struck Nida in the head with it, and 
that it had gone off accidentally while he was 
tying to repair it." 

Belton' s dubious account, however, only 
added fuel to the already inflamed emotions 
that many Tulsans already held about the 
shooting, a situation made even more tense by 
the fact that Homer Nida lay languishing in a 
Tulsa hospital. Less than forty-eight hours af- 
ter Belton' s so-called "confession," Tulsa 

County Sheriff Jim WooUey had heard rumors 
that if the cab driver died, the courthouse would 
be mobbed and Roy Belton would be lynched. ' "* 

Two days later, on Saturday, August 28, 
1920, Homer Nida finally succumbed to his 
wounds and died. In reporting the news of his 
death in that afternoon's edition, the Tulsa Tri- 
bune quoted the driver's widow as saying that 
Belton deserved "to be mobbed, but the other 
way is better."" 

Other Tulsans thought otherwise. By 11:00 
p.m. that same evening, hundreds of whites had 
gath ered out side of the court house. Soon, a del e- 
gation of men carrying rifles and shotguns, 
some with handkerchiefs covering their faces, 
entered the building and demanded of Sheriff 
WooUey that he turn Belton over to them. The 
sheriff later claimed that he tried to dissuade the 
intruders, but he appears to have done little to 
stop them. For a little while later, the men ap- 
peared on the courthouse steps with Roy Belton. 
"We got him boys," they shouted, "We've got 

Belton was then placed in Homer Nida' s taxi- 
cab which had been stolen from the authorities 
— and was driven out past Red Fork, followed 
by a line of automobiles "nearly a mile long." 
Not far from where Nida had been shot, the pro- 
cession stopped, and Belton was taken from the 
cab and interrogated. But when a rumor spread 
that a posse was in hot pursuit, everyone re- 
turned to their cars and set out along the road to 

The lynch mob had little to fear. Tulsa police 
did not arrive at the courthouse in any apprecia- 
ble numbers until after Belton had been kid- 
naped and the caravan of cars had left 
downtown. "We did the best thing," Police 
Chief John Gustafson later claimed, "[we] 
jumped into cars and followed the ever increas- 
ing mob." 

By the time police officers finally caught up 
with the lynching party, it had reassembled 
along the Jenks road about three miles south- 
west of Tulsa. Once again, Roy Belton was 
taken from the cab, and then led to a spot next to 
a roadside sign. A rope was procured from a 
nearby farmhouse, a noose was thrown around 
his neck, and he was lynched. Among the crowd 


— estimated to be in the hundreds — were 
members of the Tulsa police, who had been in- 
structed by Chief Gustafson not to intervene. 
"Any demonstration from an officer," he later 
claimed, "would have started gun play and 
dozens of innocent people would have been 
killed and injured. "^^ 

In the days that followed, however, 
Gustafson practically applauded the lynching. 
While claiming to be "absolutely opposed" to 
mob law, the police chief also stated "it is my 
honest opinion that the lynching of Roy Belton 
will prove of real benefit to Tulsa and the vi- 
cinity. It was an object lesson to the hijackers 
and auto thieves." Sheriff WooUey echoed the 
chief, claiming that the lynching showed crim- 
inals "that the men of Tulsa mean business."^* 

Nor were Tulsa's top lawmen alone in their 
sentiments. The Tulsa Tribune, the city's af- 
ternoon daily, also claimed to be opposed to 
mob law, but offered little criticism of the ac- 
tual lynching party. The Tulsa World, the 
morning daily, went even further. Calling the 
lynching a "righteous protest," the newspaper 
added: "There was not a vestige of the mob 
spirit in the act of Saturday night. It was citi- 
zenship, outraged by government inefficiency 
and a too tender regard for the professional 
criminal." The World went on to blast the cur- 
rent state of the criminal justice system, omi- 
nously adding, "we predict that unless 
conditions are speedily improved," that the 
lynching of Roy Belton "will not be the last by 
any means."" 

With the death of Roy Belton, Tulsa had not 
simply joined the list of other Oklahoma cities 
and towns where, sadly enough, a lynching had 
occurred. Of equal importance was the fact 
that, as far as anyone could tell, the local law 
enforcement authorities in Tulsa had done pre- 
cious lit tie to stop the lynch ing. Thus, the ques- 
tion arose, if another mob ever gathered in 
Tulsa to lynch someone else, who was going to 
stop them? 

The lynching of Roy Belton cast a deep pall 
over black Tulsa. For even though Homer 
Nida, Roy Belton, and the lynching party itself 
had all been white, there was simply no escap- 
ing the conclusion that if Belton had been 

black, he would have been lynched just the 
same, and probably sooner. What about the next 
time that an African American was charged with 
a serious crime in Tulsa, particularly if it in- 
volved a white victim? What would happen 

A.J. Smitherman, the outspoken editor of the 
Tulsa Star, the city's oldest and most popular 
African American newspaper, was absolutely 
resolute on the matter of lynching. "There is no 

W. H. Twine and A. J. Smitherman at Twine 's law office in 
Muskogee (Courtesy Western History Collection, University of 

crime, however atrocious," he wrote following 
the lynching of Roy Belton, "that justifies mob 
violence." For Smitherman, lynching was not 
simply a crime to be condemned, but was liter- 
ally a "stain" upon society.*"' 

Nor was Smitherman alone in his sentiments. 
If there was one issue which united African 
Americans all across the nation, it was opposi- 
tion to mob law. Moreover, that opposition was 
par tic u larly strong in Oklahoma, as many blacks 
had immigrated to the state in no small measure 
to escape the mob mentality that was far from 
un com mon in some other parts of the coun try. 

However, both the lynching of Roy Belton in 
Tulsa, and that of a young African American in 


Oklahoma City that same week, brought to the 
surface some dire practical issues. In a situa- 
tion where a black prisoner was being threat- 
ened by a white mob, what should African 
Americans do? Smitherman was quite clear on 
the answer.As early as 1916, it has been re- 
ported, "a group of armed blacks pre vented the 
lynching of one of their number in 
Muskogee." In a similar situation, which 
happened only five months prior to the Tulsa 
riot, Smitherman had strongly praised a group 
of black men who had first armed themselves, 
and then set out in pursuit of a white mob that 
was en route to lynch an African American 
prisoner at Chandler. "As to the Colored men 
of Shawnee," Smitherman wrote, 

. . . they are the heroes of the story. If 
one set of men arm themselves and chase 
across the country to violate the law, cer- 
tainly another set who arm themselves to 
uphold the supremacy of the law and pre- 
vent crime, must stand out prominently as 
the best citizens. Therefore, the action of 
the Colored men in this case is to be com- 
mended. We need more citizens like them 
in every community and of both races." 

Five months later, when a group of African 
Amer i cans in the state cap i tal had not gath ered 
until after a black youth had been lynched by a 
white mob, Smitherman was unsparing in his 
criticism. "It is quite evident," he wrote, "that 
the proper time to afford protection to any 
prisoner is BEFORE and during the time he is 
being lynched."" 

It also was clear that there were black 
Tulsans who were prepared to do just that. A 
little more than a year before Roy Belton was 
lynched, an incident occurred in Tulsa that — 
while it received little press coverage at the 
time — gave a clear indication as to what ac- 
tions some black Tulsans would take if they 
feared that an African American was in danger 
of becoming the victim of mob violence. 

The incident began on the evening of March 
17, 1919, when a white ironworker was shot 
by two armed stick-up men on the outskirts of 
downtown. The ironworker died of his wounds 
some twelve hours later, but before he suc- 
cumbed, he told Tulsa police detectives that 

his assailants were black, and he provided the 
officers with a rather sketchy description of 
each man. "Violence is feared," wrote the Tulsa 
Democrat of the shooting, "if the guilty pair is 
taken in charge."" 

Some forty-eight hours later, Tulsa police of- 
ficers arrested not two, but three, African Amer- 
ican men in connection with the shooting. 
Despite proclamations by the police that the ac- 
cused men would be protected, concerns for 
their safety quickly spread across the black 
community, and rumors began to circulate that 
the trio might be in danger of being lynched. The 
rumors reached a crescendo the day after the 
iron worker' s fu neral, when a del e ga tion of Afri- 
can American men — some of them armed -led 
by Dr. R.T. Bridgewater, a well-known physi- 
cian, paid an evening visit to the city jail, where 
the accused men were being held. 

"We understand there is to be some trouble 
here," Dr. Bridgewater reportedly informed a 
police captain. 

The police officer was adamant that nothing 
of the kind was go ing to oc cur. "There is not go- 
ing to be any trouble here," the captainallegedly 
replied, "and the best thing you fellows can do 
is beat it back and drop the firearms." Despite 
his confidence, however, the officer allowed a 
small contingent to visit with the prisoners in 
their cells. Apparently satisfied with the situa- 
tion. Dr. Bridgewater and the other African 
American men returned to Greenwood. There 
was no lynching. 

Whatever relief black Tulsans may have felt 
following this affair did not last long. With the 
lynching of Roy Belton some seventeen months 
later, the door to mob vi o lence in Tulsa was sud- 
denly pushed wide open. If a white could be 
lynched in Tulsa, why would a black not suffer 
the same fate? Moreover, as editor Smitherman 
observed, the Belton lynching had also clarified 
another matter — one that would prove to be of 
vital importance on May 31, 1921. "The lynch- 
ing of Roy Belton," Smitherman wrote in the 
Tulsa Star, "explodes the theory that a prisoner 
is safe on the top of the Court House from mob 

The death of Roy Belton shattered any confi- 
dence that black Tulsans may have had in the 


abil ity , or the will ing ness, of lo cal law en force- 
ment to prevent a lynching from taking place 
in Tulsa. It also had done something else. For 
more than a few black Tulsans, the bottom line 
on the matter had become clearer than ever. 
Namely, the only ones who might prevent the 
threatened lynching of an African American 
prisoner in Tulsa would be black Tulsans 

Despite the clarity of these conclusions, it is 
important to note that white Tulsans were ut- 
terly unaware of what their black neighbors 
were thinking. Although A.J. Smitherman's 
editorials regarding lynching were both direct 
and plainspoken, white Tulsans did not read 
the Tulsa Star, and Smitherman's opinions 
were not reported in the white press. As dra- 
matic and as significant as the visit of Dr. 
Bridgewater and the others was to the city jail 
during the 1919 incident, it received little cov- 
erage in the city's white newspapers at the 
time, and was no doubt quickly forgotten. 

Rather, when it came to the matter of lynch- 
ing, black Tulsa and white Tulsa were like two 
separate galaxies, with one quite unaware of 
what the other was thinking. However, as the 
year 1921 began to unfold, events would soon 
bring them crashing into one another. 

In 1921, most Tulsans received their news 
through either one or both of the city's two 
daily newspapers — the Tulsa World, which 
was the morning paper, or the Tulsa Tribune, 
which came out in the afternoon. While the 
World ^Neni all the way back to 1905, the Tri- 
bune was only two years old. It was the cre- 
ation of Richard Lloyd Jones, a Wisconsin 
born newspaperman who had also worked as a 
magazine editor in New York. Hoping to chal- 
lenge the more established — and, in many 
ways, more restrained — Tulsa World, Jones 
had fashioned the Tribune as a lively rival, un- 
afraid to stir up an occasional hornet's nest.*"' 
As it turned out, Tulsa's vexing crime problem 
proved to be an ideal local arena in which the 
Tri bune could hope to make a name for it self 

Sensing just how frustrated many Tulsans 
were with the local crime conditions, the Tri- 
bune launched a vigorous anti-crime campaign 
that ran throughout the early months of 1921. 

In addition to giving broad coverage to both lo- 
cal crim i nal ac tiv ity, and to sen sa tional mur ders 
from across the state, the Tribune also published 
a series of hard-hitting editorials. Using titles 
such as "Catch the Crooks," "Go After Them," 
"Promoters of Crime," "To Make Every Day 
Safe," "The City Failure," and 'Make Tulsa De- 
cent," the editorials called for nothing less than 

7 n 

an aggressive citywide clean-up campaign. 

Not surprisingly, the Tribune 's campaign ruf- 
fled the feathers of some local law enforcement 
figures along the way, including the county at- 
torney, the police commissioner, and several 
members of the Tulsa Police Department. While 
it is uncertain as to how much of the Tribune 's 
campaign had been motivatedbypartisanpoliti- 
cal concerns, both the paper' s news stories and 
its editorials caused considerable commotion. 
Allegations of police corruption — particularly 
regarding automobile theft — received a great 
amount of at ten tion, and ul ti mately led to for mal 
investigations of local law enforcement by both 
the State of Oklahoma and the City of Tulsa.' ' 

By mid-May 1921, the Tribune's anti-crime 
and anti-corruption campaign seemed to be on 
the verge of reaching some sort of climax. 
Branding the city government' s investigation of 
the police department as a "whitewash," the 
newspaper kept hammering away at the alleged 
inability of, or refusal by, local law enforcement 
to tackle Tulsa' s crime problem. "The peo pie of 
Tulsa are becoming awake to conditions that are 
no longer tolerable," argued a May 14 editorial. 
Two days later, in an editorial titled "Better Get 
Busy," the Tribune warned that if the mayor and 
the city commission did not fulfill their cam- 
paign pledges to "clean up the city," and "do it 
quick," that "an awakened community con- 
science will do it for them."" 

Just what that might entail was also becoming 
clearer and clearer. The very same months dur- 
ing which the Tribune waged its anti-crime 
campaign, the newspaper also gave prominent 
attention to news stories involving vigilante ac- 
tivities from across the Southwest. Front-page 
coverage was given to lynching threats made 
against African Americans in Okmulgee in 
March, Oktaha in April, and Hugo in May. The 
horsewhipping of an alleged child molester in 


Dallas by a group of masked men believed to 
be members of the Ku Klux Klan that also took 
place in May, was also given front-page treat- 
ment. Not surprisingly, the specter of Tulsa's 
own recent lynching also re-emerged in the 
pages of the Tribune in a May 26 editorial. 
While asserting that "Lawlessness to fight 
lawlessness is never justified," the editorial 
went on to claim "Tulsa enjoyed abrief re spite 
following the lynching of Roy Belton." More- 
over, the Tribune added that Belton' s guilt had 
been "practically established . . .."^^ 

A revived discussion of the pros and cons of 
vigilante activity was not the only new ele- 
ment to be added to the ongoing conversation 
about crime that was taking place in Tulsa in 
late May. Despite latter claims to the contrary, 
for much of early 1921, race had not been 
much of a factor in the Tribune 's vigorous 
anti-crime and anti-corruption campaign. 
Crimes in Greenwood had not been given un- 
due coverage, nor had black Tulsans been sin- 
gled out for providing the city with a 
disproportionate share of the city's criminal el- 

But beginning on May 21, 1921, only ten 
days before the riot, all that was to change. In a 
lengthy, front-page article concerning the on- 
going investigation of the police department, 
not only did racial issues suddenly come to the 
foreground, but more importantly, they did so 
in a manner that featured the highly explosive 
subject of relations between black men and 
white women. Commenting on the city's ram- 
pant prostitution industry, a former judge 
flatly told the investigators that black men 
were at the root of the problem. "We've got to 
get to the hotels," he said, "We've got to kick 
out the Negro pimps if we want to stop this 

Echoing these sentiments was the testimony 
of Reverend Harold G. Cooke, the white pastor 
of Centenary MethodistChurch. Accompanied 
by a private detective, Cooke had led a small 
group of white men on an undercover tour of 
the city's illicit nightlife — and had been, it 
was reported, horrified at what he had discov- 
ered. Not only was liquor available at every 
place that they visited, but at hotels and room- 

ing houses across the city. It was said, African 
American porters rather routinely offered to 
provide the men with the services of white pros- 
titutes. Just beyond the city limits, the Tribune 
reported, the group visited a roadhouse where 
the color lines seemed to have disappeared en- 
tirely. "We found whites and Negroes singing 
and dancing together," one member of Rever- 
end Cooke's party testified, "Young, white girls 
were dancing while Negroes played the pi- 


,7 5 

Considering Oklahoma's social, political, 
and cultural climate during the 1920s, the effect 
of this testimony should not be taken lightly. 
Many white Tulsans no doubt found Reverend 
Cooke's revelations to be both shocking and 
distasteful. Per hapsevenmore importantly, they 
now had a convenient new target for their grow- 
ing anger over local crime conditions. African 
American men who, at least as far as they were 
concerned, had far too much contact with white 

As it turned out however, Tulsans did not 
have much time to digest the new revelations. 
Only five days later, on May 26, 1921, the city 
was rocked by the news of a spectacular jail - 
break at the county courthouse. Sawing their 
way through their cell doors and through the 
one-inch steel bars that were set in an outer win- 
dow, and then lowering themselves four stories 
to the ground on a rope that they had made by ty- 
ing their blankets together, no less than twelve 
prisoners had escaped from the top floor jail. 
Remarkably, however, that was not the last jail- 
break that month. Four days later, early on the 
morning of Memorial Day, May 30, 1921, six 
more prisoners — sawing through the same 
hastily re paired cell doors and win dow bars also 
escaped from the courthouse jail." 

Although some of the escapees were quickly 
apprehended, the jailbreaks were one more in- 
gredient in what had become, by the end of May 
1921, an unstable and potentially volatile local 
atmosphere. For more than a few white Tulsans, 
local conditions regarding crime and punish- 
ment were fast becoming intolerable. Frustrated 
over the amount of lawbreaking in the city, and 
by the apparent inability of the police to do any- 
thing about it, they had helped turn the city into a 


ticking time bomb, where anger and frustra- 
tion sat just beneath the surface, waiting to ex- 
plode. Moreover, during the last ten days of 
the month, they also had been presented with, 
however fleetingly, a compelling new target 
for their fury, namely, black men who, to their 
eyes, had an undue familiarity with white 

As Tulsa prepared to celebrate Memorial 
Day, May 30, 1921, something else was in the 
air. As notions of taking the law into their own 
hands began to once again circulate among 
some white Tulsans, across the tracks in 
Greenwood, there were black Tulsans who 
were more determined than ever that in their 
city, no African American would fall victim to 
mob violence. World War I veterans and 
newspaper editors, common laborers and busi- 
nessmen, they were just as prepared as they 
had been two years earlier to make certain that 
no black person was ever lynched in Tulsa, 

Precisely at this moment, in this highly 
charged atmosphere, that two previously un- 
heralded Tulsans, named Dick Rowland and 
Sarah Page, walked out of the shadows, and 
onto the stage of history. 

Although they played a key role in the 
events which directly led to Tulsa' s race riot, 
very little is known for certain about either 
Dick Rowland or Sarah Page. Rumors, theo- 
ries, and unsubstantiated claims have been 
plentiful throughout the years, but hard evi- 
dence has been much more difficult to come 

Dick Rowland, who was black, was said to 
have been nineteen-years-old at the time of the 
riot. At the time of his birth, he was given the 
name Jimmie Jones. While it is not known 
where he was born, by 1908 he and his two sis- 
ters had ev i dently been or phaned, and were liv- 
ing "on the streets of Vinita, sleeping wherever 
they could, and begging for food." An African 
American woman named Damie Ford, who 
ran a tiny one-room-grocery store, took pity on 
young Jimmie and took him in. "That's how I 
became Jimmie' s 'Mama,'" she told an inter- 
viewer decades afterwards. 

Approximately one year later, Damie and her 
adopted son moved to Tulsa, where they were 
reunited with Damie' s family, the Rowlands. 
Eventually, little Jimmie took Rowland as his 
own last name, and selected his favorite first 
name, Dick, as his own. Growing up in Tulsa, 
Dick attended the city's separate all-black 
schools, including Booker T. Washington High 
School, where he played football. ^^ 

Dick Rowland dropped out of high school to 
take a job shining shoes in a white-owned and 
white-patronized shine parlor located down- 
town on Main Street. Shoe shines usually cost a 
dime in those days, but the shoe shiners — or 
bootblacks, as they were sometimes called — 
were often tipped a nickel for each shine, and 
sometimes considerably more. Over the course 
of a busy working day, a shoe shiner could 
pocket a fair amount of money — especially if 
he was a teenaged African Amer i can youth with 
few other job prospects. 

There were no toilet facilities, however, for 
blacks at the shine parlor where Dick Rowland 
worked. The owner had arranged for his African 
American employees to be able to use a 
"Colored" restroom that was located, nearby, in 
the Drexel Building at 319 S. Main Street. In or- 
der to gain access to the washroom, located on 
the top floor, Rowland and the other shoe shin- 
ers would ride in the build ing ' s sole el e va tor. El- 
evators were not automatic, requiring an 
operator. A job that was usually reserved for 

In late May 1921, the elevator operator at the 
Drexel Building was a seventeen-year-old 
white woman named Sarah Page. Thought to 
have come to Tulsa from Missouri, she appar- 
ently lived in a rented room on North Boston 
Avenue. It also has been reported that Page was 
attending a local business school, a good career 
move at the time. Although,Tulsa was still rid- 
ing upon its construction boom, some building 
owners were evidently hiring African American 
women to replace their white elevator opera- 



Whether - and to what extent — Dick 
Rowland and Sarah Page knew each other has 
long been a matter of speculation. It seems rea- 
sonable that they would have least been able to 


recognize each other on sight, as Rowland 
would have regularly rode in Page's elevator 
on his way to and from the restroom. Others, 
however, have speculated that the pair might 
have been lovers — a dangerous and poten- 
tially deadly taboo, but not an impossibility. 
Damie Ford later suggested that this might 
have been the case, as did Samuel M. Jackson, 
who operated a funeral parlor in Greenwood at 
the time of the riot. "I'm going to tell you the 
truth," Jackson told riot historian Ruth Avery a 
half century later, "He could have been going 
with the girl. You go through life and you find 
that somebody likes you. That's all there is to 
it." However, Robert Fairchild, who shined 
shoes with Rowland, disagreed. "At that 
time," Fairchild later recalled, "the Negro had 
so much fear that he didn't bother with inte- 
grated relationship[s]." 

Whether they knew each other or not, it is 
clear that both Dick Rowland and Sarah Page 
were downtown on Monday, May 30, 1921 — 
although this, too, is cloaked in some mystery. 
On Me mo rial Day, most — but not all — stores 
and businesses in Tulsa were closed. Yet, both 
Rowland and Page were apparently working 
that day. A large Memorial Day parade passed 
along Main Street that morning, and perhaps 
Sarah Page had been required to work in order 
to transport Drexel Building employees and 
their families to choice parade viewing spots 
on the building's upper floors. As for Dick 
Rowland, perhaps the shine parlor he worked 
at may have been open, if nothing else, to draw 
in some of the parade traffic. One post-riot ac- 
count suggests another alternative, namely, 
that Rowland was making deliveries of shined 
shoes that day. What is certain, however, is 
that at some point on Monday, May 30, 1921, 
Dick Rowland entered the elevator operated by 
Sarah Page that was situated at the rear of the 
Drexel Building.*' 

What happened next is anyone's guess. Af- 
ter the riot, the most common explanation was 
that Dick Rowland tripped as he got onto the 
elevator and, as he tried to catch his fall, he 
grabbed onto the arm of Sarah Page, who then 
screamed. It also has been suggested that 
Rowland and Page had a lover's quarrel. How- 

ever, it simply is unclear what happened. Yet, in 
the days and years that followed, everyone who 
knew Dick Rowland agreed on one thing: that 
he would never have been capable of rape." 

A clerk from Renberg's, a clothing store lo- 
cated on the first floor of the Drexel Building, 
however, reached the opposite conclusion. 
Hearing what he thought was a woman's 
scream, and apparently seeing Dick Rowland 
hurriedly flee the building, the clerk rushed to 
the elevator, where he found a distraught Sarah 
Page. Evidently deciding that the young eleva- 
tor operator had been the victim of an attempted 
sexual assault, the clerk then summoned the po- 

While it appears that the clerk stuck to his in- 
terpretation that there had been an attempted 
rape — and of a particularly incendiary kind — 
no record exists as to what Sarah Page actually 
told the police when they initially interviewed 
her. Whatever she said at the time, however, it 
does not appear that the police officers who in- 
terviewed her necessarily reached the same po- 
tentially explosive conclusion as that made by 
the Renberg's clerk, namely, that a black male 
had at tempted to rape a white fe male in a down- 
town office building. Rather than issue any sort 
of an all-points bulletin for the alleged as sail ant, 
it appears that the police launched a rather 
low-key investigation into the affair." 

Whatever had or had not happened in the 
Drexel Building elevator, Dick Rowland had 
become a justly terrified young man. For of all 
the crimes that African American men would be 
accused of in early twentieth century America, 
none seemed to bring a white lynch mob to- 
gether faster than an accusation of the rape, or 
attempted rape, of a white woman. Frightened 
and agitated, Rowland hastened to his adopted 
mother's home, where he stayed inside with 
blinds drawn." 

The next morning, Tuesday, May 31, 1921, 
Dick Rowland was ar rested on Green wood Av e- 
nue by two Tulsa police officers. Detective 
Henry Carmichael, who was white, and by Pa- 
trolman Henry C. Pack, who was one of a hand- 
ful of African Americans on the city's 
approximately seventy-five man police force. 
Rowland was booked at police headquarters. 


and then taken to the jail on the top floor of the 
Tulsa County Courthouse. Informed that her 
adopted son was in cus tody, Damie Ford seems 
to have lost no time in hiring a prominent 
white attorney to defend him.^ 

Word of both the alleged incident in the 
Drexel Building, and of the subsequent arrest 
of the alleged perpetrator, quickly spread 
throughout the city's legal circles. Blackattor- 
ney B.C. Franklin was sitting in the courtroom 
during a recess in a trial when he overheard 
some other lawyers discussing what he later 
concluded was the alleged rape attempt. "I 
don't believe a damn word of it," one of the 
men said, "Why I know that boy and have 
known him a good while. That' s not in him."* ' 

Not surprisingly, word of both the alleged 
incident and of the arrest of Dick Rowland had 
also made it to the offices of Tulsa' s two daily 
newspapers, the Tribune and the World. Due to 
the timing of the events, the Tulsa Tribune 
would have the first crack at the story. Not only 
had the alleged Drexel Building incident gone 
without notice in that morning's Tulsa World 
— perhaps, one is tempted to surmise, because 
word of the alleged incident had not yet made 
it to the paper's news desk, which may have 
been short-staffed due to the holiday — but 
Rowland' s arrest had apparently occurred after 
that morning's edition had already been 
printed. Being an afternoon paper, however, 
the Tulsa Tribune had enough time to break 
the news in its regular afternoon editions — 
which is exactly what it did. 

Precisely what the Tulsa Tribune printed in 
its May 31, 1921 editions about the Drexel 
Building incident is still a matter of some con- 
jecture. The original bound volumes of the 
now defunct newspaper apparently no longer 
exist in their entirety. A microfilm version is, 
however, available, but before the actual mi- 
crofilming was done some years later, some- 
one had deliberately torn out of the May 31, 
1921 city edition both a front-page article and, 
in addition, nearly all of the editorial page. 

We have known what the front-page story, 
titled "Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in Eleva- 
tor", said for some time. In his 1946 master's 
thesis on the riot, Loren Gill printed the entire 

text of the missing — and what he believed was 
no less than "inflammatory" — story, which 

Nab Negro for Attacking 
Girl in Elevator 

A Ne gro de liv ery boy who gave his name 
to the pubhc as "Diamond Dick" but who 
has been identified as Dick Rowland, was 
arrested on South Greenwood Avenue this 
morning by Officers Carmichael and Pack, 
charged with attempting to assault the 
17-year-old white elevator girl in the 
Drexel Building early yesterday. 

He will be tried in municipal court this af- 
ternoon on a state charge. 

The girl said she noticed the Negro a few 
minutes before the attempted assault look- 
ing up and down the hallway on the third 
floor of the Drexel Building as if to see if 
there was anyone in sight but thought noth- 
ing of it at the time. 

A few minutes later he entered the eleva- 
tor she claimed, and attacked her, scratch- 
ing her hands and face and tearing her 
clothes. Her screams brought a clerk from 
Renberg' s store to her as sis tance and the Ne- 
gro fled. He was captured and identified 
this morning both by the girl and the clerk, 
police say. 

Tenants of the Drexel Building said the 
girl is an orphan who works as an elevator 
operator to pay her way through business 

Since Gill's thesis first appeared, additional 
copies of this front-page article have surfaced. 
A copy can be found in the Red Cross papers 
that are located in the collections of the Tulsa 
Historical Society. A second copy, apparently 
from the "State Edition" of the Tulsa Tribune, 
could once be found in the collections of the 
Oklahoma Historical Society, but has now evi- 
dently disappeared.'" 

This front page article was not, however, the 
only thing that the Tulsa Tribune seems to have 
printed about the Drexel Building incident in its 
May 31, edition. W.D. Williams, who later 
taught for years at Booker T. Washington High 


School in Tulsa, had a vivid memory that the 
Tribune ran a story titled "To Lynch Negro To- 
night."^' In fact, however, what Williams may 
be recalling is not another news article, but an 
editorial from the missing editorial page. 

Other informants, both black and white, but- 
tress Williams' s ac count. Spe cifically, they re- 
called that the Tribune mentioned the 
possibility of a lynching — something that is 
entirely absent from the "Nab Negro for At- 
tacking Girl in Elevator" story, and thus must 
have appeared elsewhere in the May 31, edi- 
tion. Robert Fairchild later recalled that the 
Tribune "came out and told what happened. It 
said to the effect that 'there is likely to be a 
lynching in Tulsa tonight.'" One of Mary 
Parrish's informants, whom she interviewed 
shortly after the riot, provided a similar ac - 

The Daily Tribune, a white newspaper 
that tries to gain its popularity by referring 
to the Negro settlement as "Little Africa," 
came out on the evening of Tuesday, May 
31, with an article claiming that a Negro 
had experienced some trouble with a 
white elevator girl at the Drexel Building. 
It also said that a mob of whites was form- 
ing in order to lynch the Negro. 

Adjutant General Charles F. Barrett, who 
led National Guard troops from Oklahoma 
City into Tulsa the next day, recalled that there 
had been a "fantastic write-up of the [Drexel 
Building] incident in a sensation-seeking 

Given the fact that the editorial page from 
the May 31, Tulsa Tribune was also deliber- 
ately removed, and that a copy has not yet sur- 
faced, it is not difficult to conclude that 
whatever else the paper had to say about the al- 
leged incident, and what should be done in re- 
sponse to it, would have appeared in an 
editorial. "To Lynch Negro Tonight" certainly 
would have fit as the title to a Tribune editorial 
in those days. Moreover, given the seriousness 
of the charges against Dick Rowland, the ag- 
gressiveness of the paper's anti-crime cam- 
paign, and the fact that a Tribune editorial had 
mentioned the lynching of Roy Belton only 
four days earlier, it is highly likely that any edi- 

torial the paper would have run concerning the 
alleged Drexel Building incident would have 
surely mentioned lynching as a possible fate for 
Dick Rowland. Exactly what the newspaper 
would have said on the matter, however, can 
only be left to conjecture. 

The Tuesday, May 31, 1921 edition of the 
Tulsa Tribune hit the streets at about 3:15 p.m. 
And while the "Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in 
Elevator" was far from being the most promi- 
nent story on the front page of the city edition, it 
was the story that garnered the most attention. 
Making his way through downtown toward his 
office in Greenwood shortly after the Tribune 
rolled off the presses, attorney B.C. Franklin 
later recalled that "as I walked leisurely along 
the sidewalk, I heard the sharp shrill voice of a 
newsboy, "A Negro assaults a white girl."" 

Indeed, lynch talk came right on the heels of 
the Tribune 's sensational reporting. Ross T. 
Warner, the white manager of the downtown of- 
fices of the Tulsa Machine and Tool Company, 
wrote that after the Tribune came out that after- 
noon, "the talk of lynching spread like a prairie 
fire." Similar memories were shared by Dr. 
Blaine Waynes, an African Americanphysician 
and his wife Maude, who reported that after the 
Tribune was issued that day, that rumors of the 
"intended lynching of the accused Negro" 
spread so swiftly and ominously that even "the 
novice and stranger" could readily sense the 
fast-approaching chain of events that was about 
to unfold. By 4:00 p.m., the talk of lynching 
Dick Rowland had already grown so ubiquitous 
that Police and Fire Commissioner J.M. 
Adkison telephoned Sheriff Willard 
McCullough and alerted him to the 
ever-increasing talk on the street." 

Talk soon turned into action. As word of the 
alleged sexual assault in the Drexel Building 
spread, a crowd of whites be gan to gather on the 
street outside of the Tulsa County Courthouse, 
in whose jail Dick Rowland was being held. As 
people got off of work, and the news of the al- 
leged attack reported in the Tribune became 
more widely dispersed across town, more and 
more white Tulsans, infuriated by what had sup- 
posedly taken place in the Drexel Building, be- 
gan to gather out side the court house at Sixth and 








Tulsa County Courthouse where al leged murder Roy Belton was handed to an an gry mob. This event helped black lead- 
ers decide to offer assistance to Tulsa officials when Dick Rowland was held in the same position (Courtesy Oklahoma 
Historical Society). 

Boulder. By sunset — which came at 7:34 p.m. 
that evening — observers estimated that the 
crowd had grown into the hundreds. Not long 
afterwards, cries of "Let us have the nigger" 
could be heard echoing off of the walls of the 
massive stone courthouse. ^^ 

Willard M. McCuUough, who had recently 
been sworn in as the new sheriff of Tulsa 
County, however, had other ideas. Determined 
that there would be no repeat of the Roy 
Belton affair during his time in office, he 
quickly took steps to ensure the safety of Dick 
Rowland. Organizing his small force of depu- 
ties into a defensive ring around his now terri- 
fied prisoner, McCuUough positioned six of 
his men, armed with rifles and shotguns, on 
the roof of the courthouse. He also disabled the 
building's elevator, and had his remaining 
men barricade themselves at the top of the 
stairs with orders to shoot any intruders on 

McCuUough also went outside, on the court- 
house steps, and tried to talk the would-be 
lynch mob into going home, but was "hooted 
down" when he spoke. At approximatley 8:20 

p.m., in a near replay of the Belton incident, 
three white men entered the courthouse and de- 
manded that the sheriff turn over Rowland, but 
were angrily turned away. Even though his 
small force was vastly outnumbered by the 
ever-increasing mob out on the street, 
McCuUough, unlike his predecessor, was deter- 
mined to prevent another lynching.'^ 

Word of the alleged incident at the Drexel 
Building, and of the white mob that was gather- 
ing outside of the courthouse, meanwhile, also 
had raced across Greenwood. After reading the 
stories in the afternoon's Tribune, Willie Wil- 
liams, a popularjunior at Booker T. Washing- 
ton High School, had hurried over to his 
family's flagship business, the Dreamland The- 
ater, at 127 N. Greenwood. Inside, he found a 
scene of tension and confusion. "We're not go- 
ing to let this happen," declared a man who had 
leapt onto the theater's stage, "We're going to 
go downtown and stop this lynching. Close this 
place down." 

Outside, similar discussions were taking 
place up and down Greenwood Avenue, as 
black Tulsans debated how to respond to the in- 


creasingly dire threat to Dick Rowland. B.C. 
Franklin later re called two army vet er ans out in 
the street, urging the crowd gathered about 
them to take immediate action, while perhaps 
the most intense discussions were held in the 
offices of the Tulsa Star, the city's premier Af- 
rican American newspaper. 

What went un spo ken was the fact an Af ri can 
American had never been lynched in Tulsa. 
How to prevent one from taking place now was 
no easy mat ter. It was not sim ply the crime that 
Dick Rowland had been charged with — al- 
though that, by itself, made the situation par- 
ticularly dire. Rather, with the lynching of Roy 
Belton only nine months earlier, there was now 
no rea son at all to place much con fi dence in the 
ability of the local authorities to protect Dick 
Rowland from the mob of whites that was 
gathering outside the courthouse. However, 
ex actly ho w to re spond was of ut mo St con cern . 

For A.J. Smitherman, the editor of the Tulsa 
Star, there was no question whatsoever that a 
demonstration of resolve was necessary. Black 
Tulsans needed to let the white mob know that 
they were determined to prevent this lynching 
from taking place, by force of arms if neces- 
sary. Others, including a number of war veter- 
ans as well as various local leaders, the most 
prominent being hotel owner J.B. Stradford, 
vigorously agreed. Moreover, when Dr. 
Bridgewater had led a group of armed men 
downtown to where three accused African 
American men were being held only two years 
later, a rumored lynching did not take place. 
"Come on boys," Smitherman is said to have 
urged his audience, "let's go downtown." 

Not everyone agreed with the plan of action. 
O.W. Gurley, the owner of the Gurley Hotel, 
seems to have argued for a more cautious ap- 
proach. So, too, apparently, did Barney 
Cleaver, a well-respected African American 
deputy sheriff, who had been trying to keep in 
telephone contact with Sheriff McCullough, 
and therefore have something of a handle on 


the ac tual con di tions down at the court house. 

Despite some entreaties to the contrary, at 
about 9:00 p.m. a group of approximately 
twenty-five African American men decided to 
cast their lot not only with an endangered fel- 

low member of the race, but also, literally, upon 
the side of justice. Leaving Green wood by auto- 
mobile, they drove down to the courthouse, 
where the white mob had gathered. Armed with 
rifles and shotguns, the men got out of their au- 
tomobiles, and marched to the courthouse steps. 
Their purpose, they announced to the no doubt 
stunned authorities, was to offer their services 
toward the defense of the jail — an offer that 
was immediately declined. Assured that Dick 
Rowland was safe, the men then returned to 
their automobiles, and drove back to Green- 

The visit of the African American veterans 
had an electrifying effect, however, on the 
white mob, now estimated to be more than one 
thousand strong. Denied Rowland by Sheriff 
McCullough, it had been clear for some time 
that this was not to be an uncomplicated repeti- 
tion of the Belton affair. The visit of the black 
veterans had not at all been foreseen. Shocked, 
and then outraged, some members of the mob 
began to go home to fetch their guns.'' 

Others, however, made a beeline for the Na- 
tional Guard Armory, at Sixth and Norfolk, 
where they intended to gain access to the rifles 
and ammunition stored inside. Major James A. 
Bell, an officer with the local National Guard 
units — "B" Company, the Service Company, 
and the San i tary De tach ment, all of the Third In- 
fantry Regiment of the Oklahoma National 
Guard — had already been notified of the trou- 
ble brewing down at the courthouse, and had 
telephoned the local authorities in order to better 
understand the overall situation. "I then went to 
the Armory and called up the Sheriff and asked 
if there was any indications of trouble down 
there," Bell later wrote, "The sheriff reported 
that there were some threats but did not believe 
it would amount to any thing, that in any event he 
could protect his prisoner." Bell also phoned 
Chief Gustafson, who reported, "Things were a 
little threatening."'"" 

Despite such vague answers. Major Bell took 
the initiative and began to quietly instruct local 
guardsmen — who were scheduled to depart the 
next day for their annual summer encampment 
— to report down at the armory in case they 
were needed that evening. Meanwhile, a 


guardsman informed Bell that a mob of white 
men was attempting to break into the armory. 
As Bell later reported: 

Grabbing my pistol in one hand and my 
belt in the other I jumped out of the back 
door and running down the west side of 
the Armory building I saw several men ap- 
parently pulling at the window grating. 
Commanding these men to get off the lot 
and seeing this command obeyed I went to 
the front of the building near the south- 
west comer where I saw a mob of white 
men about three or four hundred strong. I 
asked them what they wanted. One of 
them replied, "Rifles and ammunition," I 
explained to them that they could not get 
anything here. Someone shouted, "We 
don't know about that, we guess we can." I 
told them that we only had sufficient arms 
and ammunition for our own men and that 
not one piece could go out of there without 
orders from the Governor, and in the name 
of the law demanded that they disperse at 
once. They continued to press forward in a 
threatening manner when with drawn pis- 
tol I again demanded that they disperse 
and explained that the men in the Armory 
were armed with rifles loaded with ball am- 
munition and that they would shoot 
promptly to prevent any unauthorized per- 
son entering there. 

"By maintaining a firm stand," Bell added, 
". . . this mob was dispersed."'*" 

Major Bell's actions were both courageous 
and effective but as the night wore on, similar 
efforts would be in exceedingly short supply. 
With each passing minute, Tulsa was a city 
that was quickly spinning out of control. 

By 9:30 p.m., the white mob outside the 
courthouse had swollen to nearly 
two-thousand persons. They blocked the side- 
walks as well as the streets, and had spilled 
over onto the front lawns of nearby homes. 
There were women as well as men, youngsters 
as well as adults, curiosity seekers as well as 
would-be lynchers. A handful of local leaders, 
including the Reverend Charles W. Kerr of the 
First Presbyterian Church as well as a local 

judge had tried unsuccessfully to talk the crowd 
into going home.'"^ 

Police Chief John A. Gustafson later claimed 
that he tried to talk the lynch mob into dispers- 
ing. However, at no time that afternoon or eve- 
ning did he order a substantial number of Tulsa 
policemen to appear, fully armed, at the court- 
house. Gustafson, in his defense, would later 
claim that because there was a regular shift 
change that very day, that only thirty-two offi- 
cers were available for duty at eight o'clock on 
the evening of May 31. As subsequent testi- 
mony — as recorded in handwritten notes to a 
post-riot investigation — later revealed, there 
were apparently only "5 policemen on duty be- 
tween courthouse & Brady hotel notwithstand- 
ing lynching imminent." Moreover, by 10:00 
p.m., when the drama at the courthouse was ap- 
proaching its climax, Gustafson was no longer 
at the scene, but had returned to his office at po- 
lice headquarters. 

In the city's African American neighbor- 
hoods, meanwhile, tension continued to mount 
over the increasingly ugly situation down at the 
courthouse. Alerted to the potentially danger- 
ous conditions, both school and church groups 
broke up their evening activities early, while 
parents and grandparents tried to reassure them- 
selves that the trou ble would quickly blow over. 
Down in Deep Greenwood, a large crowd of 
black men and women still kept their vigil out- 
side of the offices of the Tulsa Star, awaiting 
word on the latest developmentsdowntown. 

Some of the men, however, decided that they 
could wait no longer. Hopping into cars, small 
groups of armed African American men began 
to make brief forays into downtown, their guns 
visible to passersby. In addition to reconnais- 
sance, the primary intent of these trips appears 
to have been to send a clear message to white 
Tulsans that these men were determined to pre- 
vent, by force of arms if necessary, the lynching 
of Dick Rowland. Whether the whites who wit- 
nessed these excursions understood this mes- 
sage is, however, an open question. Many, 
apparently, thought that they were instead wit- 
nessing a "Negro uprising," a conclusion that 
others would soon share. 


In the midst of all of this ac tiv ity , ru mors be- 
gan to circulate, particularly with regards to 
what might or might not be happening down at 
the courthouse. Possibly spurred on by a false 
report that whites were storming the court- 
house, moments after 10:00 p.m., a second 
contingent of armed African American men, 
perhaps seventy-five in number this time, de- 
cided to make a second visit to the courthouse. 
Leaving Greenwood by automobile, they got 
out of their cars near Sixth and Main and 
marched, single file, to the courthouse steps. 
Again, they offered their services to the author- 
ities to help protect Dick Rowland. Once 
again, their offer was refused.'"^ 

Then it happened. As the black men were 
leaving the courthouse for the second time, a 
white man approached a tall African American 
World War I veteran who was carrying an 
army-issue revolver. "Nigger," the white man 
said, "What are you doing with that pistol?" 
"I'm going to use it if I need to," replied the 
black veteran. "No, you give it to me." Like 
hell I will." The white man tried to take the gun 
away from the veteran, and a shot rang out.""" 
America's worst race riot had begun. 

While the first shot fired at the courthouse 
may have been unintentional, those that fol- 
lowed were not. Almost immediately, mem- 
bers of the white mob — and possibly some 
law enforcement officers — opened fire on the 
African American men, who returned volleys 
of their own. The initial gunplay lasted only a 
few seconds, but when it was over, an un- 
known number of people — perhaps as many 
as a dozen — both black and white, lay dead or 

Outnumbered more than twenty-to-one, the 
black men began a retreating fight toward the 
African American district. With armed whites 
in close pursuit, heavy gunfire erupted again 
along Fourth Street, two blocks north of the 

Dr. George H. Miller, a white physician who 
was working late that evening in his office at 
the Unity Building at 21 W. Fourth Street, 
rushed outside after hearing the gun shots, only 
to come upon a wounded black man, "shot and 
bleeding, writhing on the street," surrounded 

by a group of angry whites. As Dr. Miller later 
told an interviewer: 

I went over to see if I could help him as a 
doctor, but the crowd was gathering around 
him and wouldn't even let the driver of the 
ambulance which just arrived to even pick 
him up. I saw it was an impossible situation 
to control, that I could be of no help. The 
crowd was getting more and more belliger- 
ent. The Negro had been shot so many 
times in his chest, and men from the onlook- 
ers were slashing him with knives. 

Unable to help the dying man. Dr. Miller got 
into his car and drove home."" 

A short while later, a second , deadlier, skir- 
mish broke out at Second and Cincinnati. No 
longer directly involved with the fate of Dick 
Rowland, the beleaguered second contingent of 
African American men were now fighting for 
their own lives. Heavily outnumbered by the 
whites, and suffering some casualties along the 
way, most were apparently able, however, to 
make it safely across the Frisco railroad tracks. 

A typical member of the white mob. Not only did they set Afri- 
can-American homes and businesses on fire, but looted their 
possessions as well (Courtesy Bob Hower). 


Following the outbreak of violence at the courthouse, crowds of angry whites took to the streets downtown. There, according to 
white eye witnesses, anum ber of blacks were killed in the ri ots early hours. And even though the fighting soon moved north toward 
Greenwood, groups of whites — in clud ing these at Main and Archer — were still roam ing the streets of down town the next mom ing 
(Courtesy Oklahoma HistoricalSociety). 

and into the more familiar environs of the Afri- 
can American community.''" 

At the courthouse, the sudden and unex- 
pected turn of events had a jolting effect on the 
would-be lynch mob, and groups of angry, ven- 
geance-seeking whites soon took the streets and 
sidewalks of downtown. "A great many of these 
persons lining the sidewalks," one white eye- 
witness later recalled, "were holding a rifle or 
shotgun in one hand, and grasping the neck of a 
liquor bottle with the other. Some had pistols 
stuck into their belts."' ' ' 

Some were about to become, at least tempo- 
rarily, officers of the law. Shortly after the 
fighting had broken out at the courthouse, a 
large number of whites - many of whom had 
only a little while earlier been members of the 
would-be lynch mob — gathered outside of 
police headquarters on Second Street. There, 
perhaps as many as five-hundred white men 
and boys were swom-in by police officers as 
"Special Deputies." Some were provided with 
badges or ribbons indicating their new status. 
Many, it appears, also were given specific in- 
structions. According to Laurel G. Buck, a 
white bricklayer who was sworn-in as one of 
these 'Special Deputies," a police officer 
bluntly told him to "Get a gun and get a 

Shortly thereafter, whites began breaking into 
downtown sporting goods stores, pawnshops, and 
hardware stores, stealing — or "borrowing" as 
some would later claim — guns and ammunition. 
Dick Bardon's store on First Street was particu- 
larly hard hit as well as the J.W. MeGee Sporting 
Goods shop at 22 W. Sec ond Street, even though it 
was located literally across the street from police 
headquarters. The owner later testified that a Tulsa 
po lice of fi cer helped to dole out the guns that were 
taken from his store. 

More bloodshed soon followed, as whites be- 
gan gunning down any African Americans that 
they discovered downtown. William R. 
Holway, a white engineer, was watching a 
movie at the Rialto Theater when someone ran 
into the theater, shouting "Nigger fight, nigger 
fight." As Holway later recalled: 

Everybody left that theater on high, you 
know. We went out the door and looked 
across the street, and there was 
Younkman's drug store with those big pil- 
lars. There were two big pillars at the en- 
trance, and we got over behind them. Just 
got there when a Negro ran south of the al- 
ley across the street, the minute his head 
showed outside, somebody shot him. 

"We stood there for about half-an-hour 
watching," Holway added, "which I shall never 


Groups of whites gath ered through out the city (Courtesy WestemHistoryCollec tion, University of Oklahoma Libraries). 

forget. He wasn't quite dead, but he was about 
to die. He was the first man that I saw shot in 
that riot."'''* 

Not far away, at the Royal The ater - that was 
showing a movie called "One Man in a Mil- 
lion" that evening — a similar drama played it- 
self out. Among the onlookers was a white 
teenager named William "Choc" Phillips, who 
later became a well-known Tulsa police offi- 
cer. As described by Phillips in his unpub- 
lished memoir of the riot: 

The mob action was set off when sev - 
eral [white] men chased a Negro man 
down the alley in back of the theater and 
out onto Fourth Street where be saw the 
stage door and dashed inside. Seeing the 
open door the Negro rushed in and hurried 
forward in the darkness hunting a place to 

Suddenly he was on the stage in front of 
the picture screen and blinded by the 
bright flickering light coming down from 
the operator' s booth in the balcony. After 
shielding his eyes for a moment he re- 
gained his vision enough to locate the 
steps leading from the stage down past the 
orchestra pit to the aisle just as the pursu- 
ing men rushed the stage. One of them saw 
the Ne gro and yelled, "there he is, heading 

for the aisle." As he finished the sentence, a 
roaring blast from a shotgun dropped the 
Negro man by the end of the orchestra 

Not all of the victims of the violence that 
broke out downtown were white. Evidence sug- 
gests that after the fighting broke out at the 
courthouse, carloads of black Tulsans may have 
exchanged gunfire with whites on streets down- 
town, possibly resulting in casualties on both 
sides. At least one white man in an automobile 
was killed by a group of whites, who had mis- 
taken him to be black.'"" 

Around midnight, a small crowd of whites 
gathered — once again — outside of the court- 
house, yelling "Bring the rope" and "Get the 
nigger." But they did not rush the building, and 
nothing happened. Because the truth of the mat- 
ter was that, by then, most of Tulsa's rioting 
whites no longer particularly cared about Dick 
Rowland anymore. They now had much bigger 
things in mind. 

While darkness slowed the pace of the riot, 
sporadic fighting took place throughout the 
nighttime hours of May 31 and June 1. The 
heaviest occurred alongside the Frisco railroad 
tracks, one of the key dividing lines between 
Tulsa's black and white commercial districts. 
From approximately midnight until around 1:30 


a.m., scores of blacks and whites exchanged 
gunfire across the Frisco yards. At one point 
dur ing the fight ing , an in bound train re port edly 
arrived, its passengers forced to take cover on 
the floor as the shooting continued, raking 
both sides of the train. 

A few carloads of whites also made brief ex- 
cursions into the African American district, 
firing indiscriminately into houses as they 
roared up and down streets lined with black 
residences, there were deliberate murders as 
well. As Walter White, who visited Tulsa im- 
mediately after the riot, later reported: 

Many are the sto ries of hor ror told to me 
- not by colored people - but by white resi- 
dents. One was that of an aged col ored cou- 
ple, saying their evening prayers before 
retiring in their little home on Greenwood 
Avenue. A mob broke into the house, shot 
both of the old people in the backs of their 
heads, blowing their brains out and spatter- 
ing them over the bed, pillaged the home, 
and then set fire to it.^^" 

It appears that the first fires set by whites in 
black neighborhoods began at about 1:00 a.m. 
African American homes and businesses along 
Archer were the earliest targets, and when an 
engine crew from the Tulsa Fire Department 
arrived and prepared to douse the flames, 
white rioters forced the firemen away at gun- 
point. By 4:00 a.m., more than two-dozen 
black-owned businesses, including the Mid- 
way Hotel, had been torched.'^' 

The nighttime hours of May 31, and June 1, 
also witnessed the first organized actions taken 
by the Tulsa units of the National Guard. While 
evidence indicates that Sheriff McCuUough 
may have requested local guard officers that 
they send men down to the courthouse at 
around 9:30 p.m.,'" it was not until more than 
an hour later — about the time that the fighting 
broke out at the courthouset — hat the local Na- 
tional Guard units were specifically ordered to 
take action with regards to the riot. According 
to the after action report later submitted by 
Major James Bell to local National Guard 
commander Lieutenant Colonel L.J.F. 

During the nighttime hours of May 31 and June 1, groups of 
armed whitesmade "drive-by" shootings in black residential 
neigh borhoods, fir inginto African -Ameri can homes (Courtesy 
Greenwood Cultural Center). 

About 10:30 o'clock, I think it was, I had 
a call from the Adjt. General asking about 
the situation. I explained that it looked 
pretty bad. He directed that we continue to 
use every effort to get the men in so that if a 
call came we would be ready. I think it was 
only a few minutes after this, another call 
from the Adjt. General directed that "B" Co., 
the Sanitary Det. and the Service Co. be mo- 
bilized at once and render any assistance to 
the civil authorities we could in the mainte- 
nance of law and order and the protection of 
life and property. I think this was about 
10:40 o'clock and while talking to the Gen- 
eral you appeared and assume command.' " 

At approximately 11:00 p.m., perhaps as 
many as fifty local National Guardsmen — 
nearly all of whom had been contacted at their 
homes — had gathered at the armory on Sixth 
Street. Some were World War I veterans. It is 
unclear whether any of the men had been 
trained in riot control. Although various official 
and unofficial manuals were available in 1921 
on the use of National Guard soldiers during ri- 
ots, it is uncertain whether the Tulsa units had 
received any training in this area.''"* 

Another interesting aspect regarding the 
guardsmen who gathered at the armory exists. 
Not only were the Tulsa units of the National 
Guard exclusively white, but as the evening 
wore on, it became increasingly clear that they 


Some of the most intense fighting during the riot took place alongside the Frisco Railroad yards, as African-American defenders 
tried to keep the white rioters away from Greenwood. But when dawn broke on the morning of June 1, the black defenders were 
simpley overwhelmed (CourtesyOklahomaHistoricalSociey). 

would not play an impartial role in the "main- 
tenance of law and order." Like many of their 
white neighbors, a number of the local guards- 
men also came to conclude that the race riot 
was, in fact, a "Negro uprising," a term used 
throughout their various after action reports. 
At least one National Guard officer went even 
further, using the term "enemy" in reference to 
African Americans. Given the tenor of the 
times, it is hardly surprising that Tulsa's 
all-white National Guard might view black 
Tulsans antagonistically. As the riot continued 
to unfold, this also would prove to be far from 

Ini tially, the lo cal guards men were de ployed 
downtown. Sometime before midnight, one 
detachment was stationed in front of police 
headquarters, where they blocked off Second 
Street. Guardsmen also led groups of armed 
whites on "patrols" of downtown streets, an 
activity that was later taken over by members 
of the — similarly all-white — lo cal chap ter of 

the American Legion. Tulsapoliceofficials also 
presented the guardsmen with a machine gun, 
which guard officers then had mounted on the 
back of a truck. This particular gun, possibly a 
war trophy, it turned out, was in poor operating 
condition, and could only be fired one shell at a 



Taking the machine gun along with them, 
about thirty guardsmen then headed north, and 
po si tioned them selves along De troit Av e nue be- 
tween Brady Street and Standpipe Hill, along 
one of the borders separating the city's white 
and black neighborhoods. Their deployment 
was far from impartial, for the "skirmish line" 
that the National Guard officers established was 
set-up facing - or soon would be — the African 
American district. Moreover, the guardsmen 
also began rounding up black Tulsans, whom 
they handed over — as prisoners — to the po- 
lice, and they also briefly exchanged fire with 
gunmen to the east. Far from being utilized as a 
neutral force, Tulsa's local National Guard unit 


North Tulsa bums while a white audience views the destruction from a safe distance (Courtesy Oklahoma HistoricalSociety). 

along Detroit Avenue were, even in the early 
hours of the riot, being deployed in a manner 
which would eventually set them in op position 
to the black community. '^^ 

In Tulsa' s black neighborhoods, meanwhile, 
word of what had happened at the courthouse 
was soon followed by even more disturbing 
news. A light-complexioned African Ameri- 
can man, who could "pass" for white, had min- 
gled with the crowds of angry whites 
downtown, where he overheard talk of invad- 
ing the African American district. Carefully 
making his way back home, the man then re- 
lated what he had heard to Seymour Williams, 
a teacher at Booker T. Washington High 
School. Williams, who had served with the 
army in France, grabbed his service revolver 
and began to spread the news among his 
neighbors living just off of Standpipe Hill.'" 

All along the southern edge of Greenwood, 
in fact, a great amount of activity was in prog- 
ress. Alerted to the news of the violence that 
had broken out downtown, garage and theater 
owner John Wesley WiUiams wasted no time 
in preparing for the possibility of even greater 
trou ble. Loading his 30-30 ri fie and are peat ing 
shotgun, he positioned himself along a 
south-facing window of his family's second 
floor apartment at the corner of Greenwood 
and Archer. Later telling his son that he was 

"defending Greenwood," he was one of scores 
of other African American residents who were 
preparing to do exactly the same. 

Other black Tulsans, however, reached a dif- 
ferent conclusion on what was the best course of 
action. Despite the fact that many of the city's 
African American residents undoubtedly hoped 
that daylight would bring an end to the violence, 
others decided not to wait and find out. In the 
early hours of June 1, a steady stream of black 
Tulsans began to leave the city, hoping to find 
safety in the surrounding countryside. "Early in 
the eve ning when there was first talk of trou ble," 
Irene Scofield later told the Black Dispatch, "I 
and about forty others started out of the town 
and walked to a little town about fifteen miles 
away." Others joining the exodus, however, 
were not as fortunate. Billy Hudson, an African 
American laborer who lived on Archer, hitched 
up his wagon as conditions grew worse, and set 
out — with his grandchildren by his side — for 
Nowata. He was killed by whites along the 

Adding to the confusion over what to do was 
the simple re al ity that, for most black Tulsans, it 
was by no means clear as to what, exactly, was 
going on throughout the city. This was particu- 
larly the case during the early hours of June 1 . 
Intermittent gunfire continued along the south- 
ernmost edges of the African American district 


Street by street, block by block, the white invaders moved northward across Tulsa 's African-American dis trict, loot ing homes and 
set ting them onfire (Courtesy Department ofSpecial Col lections, McFarlinLibrary, University of Tulsa). 

throughout the night, while down along Archer 
Street, the fires had not yet burned themselves 
out. Yet, as far as anyone could determine, 
Dick Rowland was still safe inside the court- 
house. There had been no lynching. 

At approximately 2:00 a.m., the fierce fight- 
ing along the Frisco railroad yards had ended. 
The white would-be invaders still south of the 
tracks. As a result, some of Greenwood's de- 
fenders not only concluded that they had 
"won" the fight, but also that the riot was over. 
"Nine p.m. the trouble started," A.J. 
Smitherman later wrote, "two a.m. the thing 
was done.""' 

Nothing could have been further from the 

Regardless of whatever was, or was not, 
happening down by the Frisco tracks, crowds 
of angry, armed whites were still very much in 
evidence on the streets and sidewalks of down- 
town Tulsa. Stunned, and then outraged, by 
what had occurred at the courthouse, they had 
only begun to vent their anger. 

Like black Tulsans, whites were not exactly 
certain as to what exactly was happening in the 
city, a situation that was, not surprisingly, tai- 

lor-made for rumors. Indeed, at about 2:30 a.m., 
the word spread quickly across downtown that a 
train carrying five-hundred armed blacks from 
Muskogee was due to arrive shortly at the Mid- 
land Valley Railway passenger station off Third 
Street. Scores of armed whites including a Na- 
tional Guard patrol rushed to the depot, but 
nothing happened. There was no such train. 

Approximately 30 minutes later, reports 
reached the local National Guard officers that 
African American gunman were firing on white 
residences on Sunset Hill, north of Standpipe 
Hill. Moreover, it was said that a white woman 
had been shot and killed. Responding to the 
news, guardsmen including the crew manning 
the semi-defective machine gun were deployed 
along Sunset Hill, an area that overlooked black 
homes to the east. 

In other white neighborhoods across Tulsa, a 
different kind of activity was taking place, par- 
ticularly during the first hours following mid- 
night. As word of what some would later call the 
"Negro uprising" began to spread across the 
white community, groups of armed whites be- 
gan to gather at hastily- arranged meeting places, 
to discuss what to do next.'" 


White ri ot ers be gan set ting blackhomes and busi nesses on fire around midnight, largely along Archer Street. There were atroc i ties 
as well. One el derlyAfri can-American couple, it was later reported, was shot in the back of the head by whites as they knelt in prayer 
in side their home (CourtesyOklahomaHis tor icalSociety). 

For "Choc" Phillips and his other young 
companions, word of this activity came while 
they were sitting in an all-night restaurant. 
"Everybody," they were told, "go to Fifteenth 
and Boulder." Phillips wrote: 

Many people were drifting out of the res- 
taurant so we decided to go along and see 
what happened at the meeting place. 
Driving south on Boulder we realized that 
many trucks and automobileswereheaded 
for the same location, and near Fifteenth 
Street people had abandoned their vehi- 
cles because the streets and intersections 
were filled to capacity. We left the car 
more than a block away and began walk- 
ing toward the crowded intersection. 
There were already three or four hundred 
people there and more arriving when we 
walked up. 

Once there, a man stood up on top of a tour- 
ing car and announced, "We have decided to 
go out to Second and Lewis Streets and join the 
crowd that is meeting there." 

Returning to their automobiles, Phillips and 
his companions blended in with the long line 

of cars headed east. He later estimated, the 
crowd that had gathered was about six-hundred 
strong. Once again, men stood up on top of cars 
and began shouting instructions to the crowd. 
"Men," once man announced, "we are going in 
at daylight." Another man declared that they 
would be having, right then and there, an ammu- 
nition exchange. "If any of you have more am- 
munition than you need, or if what you have 
doesn't fit your gun, sing out," he said. "Be 
ready at daybreak," another man insisted, claim- 
ing that meetings like this were taking place all 
over town. "Noth ing can stop us," he added, "for 
there will be thousands of others going in at the 
same time."'" 

The Tulsa police also appear to have been 
scattered all over town. No doubt responding to 
rumors that armed blacks were supposedly en 
route to Tulsa from various towns across eastern 
Oklahoma, Tulsa police officers had been dis- 
patched to guard various roads leading into the 
city. Indeed, no less than a half-dozen officers 
that by Chief Gustaf son's subsequent calcula- 
tions, was nearly one-fifth of the regularly 
scheduled available police force that evening, 
had ap par ently been posted at the ice plant over- 


Sweeping past the black business district, now aflame, the 
white rioters entered the heart of Tulsa 's African-American 
residential area (Courtesy Oklahoma HistoricalSociety). 

looking the Eleventh Street bridge. Some local 
guardsmen also were deployed to stand guard 
at various public works as well including the 
city water works along the Sand Springs road, 
and the Pub lie Ser vice Com pany ' s power plant 
off First Street.'" 

Word of what was happening in Tulsa was 
also making its way to state officials in 
Oklahoma City. At 10:14 p.m., Adjutant Gen- 
eral Charles F. Barrett, the commandant of the 
Oklahoma Na tional Guard, had re ceived a long 
distance telephone call from Major Byron 
Kirkpatrick, a Tulsa guard officer, advising 
him of the worsening conditions in Tulsa. 
Kirkpatrick phoned again at 12:35 a.m. At that 
point he was instructed by Governor J.B.A. 
Robertson to prepare and send a signed tele- 
gram, as required by Oklahoma state law, by 
the chief of police, the county sheriff, and a lo- 
cal judge, requesting that state troops be sent 
to Tulsa. Kirkpatrick, however, ran into some 
problems as he tried to collect the necessary 
signatures, particularly that of Sheriff 
McCuUough, who was still barricaded with his 
men and Dick Rowland on the top floor of the 
courthouse. However, Kirkpatrick persevered. 

and at 1:46 a.m., the needed telegram arrived at 
the state capital.' ^ * It read: 

Tulsa, Okla 
June 1,1921 

Govemor J.B.A. Robertson Oklahoma 
City, Oklahoma. Race riot developed here. 
Several killed. Unable handle situation. Re- 
quest that National Guard forces be sent by 
special train. Situation serious. 

Jno. A. Gustaftson, 

Chief of Pohce 

Wm. McCuUough, 


V.W. Biddison 

District Judge 

Twenty-nine minutes later, at 2:15 a.m.. Ma- 
jor Kirkpatrick spoke again by phone with Ad- 
jutant General Barrett, who informed him that 
the governor had authorized the calling out of 
the state troops. A special train, carrying ap- 
proximately one-hundred National Guard sol- 
diers would leave Oklahoma City, bound for 
Tulsa, at 5:00 a.m. that morning.' " 

Tulsa' s Ion gest night would fi nally be end ing, 
but its longest day would have only begun. 

In the pre-dawn hours of June 1, thousands of 
armed whites had gathered in three main clus- 
ters along the northern fringes of downtown, op- 
posite Greenwood. One group had assembled 
behind the Frisco freight depot, while another 
waited nearby at the Frisco and Santa Fe passen- 
ger station. Four blocks to the north, a third 
crowd was clustered at the Katy passenger de- 
pot. While it is unclear how many people were 
in each group, some contemporary observerses- 
timated the total number of armed whites who 
had gathered as high as five or ten thousand. '"" 

Smaller bands of whites also had been active. 
One group hauled a machine gun to the top of 
the Middle States Milling Company's grain ele- 
vator off of First Street, and set it up to fire to the 
north of Greenwood Avenue. '"*' Shortly before 
daybreak, five white men in a green Franklin 
automobile pulled up alongside the crowd of 
whites who were massed behind the Frisco 
freight depot. "What the hell are you waitin' 
on?," one of the men hollered, "let's go get 


The looting and burning of Afri can -Ameri can homeswas indiscriminate, bothpoorandwealthy families lost 
their homes (Courtesy Greenwood Cultural Center). 

'em." But the crowd would not budge, and the 
men in the car set off alone toward Deep 
Greenwood. Their bodies, and the bul- 
let-ridden Franklin, were later seen in the mid- 
dle of Archer Street, near Frankfort. 

Across the tracks in Greenwood, consider- 
able activity also had been taking place. While 
some black Tulsans prepared themselves to 
face the onslaught, others decided that it was 
time to go. "About this time officers Pack and 
Lewis pushed up to us and said it would not be 
safe for us to remain any longer," recalled Mrs. 
Dimple Bush, who was with her husband at the 
Red Wing Hotel. "So," she added, "We rushed 
out and found a taxi which took us straight 
north on Greenwood." 

Not far away, along North Elgin, Julia Duff, 
a teacher at Booker T. Washington High 
School, faced a similar crisis. Awakened by 
loud voices outside of her rented room shortly 
before dawn, the young teacher was soon 
nearly overcome with fear. As later described 
in a letter pub lished in the ChicagoDefender: 

Mrs. S. came into her room and told her 
to dress-there was something wrong for 
soldiers were all around, and she looked 
out the window and saw them driving the 
men out of the houses on Detroit. Saw Mr. 

Woods running with both hands in the air 
and their 3-month-old baby in one hand and 
three brutes behind him with guns. 

"She said her legs gave way from under her," 
the letter continued, "and she had to crawl about 
the room, taking things from her closet, putting 
them in her trunk, for she thought if anything 
happened she'd have her trunk packed, and be- 
fore she got everything in they heard footsteps 
on their steps and there were six out there and 
they ordered Mr. Smart to march, hands up, out 
of the house. 

Several eyewitnesses later recalled that when 
dawn came at 5:08 a.m. that morning, an un- 
usual whistle or siren sounded, perhaps as a sig- 
nal for the mass assault on Greenwood to begin. 
Although the source of this whistle or siren is 
still unknown, moments later, the white mobs 
made their move. While the machine gun in the 
grain elevator opened fire, crowds of armed 
whites poured across the Frisco tracks, headed 
straight for the African American commercial 
district.'" As laterdescribedbyoneeye witness: 

With wild frenzied shouts, men began 
pouring from behind the freight depot and 
the long string of boxcars and evidently 
from behind the piles of oil well easing 


which was at the other end and on the 
north side of the building. From every 
place of shelter up and down the tracks 
came screaming, shouting men to join in 
the rush toward the Negro section. Min- 
gled with the shouting were a few re- 
bel-yells and Indian gobblings as the great 
wave of humanity rushed forward totally 
absorbed in thoughts of destruction. 

Meanwhile, over at the Katy depot, the other 
crowd of armed whites also moved forward. 
Heading east, they were soon joined by dozens 
of others in automobiles, driving along Brady 
and Cameron Streets. As one unidentified ob- 
server later told reporter Mary Parrish, "Tues- 
day night. May 31, was the riot, and 
Wednesday morning, by daybreak, was the in- 

While black Tulsans fought hard to protect 
their homes and businesses, the sheer numeri- 
cal advantage of the invading whites soon 
proved to be overwhelming. After a valiant, 
night long effort, John Wesley WiUiams had to 
flee from his family's apartment once whites 
began to riddle the building with gunfire. 
Squeezing off a few final rounds a little further 
up Greenwood Avenue, Williams then faced 
the inevitable, and began walking north along 
the Midland Valley tracks, leaving his home 
and businesses behind.'" 

He was hardly alone. Not far away, in her 
apartment in the Woods Building at 105 N. 
Greenwood, Mary E. Jones Parrish and her 
young daughter Florence Mary had sat up 
much of the night, uncertain of what to do. 
"Finally," she later wrote. 

My friend, Mrs. Jones, called her hus- 
band, who was trying to take a little rest. 
They decided to try to make for a place of 
safety, so called to me that they were leav- 
ing. By this time the enemy was close 
upon us, so they ran out of the south door, 
which led out onto Ar cher Street, and went 
east toward Lansing. I took my little girl, 
Florence Mary, by the hand and fled out of 
the west door on Greenwood. I did not 
take time to get a hat for myself or Baby, 
but started out north on Greenwood, run- 
ning amidst showers of bullets from the 

machine gun located in the granary and 
from men who were quickly surrounding 
our district. Seeing that they were fighting 
at a dis ad van tage, our men had taken shel ter 
in the buildings and in other places out of 
sight of the enemy. When my daughter, 
Florence Mary, and I ran into the street, it 
was vacant for a block or more. Someone 
called to me to "Get out of the street with 
that child or you both will be killed." I felt 
that it was suicide to remain in the building, 
for it would surely be destroyed and death 
in the street was preferred, for we expected 
to be shot down at any moment. So we 
placed our trust in God, our Heavenly Fa- 
ther, who seeth and knoweth all things, and 
ran out of Greenwood in the hope of reach- 
ing a friend's home who lived over the 
Standpipe Hill in Greenwood Addition.'^" 

For Dimple Bush, the flight from Greenwood 
had bordered upon the indescribable. "It was 
just dawn; the machine guns were sweeping the 
valley with their murderous fire and my heart 
was filled with dread as we sped along," she re- 
called, "Old women and men, children were 
running and screaming everywhere."'^' 

Soon, however, new perils developed. As the 
mobs of armed whites rushed into the southern 
end of the African American district, airplanes 
— manned by whites — also appeared over- 
head. As Dr. R.T. Bridgewater, a well-respected 
black Tulsa physician, later described what hap- 

Shortly after we left a whistle blew. The 
shots rang from a machine gun located on 
Standpipe Hill near my residence and 
aeroplanes began to fly over us, in some in- 
stances very low to the ground. A cry was 
heard from the women saying, "Look out 
for the aeroplanes, they are shooting upon 



Numerous other eyewitnesses — both black 
and white — confirm the presence of an un- 
known number of airplanes flying over Green- 
wood during the early daylight hours of June 1 . 
While certain other assertions made over the 
years such as that the planes dropped streams of 
"liquid fire" on top of African American homes 


and busi nesses ap pear to have been tech no log- 
ically improbable, particularly during the early 
1920s, there is little doubt but that some of the 
occupants of the airplanes fired upon black 
Tulsans with pistols and rifles. Moreover, 
there is ev i dence, to sug gest that men in at least 
one airplane dropped some form of explo- 
sives, probably sticks of dynamite, upon a 
group of African American refugees as they 
were fleeing the city. '^^ 

Gunfire soon erupted along the western 
boundary of the black com mu nity . Sharp fight- 
ing broke out along Standpipe Hill, where the 
local guardsmen positioned there traded fire 
with armed African Americans, who had set up 
defensive lines off Elgin and Elgin Place. 
Nearby, on Sunset Hill, the white guardsmen 
opened fire on the black neighborhood to the 
east, using both their standard issue 
thirty-caliber 1906 Springfield rifles as well as 
the semi-defective machine gun provided to 
them by the Tulsa police. '''' 

As the waves of white rioters descended 
upon the African American district, a deadly 
pattern soon emerged. First, the armed whites 
broke into the black homes and businesses, 
forcing the occupants out into the street, where 
they were led away at gunpoint to one of a 
growing number of internment centers. Any- 
one who resisted was shot. Moreover, African 
American men in homes where firearms were 
discovered met the same fate. Next, the whites 
looted the homes and businesses, pocketing 
small items, and hauling away larger items ei- 
ther on foot or by car or truck. Finally, the 
white rioters then set the homes and other 
buildings on fire, using torches and oil-soaked 
rags. House by house, block by block, the wall 
of flame crept northward, engulfing the city's 
black neighborhoods.'" 

Atrocities occurred along the way. Accord- 
ing to one account, published ten days after the 
riot in a Chicago newspaper. 

Another cruel instance was when they 
[white rioters] went to the home of an old 
couple and the old man, 80 years old, was 
paralyzed and sat in a chair and they told 
him to march and he told them he was crip- 
pled, but he'd go if someone would take 

him, and they told his wife (old, too) to go, 
but she did n't want to leave him, and he told 
her to go on anyway. As she left one of the 
damn dogs shot the old man and then they 
fired the house.'" 

There were near-atrocities as well. After 
armed whites had led his mother away at gun- 
point, five-year-old George Monroe was hiding 
beneath his parents' bed with his two older sis- 
ters and his one older brother when white men 
sud denly en tered the room. After ri fling through 
the dresser, the men set the curtains on fire. As 
the men began to leave, one of them stepped on 
George's hand. George started to cry out, but his 
sister Lottie threw her hand over his mouth, pre- 
vent ing their dis cov ery . A few min utes later, the 
children were able to escape from their home 
before it burst into flame.' ' 

Some of the fires in Greenwood appear to 
have been set by whites wearing khaki uni- 
forms. The actual identity of these men remains 
unclear. Most likely, they were World War I 
veterans who had donned their old army uni- 
forms when the riot erupted, rather than an offi- 
cially organized group.' ' 

They were not, however, the only uniformed 
whites observed setting fires in Tulsa' s African 
American neighborhoods. According to black 
Deputy Sheriff V.B. Bostic, a white Tulsa police 
officer "drove him and his wife from his home," 
and then "poured oil on the floor and set a 
lighted match to it."'" 

Deputy Sheriff Bostic was not, however, the 
only eyewitness to report acts of criminal mis- 
conduct by Tulsa police officers during the 
course of the riot. According to one white eye- 
witness, a "uniformed [white] policeman on East 
Second Street went home, changed his uniform 
to plain clothes, and went to the Ne gro dis trict and 
led a bunch of whites into Negro, houses, some 
of the bunch pilfering, never offered to protect 
men, women or children, or property." This par- 
ticular account was buttressed by the testimony 
of an African American witness, who reported 
that he had seen the same officer in question "on 
the morning of the riot, June 1, kicking in doors 
of Negro homes, and assisting in the destruction 
of property.""" 


Dedicated only weeks before the riot, the Mount Zion Baptist Church was a great source of pride for many black 
Tulsans. But after a prohnged battle, the white rioters burned it — as well as more than a half dozen other African 
American churches — to the ground (Courtesy Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library, University of 

Despite the daunting odds against them, 
black Tulsans valiantly fought back. African 
American riflemen had positioned themselves 
in the belfry of the newly-built Mount Zion 
Baptist Church, whose commanding view of 
the area just below Standpipe Hill allowed 
them to temporarily stem the tide of the white 
invasion. When white rioters set up a machine 
gun-probably the same weapon that had been 
used earlier that morning at the grain elevator, 
and unleashed its deadly fire on the church 
belfry, the black defenders were quickly over- 
whelmed. As "Choc" Phillips later described 
what happened: 

In a couple of minutes pieces of brick 
started falling, then whole bricks began 
tumbling from the narrow slits in the cu- 
pola. Within five or six minutes the open- 
ings were large jagged holes with so many 
bricks flying from that side of the cupola 
wall that it seemed ready to fall. 

The men stopped firing the machine 
gun and almostimmediately the houses on 
the outer rim of the area that had been pro- 
tected by the snipers, became victims of 
the arsonists. We watched the men take 
the ma chine gun from the tri pod, wrap it in 

a canvas cover then lay it on the bed of the 
truck. They rolled up the belts with the 
empty shell casings, put away those that 
were still unused, and in what seemed less 
than ten minutes from the time the truck 
was parked at the location, drove away. 

While standing on the high ground where 
the machine gun had been firing, we 
watched the activity below for a few min- 
utes. Most of the houses were beginning to 
burn and smoke ascended slowly in to the 
air while people flitted around as busy as 
bees down there. From the number that ran 
in and out of the houses and the church, 
there had evidently been a couple of hun- 
dred who remained behind when the mob 
bypassed the area. 

A short while later. Mount Zion was 

Attempts by black Tulsans to defend their 
homes and property were undercut by the ac- 
tions of both the Tulsa police and the local Na- 
tional Guard units, who, rather than focus on 
disarming and arresting the white rioters, took 
steps that led to the eventual imprisonment of 
practically all of the city's African American 
citizens. Guardsmen deployed on Standpipe 


Hill made at least one eastward march in the 
early hours of June 1, rounding up African 
Americans along the way, before they were 
fired upon, apparently by whites as well as 
blacks, near Greenwood Avenue. The guards- 
men then marched to Sunset Hill, where they 
handed over their black prisoners to local po- 
lice officers. 

An arrest by a white officer was not a guar- 
antee of safety for black Tulsans. Accordingto 
Thomas Higgins, a white resident of Wichita, 
Kansas who happened to be visiting Tulsa 
when the riot broke out, "I saw men of my own 
race, sworn officers, on three occasions search 
Negroes while their hands were up, and not 
finding weapons, extracted what money they 
found on them. If the Negro protested, he was 

White civilians also took black prisoners. 
When the invasion began, Carrie Kinlaw, an 
African American woman who lived out to- 
ward the Section Line, had to run toward the 
fighting in order to help her sisters retrieve 
their invalid mother. Reaching the elderly 
woman in a "rain of bullets," Kinlaw later 

My sisters and I gathered her up, placed 
her on a cot, and three of us carried the cot 
and the other one carried a bundle of 
clothes; thus we carried Mother about six 
blocks, with bullets falling on all sides. 
About six squads of rioters overtook us, 
asked for men and guns, made us hold up 
our hands. 

Not all of her captors, however, were adults. 
"There were boys in that bunch," she added, 
"from about 10 years upward, all armed with 

Black Tulsans also faced dangers while in 
the custody of white civilians. James T. West a 
teacher at Booker T. Washington High 
School, was arrested by whites at his home on 
Easton Street that morning. "Some men ap- 
peared with drawn guns and ordered all of the 
men out of the house," he recalled immedi- 
ately after the riot, 

I went out immediately. They ordered 
me to raise my hands, after which three or 

four men searched me. They told me to line 
up in the street. I requested them to let me 
get my hat and best shoes, but they refused 
and abusively ordered me to line up. They 
re fused to let one of the men put on any kind 
of shoes. After lining up some 30 or 40 of us 
men, they ran us through the streets to Con- 
vention Hall, forcing us to keep our hands 
in the air all the while. While we were run- 
ning, some of the ruffians would shoot at 
our heels and swore at those who had diffi- 
culty keeping up. They actually drove a car 
into the bunch and knocked down two or 
three men.'" 

Harold M. Parker, a white bookkeeper for the 
Oklahoma Producing and Refining Corporation 
at the time of the riot, later corroborated how 
armed whites sometimes shot at the heels of 
their black prisoners. "Sometimes they missed 
and shot their legs," Parker recalled a half cen- 
tury later, "It was sheer cruelty coming out."'" 

The most infamous incident involving white 
civilians imprisoning African Americans was 
that which concerned Dr. A.C. Jackson, Tulsa's 
noted black surgeon. Despite the increasing 
gunfire. Dr. Jackson had decided to remain in- 
side of his handsome home at 523 N. Detroit, 
along the shoul der of Standpipe Hill. But when a 
group of armed whites arrived on his front lawn, 
Jackson apparently walked out the side door of 
his home with his hands up, saying, "Here I am 
boys, don't shoot."'" What happened next was 
later recounted by John A. Oliphant, a white at- 
torney who lived nearby, in testimony he pro- 
vided after the riot: 

Q. About what time in the morning did you 
say it was Dr. Jackson was shot? 

A. Right close to eight o'clock, between 
seven thirty and eight o'clock. 

Q. Dr. Jackson was a Negro? 

A. Yes, sir. 

Q. And he was coming toward you and these 
other men at the time he was shot? 

A. Yes, Sir, coming right between his house, 
right in his yard be tween his home and the house 
below him. 

Q. What did these men say at the time he was 


A. They didn't say anything but they pulled 
down on him; I kept begging him not to shoot 
him, I held him a good bit and I thought he 
wouldn't shoot but he shot him twice and the 
other fellow on the other side- and he fell- shot 
him and broke his leg. 

Q. One man shot him twice? 

A. Yes, sir, this is my recollection now. 

Q. Then another one shot him through the 

A. Yes, I didn't look at that fellow. 

Q. These same men that shot him carried 
him to the hospital? 

A. No, they didn't. 

Q. What did they do? 

A. I have never seen them after that, I don't 
know a thing about what became of them. 

Dr. Jackson died of his wounds later that 

Not all black Tulsans, however, counte- 
nanced surrender. In the final burst of fighting 
off of Standpipe Hill that morning, a deadly 
firefight erupted at the site of an old clay pit, 
where several African American defenders 
were said to have gone to their deaths fighting 
off the white invaders. Stories also have been 
passed down over the years regarding the ex- 
ploits of Peg Leg Taylor, a legendary black de- 
fender who is said to have singlehandedly 
fought off more than a dozen white rioters. 
Along the northern face of Sunset Hill, the 
white guardsmen posted there found them- 
selves, at least for a while, under attack. 

Black Tulsa, it was clear, was not going 
without a fight. 

Despite their gallant effort, however, 
Tulsa's African American minority was sim- 
ply outgunned and outnumbered. As the white 
mobs continued to move northward, into the 
heart of the black residential district, some of 
the worst violence of the riot appears to have 
taken place. "Negro men, women and children 
were killed in great numbers as they ran, trying 
to flee to safety," one unidentified informant 
later told Mary E. Parrish, ". . . the most horri- 
ble scenes of this oc cur rence was to see women 
dragging their children while running to 
safety, and the dirty white rascals firing atthem 
as they ran.""" 

While the white rioters continued their assault upon the Afri- 
can-American com mu nity, black Tulsans soon found them selves 
subject to arrest by Tulsa off cials and "spe cialdep u ties "(Cour- 
tesy Bob Hower) . 

In the wake of the invasion came a wall of 
flame, steadily moving northward. "Is the 
whole world on fire?" asked a young playmate 
of eight-year-old Kinney Booker, who was flee- 
ing with his family from their home on North 
Frankfort. Not far away, a fiery horror was un- 
derway. As later recounted by Walter White in 
The Nation magazine: 

One story was told to me by an eyewit- 
ness of five colored men trapped in a burn- 
ing house. Four burned to death. A fifth 
attempted to flee, was shot to death as he 
emerged from the burn ing struc ture, and his 
body was thrown back into the flames. 

Humans, however, were not the only victims 
of the conflagration. More than a few black 
Tulsans kept pigs and chickens in their back- 
yards in those days. They too perished in the 
flames, as did some dogs and other family 



Efforts made by the Tulsa Fire Department to 
halt the bum ing were of lit tie effect. The ear li est 
attempts by firemen to put out fires in the Afri- 


While only the au thor i ties de tained a handful of white ri ot ers, most black Tulsans soon found them selves held un der guard. Even in 
the pre dom i nantlywhite neigh bor hoods on the city 's south side, Afri can-American do mes tic work ers were rounded up and taken to 
the various internment centers (Courtesy Department of SpecialCol lee tions.McFarlinLibrary, University ofTulsa). 

can American district were halted, at gunpoint, 
by crowds of white rioters. Thereafter, what ef- 
forts that were made appear to have been di- 
rected towards keeping the flames away from 
nearby white neighborhoods. This may also 
have played a role in how another new black 
church, the First Baptist Church located at Ar- 
cher and Jackson, was spared. "Yonder is a 
nigger church, why ain't they burning it?" a 
white woman allegedly asked on the morning 
of June 1. Because, she was told, "It's in a 
white district." 

As the morning wore on, and the fighting 
moved northward across Greenwood, there 
was a startling new development. On the heels 
of their brief gun battle with African American 
riflemen to their north, the guardsmen who 
were positioned along the crest of Sunset Hill 
then joined in the invasion of black Tulsa, with 
one detachment heading north, the other to the 
northeast. As later described by Captain John 
W. McCuen in the after action report he sub- 
mitted to the commander of Tulsa' s National 
Guard units: 

We advanced to the crest of Sunset Hill 
in skirmish line and then a little further 
north to the military crest of the hill where 
our men were ordered to lie down because 
of the intense fire of the blacks who had 
formed a good skirmish line at the foot of 

the hill to the northeast among the 
out-buildings of the Negro settlement 
which stops at the foot of the hill. After 
about 20 minutes "fire at will" at the armed 
groups of blacks the latter began falling 
back to the northeast, thus getting good 
cover among the frame buildings of the Ne- 
gro settlement. Immediately we moved for- 
ward, "B" Company advancing directly 
north and the Service company in a 
north-easterly direction. 

More remarkable, the guardsmen came upon 
a group of African Americans barricaded inside 
a store, who were attempting to hold off a mob 
of armed white rioter's. Rather than attempt to 
get the white invaders and the black defenders to 
disengage, the guardsmen joined in on the at- 
tack. Again, as described by Cap tain McCuen: 

At the northeast corner of the Negro set- 
tlement 10 or more Negroes barricaded 
themselves in a concrete store and dwelling 
and a stiff fight ensued between these Ne- 
groes on one side and guardsmen and civil- 
ians on the other. Several whites and blacks 
were wounded and killed at this point. We 
captured, arrested and disarmed a great 
many Ne gro men in this set tie ment and then 
sent them under guard to the convention 
hall and other points where they were being 
concentrated.' * 


Whites detained fleeing African Americans as well as those that stayed near their homes and businesses (ConrtesyDepartmentof 
Special Collections, McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa). 

No longer remotely impartial, the men of 
"B" Company, Third Infantry, Oklahoma Na- 
tional Guard, had now joined in on the assault 
on black Tulsa. 

As African Americans fled the city, new 
dangers sometimes appeared. Mary Parrish 
later reported that as the group of refugees she 
was with "had traveled many miles into the 
country and were turning to find our way to 
Claremore," they were warned to stay clear of 
a nearby town, where whites were "treating our 
people awfully mean as they passed 
through. "'^^ Similar stories have persisted for 

Not all white Tulsans, however, shared the 
racial views of the white rioters. Mary Korte, a 
white maid who worked for a wealthy Tulsa 
family, hid African American refugees at her 
fam ily' s farm east of the city. Along the road 
to Sand Springs, a white couple named Merrill 
and Ruth Phelps hid and fed black riot victims 
in the basement of their home for days. The 
Phelps home, which still stands, became some- 
thing of a "safe house" for black Tulsans who 
had man aged not to be im pris oned by the white 
authorities. Traveling through the woods and 
along creek beds at night, dozens of African 

American refugees were apparently hidden by 
the Phelpses during the daylight hours.'" 

Other white Tulsans also hid blacks, or di- 
rectly confronted the white rioters. Mary Jo 
Erhardt, a young stenographer who roomed at 
the Y.W.C.A. Building at Fifth and Cheyenne, 
did both. After a sleepless night, punctuated by 
the sounds of gunfire, Erhardt arose early on the 
morning of June 1. Heading downstairs, she 
then heard a voice she recognized as belonging 
to the African American porter who worked 
there. "Miss Mary! Oh, Miss Mary!" he said, 
"Let me in quick." Armed whites, he told her, 
were chasing him. Quickly secreting the man in- 
side the building's walk- in refrigerator, Erhardt 
later recalled. 

Hardly had I hidden him behind the beef 
carcasses and returned to the hall door 
when a loud pounding at the service en- 
trance drew me there. A large man was try- 
ing to open the door, fortunately securely 
locked, and there on the stoop stood three 
very rough-looking middle-aged white 
men, each point ing a re volver in my gen eral 

"What do you want?" I asked sharply. 
Strangely, those guns frightened me not at 


The Zarrow Family. The parents of Jack and 
Henry Zarrow, founder of Sooner Pipeling, 
owned a grocery store in the riot-torn area. It 
was spared because they were white. The 
Zarrow 's hid many of the flee ing blacks in their 
business (Courtesy Greenwood Cultural Cen- 

all. I was SO angry I could have torn those 
ruffians apart-three armed white men chas- 
ing one lone, harmless Negro. I cannot re- 
call in all my life feeling hatred toward 
any person, until then. Apparently my feel- 
ings did not show, for one answered, 
'Where did he go?" "Where did WHO 
go?" I responded. 

"That nigger," one demanded, "did you 
let him in here?" 

"Mister," I said, "I'm not letting 
ANYBODY in here!," which was per- 
fectly true. I had already let in all I in- 

"It was at least ten minutes before I felt 
secure enough to release Jack," Erhardt 
added, "He was nearly frozen, dressed 
thinly as he was for the hot summer night, 
but he was ALIVE!"" 


Some whites, in their efforts to protect black 
Tulsans from harm put themselves at risk. 
None, perhaps, more so than a young Hispanic 
woman named Maria Morales Gutierrez. A re- 
cent immigrant from Mexico, she and her hus- 
band were living, at the time of the riot, in a 
small house off Peoria Avenue, near Independ- 
ence Street. Hearing a great deal of noise and 
commotion on the morning of June 1, Morales 
ventured outside, where she saw two small Af- 

rican American children, who had evidently 
been separated from their parents, walking 
along the street. Suddenly, an airplane appeared 
on the horizon, bearing down on the two fright- 
ened youngsters. Morales ran out into the street, 
and scooped the little ones into her arms, and 
out of danger. 

A group of armed whites later demanded that 
Morales hand the two terrified children over to 
them. "In her English, she told them 'No'," her 
daughter Gloria Lough, later recalled. "Some- 
how or other," she added, "they didn't shoot 
her." The youngsters were safe. 

As the battle for black Tulsa continued to 
rage, it soon became evident, even in neighbor- 
hoods far removed from the fighting, that on 
June 1, 1921, there would be very littlebusiness 
as usual in the city of Tulsa. When Guy Ashby, a 
young white employee at Cooper' s Grocery on 
Fourteenth Street, showed up for work that 
morning, his boss was on his way out the door. 
"The boss told me there would be no work that 
day as he was declaring it 'Nigger Day' and he 
was going hunting niggers," Ashby later re- 
membered, "He took a rifle and told me to lock 
up the store and go home." 

Downtown, normal activities were even more 
in disarray, as business owners found them- 
selves shorthanded, and crowds of onlookers 
took to the streets, or climbed up on rooftops, to 
stare at the great clouds of smoke billowing over 



Any flee ingfam i lies were de niedfree dom bywhitespo si tioned 
on es cape routes (Courtesy De partment of Spe cialCollections, 
McFarlin Library, Univer sity of Tulsa) . 

the north end of town. At the all-white Central 
High School, several male students bolted 
from class when gunfire was heard nearby. 
One of the students later recalled, "struck out 
for the riot area." Along the way, he added, 
they were met by a white man who handed 
them a new rifle and a box of shells. "You can 
have it," the man told them, "I'm going home 
and going to bed."'*^' 

The riot was felt along the southern edge of 
the city as well, particularly in the well-to-do 
white neighborhoods off of 21st Street, as car- 
loads of armed white vigilantes went door to 
door, rounding up live-in African American 
cooks, maids, and butlers at gunpoint, and then 
hauling them off toward downtown. A number 
of white homeowners, however, fearing for the 
safety of their black em ploy ees, stood in the way 
of this forced evacuation. When Charles and 
Amy Arnold refused to hand over their house- 
keeper, cries of being "nigger lovers" were fol- 
lowed by a brick being thrown through their 
front window.'*" 

Even out in the countryside, miles from town, 
people knew that something was happening in 
Tulsa. Since daybreak, huge columns of black 
smoke had been rising up, hundreds of feet into 
the air, over the north end of the city. 

The smoke was still there, some four hours 
later, when the State Troops finally arrived in 

The special train from Oklahoma City, carry- 
ing Adjutant General Charles F. Barrett and the 

Shortly after the out break of vi o lence, the Tulsa po lice pre sented the lo calNa tional Guards men with a ma chine gun — only it proved 
to be defec tive. A sec ondma chine gun thatwas in the hands of white ci vil ians, how ever, was used to con siderable effect dur ing the at- 
tack on Greenwood (CourtesyDepartmentofSpecialCollections,McFarlinLibrary, University ofTidsa). 


Asmore and more Afri can Ameri canswere de tainedthe "pro tec tive cus tody "alternate holding lo ca tions had to be used including 
McNultybase ballPark (Department of Spe cialCollections,McFarlinLibrary, University of Tulsa). 

approximately 109 soldiers and officers under 
his command, pulled into Tulsa's bul- 
let-scarred Frisco and Santa Fe passenger de- 
pot at approximately 9: 15 a.m. on the morning 
of June 1, 1921. The soldiers, who arrived 
armed and in uniform, were all-members of an 
Oklahoma City based National Guard unit. In 
Tulsa, they soon became known, by both 
blacks and whites, as the "State Troops," a 
term which had the intrinsic benefit of helping 
to dis tin guish the out-of-towners from the lo cal 
National Guard units. Like the local guards- 
men, the State Troops were also all-white. '^^ 

By the time the State Troops arrived, Tulsa' s 
devastating racial conflagration was already 
ten-and-one-half hours old. Dozens of blacks 
and whites had been killed, while the wards of 
the city's four remaining hospitals — the 
all-black Frissell Memorial Hospital had al- 
ready been burned to the ground by white riot- 
ers — were filled with the wounded. Most of 
the city's African American district had al- 
ready been torched, while looting continued in 
those black homes and businesses that were 
still standing. "One very bad thing was the 
way whites delved into the personal belong- 
ings of the Negroes, throwing their posses- 
sions from trunks and otherwise damaging 
them," reported M.J. White, a Denver dental 

supply dealer who was visiting Tulsa at the time 
of the riot. "This lawless looting con tinned from 
about 9 until 1 1 o'clock," he added, "when mar- 
tial law prevented further spoliation."'" 

There were ongoing horrors as well. "One 
Negro was dragged behind an automobile, 
with a rope around his neck, through the busi- 
ness district," reported the Tulsa World in its 
"Second Extra" edition on the morning of June 
1." Decades later, both former Tulsa mayor 
L.C. Clark, and E.W. "Gene" Maxey of the 
Tulsa County Sheriff's Department, con- 
firmed this report. "About 8:00 a.m. on the 
morning of June 1, 1921, Maxey told riot 
chronicler Ruth Avery, 

I was downtown with a friend when they 
killed that good, old, colored man that was 
blind. He had amputated legs. His body was 
attached at the hips to a small wooden plat- 
form with wheels. One leg stub was longer 
than the other, and hung slightly over the 
edge of the platform, dragging along the 
street. He scooted his body around by shov- 
ing and pushing with his hands covered 
with baseball catcher mitts. He supported 
himself by selling pencils to passersby, or 
accepting their donations for his singing of 


The street car tracks ran north and south 
on Main Street, and the tracks were laid on 
pretty rough bricks. The fellow that was 
driving the car I knew — an outlaw and a 
bootlegger. But I won't give his name be- 
cause he has some folks here. There were 
two or three people with him. They got 
that old col ored man that had been here for 
years. He was helpless. He'd carry an old 
tin cup, sing, and mooched for money. 
One of them thuggy, white people had a 
new car, so he went to the depot, and came 
back up Main Street between First and Sec- 
ond Streets. We were on the east side of 
the street. These white thugs had roped 
this colored man on the longer stump of 
his one leg, and were dragging him behind 
the car up Main Street. He was hollering. 
His head was being bashed in, bouncing 
on the steel rails and bricks. 

"They went on all the speed that the car 
could make," Maxey added, "... a new car, 
with the top down, and 3 or 4 of them in it. 

dragging him behind the car in broad daylight 
on June 1, right through the center of town on 
Main Street."'**^ 

When the State Troops arrived in Tulsa, the 
majority of the city's black citizenry had either 
fled to the countryside, or were being held — al- 
legedly for their own protection — against their 
will in one of a handful of hastily set-up intern- 
ment centers, including Convention Hall, the 
fairgrounds, and McNulty baseball park. There 
were still, however, some pockets of armed 
black resistance to the remnants of the white in- 
vasion, especially along the northern reaches of 
the African American district. In certain border- 
line areas such as the residential neighborhood 
that lay just to the east of the Santa Fe tracks 
where the Jim Crow line ran right down the cen- 
ter of the street, a number of African American 
homes had escaped destruction, sometimes 
through the efforts of sympathetic white neigh- 

Upon their arrival in Tulsa, the State Troops 
apparently did not proceed immediately to 
where the fighting was still in progress, al- 




Remarkably, a handful of Tulsa 's finest African-American homes were still standing when the State Troops arrived in town. But 
about one-hour later, a small group of white men were seen en tering the houses, and set ting them on fire. By the time the State Troops 
marched up Standpipe Hill, it was too late, the homes were gone (CourtesyTulsaHistoricalSociety). 


though it is uncertain how long this delay 
lasted. The reasons for this seeming hold-up 
appear to be largely due to the fact that certain 
steps needed to be fulfilled — either through 
pro to col or by law — in or der for mar tial law to 
be declared in Tulsa. Accordingly, after de- 
training at the Frisco and Santa Fe station, Ad- 
jutant General Barrett led a detachment of 
soldiers to the courthouse, where an unsuc- 
cessful attempt was made to contact Sheriff 
McCuUough. Barrett then went to city hall, 
where, after conferring with city officials, he 
contacted Governor Robertson in Oklahoma 
City and asked to be granted the authority to 
proclaim martial law in Tulsa County. Other 
detachments of State Troops, meanwhile, ap- 
pear to have begun taking charge of black 
Tulsans who were being held by armed white 
civilians. However, another account of the 
riot, published a decade later, alleges that upon 
their arrival in Tulsa, the State Troops wasted 
valuable minutes by taking time to prepare and 
eat breakfast.'" 

As it turned out, while the State Troops were 
occupied downtown, not far away, some of the 
fin est Af ri can Amer i can homes in the city were 
still standing. Located along North Detroit Av- 
enue, near Easton, they included the homes of 
some of Tulsa's most prominent black citi- 
zens, among them the residences of Tulsa Star 
editor A.J. Smitherman, Booker T.Washing- 
ton High School principal EUis W. Woods, and 
businessman Thomas R. Gently and his wife, 

For several hours that morning, John A. 
Oliphant a white attorney who lived nearby, 
had been tele phon ing po lice head quar ters in an 
effort to save these homes, that had been looted 
but not burned. Oliphant believed that a hand- 
ful of officers, if sent over immediately, could 
see to it that the homes were spared. As he later 
recounted in sworn testimony: 

Q. Judge, when you phoned the police 
station what reply did you get? 

A. He said, somebody in there, I 
thought I knew the voice but I am not cer- 
tain, he said, I will do the best I can for 
you." I told him who I was, I wanted some 
policemen, I says, "If you will send me ten 

policemen I will protect all this property 
and save a million dollars worth of stuff 
they were burning down and looting." I 
asked the fire department for the fire depart- 
ment to be sent over to help pro tect my prop- 
erty and they said they couldn't come, they 
wouldn't let them. 

Oliphant' s hopes were raised, however, when 
he observed the arrival of the State Troops, fig- 
uring that they might be able to save the homes 
along North Detroit. "I sent for them," he testi- 
fied, I sent for the militia to come, send over fif- 
teen or twenty of them, that is all I wanted." But, 
instead, at around 10:15 a.m. or 10:30 a.m., a 
party of three or four white men, probably 
so-called 'Special Deputies," each wearing 
badges arrived, and then set fire to one of the 
very homes that Oliphant had been trying to pro- 
tect. By the time the State Troops arrived in the 
neighborhood later that morning, it was too late. 
Most of the homes were already on fire.'" 

One of the few that was not belonged to Dr. 
Robert Bridgewater and his wife, Mattie, at 507 
N. Detroit. Returning to his home — after being 
held at Convention Hall — in order to retrieve 
his med i cine cases. Dr. Bridgewater later wrote. 

On reaching the house, I saw my piano 
and all of my elegant furniture piled in the 
street. My safe had been broken open, all of 
the money stolen, also my silverware, cut 
glass, all of the family clothes, and every- 
thing of value had been removed, even my 
family Bible. My electric light fixtures 
were broken, all of the window lights and 
glass in the doors were broken, the dishes 
that were not stolen were broken, the floors 
were covered (literally speaking) with 
glass, even the phone was torn from the 

The Bridgewaters, as they well knew, were 
among the fortunate few. Most black Tulsans 
no longer had homes anymore. 

By the time that marital law was declared in 
Tulsa County at 11:29 a.m. on June 1, the race 
riot had nearly run its course. Scattered bands of 
white ri ot ers, some of whom had been awake for 
more than twenty-four hours straight, continued 
to loot and burn, but most had already gone 


As the riot wore on, African-American 
families frequently became separated, 
as black men were often the first to be 
led away at gunpoint. For many black 
Tulsans, it was hours — and, in some 
cases, much longer — before they 
learned the fate of their loved ones (De- 
partment of Special Collections, 
McFarlinLibrary, University ofTulsa). 

home. Along the northern and eastern edges of 
black Tulsa, where homes were mixed in with 
stretches of farmland, it had become difficult 
for the rioters to distinguish the homes of Afri- 
can Americans from those of their white 
neighbors. The home that riot survivor Nell 
Hamilton shared with her mother out near the 
Section Line was, perhaps, spared for just that 



A final skirmish appears to have occurred a 
little after Noon, when the remaining members 
of the white mob exchanged fire with a group 
of African Americans not far from where the 
Santa Fe railroad tracks cut across the Section 
Line, just off of Peoria Avenue. The black de- 

fenders had apparently held off the whites who 
were gathered along the railroad embankment. 
When a second group of whites, armed with 
high-powered rifles, arrived on the scene, the 
African Americans were soon overrun.""* 

Most of the city's black population, mean- 
while, was be ing held un der armed guard. Many 
families had been sent, at first, to Convention 
Hall, but as it filled to capacity, black Tulsans 
were taken to the baseball park and to the fair- 
grounds. As the day wore on, hundreds would 
soon join them. As the men, women, and chil- 
dren who had fled to the countryside, or had 
taken refuge at Golden Gate Park, be gan to wan- 
der back toward town, they too, were taken into 

From their po si tions along Standpipe and Sun set Hills, members of the Tulsa-based units of the Oklahoma Na tional Guard also took 
black Tulsans into "protective custody. "And as the local guardsmen began makingforays into the African-American district, they 
activelytookblackpris oners (Courtesy OklahomaHis tor icalSociety). 


On the mom ing of June 1, most black Tulsans who were taken into cus tody were brought to Con vention Hall, on Brady Street. But as 
the day wore on, and more and more African Americans were placed under arrest, new internment centers had to be established 
(Courtesy OklahomaHistoricalSociety). 

custody. While the white authorities would 
later argue, and not without some validity, that 
this was a protective measure designed to save 
black lives, other reasons including a lingering 
white fear of a "Negro uprising" undoubtedly 
played a role in their rationale. In any event, 
following the destruction of their homes and 
businesses on May 31 and June 1, black Tulsa 
now found itself, for all prac ti cal purposes, un- 
der arrest. 

Following the declaration of martial law, the 
State Troops began to move into what little re- 
mained of Tulsa's African American neighbor- 
hoods, disarming whites and sending them 
away from the district. After the riot, a number 
of black Tulsans, strongly condemned, in no 
uncertain terms, the actions of both the Tulsa 
Police Department and the local National 
Guard units during the conflict. However, the 
State Troops were largely praised. "Everyone 
with whom I met was loud in praise of the State 
Troops who so gallantly came to the rescue of 
stricken Tulsa," wrote Mary Parrish, "They 
used no partiality in quieting the disorder. It is 
the general belief that if they had reached the 
scene sooner, many lives and valuable prop- 
erty would have been saved." 

Additional detachments of State Troops from 
other Oklahoma cities and towns arrived in 
Tulsa through out June 1 , and with their help, the 
streets were eventually cleared. All businesses 
were ordered to close by 6:00 p.m. One hour 
later, only members of the military or civil au- 
thorities, physicians, or relief workers were al- 
lowed on the streets. It was later claimed that by 
8:00 p.m. on the evening of June 1, order had 
beenre stored.' ' ' The Tulsa race riot was over. 

Doctors, relief workers, and members of the 
military and civil authorities were not, how- 
ever, the only ones who were active in Tulsa on 
Wednesday evening, June 1, 1921. As Walter 
White later reported: 

O.T. Johnson, commandant of the Tulsa 
Citadel of the Salvation Army, stated that 
on Wednesday and Thursday the Salvation 
Army fed thirty- seven Negroes employed 
as grave diggers and twenty on Friday and 
Saturday. During the first two days these 
men dug 120 graves in each of which a dead 
Negro was buried. No coffins were used. 
The bodies were dumped into the holes and 
covered over with dirt. 


Scene in front of Convention Hall as 
African Americans are being incar- 
cerated on June 1 (Courtesy Depart- 
ment of Special Collections, 
McFarlin Library, University of 

Other written evidence, including funeral 
home records that had lain unseen for more 
than seventy-five years, would later confirm 
that African American riotvictimswereburied 
in unmarked graves at Oaklawn Cemetery. 
But oral sources would also point to additional 
unmarked burial sites for riot victims in Tulsa 
County, including Newblock Park, along the 
Sand Springs road, and the historic Booker T. 
Washington Cemetery, located some twelve 
miles southeast of the city.'"" 

Conducted, no doubt, under trying circum- 
stances, the burial of Tulsa' s African Ameri- 
can riot dead would nevertheless bear little in 
common with the interment of white victims. 
Largely buried by strangers, there would be no 
headstones or graveside services for most of 
black Tulsa's riot dead. Nor would family 
members be present at the burials, as most of 
them were still being held under armed guard 
at the various detention centers. It appears that 
in some cases, not only did some black Tulsa 
families not learn how their loved ones died, 
but not even where they were buried. 

In the week following the riot, nearly all of 
Tulsa's African American citizenry had man- 
aged to win their freedom, by one way or an- 
other, from the internment centers. Largely 
homeless, and in many cases now penniless, 
they made their way back to Greenwood. 
However, Greenwood was gone. 

What they found was a blackened landscape 
of vacant lots and empty streets, charred tim- 
bers and melted metal, ashes and broken 
dreams. Where the African American commer- 
cial district once stood was now a ghost town of 
crumbling brick storefronts and the burned-out 
bulks of automobiles. Gone was the Dreamland 
and the Dixie, gone was the Tulsa Star and the 
black public library, gone was the Liberty Cafe 
and Elliott & Hooker's clothing store, H.L. 
Byars' clean ers and Mabel Lit tie' s beauty sa Ion. 
Gone were literal lifetimes of sweat and hard 
work, and hard-won rungs on the ladder of the 
American Dream. 

Gone, too, were hun dreds of homes, and more 
than a half-dozen African American churches, 
all torched by the white invaders. Nearly 

As black Tulsans won their release from the various internment 
cen ters, and re turned to Green wood, mostdis cov ered that they 
no Ion gerhadhomes anymore (CourtesyDepartmentofSpe cial 
Collections, McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa). 




5toMe and brick walls were all that were left of most of the 
homes in the Greenwood section (Courtesy Oklahoma His- 

ten-thousand Tulsans, practically the entire 
black community, was now homeless. 

Across the tracks and across town, in 
Tulsa's white neighborhoods, no homes had 
been looted and no churches had been burned. 
From the outside, life looked much the same as 
it had been prior to the riot, but even here, be- 
neath the surface, there was little normalcy. 

In one way or another, white Tulsans had 
been stunned by what had happened in their 
city. More than a few whites, including those 
whose homes now featured stolen goods, had 
undeniably, taken great joy in what had oc- 
curred, particularly the destruction of Green- 
wood. Some whites had even applauded as 
black families had been led through the streets. 

at gunpoint, toward the various internment cen- 
ters.^° Some would soon find a new outlet for 
their racial views in the hooded order that was 
about to sweep across the white community. 

Other white Tulsans were horrified by what 
had taken place. Immediately following the riot, 
Clara Kimble, a white teacher at Central High 
School opened up her home to her black coun- 
terparts at Booker T. Washington High School, 
as did other white families.' " Others donated 
food, cloth ing, money, and other forms of as sis- 
tance. For many whites, the riot was a horror 
never to be forgotten, a mark of shame upon the 
city that would endure forevermore. 

However, for black Tulsans, the trials and 
tribulations had only just begun. Six days after 
the riot, on June 7, the Tulsa City Commission 
passed a fire ordinance designed to prevent the 
rebuilding of the African American commercial 
district where it had formerly stood, while the 
so-called Reconstruction Commission, an orga- 
nization of white business and political leaders, 
had been fuming away offers of outside aid . In 
the end, black Tulsans did rebuild their commu- 
nity, and the fire ordinance was declared uncon- 
stitutional by the Oklahoma Supreme Court. 
Yet, the damage had been done, and the tone of 
the official local response to the disaster had al- 
ready been set. Despite the Herculean efforts of 
the American Red Cross, thousands of black 
Tulsans were forced to spend the winter of 

Many African Americans were 
forced to spend the winter after 
the riot in tents (Courtesy 
OklahomaHis tori calSo ciety) . 


Iron bed frames were all that remained of many residences in North Tulsa (Courtesy Oklahoma Historical 

1921-22 living in tents. Others simply left. 
They had had enough of Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

For some, staying was not an option. It soon 
became clear, both in the grand jury that had 
been im pan eled to look into the riot, and in var- 
ious other legal actions that, by and large, lan- 
guished in the courts, that African Americans 
would be blamed for causing the riot. No- 
where, per haps, was this stated more force fully 
than in the June 25, final report of the grand 
jury, which stated: 

We find that the recent race riot was the 
direct result of an effort on the part of a cer- 
tain group of colored men who appeared at 
the courthouse on the night of May 31, 
1921, for the purpose of protecting one 
Dick Rowland then and now in the cus- 
tody of the Sheriff of Tulsa Country for an 
alleged assault upon a young white 
woman. We have not been able to find any 
evidence either from white or colored citi- 
zens that any organized attempt was made 
or planned to take from the Sheriff's cus- 
tody any prisoner; the crowd assembled 
about the courthouse being purely specta- 
tors and curiosity seekers resulting from 
rumors circulated about the city. 

"There was no mob spirit among the whites, 
no talk of lynching and no arms," the report 
added, "The assembly was quiet until the arrival 

of armed Negroes, which precipitated and was 
the direct cause of the entire affair." 

A few other court cases, largely involving 
claims against the city and various insurance 
companies, lingered on for a number of years af- 
terward. In the end, while a handful of African 
Americans were charged with riot-related of- 
fenses, no white Tulsan was ever sent to prison 
for the murders and burnings of May 31, and 
June 1, 1921. In the 1920s Oklahoma court- 
rooms and halls of government, there would be 
no day of reck on ing for ei ther the per pe tra tor s or 
the victims of the Tulsa race riot. Now, some 
seventy-nine years later, the aged riot survivors 
can only wonder if, indeed, that day will ever 

Com mem o ra tion of the riot con ducted by BenHooks (Courtesy 



' A number of general histories of Tulsa have been written over the years, the most recent being Danney Goble, 
Tulsa!: Biography of the American City (Tulsa: Council Oaks Books, 1997). In addition, also see: William Butler, 
Tulsa 75: A History of Tulsa (Tulsa: Metropolitan Tulsa Chamber of Commerce, 1974); Angle Debo, Tulsa: From 
CreekTown to Oil Cap i tal (Norman: Uni ver sity of Oklahoma Press, 1943); Clar ence B. Douglas, The His tory of Tulsa, 
Oklahoma: A City With a Personality (3 vols.; Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1921); Nina Dunn, Tulsa 's 
Magic Roots (Tulsa: Oklahoma Book Publishing Company, 1979); James Monroe Hall, The Beginning of Tulsa 
(Tulsa: Scott-Rice Company, 1928); and Courtney Ann Vaughn-Roberson and Glen Vaughn-Roberson, City in the 
Osage Hills: Tulsa, Oklahoma (Boulder: Pruett Publishing Company, 1984). 

"John D. Porter, comp., Tulsa County Handbook, 1920 (Tulsa: Banknote Printing Company, 1920). Dr. Fred S. 
Clinton, "Interesting Tulsa History," a 1918 pamphlet, a copy of which is located in the Tulsa History vertical files in 
the library of the Oklahoma Historical Society. [Federal Writers' Project], Tulsa: A Guide to the Oil Capital (Tulsa: 
Mid-West Printing Company, 1938), pp. 23-25, 32, 50, 54. Tulsa City Directory, 1921 (Tulsa: Polk-Hoffhine 
Directory Company, 1921). Vaughn-Roberson and Vaughn-Roberson, City in the Osage Hills, p. 199. 

On the old Tulsa city cemetery, which was located near what is now the intersection of Second Street and Frisco 
Avenue, see: JimDowning, "Bull dozers Disturb Pioneers' Final 'R&s.i," Tulsa World, Febru ary 17, 1970, pp. 1 13, 613; 
Mrs. J.O. Misch, "Last Resting Places Not Al ways Fi nal" and other un dated clip pings lo cated in the Tulsa Cemeteries 
subjectfiles attheTulsaHis tor ical Society; and, inter view with S.R.Lewis, In dianPbneerHis tory Collection,Federal 
Writers' Project, vol. CVI, pp. 351-352, Oklahoma Historical Society. 

' Tulsa City Directory, 1921. Clinton, "Interesting Tulsa History". Porter, Tulsa County Handbook, 1920. Goble, 
Tulsa! pp. 78-111. 

^ While a complete architectural history of Tulsa as not yet been written, the homes of the oil barons have been the 
subject of careful study. See: Marilyn Inhofe, Kathleen Reeves, and Sandy Jones, Footsteps Through Tulsa (Tulsa: 
Liberty Press, 1984); and, especially, John Brooks Walton, One Hundred Historic Tulsa Homes (Tulsa: HCE 
Publications, 2000). 

On the history of Greenwood, see: Eddie Faye Gates, They Came Searching: How Blacks Sought the Promised 
Land in Tulsa (Austin: Eakin Press, 1997); Hannibal B. Johnson, Black Wall Street: From Riot to Renaissance in 
Greenwood's Historic Greenwood District (Austin: Eakin Press, 1997); Henry C. Whitlow, Jr., "A History of the 
Green wood Era in Tulsa", apaper pre sented to the Tulsa His tor i cal So ci ety, March 29, 1973 ; Fran cis Dominic Burke, 
" A Sur vey of the Ne gro Commu nity of Tulsa, Oklahoma" (M. A. the sis, Uni ver sity of Oklahoma, 1936); and, [Na tional 
Urban League], A Study of the Social and Economic Condition of the Negro Population of Tulsa, Oklahoma 
(Washington, D.C.: National Urban League, 1945). 

'The standard work on the history of African Americans in Oklahoma is Jimmie Lewis Franklin, Journey Toward 
Hope: A History of Blacks in Oklahoma (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1982). 

On B.C. Franklin, see: John Hope Franklin and John Whittington Franklin, eds.. My Life and An Era: The 
Autobiography of Buck Colbert Franklin (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997). The John Hope 
Frank lin quote is from his Fore word to Scott Ellsworth, Death in a Prom isedLand: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 (Ba ton 
Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1982), p. xv. 

*On the transfer of entrepreneurial experience from the all black towns to Greenwood, credit is due to Professor 
D.F.G. Williams, an urbanist at Washington University in St. Louis. Professor Williams is currently preparing a 
scholarly article about Tulsa' s African American community at the time of the riot, and was kind enough to share an 
early version of this work, titled "Economic Dualism, Institutional Failure, and Racial Violence in a Resource Boom 
Town: A Reexamination of the Tulsa Riot of 1921." 

' Mary E. Jones Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster (rpt; Tulsa: Out on a Limb Pub lishing, 1998), pp. 11, 17. Tulsa 
City Directory, 1921. Sanborn Fire insurance Maps, Tulsa Historical Society. "Tulsa's Industrial and Commercial 
District," 1921 map published by the Dean-Brumfield Com pany, Tulsa.DailyOklahoman, June 2, 1921. Oral history 
interview with Nell Hamilton Hampton, Tulsa, September 16, 1998. Oral history interview with Ed ward L. Goodwin, 
Sr., Tulsa, November 21, 1976, by Ruth Sigler Avery in Fear: The Fifth Horseman — A Documentary of the 1921 
Tulsa Race Riot, unpublished manuscript. 

' " Mabel B . Lit tie, "A His tory of the Blacks of North Tulsa and My Life", type script, dated May 24, 197 1 . Tulsa Star, 
April 11, 1914. Oklahoma City Black Dispatch, June 10, 1921. Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster, pp. 115-126. 
Franklin and Franklin, My Life and An Era, p. 193. Tulsa City Directory, 1921. Oral history interviews with: Robert 
Fairchild, Tulsa, June 8, 1978; V.H. Hodge, Tulsa, June 12, 1978; W.D.Wil liams, Tulsa, June 7, 197 8; B.E. Caruthers, 
Tulsa, July 21, 1978; Elwood Lett, Tulsa, May 28, 1998; and Otis Clark, Tulsa, June 4, 1999. 

[State Arts Council of Oklahoma], "A Century of African- American Experience — Greenwood: From Ruins to 
Re naissance",exhibitionbrochure.Oralhis tory inter views with W.D.Williams, Tulsa, by: Ruth Sigler Avery, inFear: 


The Fifth Horse man; and ScottEllsworth, June 7, 1978. Tulsa City Directory, 7927. Tulsa Star, January 4, 1919. New 
York Evening Post, June 11, 1921. William Redfearn vs. American Central Insurance Company, Case 15851, 
Oklahoma Supreme Court. 

^^Tulsa Star. May 30, 1913; June 13, 1913; February 7, 1914; March 7, 1914; April 4, 1914; April 11, 1914; 
September 12, 1914; February 16, 1918; May 4, 1918; and January 4, 1919. Tulsa World, June 6, 1921. Daily 
Oklahoman, June 2, 1921. Vanish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster, pp. 83, 89-90. TulsaCity Directory, 1921. Kavin Ross, 
"Booker T.Washington High School — Ellis WalkerWoods Historical Marker/Me mo rial Proposal", cl999. James M. 
Mitchell, "Politics in a Boom Town: Tulsa from 1906 to 1930" (M.A. thesis. University of Tulsa, 1950). 

On the Af ri can Blood Broth er hood, see: the July and No vember 192 1 is sues of The Cru sader, the of fi cial jour nal of 
theorganization;"NegroesBrandStory Race Initiated Riot as Fake" ,A'ew For^Ca//, June 5, 1921; and, inter views with 
Binkley Wright, Los Angeles, California, February and August 25, 2000, by Eddie Faye Gates; and Tulsa World, 
March 26, 2000. 

On the intellectual and political life of Greenwood prior to the riot, additional credit is due to the most helpful 
insights of Mr. Paul Lee, a journalist and filmmaker who is currently working on a documentary on early black 
migration to Oklahoma. 

'^Tulsa City Directory, 1921. Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster, pp. 41, 78-80. Gates, They Came Searching, pp. 
165-167. Tulsa Star, March 6, 1915. 

On the education of the new Mount Zion Baptist Church building, see the Tulsa World, April 10, 1921, p. B-8. 

^'^Tulsa Star: May 30, 1913: May 29, 1915; June 26, 1915; July 10, 1915; and February 13, 1919. Panish,£'ve«teo/ 
theTulsaDisaster, p. 1 15. Wal terF. White, "TheErup tion of Tulsa", The Nation, June 29, 1921, pp. 909-910. [National 
Association for the Advancement of Colored People], "Minutes of the Meeting of the Board of Directors, June 13, 
1921", 1,A,1, NAACP Papers, Library of Congress, Washing ton,D.C.Oralhis tory in terviewwith Seymour Williams, 
Tulsa, June 2, 1978. 

J.B. Stradford, who was forced to flee Tulsa after the riot, was cleared of any wrongdoing in the affair at a 1996 
ceremony. See: "Black Man Cleared of 1921 Tulsa Riot", Arizona Republic, October 27, 1996, p. A14; Mary 
Wisniewski Holden, -75 Years Later: Vindication in Tulsa", Chicago Lawyer, December 1996; and Jonathan Z. 
Larsen, "Tulsa Burning", Civilization, IV, 1 (February/March 1997), pp. 46-55. 

Significantly, Stradford wrote a memoir — a few pages of which have turned up in Tulsa — which, if published, 
promises to be a most important historical document. 

'^Williams, "Economic Dualism, Institutional Failure, and Racial Violence in a Resource Boom Town". Whitlow, 
"A History of the Greenwood Era in Tulsa". Tulsa City Directory, 1921 . Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster, pp. 
82-83. Gates, They Came Searching, pp. 102-103. Tulsa Star. March 7, 1914; and January 4, 1919. Oral history 
interview with Mabel B. Little, Tulsa, May 24, 1971, by Ruth Sigler Avery, in Fear: The Fifth Horseman. 

African Americans who tried to shop downtown were often the targets of discriminatory and derogatory behavior 
by white merchants and customers. See, for example, "Colored Woman Insulted", in the Tulsa Star, July 11, 1913. 

At least one white merchant in an otherwise all-white block of stores did, however, actively seek black customers. 
See the advertisements for the North Main Department Store in the Tulsa Star, March 27 and April 17, 1920. 

[National Urban League], A Study of the Social and Economic Condition of the Negro Population of Tulsa, 
Oklahoma, pp. 37-39, 87-89. [Oklahoma Writers' Project], "Racial Elements",typescript,datedJanuary 17, 1938, in 
the Federal Writers' Project topical files, 81.05, Archives and Manuscript Division, Oklahoma Historical Society. 
Tulsa City Directory, 1921. Gates, They Came Searching, pp. 62-64, 83-86. Oral history interviews with Kinney 
Booker, Tulsa, May 30, 1998; and, Elwood Lett, Tulsa, May 28, 1998. 

For a Ion ger term per spec tive, see also the comments of Mar ian Ramsey Jones, Ber tha Black Mclntyre, and Walter 
"Pete" Wil liams fol low ing Hannibal John son' s ar ti cle, "Green wood: Birth and Re birth", TulsaPeopleMagazine, July 
2000, pp. 12-18. 

Tulsa City Directory, 1921 . On the lives of the African American men and women who lived in the "Professor's 
Row" off of Standpipe Hill, see the forthcoming article by Paul Lee in Essence magazine. 

While a com pie te copy of the study con ducted by the Amer icanAssociationofSocial Workers has not been lo cated, 
this report — and its findings — was cited in subsequent publications. The quote is from The Proceedings of the 
National Conference of Social Work, 56th Annual Session, June 26 to July 3, 1929 (Chicago: University of Chicago 
Press, cl929), pp. 393-394. The study is also cited in Jesse O. Thomas, "American Cities — Tulsa", an unidentified 
1924 ar ti cle, a copy of which is lo cated in the Oklahoma sub ject file of the Schomburg Cen terClip ping File 1925-1974, 
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library, New York, NY. 

Kathy Callahan, "Mozelle May Re calls Early Tulsa His tory", Tulsa World, April 29, 1974. Tulsa City Directory, 
1921. Gates, They Came Searching, pp. 62-65, 139-140. Walton, One Hundred Historic Tulsa Homes. Oral history 


interviews with: Henry C. Whitlow, Jr., Tulsa, June 6, 1978; and Kinney Booker, Tulsa, May 30, 1998. Telephone 
interviews with Jewel Smitherman Rogers, Perris, California, 1998-2000. 

'^John Hope Franklin and Alfred A. Moss, Jr., From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans, 7th 
edition (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1994), pp. 346-354. Ar thur I. Waskow, From Race Riot to Sit-In: 1919 and the 
1960s (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1966). John Higham, Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American 
Nativism, 1860-1925 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1955). Richard Maxwell Brown, Strain of 
Violence: Historical Studies of American Violence and Vigilantism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1975). 

^°The classic study of the Chicago riot is William M. Tuttle, Jr.'s Race Riot. Chicago in the Red Summer of 1919 
(New York: Atheneum, 1970). 

Following the riot, the Chicago Commission on Race Relations conducted an extensive investigation of what had 
oc curred. Its re port. The Ne gro in Chi cago: A Study of Race Re la tions and a Race Riot (Chi cago: Uni ver sity of Chi cago 
Press, 1922), is still quite useful. 


Tuttle, Race Riot, pp. 29-30. 

^^Ibid., pp. 244-245. Franklin and Moss, From Slavery to Freedom, p. 351. 

A num ber of other World War I era ri ots have also been the subject of ex ten sive study. See, for ex ample: Elliott M. 
Ru&wick, Race Riot at East St. Louis, July 2, 797 7 (Carbon dale: South em Illinois Uni ver sity Press, 1964); U.S. House 
of Representatives, Sixty-Fifth Congress, 2nd Session, "Report of the Special Committee Authorized by Congress to 
InvestigatetheEastSt.LouisRiots"(Washington,D.C.:GovernmentPrintingOffice, 19 18): and, Robert V.Haynes,^ 
Night of Violence: The Houston Riot of 191 7 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1976). 

"The literature on interracial sexual relations in America — including historical, sociological, and psychological 
analyses, as well as the work of someofthecoun try's fin est novelist — is volu mi nous. Forahistorical perspective, two 
places to begin are: Joel Williamson, The Crucible of Race: Black-White Relations in the American South Since 
Emancipation (New York: Ox fordUni ver sity Press, \91A);anADan1.Cw:icr,Scottsboro:ATragedy of the American 
South (Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1969). 

'""Frank lin and Moss,From Slavery to Freedom, pp. 348-349. Classic studies of lynching include: Arthur F. Raper, 
The Trag edy of Lynching (Chapel Hill: Uni ver sity of North Carolina Press, 1933); James R. McGovem, Anatomy of a 
Lynching: The Killing of Claude Neal (Baton Rouge, Louisiana State University Press, 1982); and James Allen, 
Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America (Santa Fe: Twin Palms Publishers, 2000). 

Rob ert T. Kerlin, 77?e Voice of the Negro, 7P7P(New York: E.P. Button, 1920). Frank lin and Moss, T^roOT^yovery 
to Freedom, pp. 323-360. Emmett J. Scott, History of the American Negro, in the World War (Chicago: Homewood 
Press, 1919). 

LA. Newby, Jim Crow 's Defense: Anti Negro Thought in America, 1900-1930 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State 
University Press, 1965). Mary Frances Berry, Black Resistance/White Law: A History of Constitutional Racism in 
America (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1971). C. Vann Woodward, The Strange Career of Jim Crow (New 
York: Oxford University Press, 1957). 

"David A Chalmers, Hooded Amer i can ism: The History of the KuKluxKlan (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1965). 
Kenneth T. Jackson, The Ku Klux Klan in the City (New York: Oxford University Press, 1967). 

^^Tulsa Star, November 11, 1916; February 16, 1918; May 4, 1918; and November 23, 1918. Interview with 
Seymour Williams, Tulsa, June 2, 1978. Goble, Tulsa!, pp. 120-121. 

"Richard Kluger, Simple Justice (New York: Ran dom House, 1977), pp. 102-104. Arrell M. Gib son, Oklahoma: A 
History of Five Cen turies (Norman: Harlow Pub lishing Corporation, 1965), p. 353. Kay M. Teall, Qd.,BlackHistoryin 
Oklahoma: A Resource Book (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma City Public Schools, 1971), pp. 172, 202-204, 225. 

' ° Mary Eliz a beth Estes, "An His tor i cal Sur vey of Lynch ings in Oklahoma and Texas ! ' (M. A. thesis, Uni ver sity of 
Oklahoma, 1942), pp. 130-134. 

' ' Carter Blue Clark, "A History of the Ku Klux Klan in Oklaboma7' (Ph.D. dissertation,University of Oklahoma, 
1976), pp. vii-xi, 36-80, 169-219. Charles C. Alexander, The Ku Klux Klan in //ze5'oM//zwe5/^(Lexington:Universityof 
Kentucky Press, 1965). W.C. Witcher, The Reign of Terror in Oklahoma (Ft. Worth, n.p., c 1923). Marion Monteval, 
The Klan Inside Out (Claremore: Monarch Publishing Company, 1924). Howard A. Tucker, History of Governor 
Walton 's War on the Klan (Oklahoma City: Southwest Publishing Company, 1923). 

''Charles Oquin Meyers, Jr., "The Ku Klux Klan in Tulsa County During the Early 1920s" (Honor's paper. 
Department of History, University of Tulsa, 1974), pp. 6, 12-19. Laurie Jane (Barr) Croft, "The Women of the Ku. 
Klux Klan in Oklahoma"(M.A. the sis, Uni ver sity of Oklahoma, 1984), p. 5 1 . Clark, "A His tory of the Ku Klux Klan in 
Oklahoma", pp. 36, 47, 52, 65, 71, 89. 


Tulsa World, July 30, 1922. Meyers, "The Ku Klux Klan in Tulsa Country", pp. 9-12. Ku Klux Klan Papers, 

Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa. 


Al ex an der. The Ku Klux Klan in the South west, pp. 66, 142-58, 228. Chalmers, Hooded Americanism, pp. 52-55. 
Meyers, "The Ku Klux Klan in Tulsa Country", pp. 20-22, 26-35. Bruce Bhven, "From the Oklahoma Front", New 
Republic, Oc to ber 17, 1923, p. 202. Jewel Smitherman Rog ers, "John Henry Smitherman: APro file of The Father, The 
Man, and The Officer of the Law", typescript, November 1999. Interview with Willa Catherine Smitherman, Tulsa, 
February 14, 1978, by Ruth Sigler Avery, in Fear: The Fifth Horseman. Oral history interviews with: William M. 
O'Brien, Tulsa, March 2, 1998; and Richard Gary, Tulsa, March 16,1999. 

"Meyers, "The Ku Klux Klan in Tulsa County", pp. 33-38. Tulsa Man membership register/ledger, 1928-1929, 
Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa. Oral history interview with Ed Wheeler, 
Tulsa, February 27, 1998. 

"Clark, "A History of the Ku Klux Klan in Oklahoma", pp. 42-45. 

^^Ibid., pp. 36-38 

Tulsa World, June 6, 1921. Ruth Sigler Avery, Fear: The Fifth Horseman. 

The Tribune, in particular, paid close attention to Klan activities in Dallas. See the Tulsa Tribune: January 29, 
1921, p. 8;February4, 1921, p. 1; April 2, 1921, p. 1; April 3, 1921, p. 5; May 22, 1921, p. l;andMay24, 1921, p. 1. 

^^^Tulsa Tribune, May 22, 1921, p. 2. On the May brothers, see also the March 27, 1921 issue, p. 2. 

Meyers, "The Ku Klux Klan in Tulsa County", pp. 3-7. Clark, "A His tory of the Ku Klux Klan in Oklahoma", pp. 

^'^Tulsa Tribune, April 17, 1921, p. 5. Tulsa World: April 10, 1921, p. 4; April 14, 1921,, p. 4; April 18,1921, p. 4: 
April 20, 1921, p. 4; and April 23, 1921, p. 4. [National Association for the Advancement of Colored People], "Minutes 
of the Meeting of the Board of Directors, June 13, 1921," NAACP Papers, Library of Congress. Exchange Bureau 
Bulletin, 1, 26 (July 7[?], 1921). 

On economic conditions in Tulsa prior to the riot, see: Harlow 's Weekly, December 17, 1920 and September 
16,1921; Tulsa Tribune, April 14,1921, p. 6; Tulsa World, May 19,1921, p. 4; Tulsa City Commission, Record of 
Commission Proceedings, August 26, 1921; Ralph Cassady, Jr., Price Making and Price Behavior in the Petroleum 
/wJMi'/ry (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954), p. 136; and, U.S. Bureau of the Census,///5tor/ca/5'tafe//c5o/if/ze 
United States, Colonial Times to the Present (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1975), Volume 2, p. 

''^ "Federal Report on Vice Conditions in Tulsa," April 21-26, 192 , by Agent T.G.F., a copy of which is located in 
the At tor ney Gen eral Civil Case Files, Re cord Group 1 -2, Case 1 062, State Ar chives Di vi sion , OklahomaDe part ment 
of Libraries. 

''''Abundant evidence on the illegal consumption of alcohol in Tulsa County can be found in the Attorney Generals 
Civil Case Files, Record Group 1-2, Case 1062, State Archives Division, Oklahoma Department of Libraries. See, in 
particular: the tes ti mony of E.S. McQueen, L. Medlen, and Mrs. W.H. Clark; "State ment of John Burnett"; "Memo to 
Major Daily"; and, "Special Report on Vice Conditions in and Around the City of Tulsa, by H.H. Townsend", Tulsa, 
May 18,1921. 

OralhistoryinterviewwithElwoodLett, Tulsa, May 28, 199&. Tulsa Tribune:Febmary7, 1921, p. 1; February 11, 
1921, p. 5; February 12, 1921, p. 1; February 13, 1921, p. 3; and April 15, 1921, p. 13. 

The quote from Charles C. Post is from the Tulsa Tribune, May 8, 1921, p. 1. See also: Tulsa World, April 22, 
192 1, p. 1 ; Tulsa Tri bune. May 1 8, 192 1 , p. 2; and, "State ment of Bar ney Cleaver," At tor ney Gen erals Civil Case Files, 
Record Group 1-2, Case 1062, State Archives Division, Oklahoma Department of Libraries. 

^^White, "The Eruption of Tulsa", p. 909. Tulsa World April 23, 1921, pp. 1,3; and May 13, 1921, p. 1. Tulsa 
rnZ)M«e: January 13,1921,p. 12; February 12, 1921, p. l;March 5, 1921,p. l;March9, 1921, p. 10; March 13, 1921, p. 
7; March 14, 192 1, p. 1; March 21, 1921, p. 1; April 5, 1921, p. 1; April 13, 1921, p. 1; May 1, 1921, p. B-14; May 2, 
1921, p. 1; May 11, 1921, p. 1; May 18, 1921, p. 1; May 20, 1921, p. 1; and May 28, 1921, p. 1. 

*'rM75a World. April 4,1921, p. 4; April 15, 1921, p. 4; May 13, 1921, p. 4; May 18,1921, pp. 1, 13; May 19, 1921, 
pp.1, 4; May 20, 1921, pp.1, 2; May 21, 1921, pp. 1, 4,17; and May 22, 1921, pp. 1, 17. TulsaTribune, May 1, 1921, p. 
B-14. 4. Tulsa Tribune: April 17, 1921, p. 1; April 19, 1921, p. 16; and May 25, 1921, p. 16. 

'"Estes, "Historical Survey of Lynchings in Oklahoma and Texas," p. 131. Interview with George B. Smith, Red 
Fork, Oklahoma, Au gust 24, 1937, by W.T. Hoi land. Vol ume LXIX, pp. 470-475, In dian Pi o neer HistoryCollection, 
Federal Writers' Project, Oklahoma Historical Society. 

^"William T. Lampe, Tulsa County and the World War (Tulsa: Tulsa Historical Society, 1918). [National Civil 
Liberties Bureau], "The 'Knights of Liberty' Mob and the l.W.W. Prisoners at Tulsa, Okla., November 9, 1917", 
pamphlet, 1918. Goble, Tulsa!, -p^. 118-122. 


^^Tulsa Times: November 10, 1917, p. 6; and November 12,1917, p. 7. Tulsa Democrat: November 10, 1917, p. 8; 
andNovemberll,1917,pp. 1,3. rMfaa^orW. November 10, 1917,p.l; November 11, 1917,p.l;November 12, 1917, 
p. 4; and November 13, 1917, p. 4. 

^'^ Tulsa World. August 22, 1920, p. 1; and August 24, 1920, p. 1. Tulsa Tribune: August 22, 1920, p. 1; August 24, 
1920, pp. 1, 4; August 25, 1920, p. 1; and August 28, 1920, p. 1. 

^^ Tulsa Tribune: August 23, 1920, p. 1; and August 27, 1920, p. 1. Tulsa fforW. August 25, 1920, pp. 1, 12; August 
28, 1920, pp. 1,9; August 29, 1920, p.9; August 30, 1920,p. l;Septemberl, 1920, p. 12; and September 2, 1920, pp. 1, 

^^Tulsa World, August 25, 1920, p. 12; and August 31, 1920, p. 4. Tulsa Tribune, August 28, 1920, p. 1 . 

Tulsa Tribune, August 28, 1920, p. 1. 

"/Z)/<i., August 29, 1920, pp. 1-2. Tulsa World. August 29, 1920, p. 1; and August 30, 1920, p. 3. 

'''^ Tulsa Star, September4, 1920, p. l.TulsaTri bune, August29, 1920, pp. l,2.Tulsa World: August29, 1920, p. 1; 
and August 30, 1920, pp. 1-3. See also: White, "The Eruption of Tulsa", p. 909. 

^^Tulsa World, August 30, 1920, pp. 1-3. 

Both the lynching of Roy Belton, and how Tulsans responded to the event, was covered extensively in both of 
Tulsa's daily news papers. See: TulsaTribune: August 31, 1920, p. 12; Sep tem ber 6, 1920, p. 1; September 9, 1920, p. 
1; Sep tem ber 10, 1920, p. 1; Sep tember21, 1920, p. 2; Sep tem ber 24, 1920, p. 1; and Sep tem ber 29, 1920, p. 4. Tulsa 
World: August 30, 1920, p. 4; August 31, 1920, pp. 1, 4; September 1, 1920, pp, 1,4, 12; Sep tem ber 2, 1920, pp. 1,4; 
September 3, 1920, pp. 1, 18; September5, 1920,p.A- l;September6, 1920, p. l;and September 10, 1920pp. 1, 13. 

^^ Tulsa Star, September 4, 1920, pp. 1, 4. 

''^ Ibid., Maich 6, 1920, p. 8. 

"Clark, "History of the Ku Klux Klan in Oklahoma", p. 17. 

"Tulsa Star, March 6, 1920, p. 8. 

^^Ibid., September 4, 1920, pp. 1, 4. 

"Tulsa Democrat, March 18, 1919, p. 1. Tulsa World, March 18, 1919, p. 1. Tulsa Times, March 18, 1919, p. 1. 

^^Tulsa Times: March 20, 1919, p. 1; March 21, 1919, p. 1; and March 22, 1919, p. 3. Tulsa World, March 21, 1919, 
p. 1; Tulsa Democrat: March 19, 1919, p. 11; March 20, 1919, p. 9; and March 21, 1919, pp. 10,16. 

^^Tulsa Tribune, June 12, 192 1, p. 1. 

^* Tulsa Star, September 4, 1920, pp. 1, 4. 

'' Bio graph i cal sketch of Rich ard Lloyd Jones by Hazel S. Hone, May 10, 1939; "Rich ard Lloyd Jones" from Who' s 
Mo in Tulsa, 1950, by Clarence Allen; and, miscellaneous newspaper clippings on Jones, all located in the "Tulsa' 
vertical subject files, Oklahoma Historical Society. 

'"ZMfaa 7>/AM«e: January 13, 1921, p. 12; February 12, 1921, p., 8; March 5, 1921, p. 10; April 5, 1921, p. 16; April 
7, 1921, p. 16; May 1, 1921, p. B-14; May 3,1921, p. 18; and May 13, 1921, p. 24. 

"/A/£/.: January 3, 1921, p. 12; March 2,1921, p. l;March4, 1921, p. 1; March 5, 1921, p. l;March28, 1921, p. 1; 
March 29, 1921, p. 1; March 31, 1921, p. 1; April 4, 1921, p. 1; April 5, 1921, p. 1; April 13, 1921,p.l;May 8, 1921, p. 
1; May 16, 1921, p. 12; May 17, 1921, p. 1; May 19, 1921, pp. 1, 2; May 20, 1921, pp. 1, 2, 22; May 21, 1921, pp. 1, 2; 
May 22, 1921, p. B-14; May 24, 1921, pp. 1, 18; and May 25, 1921, pp. 1, 3.16. 

The Tulsa World painted a somewhat ros ier portrait of crime con di tions in Tulsa. See, for ex ample: April 15, 1921, 
p. 4; April 17, 1921, p. 16; May 19, 1921, pp. 1, 3; May 19, 1921, pp. 1, 4; May 20, 1921, pp. 1,2; May 21, 1921, pp. 1, 
4, 17; and May 22, 1921, pp. 1, 17. 

On politicalissues which may have influencedthe Tribune 's campaign, as well as the subsequent investigationsof 
the Tulsa Police Department, see: Ronald L. Trekell, History of the Tulsa Police Department, 1882 - 1990 (N.p, n.p., 
n.d.); Mitch ell, "Pol i tics in a Boom Town"; Randy Krehbiel, "Root of the Riot", Tulsa World, Jan u ary 30, 2000, pp. A- 
1, A-2; and, John R. Woodard, In Re Tulsa (N.p., n.p., 1935). 

'''Tulsa Tribune: May 14, 1921, p. 10; May 16, 1921, p. 12; and May 25, 1921, p. 16. 

''/Z)/t/.:March3, 1921, p. 1; April 17, 192 l,p. 1; May 24, 1921, p. 1; May 26, 1921, p. 14; and May 27, 1921, p. 1. 

'''/Z)/J,June4, 1921, p. 8. 

Tulsa Tribune, May 21, 1921, pp. 1, 2. Typescript reports by members of Cooke's party can be found in the 
At tor ney Gen erals Civil Case Files, Re cord Group 1-2, Case 1062, State Ar chives Di vi sion, OklahomaDepartment of 


'^^Tulsa Tribune: May 26, 1921, p.l; and May 27,1921, p. i.Tulsa Worid: May 26, 1921, p. 1; and May 27, 1921, p. 

'^''Tulsa Tribune, May 30, 1921, p. 1. 

Oral history interview with Damie Rowland Ford, Tulsa, July 22, 1972, by Ruth Sigler Avery, in Fear: The Fifth 
i/orae/waw. Franklin and Frank lin,A/vL//e andAnEra, p. \99. TulsaCityDirectory, 7P27.0ralhistory interviews with: 
W.D. Williams, Tulsa, June 7, 1978; and Robert Fairchild, Tulsa, June 8, 1978. Booker T. Washington High School 
AlumniRoster, 19 16- 1929. Loren L.Gill, "The Tulsa Race Riof (M.A. the sis. University of Tulsa, 1946), p. 22. "Mob 
Fury and Race Hatred as a NationalDanger'^i/'/eraryD/ge^^, LXlX(June 18, 1921). InterviewwithAliceAndrewsin 
Gates, They Came Searching, pp. 41-42. 

Dick Rowland's last name is sometimes spelled "Roland". Similarly, Sarah Page's surname is sometimes given as 

Oral his tory in ter views with: Rob ert Fairchild, Tulsa, June 8, 1978; and W.D. Wil liams, Tulsa, June 7,1978. Tulsa 
City Directory, 1921. Tulsa Tribune, May 22, 1921, p. 4. 

'"rwfaa Tribune: April 17, 1921, p. 5; May 31, 1921, p. 1; and June 1, 192 1, p. 4. White, "Eruption of Tulsa, pp. 

Oral history interviews with: Damie Rowland Ford, Tulsa, July 22, 1972; S.M. Jackson and Eunice Cloman 
Jackson, Tulsa, June 26, 1971; and Robert L. Fairchild, Tulsa, April 18, 1971; all by Ruth Sigler Avery, in Fear: The 
Fifth Horseman. Oral history interview with Robert Fairchild, Tulsa, June 8, 1978. 

^"^Tulsa World, May 29, 1921, p. A-1. TulsaTribune: May 29,1921, pp. 2,8, B-1, B-10, B-12; and May 30,1921, p .1. 
Oral history interview with Damie Rowland Ford, Tulsa, July 22,1972, by Ruth Sigler Avery, in Fear: The Fifth 
Horseman. Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, Tulsa, Tulsa Historical Society. 

New York Eve ning Post, June 1 1, 1921. White, "Erup tion of Tulsa", p. 910. "Mob Fury and Race Hatred" , Literary 
Digest, opcit. TulsaWorld,]une2, 1921, p. 2. Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster, p. 18.0ralhistoryinterviewswith: 
Damie Rowland Ford, Tulsa, July 22, 1972; Robert Fairchild, Tulsa, April 18, 1976; Mabel B. Little, Tulsa, May 24, 
197 1; S.M. Jackson and Eunice Cloman Jack son, Tulsa, June 26, 197 1; all by Ruth Sigler Avery, in Fear: The Fifth 

MTulsaTribune, May 31, 192 1, p. 1. Tulsa World, June 2, 192 1, pp. 1-5. White, "Eruption of Tulsa", p. 909. Oral 
history interviews with: W.D. Williams, Tulsa, June 7, 1978; and Robert Fairchild, Tulsa, June 8, 1978. 

*^ Oral his tory in ter view with Damie Rowland Ford, Tulsa, July 22, 1972, by Ruth Sigler Avery, in Fear: The Fifth 
Horseman. On lynching, see also, "The Ideology of Lynching", in Stephen J. Whitfield, A Death in the Delta: The 
Story ofEmmett Till (New York: The Free Press, 1988), pp. 1-14. 

^^Tulsa Tribune, May 31, 1921, p. 1. Oral history interview with Damie Rowland Ford, Tulsa, July 22, 1972, by 
Ruth Sigler Avery, in Fear: The Fifth Horseman. 

In early May 1921, the Tulsa Tribune reported that the Tulsa Police Department had eighty-eight officers; Tulsa 
Tribune, May 2, 1921, p. 1. The Tulsa City Directory, 1921, however, lists only fifty-seven officers, fourofwhomare 
identified as African American. 

"Franklin and Franklin, My Life and An Era, pp. 195-196. 

^^Tulsa World, May 31, 1921. 

^'Gill, "Me Tulsa Race Riot', pp. 21-22. 

Red Cross Collection, Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, Tulsa Historical Society. The State Edition copy of "Nab Negro 
for Attacking Girl in Elevator" was uncovered by Bruce Hartnitt, a Tulsa-based researcher, in the collections of the 
Oklahoma Historical Society sometime prior to 1996. 

Oral history interview with W.D. Williams, Tulsa, June 7, 1978. 

'Oral history interview with Robert L. Fairchild, Tulsa, April 18, 1971, by Ruth Sigler Avery, in Fear: The Fifth 
Horseman. State ment of "A.H." inParrish, Events of the Tulsa Di sas ter, p. 62. Charles F. Barrett, Oklahoma After Fifty 
Years: A History of the Sooner State and Its People, 1889-1939 (Hopkinsville, Kentucky: Historical Record 
Association, 1941), p. 206. 

"Franklin and Franklin, My Life and Era, p. 196. 

Ross. T. Warner, Oklahoma Boy (N.p., n.d., n.d.), p. 136. Pe ti tion No, 23325, B.A. Waynes and M.E. Waynes vs. 
T.D. Evans et al, Tulsa County District Court. New York Evening Post, June 11, 1921. Testimony of John A. 
Gustafson, State of Oklahoma vs. John A. Gustafson, Attorney Generals Civil Case Files, Case 1062, State Archives 
Division, Oklahoma Department of Libraries. 

" Tulsa World, June 1, 1921, "Final Edition", pp. 1, 8. Major James A. Bell to Lieutenant Colonel L .J .F. Rooney, 
"Report on Activities of the National Guard on the Night of May 31 and June 1, 1921", Testimony of John A. 


Gustafson; and Lau rel Buck tes ti mony; all in At tor ney Gen erals Civil Case Files, Case 1062, State ArchivesDi vision, 
OklahomaDe part mentofLibraries. A.J. Smitherman,"ADe scrip tive Poem of the TulsaRiot and Massacre", undated 
pamphlet, Oklahoma Historical Society. 

Tulsa Tribune: June 3, 1921, p. 1; and June 6, 1921, P. 3. Tulsa World, June 1, 1921, "Final Edition", p. 8. 
Oklahoma City Black Dispatch, June 3, 1921, p.l. New York Evening Post, June 11, 1921. Typescript notes on the 
tes ti mony of A.B . Nesbitt; and mis eel la neous hand writ ten notes; both in the At tor ney Generals Civil Case Files, Case 
1062, State Ar chives Division, Oklahoma Department of Libraries. Oralhistory in terviewwithDave Faulkner, Tulsa, 
May 7, 1971, by Ruth Sigler Avery, in Fear: The Fifth Horseman. 

Oral history interview with W.D. .Williams, Tulsa, June 7, 1978. Franklin and Franklin, My Life and An Era, pp. 
96-97. Oral his tory in ter view with Rob ert Fairchild, Tulsa, by Eddie Faye Gates, in They Came Searching, p. 7 1 . Tulsa 
World, June 2, 192 1, p. 1. White, "Eruption of Tulsa", pp. 909-910. Smitherman, "Me Tulsa Riot and Massacre". 
Handwritten notes on the testimony of O.W. Gurley; and typescript notes on the testimony of Henry Jacobs; both in 
Attorney Generals Civil Case Files, Case 1062, State Archives Division, Oklahoma Department of Libraries. 

'^Oklahoma CiiyBlackDis patch, June 3,1921, p. 1. Tulsa World. June 2, 1921, p. 7; June 3, 1921, p. 1; June 6, 192 
1,P. 3; June9, 1921, p. 4; and June 10, 1921, p. 8. MajorJamesA.BelltoLieutenantColonelL. J. F. Rooney, "Report 
on the Activities of the National Guard", typescript notes on the testimony of John Henry Potts; and miscellaneous 
handwritten notes; all in Attorney Generals Civil Case Files, Case 1062, State Archives Division, Oklahoma 
De part ment of Li braries. White, "Erup tion of Tulsa: , pp. 909-9 1 0. Oral his tory in ter views w ith: W.D . Wil liams, Tulsa, 
June 7, 1978; and Seymour Williams, Tulsa, June 1, 1978. 

"Barrett, Oklahoma After Fifty Years, p. 207. Laurel Buck testimony. Attorney Generals Civil Case Files, Case 
1062, State Archives Division, Oklahoma Department of Libraries. 

Bell, "Report on the Activities of the National Guard", op cit. Tulsa Tribune: January 16, 1921, p. 5; and March 
20, 1921, Magazine Section, p. 2. 

' " ' Bell, "Report on Activities of the National Guard." See also: Major Paul R. Brown to the Adjutant General of 
Oklahoma, "Work of the Sanitary Detachment During the Riot in Tulsa", Attorney Generals Civil Case Files, Case 
1062, State Archives Division, Oklahoma Department of Libraries; and, Robert D. Norris, Jr., "The Oklahoma 
National Guard in the Tulsa Race Riot: Tentative Summary of Finding", typescript, 1999. 

'John A. Gustafson testimony; and handwritten notes to the testimony of W. M. Ellis; both in Attorney Gen erals 
Civil CaseFiles, Case 1062, State ArchivesDi vision, OklahomaDe partment of Libraries. Stephen P. Kerr, "Tulsa Race 
War, 31, May 1921: An Oral History," unpublished manuscript, 1999. St. Louis Argus, June 101-1921. 

John A. Gustafson testimony; and miscellaneoushandwritten notes; both in AttorneyGenerals Civil Case Files, 
Case 1062, State Archives Division, Oklahoma Department of Libraries 

'"''Oral history interviews with Ernestine Gibbs, Augusta Mann, Rosa Davis Skinner, Robert Fairchild, and Alice 
An drews, all by Eddie Faye Gates, in TTzey Came ^arc/z/wg, pp. 42-43,71, 85-86, 151, 165-166. Handwrittennotesto 
the tes ti mony of O. W. Gur ley; type script notes to the tes ti mony of W.C. Kelley; and John A. Gustafson testimony; all 
in Attorney Generals Civil Case Files, Case 1062, State Archives Division, Oklahoma Department of Libraries. 

Following the riot, some claimed that Sheriff McCuUough had actually requested that this second contingent of 
Af ri can Amer i can men come down to the Court house, a highly un likely pos si bil ity . It is, ho w ever, pos sible toen vi sion 
a see nario whereby a tele phone call by McCuUough to Dep uty Sher iff Bar ney Cleaver - per haps made to the offices of 
the Tulsa Star - might have been misinterpreted, in the heat of the moment, as a request for assistance. Tulsa Tri bune, 
June 3, 1921, pp. 1, 3. Tulsa World, June 10, 1921, p. 8. New York Evening Post, June 11, 192 1. White, 'Eruption of 
Tulsa", pp. 909-9 10. John A. Gustafson testimony; Laurel Buck testimony; and, handwritten notes to W. N. Ellis 
testimony; all in Attorney Generals Civil Case Files, Case 1062, State Archives Division, Oklahoma Department of 
Libraries. Oral history interview with I.S. Pittman, Tulsa, July 28, 1978. 

' "^Oral history interview with Robert Fairchild, Tulsa, June 8, 1978. Handwritten notes to the testimony of W. E. 
Dudley, Attorney Generals Civil Case Files, State Archives Division, Oklahoma Department of Libraries. Tulsa 
World, July 7, 1921, p. 3. Tulsa Tribune, June 3, 1921, pp. 1, 3. 

'"rMfaa World, June 1, 1921, "Final Edition", p.l. White, "Eruption of Tulsa," pp. 909-910. William Cleburn 
"Choc" Phillips, "Murder in the Streets," unpublished memoir of the 1921 Tulsa race riot, pp. 32-34,47. Handwritten 
notes to the testimony of "Witnesses in Order", Attorney Generals Civil Case Files, Case 1062, State Archives 
Division, Oklahoma Department of Libraries. 

Tulsa Tribune, June 1, 1921, p. 3. Tulsa World, June 1, 1921, "Final Edition", p. 8. Oklahoma City Black 
Dispatch, June 3, 192 1, p. 1. New York Times, June 2, 1921. 

""Oral history interview with Dr. George H. Miller, M.D., Tulsa, August 1, 1971, by Ruth Sigler Avery, in Fear: 
The Fifth Horseman. Tulsa City Directory, 1921. 


Okmulgee DailyDemocrat, }une 1, 1921 . OklahomaCity BlackDispatch, June 3, 1921, p. 1. Tulsa World, June 1, 
1921, "Final Edition", p. 8. Tulsa Tribune, June 1, 1921, p. 3. New York Times, June 2,1921. 

' "Phillips, "Murder in the Streets", p. 46. 

Laurel Buck testimony; handwritten notes to "Witnesses in Order" testimony; and miscellaneous handwritten 
notes; all in Attorney Generals Civil Case Files, Case 1062, State Archives Division, Oklahoma Department of 
Libraries. Tulsa World, June 10, 1921, p. 8. Gill, "Tulsa Race Riot", p. 28. 

Who ac tu ally performed the swear ing-in of the "Spe cial Dep uties" is un clear, as is what may havebeen the "of fi cial 
pol icy" — if any — of both the Po lice De part ment and the city gov em ment in re sponse to the vi o lence dur ing the early 
hours of the riot. The lat ter was of ten prom i nently fea tured in a num ber of law suits f iledaf ter the riot. See, in par tic u lar: 
"Brief of Plantiff in Error" and "Answer Brief of Defendant in Error", William Redfern vs. American Central 
Insurance Company (1925), Oklahoma State Supreme Court; and documents involving various cases filed by 
in di vid u als who suffered prop erty losses dur ing the riot, in clud ing C L. Nether land vs. City of Tulsa, Loula T. Wil liams 
vs. Fire Association of Philadelphia, Osborne Monroe vs. Mechanics and Traders Insurance Company of New 
Orleans, and H.J. Caver vs. T.D. Evans, et at.. 

Let ter from A. J. Perrine, Tulsa, July 2, 1921, to the At tor ney Gen eral, Oklahoma City; Lau rel Buck Testimony; 
Statement of [J.W.] MeGee; Major Byron Kirkpatrick to Lieutenant Colonel L. J.F. Rooney, "Activities on Night of 
May 31, 1921 at Tulsa, Okla."; all in Attorney Generals Civil Case Files, Case 1062, State Archives Division, 
OklahomaDepartmentofLibraries.TMfaa fForW: June 1, 1921, "Final Edition", p. l;andJune2, 192 1. OklahomaCity 
BlackDispatch,]une3, 1921, p. l.Oral history interviewwithL. C.Clark, Tulsa, June 25, 1975, by Ruth Sigler Avery, 
in Fear: The Fifth Horseman . 

"*Oral history interview with W.R. Holway, by Ruth Sigler Avery, in Fear: The Fifth Horseman. 

"'Phillips, "Murder in the Streets," p. 38. Tulsa World, May 31, 1921, p. 5. 

Tulsa Tribune, June 1, 1921, p. 5. Tulsa World, June 1, 1921, "Final Edition", p. l.New York Times, June 1, 1921. 
Phillips, "Murder in the Streets", pp. 37-41. Oral history in ter views with: Mrs. C.A. (Helen) Donohue Ingraham, Tulsa, 
May 4, 1980; and W.R. Holway; both by Ruth Sigler Avery, in Fear: The Fifth Horseman. 

Major C.W. Daley to Lieutenant Colonel L. J. F. Rooney, "Information on Activities During Negro Uprising, 
May 31, 1921", Attorney Generals Civil Case Files, Case 1062, State Archives Division, Oklahoma Department of 
Libraries. Afevf York Evening Post, June 11, 1921. 

Denver Post, June 4, 192 1 . Kan sas City Post, June 2, 192 1 . New York Tri bune, June 2, 192 l.New York Times, June 
2,1921. Tulsa World, June 2, 1921, p. 2. Tulsa Tribune, June 1, 1921, p. 5. Daley, "Information on Activities During 
Negro Uprising". Handwritten notes to "Witnesses in Order" testimony. Attorney Generals Civil Case Files, Case 
1062, State Archives Division, OklahomaDepartmentofLibraries.OralhistoryinterviewwithW.D. Williams, Tulsa, 
June 7, 1978. 

Ed Wheeler, "Pro file of aRaceRiot," ImpactMagazine , IV (June-July 197 1), p. 21. Oralhistoryinterviewwith 
W.D. Williams, Tulsa, June 7,1978. Tulsa World, June 2, 1921, p. 2. Tulsa Tribune, June 3, 1921, p. 1. 

'-"White, "Eruption of Tulsa," p. 910. 

'-'Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster, p. 19. Tulsa World, June 1, 1921, "Second Extra Edi tion", p. 1; and June 2, 
1921, p. 2. Tulsa Tribune, June 3, 1921, p. 1. New York Times, June 2, 1921. New York Post, June 1, 1921. Captain 
Frank Van Voorhis to LieutenantColonel L. J. F. Rooney, "Detailed Report of Negro Uprising for Service Company, 
Third Infantry, Oklahoma National Guard", Attorney Generals Civil Case Files, Case 1062, State Archives Division, 
Oklahoma Department of Libraries. 

'-'Bell, "Re port on Activities of the National Guard". See also: Kirkpatrick, "Ac tivities on Night of May 31, 1921 "; 
and, Barrett, Oklahoma After Fifty Years, pp. 207-210. 

Bell, "Report on Activities of the National Guard." Brown, 'Work of the Sanitary Detachment". Kirkpatrick, 
"Activities on Night of May 31, 1921." Barrett, Oklahoma After Fifty Years, pp. 207-212. 

'-'Captain John W. McCuen to Lieutenant Colonel L. J. F. Rooney, "Duty Performed by ["B"] Company, Third 
Infantry, Oklahoma National Guard, at Negro Uprising, May 31, 1921"; Lieutenant Roy R. Dunlap to Lieutenant 
Colonel L. J. F. Rooney, "Report on Negro Uprising, May 31, 1921"; Van Voorhis, "Detailed Report of Negro 
Uprising"; Daley, "Information on Activities During Negro Uprising and. Letter from Lieutenant Colonel L. J. F. 
Rooney and Charles W. Daley to the Adjutant General, June 3, 1921; all in Attorney Generals Civil Case Files, Case 
1062, State Archives Division, Oklahoma Department of Libraries. 

- Letter from Lieutenant Colonel L. J. F. Rooney and Charles W. Daley to the Adjutant General, June 3, 1921. 
Kirkpatrick, "Activities on the Night of May 31, 1921." Bell, "Report on Activities of the National Guard." McCuen, 
"Duty Performed by ["B'] Company." Van Voorhis, "Detailed Report of Negro Uprising." Daley, "Information on 


Activities During Negro Uprising." Muskogee Daily Phoenix, June 4, 1921, P. 1. Gill, 'Tulsa Race Riot", pp. 30-31, 

'^^Interview with Major Frank Van Voorhis, Tulsa, October 25, 1937, by Effie S. Jackson, Indian Pioneer History 
Collection,OklahomaHis tor ical Society. Letterfrom Lieu ten ant Colonel L.J.F.RooneyandCharles W.Daley to the 
Adjutant General, June 3, 1921. Kirkpatrick, "Activities on Night of May 31, 1921." McCuen, "Duty Performed by 
["B"] Company". 




Oral history interview with Seymour Williams, Tulsa, June 2, 1978. 

Oral his tory in ter view with W.D. Wil liams, Tulsa, June 7, 1978. Smitherman, "The TulsaRiot andMas sacre." 

Oral his tory in ter views with: El wood Lett, Tulsa, May 29, 1998; and Nell Ham il ton Hampton, Tulsa, September 

16, 1998. Oklahoma City Black Dispatch, June 10, 1921, p. 8. Tulsa World, June 1, 1921, "Third Extra," p. 1. 
Smitherman, "The Tulsa Race Riot and Massacre". 


Letter from Lieutenant Colonel L. J. F. Rooney and Charles W. Daley to the Adjutant General, June 3, 1921. 


^'^Tulsa World, June 1, 1921, "Final Edition," p. 1. Oral history interview with Harold Madison Parker, Tulsa, 
January 3, 1973, by Ruth Sigler Avery, inFear: The Fifth Horse man. Gill, 'Tulsa Race Riot," p. 28. Phillips, "Murder 
in the Streets, " pp. 47-51. McCuen, "Duty Performed by ["B"] Company." Dunlap, "Re port on Negro Uprising". Van 
Voorhis, "Detailed Report of Negro Uprising". Daley, "Information on Activities During Negro Uprising". 

' "Phil lips, "Mur der in the Streets." Jno. A. Gustaftson, Chief of Police Wm. McCuUough, Sheriff V. W. Biddison, 
District Judge.'" 

J. B. A. Robertson, June 1, 1921, Attorney Generals Civil Case Files, Case 1062, State Archives Division, 
Oklahoma Department of Libraries. 

'"Copy of telegram from John A. Gustafson, Wm McCuUough, and V. W. Biddison to Governor J. B. A. 
Robertson, Attorney Generals Civil Case Files, Case 1062, State Archives Division, Oklahoma Department of 




Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster," pp. 19-21. Tulsa City Directory, 1921. 

Phillips, "Murder in the Streets," pp. 68-73. 

Oklahoma City Black Dispatch, June 10, 1921. Patrolmen Henry C. Pack and Robert Lewis were two of the 

approximately four African Americans who served on the Tulsa Police force at the time of the riot. 


Chicago Defender, June 11, 1921. 


Testimonials of James T. West, Dr. R. T. Bridgewater, and J. C. Lati mer in Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster, 
pp. 20-21, 38, 45-47, 60-61. Tulsa World, June 1, 1921, "Extra," p. 1. Chicago Defender, June 11, 1921. New York 
Mail, June 1, 1921. Phillips, "Murder in the Streets," pp. 70-73. Oral history interviews with: W.D. Williams, Tulsa, 
November 29,1970; and S.M. Jackson and Eunice Cloman Jackson, Tulsa, June 26, 197 ; by Ruth Sigler Avery, in 
Fear: The Fifth Horseman. 

'"Phillips, "Murder in the Streets", p. 70. 

'""^ Parrish, Events of the TulsaDisaster, p. 65. Phil lips, "Mur der in the Streets", pp. 70-7 1. New York World, June 2, 





Oral history interview with W.D. Williams, Tulsa, June 7, 1978. 

Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster, pp. 18-21. Tulsa City Directory, 1921. 

Oklahoma City Black Dispatch, June 10, 1921. 

Testimonial of Dr. R .T. Bridgewater in Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster, p. 45. 


Barney Cleaver VS. TheCity of Tulsa,e/^a/. , 1921. Testimonials of James T. West and "A.H." in Parrish, itvewteo/ 
the Tulsa Disaster, pp. 37, 62. Oklahoma City Black Dispatch, June 10, 1921. New York Times, June 2,1921. Oral 
history interviews with: W.D. Williams, Tulsa, November 29, 1970; and S. M. Jackson and Eunice Cloman Jackson, 
Tulsa, June 26, 1971; by Ruth Sigler Avery, in Fear: The Fifth Horseman. Chicago Defender, October 25, 1921. 
Franklin and Franklin, My Life and An Era, p. 197. Oral history interview with Allen Yowell, Tulsa, June 5, 1999. 

Black Tulsa was not de stroyed — as some have al leged — from the air, but by fires set by whites on the ground. And 
similar, latter-day claims that Mount Zion Baptist Church was specifically targeted and bombed must also be viewed 
with a healthy dose of skepticism, given the rather primitive aerial bombing capabilities that existed, worldwide, in 
1921. That said, how ever, the ev i dence does in di cate that some form of ae rial bom bard menttook place in Tulsa on the 
morning of June 1, 1921 — thus making Tulsa, in all probability, the first U.S. city bombed from the air. 


T^etter from Lieutenant Colonel L. J. F. Rooney and Charles Daley to the Adjutant General, June 3, 1921. Van 
Voorhis, "Detailed Report of Negro Uprising." Testimonials of Dr. R.T. Bridgewater and Mrs. Carrie Kinlaw in 
Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster, pp. 45-57, 50-51. John A. Oliphant testimony. Attorney Generals Civil Case 
Files, Case 1062, State Archives Division, Oklahoma Department of Libraries. Oral history interview with Kinney 
Booker, Tulsa, May 30,1998. New York Times, June 2, 1921. 

Testimonials of James T. West, Mrs. Rosetta Moore, P.S. Thompson, Carrie Kinlaw, J.P. Hughes, and "A.H." in 
Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Di sas ter, pp. 37, 42-44, 50-52, 62-63. Gill, "Tulsa Race Riot," pp. 31,55. Phil lips "Mur der 
in the Streets", pp. 70, 87-88. New York Evening Post, June 11, 192 1. Franklin and Franklin, My Life and An Era, p. 

^''^ Chicago Defender, June 11, 1921. 

'"Oral history interviews with George Monroe, Tulsa, 1997-2000. 

Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster, pp. 49, 55-56. Laurel Buck testimony, and notes to the testimony of O. W. 
Gur ley. At tor ney Gen erals Civil Case Files, Case 1062, State Ar chives Di vi sion, Oklahoma Department of Libraries. 
Gill, "Tulsa Race Riot," p. 31. Tulsa World, June 1, 1921, "Final Edition", p. 1. Chicago Defender, June 11, 1921. 
Oklahoma City Black Dispatch, June 10, 1921. 

The entire issue of fires being set in Greenwood by whites in military-style uniforms is further-and perhaps 
hope lessly — com pli cated by the use of the am big u ous term, "Home Guards." When used by whites, it usu ally re fers to 
aloose organization of white veterans. When em ployed by African Americans, how ever, the term also appears to refer, 
at times, to the local, Tulsa-based units of the National Guard. See, also: Robert D. Norris, Jr., "The Home Guard", 
unpublished manuscript, ca 2000; and, Ellsworth, Death in a Promised Land, p. 131, n 13. 

'^'Typescript note on the testimony of V.B. Bostic in letter of June 8, 1921, Attorney Generals Civil Case Files, 
Case 1062, State Archives Division, Oklahoma Department of Libraries. See also John A. Oliphant testimony. Ibid. 

Type script notes on the tes ti mony of Jack Krueger and Rich Rickard in let ter of June 8, 1921, AttorneyGenerals 
Civil Case Files, Case 1062, States Archives Division, Oklahoma Department of Libraries. 

'^'Phillips, "Murder in the Streets," pp. 92-93. Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster, p. 21. Tulsa Tribune, June 1, 
1921, p. 5. Kansas City Post, June 2,1921. New York Times, June 2, 1921. Gill, 'Tulsa Race Riot," pp. 32-33. John A. 
Oliphanttes timony. Attorney Gen erals Civil Case Files, Case 1062, State ArchivesDi vision, Oklahoma Department of 
Li braries. See also: oral his tory in ter view with W.D. Wil liams, Tulsa, June 7, 1978; and oralhis tory interview withDr. 
Raymond Knight, Oklahoma City, February 10, 197 l,byBenWoods, Living Leg ends Library, Oklahoma Christian 

'McCuen, 'Duty Performed by ["B"] Company." Van Voorhis, 'Detailed Report of Negro Uprising." 
Testimonials of E.A. Loupe and "A.H." in Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster, pp. 49, 62-63. Miscellaneous 
hand writ ten notes. At tor ney Gen erals Civil Case Files, Case 1062, State Ar chives Di vi sion, OklahomaDe part ment of 
Libraries. Oral history interviews with: Seymour Williams, June 2, 1978; W. D. Williams, June 7, 1978; Robert 
Fairchild, June 8, 1978; V. H. Hodge, Tulsa, June 12, 1978; and I. S. Pittman, Tulsa, July 28, 1978. 

'^'From the Wichita Daily Eagle, reprinted in the Chicago Defender, June 11, 1921. 

Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster, pp. 50, 55. Oklahoma City Black Dispatch, June 10, 1921. Daley, 
"Information on Activities During Negro Uprising." John A. Oliphant testimony. Attorney Gen erals Civil Case Files, 
Case 1062, State Archives Division, Oklahoma Department of Libraries. 

Testimonial of I. T. West in Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster, p. 37. 

OralhistoryinterviewwithHaroldMadisonParker, Tulsa, January 3, 1972, by Ruth Sigler Avery, inFear: The 
Fifth Horseman. 

'"Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster, p. 55. 

John A. Oliphant testimony. Attorney Gen erals Civil Case Files, Case 1062, State Ar chives Division, Oklahoma 
Department of Libraries. Oklahoma City Black Dispatch, June 10, 1921. Oral history interview with Wilhelmina 
Guess Howell by Eddie Faye Gates, in They Came Searching, pp. 1 13-1 15. 

Van Voorhis, "Detailed Report of Negro Uprising." McCuen, "Duty Performed by ["B"] Company." Phillips, 
"Mur der in the Streets," pp. 73-74, 93-95 . In ter view with Binkley Wright, Los An geles, Feb ruary and Au gust 25, 2000, 
by Eddie Faye Gates. Curlee Hackman, "Peg Leg Taylor and the Tulsa Race Riot," in J. M. Brewer, oA., American 
Negro Folklore (Chicago: Quadrangle Books, 1968), pp. 34-36. 

""Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster, pp. 62-63. 

'^'Oral history interviews with: Kinney Booker, Tulsa, May 30, 1998; and Otis Clark, Tulsa, June 4, 1999. White, 
"Eruption of Tulsa", p. 910. 


Guthrie Daily Leader, June 1, 1921. Tulsa Tribune: June 1, 1921, p. 6; and June 3, 1921, p. I.Tulsa World, June 
2,1921, p. 2. Affidavit of Albert Herring, December 2,1921, Attorney Generals Civil Case Files, Case 1062, State 
Archives Division, Oklahoma Department of Libraries. Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster, p. 55. 

'" McCuen, "Duty Performed by T'B"] Company." 


"' Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster, p. 22. 

"^Undated letter by Mary Korte. Letter from Joan Morgan, Kansas City, Missouri, June 1998. "Mary Uhrig Korte 
Tells of Early Life in Tulsa," Giebar fam ily ge ne a log i cal news let ter, 1992. Notes on Mary Korte by Nora Stallbaumer, 
Tulsa, April 3, 1998. Tulsa City Directory, 1921. 

'"Oral history interview with Merrill A. "Red" Phelps 11, Tulsa, August 12, 1999. 

Mary Jo Erhardt, "My Most Hideous Birthday," unpublished memoir. 

Oral history interview with Gloria Lough, Tulsa, June 4, 1999. 

'*"Oral history interview with Guy Ashby, Tulsa, November 5, 197 1, by Bruce Hartnitt. 

'" Gill, "Tulsa Race Riot", pp. 36-37, n39. 

'*' Barrett, Oklahoma After Fifty Years, p. 212. Oral his tory in ter view with Mrs. Harry Frantz, Enid, May 9, 1985, by 
Joe L. Todd, Oklahoma Historical Society. Telephone interview with Mark Childers, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 
December 10, 1998. Tulsa City Directory, 1921. 

^^'Tulsa World,]une 1, 1921, "ThirdExtra,"p. 1. "Re port from General Barrett," miscellaneous type script. Barrett, 
Oklahoma After Fifty Years ,pp.211-212. Kirkpatrick, "Ac tiv ities on Night of May 3 1 , 1 92 L" Daley, "In for ma tion on 
Activities During Negro Uprising". 

"''jM&a World, ]une 1, 1921: "Second Ex tra,"p, 1; and "Third Extra," p. 1. Tulsa Tribune, ]une 1, 192 l,p. I. New 
York Times, June 2, 192 1. Denver Post, June 4, 1921. 

^^^Tulsa World, ]une 1, 1921, "Second Extra," p. 1. Oral history interviews with: L.C. Clark, Tulsa, June 25, 1975, 
by Hansel Johnson and Ruth Avery; and with E.W. "Gene" Maxey, Tulsa, 1971 and 1985; both in Avery, Fear. The 
Fifth Horseman. 

"*^Oklahoma City Black Dispatch, June 10, 1921. Tulsa Tribune: June 1, 1921, p. 8; and June 2, 1921, p. 3. 
Testimonials of Rich ard 1. Hill and Dr. R. T. Bridgewater in Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster, pp. 41, 44-47. Oral 
his tory in ter views with S .M . Jack son and Eunice Cloman Jack son, Tulsa, June 26, 1 97 1 , by Ruth S igler Avery, in Fear: 
The Fifth Horseman. John A. Oliphant testimony. Attorney Generals Civil Case Files, Case 1062, State Archives 
Division, Oklahoma Department of Libraries. 

^*'' Tulsa World, June 1, 1921, "Third Extra," p. I.Barrett, Oklahoma After Fifty Years, pp. 212-213. 

''^Frances W. Prentice, "Oklahoma Race Riot," Scribner's Magazine, XC (August 1931), pp. 151-157. Prentice 
was mar ried to Clar ence C . Prentice, sales man ager for the S abine Oil and Mar keting Com pany . At the time of the riot, 
the couple lived at 1446 S. Denver. Tulsa City Directory, 1921. 

' * 'John A. Oliphant testimony. At tor ney Gen erals Civil Case Files, Case 1062, State Ar chives Division, Oklahoma 
Department of Libraries. Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster, pp. 55-56, 120. Tulsa City Directory, 1921 . 

John A. Oliphant testimony. At tor ney Gen erals Civil Case Files, Case 1062, State Ar chives Division, Oklahoma 
Department of Libraries. 


'Testimonial of Dr. R. T. Bridgewater in Parrish, iivewto of the Tulsa Disaster, pp. 46, 120. Tulsa City Directory, 

^^^Tulsa Tribune, June 1, 1921, p. 1. Tulsa World, June 2, 1921, p.l. Barrett, Oklahoma After Fifty Years, pp. 
212-213. Phillips, "Murder in the Streets," pp. 103-105. John A. Oliphant testimony. Attorney Generals Civil Case 
Files, Case 1062, State Archives Division, Oklahoma Department of Libraries. Oral history interview with Nell 
Hamilton Hampton, Tulsa, September 16, 1998. Phillips, "Murder in the Streets", pp. 97-103. 

Some black Tulsans also found refuge in the First Presbyterian Church and otherwhite churches. Testimonialsof 
James T. West, Jack Thomas, Mrs. Rosetta Moore, Dr. R. T. Bridgewater, and C.L. Netherland, in Parrish, Events of 
the Tulsa Disaster, pp. 23-24, 38, 39, 42, 44-47, 57. Tulsa World: June 1, 1921, "Third Extra", p. 1; and June 2, 1921, 
pp. 1, 2. New York Times, ]une2,l92l. Robert N. Hower, "An gels of Mercy " : The American Red Cross and the 1921 
Tulsa Race Riot (N.p., n.p., 1993), p. A-2. Oral history interviews with Ernestine Gibbs and Robert Clark Frayser, by 
Eddie Faye Gates, in They Came Searching, pp. 86, 247. Oral history interviewswith: W.D.Williams, Tulsa, June 7, 
1978; and Nell Ham il ton Hampton, Tulsa, September 16, 1998. Van Voorhis,"DetailedRe port of Negro Uprising." 


Tulsa Tribune, June 1, 1921, pp. 1, 2. Tulsa World, June 2, 1921, pp. 1, 2. Barrett, Oklahoma After Fifty Years, p. 
214. Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster. 

'^^Tulsa World, June 2, 1921, pp. 1, 7. Tulsa Tribune, June 2, 1921, p. 2. Barrett, Oklahoma After Fifty Years, pp. 

'" White, "Eruption of Tulsa," p. 910. 

"'Burial record ledgers for Stanley & McCune Funeral Directors, Tulsa, 1921. 

^""Preliminary scientific tests — primarily involving ground-penetrating radar-were performed at Oaklawn 
Cem e tery, Newblock Park and Booker T. Wash ing ton Cem e tery (now a part of Rolling Oaks Me morial Park) in 1998 
and 1999. It is hoped that further and more definitive-tests will be performed in 2001. 

The principal historical sources for each of the three sites include the following: 

Oaklawn Cemetery . Oaklawn Cemetery burial records. Public Works Department, City of Tulsa. Historic and 
present-day Oaklawn Cemetery maps. Burial records ledgers, Stanley & McCune Funeral Directors, Tulsa, 1921. 
Tulsa County Commission, Minutes of Proceedings, 1921. Salvation Army records. Salvation Army Southern 
His torical Center, Atlanta, Georgia.RuthSigler Avery, Fear: The Fifth Horse man. Oral history inter views with Clyde 
Eddy, Tulsa, 1998-1999. 

Booker T. WashingtonCemetery . His toric andpres ent-day maps for Booker T. Wash ing ton Cem e tery. Oral his tory 
interviews with Larry Hutchings, Tulsa, April 10, 1998; John Irby, Tulsa, July 17, 1998; Chris Brockman, Tulsa, April 
14, 1998; ElwoodLett, Tulsa, May 28, 1998; Gladys J. Cummins, Broken Arrow, April 20, 1998; Raymond Beard, Jr. 
and Sarah Beard, Tulsa, May 25, 1998; Mavelyn Blocker, Tulsa, May 24, 1998; Deborah Childers, Tulsa, May 24, 
1998; Don Kennedy, Tulsa, May 24, 1998; Sarah (Butler) Thompson, Tulsa, May 25, 1998; and Sherry Thompson, 
Tulsa, May 23, 1998. 

Newblock Park . His toric and pres ent-day maps and ae rial pho to graphs of Newblock Park. Tim o thy A. Posey, "The 
Impact of the New Deal on the City of Tulsa" (M.A. thesis, Oklahoma State University, 1991). 'Tulsa Parks," Tulsa 
Journal, 1, 3 (July 1984). Tulsa Tribune: February 15, 1921, p. 2; May 17, 1921, p. 1; and May 18, 1921, p. 3. Oral 
historyinterviewswith: WilliamM.O'Brien, Tulsa, March 2, 1998; Rob ertD.Norris, Jr., Tulsa, March 25, 1998; Ruth 
Avery, Tulsa, February 20, 1998; Bruce Hartnitt, Tulsa, May 30, 1998; Ed Wheeler, Tulsa, February 27, 1998; Frank 
Mason, Tulsa, March 26, 1998; Jeff Britton, Tulsa, March 26, 1998; Leslie Lawrence, Owasso, March 26, 1998; and 
Joe Welch and Harvey Schell, Sand Springs, March 18, 1998. 

Additional infonmation has been collected on other potential burial sites, including one other eyewitness account, 
and on the trans por ta tion of the bod ies of the dead. "His tor i cal In for ma tion About the Tulsa Race Riot," tele phone log, 
Jan u ary through March 1999. Oral his tory interviews with: RichardGary, Tulsa, March 16, 1999; Ellen Prater Lasson, 
Tulsa, August 12, 1999; and Wade Foor and Charlie Anderson, Tulsa, June 5, 1999. 

'"'old and young had to pile on trucks," wrote Mrs. Rosetta Moore after the riot, "and when we were being driven 
through town, men were seen clapping their hands, rejoicing overourcondition."Testimonial of Mrs. Rosetta Moore, 
in Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster, p. 42. 

^"'^^^ Chicago Defender, June 11, 1921. Statement of J. W. Hughes, in Hower, "Angels of Mercy, " p. A-3. Tulsa City 
Directory, 1921 . Oral history interviews with Jewel Smitherman Rogers, Perris, California, 1999- 2000. See also the 
forth com ing ar ti cle by Paul Lee inEssenceMagazine about the ex pe ri ences of Julia Duff, a young teacher at Booker T. 
Washington High School, during the riot. 

On the aftermath of the riot, including relief efforts, local political maneuverings, and various legal actions, see: 
Ellsworth, Death in a Promised Land, pp. 71-97. 

""*The extensive post-riot relief efforts by the American Red Cross, and its intrepid local relief director, Maurice 
Willows, is well-documented in Robert A. Hower, "Angels of Mercy": The American Red Cross and the 1921 Tulsa 
Race Riot. 


Tulsa World, June 26, 1921, pp. 1, 8. 


(Courtesy Oklahoma HistoricalSociety). 

Airplanes and the Riot 

By Richard S. Warner 

There is no question that airplanes were in 
the air over Tulsa during and after the Tulsa 
race riot. The question is: what were they being 
used for? 

We cannot entirely believe all the reports 
that have appeared over the years in newspa- 
pers, or as recounted by survivors, descendants 
of survivors, and others. The prob lem is to sep- 
arate the probable from the improbable. For 
example, in one unidentified newspaper ac- 
count from June 12, 1921, it was alleged that, 
"The planes used during the riot and which set 
fire to brick buildings are owned by the United 
States Government."' Subsequent research, 
however, casts considerable doubt upon this 
claim. While researching for his article, "Pro- 
file of a Race Riot," that appeared in the 
June- July, 1971 issue of Impact Magazine, 
Brigadier General Ed Wheeler (ret.) looked 

into the possible involvement of U.S. military 
aircraft in the riot. Wheeler, who had access to 
military records which are no longer available, 
learned that there were only six U.S. military 
airplanes in Oklahoma at the time of the riot. 
Based at Fort Sill, some 212 miles from Tulsa, 
these six planes were World War I Jennys, with 
a range of about 190 miles. Of the six planes, the 
records showed that two were inoperable and 
undergoing maintenance while two had just 
been delivered and were not yet in flying condi- 
tion. Only two were serviceable planes and nei- 
ther was in the air on May 3 1 or June 1 , 1 92 1 .' It 
is, therefore, reasonable to conclude that the air- 
planes reported over Tulsa during the riot were 
not U.S. military aircraft. Hence, they must have 
been privately or commercially owned air- 
planes, probably based in Tulsa. 


The story of aircraft in Tulsa goes back to 
July 4, 1903, when the first recorded local 
flight, a balloon ascent, took place/ Three 
years later, during the summer of 1906, Jimmy 
Jones constructed an airplane of his own de- 
sign at his home in Tulsa. He and his partner. 
Bill Stigler, disassembled the plane and took it 
to a pasture near Red Fork. There they reas- 
sembled it, except for the installation of the 
control cables to make a test flight. It was a hot 
day and Jones and Stigler decided to go home 
and finish the job the next day. That afternoon, 
however, a strong wind came up and destroyed 
the plane. "* 

The next airplane in Tulsa was designed and 
constructed by Herman DeVry, who owned a 
machinery repair business. DeVry hired A. C. 
Beach, an English pilot then living in Tulsa, to 
test the airplane. After four tries, it finally took 
off from a field southwest of Sand Springs and 
rose to 800 feet, staying aloft for 20 minutes. 
After several other attempts to fly, the engine 
blew up and DeVry quit the aircraftbusiness.' 

The first airfield in Tulsa was established in 
1917 by Harold Breene on the south side of 
Federal Drive (now East Admiral Place), at ap- 
proximately South Hudson Avenue. A spur 
railway line served as the field's west border. 
There was one hangar. Mr. Breene purchased a 
number of surplus Curtis Jenny airplanes that 
he later sold to aviation enthusiasts. 

In 1920, Mr. Breene sold his Tulsa aviation 
interests to B.L. Brookins and Bill Campbell. 
The new company, called the 
Curtiss-Southwest Airplane Company, was 
the agency for Curtis and Waco airplanes.' 

In early 1921, the airfield was moved to a 
new location on a farm owned by Mr. Brookins 
located just east of North Memorial Avenue 
and north of East Apache Street. It was situated 
in what is today a comer of Tulsa International 
Airport. According to the January 1, 1922 is- 
sue of the Tulsa Spirit, a Tulsa Chamber of 
Commerce publication, the airfield contained 
two large steel hangars, 90' x 60' in size and 
capable of holding eighteen airplanes, a motor 
repair shop, a wing and fuselage shop, and a 
gasoline and oil service station. Fourteen air- 
planes were based there.* 

Sometime in 1921, a second air field was es- 
tablished in Tulsa by Paul Arbon, a World War I 
British pilot and dealer for the Brit- 
ish-manufactured, Bristol aircraft. Arbon' s air- 
field was located at the northwest comer of 
Federal Drive and Sheridan Road, and featured 
only one hangar. 

Registration of airplanes by the U.S. Govem- 
ment was not required in 1921. Thus, no records 
exist of actual airplane ownership during the 
time of the riot. Without govemment records, 
one can assume that if there were fourteen 
planes at the Curtiss-Southwest Air Field at the 
end of 1921, and probably no more than one (a 
demonstrator) at the Paul Arbon Air Field, the 
total number of airplanes based in Tulsa at the 
time of the riot would not have been more than 

Most of these were probably owned by the 
Curtiss-Southwest Airplane Company, but a 
few were probably owned by individuals or 
companies. There is really no way to determine 
the ownership of the planes, but it is very likely 
that at least one was owned by the Sinclair Oil 
Company. A "St. Clair Oil Company plane" is 
mentioned in some ac counts of the riot and there 
is a photograph in the files of the Tulsa Histori- 
cal Society of a Jenny refueling at the 
Curtiss-Southwest Air Field from barrels 
marked "Sinclair Oils." Tulsa was the headquar- 
ters of the Sinclair Oil Company at that time and 
the top executives lived here. 

Apparently, among the planes in Tulsa at the 
time of the riot, were a Stinson Detroiter, a sin- 
gle engine plane with an enclosed cabin capable 
of holding several people as well as another 
tri-motor, make unknown. Stinson did manufac- 
ture a tri-motor at that time according to person- 
nel at the Tulsa Air and Space Center.' ' 

There are many references to airplanes during 
the riot, but few can be additionally documented 
through further research. Mary E. Jones Parrish 
included a number of references to airplanes in 
her book. Events of the Tulsa Disaster. In her 
own account of her experiences during the riot, 
she mentions seeing "fast approaching 
aeroplanes." Moreover, in her escape from the 
riot area, Parrish tells of nearing the "aviation 
fields" — in all likelihood the Curtiss- South - 


The losses in the Green wood busi ness dis trict alone — in dud ing two the aters, three ho tels, more than a dozen res tau rants, and scores 
of shops, family-run businesses, and professional offices — were staggering. One contemporary observer called the deaths and de- 
struction cased by the race riot "without parallel in America " (Courtesy Oklahoma HistoricalSociety). 

west Air Field — and seeing the "planes out of 
their sheds, all in readiness for flying, and 
these men with high-powered rifles getting 
into them." Parrish adds that "The aeroplanes 
continued to watch over the fleeing people like 
great birds of prey watching for a victim, but I 
have not heard of them doing any harm to the 
people out in the direction where we were." 
Events of the Tulsa Disaster also includes in- 
terviews including one with Mr. James T. 
West, a teacher at Booker T. Washington High 
School, who reported that airplanes "flew over 
very low, what they were doing I cannot say, 
for I was in my room." Dr. R. T. Bridgewater, 
an assistant county physician, stated that he 
was "near my residence and aeroplanes began 
to fly over us, in some instances very low to the 
ground," and that he heard a woman say, "look 
out for the aeroplanes, they are shooting upon 
us." Mrs. Parrish also wrote that "more than a 
dozen aeroplanes went up and began to drop 
turpentine balls upon the Negro residences," 
but she gives no source for this statement nor 
does it appear that she witnessed this herself. 
Lastly, Parrish also included the testimonial of 
an anonymous eyewitness, who stated, "Then 

I saw aeroplanes, they flew very low. To my sur- 
prise, as they passed over the business district, 
they left the entire block a mass of flame." '^ 

Other contemporary sources also reported the 
presence of airplanes. Walter White wrote in the 
June 29, 1921 issue The Nation that "eight 
aeroplanes were employed to spy on the move- 
ments of the Negroes and according to some 
were used in bombing the colored section."'^ 

Mabel E. Little, in her unpublished biogra- 
phy, wrote that, "airplanes dropped incendiary 
bombs to enhance the burning of Mount Zion 
Baptist Church and business buildings."' ^ A re- 
porter for the Oklahoma City Black Dispatch 
wrote that "Airplanes were seemingly every- 
where. They seemed to fly low and I could see 
the men in the planes as they passed us." In an 
interview with Dr. Payne and Mr. Robinson that 
appeared in the same issue, it was stated that, 
"These two men with their wives succeeded in 
reaching the open country. They were finally 
spotted by the air murderers who showered load 
after load of leadened missiles upon them." W. 
I. Brown, a porter on the Katy Railroad who 
reached Tulsa Wednesday morning, June 1, 
with the National Guard, recited this story: 


"We reached Tulsa about 2 o'clock. Air- 
planes were circling all over Greenwood. We 
stopped our cars north of the Katy depot, going 
to wards Sand Springs. The heav ens were light- 
ened up as plain as day from the many fires 
over the Negro sec tion. I could see from my car 
window that two airplanes were doing most of 
the work. They would every few seconds drop 
something and every time they did there was a 
loud explosion and the sky would be filled 
with flying debris."'^ 

Bruce Hartnitt, of Tulsa Junior College, in- 
terviewed Mabel Bonner Little in 1969 and 
197 1 . He asked Mrs. Little, "Do you remember 
during the time of the riot itself, if there were 
any airplanes, people dropping stuff?" Mrs. 
Little replied, "Oh yes, they dropped those in- 
cendiary bombs, that's what burned those big 
buildings down, they couldn't have destroyed 
them with anything else . . ." 

In case No. 23, 33 1 filed in the District Court 
of Tulsa County between Barney Cleaver, 
plaintiff, and The City of Tulsa, one of the de- 
fendants was "The St. Clair Oil Company." 
The fourth paragraph of the plaintiffs petition 
alleges that: 

"The St. Clair Oil Company, a corporation, 
did, at the request and insistence of the city's 
agents, and in furtherance of the conspiracy, 
aforementioned and set out, furnish airplanes 
on the night of May 31, 1921, and on the morn- 
ing of June 1, 1921, to carry the defendant's 
city's agents, servants, and employees, and 
other persons, being part of said conspiracy 
and other conspirators. That the said J.R. 
Blaine, captain of the police department, with 
others, was carried in said airplane which 
dropped turpentine balls and bombs down and 
upon the houses of the plaintiff ..." 

The 1921 Tulsa City Directory does not list a 
J.R. Blaine, but it does hst a G.H. Blaine, a po- 
lice captain. Captain Blaine appears in a number 
of newspaper articles conceming airplanes and 
there is no question that he was a pi lot or pas sen- 
ger on a number of flights. The same source does 
not hst a "St. Clair Oil Company," but its pho- 
netic similarity to the Sinclair Oil Company is 
too close to be ignored. It is interesting to note 
that Elisha Scott was the attorney for the plaintiff 

in 1937 when this case was dismissed. This is the 
same Elisha Scott, a prominent African American 
attomey of Topeka, Kansas, who, according to an 
October 14, 1921 article in the Chicago Defender, 
claimed to have a thirty-one page affidavit signed 
by Van B. Hurley, supposedly a white former 
Tulsa policeman, that told of a meeting between 
local aviators and officials prior to the invasion of 
black Tulsa on the moming of June 1. These indi- 
viduals allegedly planned an attack on the black 
area by air planes . There is no re cord that a ' 'Van B . 
Hurley" ever was a policeman or even existed. 
This affidavit was never made public or appar- 
ently used in any of the lawsuits. After his death, 
Mr. Scott's home burned and his personal papers 
evidently were de stroyed. Beryl Ford, an au thor ity 
on Tulsa's photographic history, after examining 
pho to graphs of the Green wood dam age, has stated 
that the buildings were not destroyed by explo- 
sives. The debris shown in photographs, he be- 
lieves, is located inside the shells of the buildings, 
where it had fallen after the rafters had bumed, and 
not outside where it would have been scattered if 
explosives had been used. Outbuildings also are 
shown to be largely undamaged, something that 
was unlikely had explosives been used." 

An unidentified newspaper reported that Ed 
Lockett was shot from an airplane that had fol- 
lowed him for about eight miles from Tulsa. It 
was reported that "several hundred persons saw 
the aviator shoot Lockett and were later fired on 
by the same plane themselves." The body of a 
man was found on June 6, 1921 near the 
Curtiss-Southwest Air Field. Although there is 
no record of an "Ed Lockett,' there is a funeral 
home record of an Ed Lockard who was found 
eight miles from Tulsa on June 6, 1921, and is 
buried in Oaklawn Cemetery in Tulsa. 

The Chicago Defender, on June 11, 1921, re- 
ported that "at 4:30 a steam whistle sounded 
three times. With the coming of daylight air- 
planes from the local avi a tion field, in which the 
Cadillac company is interested, directed the 
movement of the oncoming army. At 6:15 a.m. 
men in the planes dropped fire bombs of turpen- 
tine or other inflammable material on the prop- 
erty." The articles goes on to say, "One man, 
leaning far out from an airplane, was brought 
down by the bullet of a sharpshooter and his 


body burst upon the ground." Other newspa- 
pers published similar claims. 

The ^S*^. Louis Argus, on June 10, 1921, re- 
ported that "The Negroes held their own until 
about 6 o'clock in the morning when a fierce 
attack was made upon them from the hill by 
cannons, and airplanes soared over the Negro 
section dropping fire on their houses." J.W. 
Hughes, principal of Dunbar Grade School, 
wrote a statement that said that "at five o'clock 
a whistle was blown, seven aeroplanes were 
flying over the colored district . . ."'^ 

As some newspaper accounts mention nitro- 
glycerin bombs, it is in ter esting to note that the 
Tulsa fFor/t/ published an article on April 20, 
1921 titled, "Tulsa Man First to Transport Ni- 
tro by Means of an Airplane." The article dis- 
cusses the great danger in transporting 
nitroglycerin and notes that a careless move- 
ment "may only leave a grease spot." 

There is quite a bit of information that the 
police used airplanes to search the outskirts of 
the black area for fleeing people. When indi- 
viduals were seen, a message was placed in a 
container and dropped to search parties on the 
ground. These containers may have been 
thought to be bombs by some. In reply to a re- 
quest for information from people concerning 
the riot, one man called in and said that his un- 
cle, Charles Poor, a Tulsa policeman, flew one 
of these search planes. He said that three planes 
were used and they flew in a "V formation 
with his uncle in the lead. The planes, he be- 
lieved, were used for reconnaissance only.'" 

On June 7, 1921, the Tulsa fFor/t/ re ported that 
Captain George Blaine of the Tulsa Police De- 
partment had flown over a number of black com- 
munities around Tulsa to see if any armed mobs 
were forming. This was in answer to persistent 
rumors that an attack upon Tulsa was being 
planned by African Americans in these commu- 
nities. His flight took him over Boley, Red Bird, 
Taft, Wybark, and oth ers. Blaine, it was re ported, 
found no evidence of any such activity.' 

Although it is within reason to believe that 
some individuals did drop inflammables or ex- 
plosives on the riot area, there is very little to 

support this. The newspapers targeted to black 
readers were full of stories of turpentine or ni- 
troglycerin bombs being dropped and men 
shooting from planes. Mary E. Jones Parrish 
mentions bombing incidents, but one is from an 
anonymous source and the other may have not 
been wit nessed by her. In Bar ney Cleaver' s law- 
suit, his petition alleges that turpentine bombs 
were dropped on his house, thereby destroying 
it. How ever, he ap par ently did not wit ness this. 

Allen Yowell stated that in 1950 or 1951 he 
was having his hair cut in a barber shop in 
Tulsa. There be heard a man, who looked to be 
50 or 60 years old, who said that during the time 
of the riot, he and a friend obtained some dyna- 
mite, commandeered an airplane, flew over the 
riot area, and dropped the dynamite on a group 
of fleeing African American refugees not far 
from where some railroad tracks cross East Pine 
Street. Yowell said, "the man was bragging 
about this, and while he did not know if the story 
was correct or not, he felt that the man was tell- 
ing the truth. He did not know the man's name 
and never saw him again. " 

Another oral informant, Lillian Lough, re- 
ported that her grandmother, a recentimmigrant 
from Mex ico, lived on the edge of the black area 
in 1921. At the time of the riot, she saw two 
young black boys running down the street being 
followed by a two-seater airplane. The man in 
the rear seat was shooting at the boys. She then 
ran out and grabbed the boys and took them into 
the house. The man in the airplane stopped 
shooting when she appeared." 

It is within reason that there was some shooting 
from planes and even the droppingof incendiaries, 
but the evidence would seem to in di cate that it was 
of a minor nature and had no real effect in the riot. 
While it is certain that airplanes were used by the 
police for reconnaissance, by photographers and 
sightseers, there probably were some whites who 
fired guns from planes or dropped bottles of gaso- 
line or something of that sort. However, they were 
probably few in numbers. It is important to note, a 
number of prominent African Americans at the 
time of the riot including James T. West, Dr. R.T. 
Bridgewater, and Walter White of the NAACP, 
did not speak of any aggressive actions by air- 
planes during the conflict. 



'"Search Homes for Loot Taken DuringtheConflict",unidentifiedarticle,Tuskegee Institute News Clip ping Files, 
"1921-Riots, Tulsa." 

'Interview with Ed Wheeler, Tulsa, 1999. 

^ Tulsa Division Skywriter, April 26, 1968, a publication of the North American-Rockwell Corporation. 

''David Moncrief, "Early Tulsa Takes Flight" an unidentified October 1981 article located in the files of The Tulsa 
Historical Society. 

The Tulsa Spirit, January 1, 1922. 
Tulsa Division Skywriter, April 26, 1968. 
"Rushing in the Roaring 20s", Tulsa World, June 15, 1969. 
' ' Interview with Beryl Ford and personnel of the Tulsa Air and Space Center, Tulsa, 1999. 
''Mary E. Jones Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster, (rpt ed; Tulsa: Out On a Limb Publishing, 1998). 
"Walter White. "Eruption of Tulsa", The Nation, June 29, 1921. 
"A His tory of the Blacks in North Tulsa and My Life (A True Story) " by Mabel E . Lit tie, un pub lished manu script. 
OkXs^omaCiiy Black Dispatch, June 10, 1921. 

Transcript of interview between Bruce Hartnitt and Mabel Bonner Little, circa 1969-1971. 

Telephone interview with Beryl Ford, Tulsa, 1999. 
^Chicago Defender, June 11, 1921. 5*/. Louis Argus, June 10, 1921. 
''Tulsa World, April 20, 1921. 

Telephone interview with Wade Foor, Tulsa, 1999. 
^^Tulsa World, June 7, 1921 





Telephone interview with Allen Yowell. Tulsa, 1999. 

Telephone interview with Lillian Lough, 1999. 
Confirmed Deaths in the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921: A Preliminary Report 
by Clyde Collins Snow 


(Cour tesy Department of Spe cial Col lee tions, McFarlin Li brary, Uni versity ofTulsa). 

Confirmed Deaths: 
A Preliminary Report 

By Clyde Collins Snow 

A Cautionary Foreword 

It should be emphasized that this reportis, as 
indicated in the title, preliminary. While col- 
lecting data for this study, it has become obvi- 
ous that much critical information on how 
many people were killed and who they were is 
lacking. Much of this information still resides 
in the memories and family records and other 
personal documents of the survivors and par- 
ticipants of the riot - both black and white — 
and their descendants. For this reason, we are 
reaching out, both locally and nationally, for 
more information on possible persons killed in 
the riot whose deaths were never recorded. We 
also suspect much additional information of 
importance is contained in still unexamined 
documents such as life insurance claims, will 
probates, census records, etc. Hopefully, these 
documents still survive in obscure archives. 

Until this data is collected and analyzed, no fi- 
nal report can be completed. 


In my final report, I will include a full list of 
the many persons who have helped me. In this 
preliminary effort acknowledgments must be 
limited to the wise and indefatigable Mr. Dick 
Warner and Ms. Sue Bordeaux of the Oklahoma 
State Department of Health. Much of the basic 
information upon which this report is based was 
originally compiled by Dick; he is also a mag- 
nificent fact-checker. Sue Bordeaux's vast 
knowledge of the vital records system and her 
enthusiasm in putting it to work in this project 
was invaluable. Naturally, neither one of them 
are responsible for any factual errors or eccen- 
tric opinions which may appear in this prelimi- 
nary report — they are all my own. 


From the first shots that were fired at the courthouse on May 
31, to the last fight ing that took place on June 1, the Tulsa race 
riot proved to be a par tic u larly le thai affair. Andwhile a defin- 
i tive death count is still elu sive, it is clear that doz ens of blacks 
and whites lost their lives in the catastrophe (Department of 
Special Collections McFarlin Library, University of Tulsa). 

The Need for Accurate Casualty Counts 

During the past half-century, it has become 
increasingly common for major disasters, nat- 
ural and man-made, to become the subject of 
public investigation. Such investigations may 
be official — that is, conducted by any govern- 
mental branch, judicial, executive or legisla- 
tive and at any level, federal, state or local. 
Unofficial, but no less searching and reveal- 
ing, investigations may be conducted by the 
press or private entities. Examples of such in- 
quiries in the recent past include the several in- 
vestigations of the deaths of the followers of 
David Koresh in the Branch Davidian Com- 
pound in Waco, Texas in 1994. Such inquiries 
are designed to shed light on the causes of such 
disasters, establish culpability when possible 
and appropriate and provide guidelines to pre- 
vent or, if they do occur again, design proce- 
dures for effectively dealing with them in the 

future. When con ducted objectively, they gener- 
ally attain these goals. 

Unfortunately, no impartial investigation was 
conducted of the 1921 Tulsa race riot in its im- 
mediate aftermath, while memories of the par- 
ticipants and victims were still fresh, and the 
physical evidence, including the bodies of the 
dead, could be forensically examined. Today, 
eight de cades after the event, only the doc u men- 
tary evidence — much of it lost or of doubtful 
authenticity — and the fading memories of the 
rapidly dwindling survivors remains. 

A key piece of information in any investigation 
of incidents involving loss of human life is an ac- 
curate assessment of the number of victims. Such 
determinations are important for several reasons. 
For example, where preliminary estimates of the 
number of dead are part of an ongoing investiga- 
tion, they can be used to make reasonable allot- 
ments of often scarce manpower, equipment, and 
financial resources to the task and to determine the 
overall investigative strategy. 

Accurate estimates of the dead and injured 
can also help identify factors contributing to 
such disasters and, thus, provide guidelines for 
ameliorating the loss of life in similar future 
cases. For example, in Honduras, the immigra- 
tion of the rural poor to urban areas resulted in 
large numbers of them building small houses on 
"waste" land along the steep banks of major 
river courses and other areas subject to flood ing. 
As a consequence, many thousands of such set- 
tlers drowned or died in mud slides during the 
massive hurricane of 1998. This loss of life 
could be minimized by governmental or private 
aid to provide housing sites in safer areas or, at 
the least, as sure the prompt evac u a tion of peo pie 
from such vulnerable places when warnings of 
impending hur ri canes are re ceived in the fu ture. 

When the disasters are man-made, such as 
acts of terrorism, war crimes or other massive 
human rights violations, an accurate assessment 
of the number of victims is a necessary step in 
any forensic investigation conducted to exhume 
the victims so that they may be identified and re- 
turned to the families, make suitable reparations 
to the persons affected and, hopefully and 
above all, provide evidence to bring the perpe- 
trators to justice. 


Before the ashes of Greenwood had cooled, 
disagreements over the number of dead began 
to surface. Estimates of the total number of 
dead have varied by an order of magnitude, 
ranging from about fifty to as many as five 
hundred. They also vary greatly in the reliabil- 
ity of the sources on which they are based. 
Here, I have chosen a more conservative ap- 
proach by compiling a list of persons who 
have, at one time or another, been named as 
victims of the Tulsa race riot. At the outset, I 
should point out that this compilation is not 
likely to include all of the riot fatalities since it 
is probable that at least some and, perhaps 
many, deaths went unrecorded. At the same 
time, however, I feel that it may prove valuable 
to future scholars since it provides at least a 
firm minimum of the number of dead. 

Classification of Deaths 

Based on the information presently avail- 
able, riot fatalities of both races can be divided 
into two groups. Within the first are those es- 
tablished by primary sources such as death cer- 
tificates and mortuary records. The second 
group consists of deaths mentioned only in 
secondary sources (newspaper stories, maga- 
zine articles, books, etc.) dealing with the race 
riot. In this study, I have designated individu- 
als in the first group as confirmed, and those of 
the second as reported deaths. 

The distinction between the two groups is 
made clearer when put in a forensic context. 
For example, bearing in mind that there is no 
statute of limitations on murder and that the 
victims killed in the Tulsa race riot were homi- 
cide victims, it is at least theoretically possible 
that murder charges could be brought against 
an allegedperpetrator.' If the victim were to be 
Dr. Andrew C. Jackson, the prominent black 
physician who was gunned down after emerg- 
ing from his burning Greenwood home with 
his hands held high, the death certificate signed 
eighty years ago would be unchallengeable ev- 
idence of his death in any court. 

On the other hand, let us imagine that an el- 
derly black man was charged with the death of 
a white woman iden ti fied only as "Mrs. Deary" 
by the now extremely aged ex- Sergeant Esley 
of the Tulsa National Guard. As suming that his 

story had not changed since it was recounted in the 
Muskogee (OK) Phoenix in 1921, Sergeant Esley 
would testify that the victim died in her husband's 
arms after being struck by five bullets fired by a 
black who stole up behind her while she and her 
family were watching the fires in Greenwood 
from the front porch of their home on Sunset Hill. 
He might further state, as he did eight decades ago, 
that, after watching his mother die, Mrs. Deary's 
fifteen year old son joined the riot and helped set 
some of the fires. On cross-examination, of 
course. Sergeant Esley would be forced to admit 
that even in 1921, when he first told his story, he 
had not been able to remember the victim's name 
but only . . . "that it sounded like Deary." Further- 
more, he was not sure whether she was shot late 
Tuesday night or on Wednesday moming. Now 
suppose, that the astute defense lawyer introduces 
(as they always do, at least on television), a "sur- 
prise" witness, and a fragile little old lady makes 
her way to the stand.' She would state that her 
name was Mrs. S. A. Gilmore and that, in 1921, 
she was living at 225 E. King in the Sun set Hill ad- 
dition, which overlooked the Greenwood district. 
On Wednesday moming, while she and her hus- 
band were watching the battle below, she received 
five wounds in the arms and chest. While the 
shots came in the direction of Greenwood, it was 
never cer tain whether they were fired by a black or 
she was struck by stray shots being fired in the 
gen eral di rec tion of Sun set Hill by mem bers of the 
white mob. Taken to Momingside Hospital, she 
lingered close to death for several days but even- 
tually recovered. The defense attorney would then 
introduce as documentary evidence Tulsa City Di- 
rectories which show that Mrs. Gilmore did in- 
deed reside at 225 E. King at the time of the riot in 
1921 and, in fact, was stilling living there two 
years later. He would also point out that Mrs. 
Gilmore was the only white female reported to 
have been shot dur ing the riot in the abun dant lo cal 
and national press cov er age. And fi nally, he would 
show that an exhaustive search of death records 
failed to produce any ev i dence of the death of Mrs. 
Deary in the form of funeral home, cemetery or, 
most importantly, a death certificate. While the 
jury would rush out to acquit, the red-faced pros- 
ecutor would sit contemplating how much he 


would enjoy ripping out the pacemaker of his 
star witness, Sergeant Esley. 

The hypothetical trials for the murders of 
Dr. Jackson and Mrs. Deary, by juxtaposing 
the tragic and the comic, serve to illustrate the 
crucial difference between confirmed and re- 
ported deaths as I have classified them here. 
Only the most dim-witted prosecutor would 
consider ac tu ally tak ing the Deary case to court 
based on Sergeant Esley' s story. On the other 
hand, the Jackson murder would have been a 
strong case for the prosecution since the docu- 
mentary evidence clearly establishes his death 
and the witnesses, both black and white, could 
have provided clear and convincing evidence 
of the circumstances of his death. Unfortu- 
nately, however, no investigation of this death 
was ever undertaken by the Tulsa police or 
other city, county, or state officials. 

Readers should be aware the categorization 
of individual deaths as confirmed or reported 
in this preliminary study is not necessarily fi- 
nal. This is be cause the datapres ently avail able 
on many of the victims is still incomplete. As 
further information comes to light, at least 
some of the deaths classified as reported might 
be fully confirmed. This is well-illustrated by 
the case of Ed Lockard, which will be dis- 
cussed in detail in the final report. 

As noted above, much more data must be 
collected and analyzed to produce a final re- 
port. This is particularly true in regard to re- 
ported deaths. Therefore, in this preliminary 
report, only the data so far compiled on con- 
firmed deaths will be presented. 


Analytic Method 

The initial effort of this study consisted of 
combing all known documentary sources for 
the names of individuals mentioned as victims 
or possible victims of the riot. The most im- 
portant primary source was, of course, contem- 
porary local and national press accounts in 
which the names of riot victims were given. 
These names include not only the reported fa- 
talities but, also, those who were wounded se- 
verely enough to be admitted to local 
hospitals. In addition to press stories, the vari- 
ous books, reports, and articles published in 

the years since the riot also were a source of 

The next step in this analysis was to enter the 
names, along with other data pertaining to the 
victims, into a computerized database. Once en- 
tered, other information on a particular victim 
could be pursued. For example, an especially 
important procedure was to search for the per- 
son's death certificate in the files maintained by 
the Oklahoma State Department of Health, cen- 
sus data, Tulsa City Directories. Funeral home 
and cemetery records of the period also were 
help ful, and in a few cases, valu able in for ma tion 
was supplied by the victim's family members. 

Death Certificates 

In 1921, Oklahoma death certificates con- 
sisted of two sections, one to be completed by 
the undertaker and the other by the physician 
who attended the deceased. Normally, the com- 
ple tion of a death cer tif i cate re quired four steps: 

1. The undertaker would begin the process by 
filling in the personal data on the dead person. 
This would include the name, sex, race, age, oc- 

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cupation, birthplace and occupation of the de- 
ceased as well as the names and birthplaces of 
his or her parents. The informant (usually the 
next-of-kin) providing this information also 
was asked to sign the certificate. 

2. The certificate would then be sent to the 
attending physician who provided the date, 
time, and cause of death. Signed by the physi- 
cian, it was returned to the undertaker. 

3. Next, the undertaker would complete his 
part of the certificate by listing the cemetery 
and date of interment or, if the body was buried 
elsewhere, the date and place of shipment. 

4. Finally, the undertaker would submit the 
completed certificate to the vital statistics reg- 
istrar of the county in which the death oc- 
curred. After assigning it a unique register 
number, the registrar would forward it to the 
Bureau of Vital Statistics of the Oklahoma 
State Health Department in Oklahoma City. 

In the case of the riot victims, the orderly 
process outlined above was not always fol- 
lowed. In particular, the personal informa- 
tion on the deceased was sometimes left 
vague or incomplete. Informants who were 
not immediate family members did not often 
know such details as the exact age, marital 
status, or birthplace of the deceased, much 
less the names of the dead person's father or 
mother. This was especially true for black 
victims since their next-of-kin were still in 
the detention camps and could not come to 
the mortuaries to claim their relatives if, in- 
deed, they were informed of their deaths at 

The information provided by physicians 
also was sketchy. For example, the exact 
time of death was not recorded and, in many 
cases, it is not clear whether the victim was 
dead on arrival at the hospital or survived for 
a few hours. Also, the causes of death on 
many certificates are laconic: "Gunshot 
wound (riot)" with no details on the number 
and location of wounds. Such lapses of over- 
worked and harried physicians, 
overwhelmed by the influx of several hundred 
wounded in addition to the dead, is understand- 
able. It is interesting that the doctors provided 
more detailed information on thecertificatesof 

those who died under their care a few days after 
the riot than those who were dead on arrival or 
succumbed a few hours later. 

To compound the problem, many death cer- 
tificates were signed not by physicians but by 
Tulsa County Attorney W.D. Seavers. This 
was legal because at the time, state law al- 
lowed officers of the court to certify deaths 
that had not been attended by a physician. As 
nearly the entire Tulsa medical establishment 
was tied up in the care of the wounded, no 
doctors were available to examine bodies 
found at the scene. Apparently, this task fell to 
Seavers, who signed out eighteen victims 
whose bod ies were found in the still smoul der- 
ing ruins of Greenwood, or who died after be- 
ing brought to temporary detention centers 
where blacks were held during the first hours 
of the riot. It is not clear whether Seavers actu- 
ally visited the scene to examine the bodies or 
whether the death certificates were brought to 
him by undertakers. 

Mortuary Records 

At the time of the riot, the bodies of the 
known victims were taken from the hospitals 
where they were pronounced dead or, some- 
times, directly from the scene to local mortuar- 
ies. There they were prepared for burial in Tulsa 
or shipped to other cities designated by their 
next-of- kin. The records of these establish- 
ments (Mobray's, Mitchell-Fleming, and Stan- 
ley-McCune), provide data on the deceased not 
found on the death certificates. 

Press Accounts 

The events of the riot received heavy cover- 
age in local, state, and national newspapers as 
well as other journals, both white and black, of 
the time. As with all such news events, press at- 
tention was most intensive in the days immedi- 
ately fol low ing the riot, then dwin died rap idly in 
the weeks that followed. Over the years, how- 
ever, occasional newspaper feature stories and 
magazine articles dealing with the riot and its af- 
termath have appeared. The most valuable sin- 
gle source for these materials was the extremely 
thorough newspaper clippings collection from 
the Tuskegee Institute microfilm files. 


While the white riot dead appear to have all been given proper buri ah, lit tie effort was made by the white an thor i ties to iden tify the bodies 
of black riot victims. Indeed, as both long-forgotten funeral home records and death certificates would confirm, some unidentified Afri- 
can-American riot vie tims were hur riedly bur ied in un marked graves at Oaklawn Cem etery (Courtesy Green wood Cultural Center). 

Books and Monographs 

Over the years, several books have been 
published dealing with the Tulsa race riot. 
These include one by a riot survivor and sev- 
eral others by historians who have collected 
written and oral accounts from survivors and 
their descendants. 

Miscellaneous Sources 

In the course of this investigation, several 
researchers have generously provided unpub- 
lished reports and documents on the riot which 
they have collected in their own studies of the 


To date, death certificates on thirty-nine vic- 
tims have been found. They are listed in Table 
1 which summarizes the principal variables 
presently available on them. It should be noted 
that not all of the tabulatedinformation was ab- 
stracted from the death certificates alone. For 
example, most of the information on the loca- 
tion of their wounds was found in other 
riot-relateddocuments,particularly con tempo- 
rary press accounts, which often provide more 
specific information on the nature of their inju- 
ries than was noted on the death certificates. 

See Table 1 Tulsa Race Riot Deaths 


All thirty-nine victims, in eluding the stillborn 
infant, were diagnosed as males. However, it 
should be pointed out that the bodies of four 
blacks — all signed out by County Attorney 
Seavers — were so badly burned that identifica- 
tion was impossible. Since it is often impossible 
to de ter mine the sex in such cases with out an au- 
topsy, the reliability of a layman's diagnosis in 
these four cases is questionable. 


Twenty-six (66%) of the thirty-nine victims, 
including the stillborn, were diagnosed as 
blacks. Again, the four bodies that were so badly 
burned that the could not be identified (see 
above) must be considered. This is especially 
true since thermal damage often results in the 
destruction of the delicate, paper-thin epidennis 
that is made up of cells which, in blacks, contain 
the melanin pigments determining skin color. 
When this layer is extensively destroyed, it ex- 
poses the underlying dermis that, in all races, is 
no darker than the skin of a light complexion 
white person, making it easy for an inexperi- 
enced observer to mistakenly diagnosis a 
burned black body as white. However, in the 
present case, since all the burn victims were 
found in fire-destroyed Greenwood, it is likely 
that they were indeed those of blacks. 



As noted above, among the black victims was 
an infant diagnosed as a stillborn. This case is 
interesting since it is apparently related to an ac- 
count given to Eddie Faye Gates by a riot survi- 
vor, Rosa Davis Skinner. According to Mrs. 
Skinner, she and her husband Thomas, alarmed 
by the shooting, fled their home at 519 West 
Latimer a little after midnight on the night of 
the riot. 

"When we got to Greenwood, we met up 
with a lot more black people who were running 
tying to find a safe place. We ran into a couple 
— the man was one of [her husband's] best 
friends. The wife had just had a baby that had 
died at birth. She had put it in a shoe box and 
was waiting until morning to bury it when the 
riot broke out. Well durin' all that runnin' and 
pushin' and shovin' when black people were 
trying to get safely away from the riot, that po' 
little baby got lost! Everybody was just runnin' 
and bumpin' into each other. They never did 
find that child." 

According to information in the Stan- 
ley-McCune mortuary records, sometime on 
June 1 , po lice brought in the body of a new born 
infant. It had been found in Greenwood earlier 
in the day by two white men who turned it over 
to the police. The body was described as that of 
a black male measuring "less than twelve 
inches long." It apparently bore no signs of 
trauma and was signed out as a stillborn. Like 
many of the other black victims, it was buried 
in Oaklawn Cemetery. The evidence seems 
compelling that the baby lost by its fleeing 
mother and that brought to the mortuary were 
one and the same. This case is important for 
two reasons. First, the story of this tiny victim 
provides a poignant glimpse of the madness 
that pre vailed on that ter ri ble day. Sec ond, this 
infant is the only one of the thirty-nine known 
victims that did not die of gunshot wounds 
and/or bums. 

Ages are given on the death certificates of 
all thirteen of the white victims (Table 2). One 
of these was apparently an estimate based on 
examination of the body. The others were pro- 
vided by informants who knew the actual age 
of the victim. In contrast, ages are given for 

only fifteen (58%) of the twenty-six blacks and, 
of these, at least seven are given as estimates 
(usually to the nearest fifth year, e.g., "35", 
"40", etc.). This distribution again clearly 
shows that black victims were signed out with 
less care and regard than whites; little or no ef- 
fort was made to identify blacks by contacting 
their next-of-kin. 

See Table 2 Distribution of Known, 
Estimated and Unknown Ages by Race 

Despite the fact that no age estimates were 
given for nearly half of the black victims, statis- 
tical comparison of the available age data on the 
races is interesting. In the analysis below, I have 
excluded the stillborn which, as a non-violent 
death, is clearly a special case (see above). The 
mean age of white victims was around 
twenty-seven years compared to thirty-four 
years for blacks. This difference is statistically 
significant (Table 3). 

See Table 3 Age of Confirmed Riot Deaths 
by Race 

Birthplace / Residence 

The distribution of the known victims by state 
of birth or residence is shown in Table 4. The 
state of residence was inferred from mortuary 
records which show the state where the body 
was shipped for burial. This information is 
available in the records of only two (8%) of the 
twenty-five black victims. Again, an indication 
of the lack of attention given them before their 
hasty burials. This is in con trast to the whites for 
which birthplaces/residence of all thirteen were 
given. It is of interest to note that eleven (85%) 
of the white victims were from outside 
Oklahoma. The significance of this finding will 
be discussed more fully below. In all, natives or 
residents of ten states are rep re sen ted among the 
white victims. 

See Table 4 Distribution of Confirmed 

Deaths by Race and State of Birth or 


Marital Status 

Of the white victims, nine (69%) were single, 
separated or divorced. Only three were married 
and the wife of at least one of these does not ap- 
pear to have been living in Tulsa at the time of 
his death . The mar i tal sta tus of one is un known. 


Among blacks, the marital status of seven- 
teen is not given. Of the remaining eight, five 
were married and three were single. 

See Table 5 Distribution of Confirmed 
Deaths by Race and Marital Status 


The occupations of ten (40%) of the black 
victims are known. Among them were two pro- 
fessionals, a physician, and a realtor (who also 
was a tailor). The remaining eight included 
five listed as "laborers," a bank porter, an 
iceman, and an elevator operator. 

Among the twelve (92%) of the white vic- 
tims whose occupations are known, there was 
a high school student, two cooks, a salesman, a 
ho tel clerk, and a day la borer. Five were skilled 
blue col lar work ers and, of these, three were oil 
field workers; the other-two, a boiler maker 
and a machinist might also have been em- 
ployed in petroleum-related jobs. The sole pro- 
fessional among the whites was the office 
manager of a large local oil company. Thus, at 
least one-third and possibly as many as 
one-half of the white victims were petroleum 
industry workers. 

See Table 6 Distribution of Confirmed 
Deaths by Race and Occupation 

Cause of and Manner of Death 

All of the thir teen whites were killed by gun- 
shot wounds. Among the twenty-five black 
adults, at least twenty-one (84%) died of gun- 
shot wounds. The cause of death of the remain- 
ing four, all signed out by County Attorney 
Seavers, were given as burn but, as noted pre- 
viously, any underlying fatal gunshot wounds 
may not have been apparent in the absence of 

Of the thirty-nine confirmed deaths, the 
manner of death of all but that of the stillborn 
black male were ho mi cides. The lat ter is clas si- 
fied as "natural." At least one, and possibly 
two, whites were killed by persons of their own 
race who apparently mistook them for blacks. 

See Table 7 Cause and Manner of Death of 
Confirmed Death Victims 


Of the twenty-five blacks who died of gun- 
shot injury, the wound locations of only four 

are documented; all four of these men died in 
hospitals on June 2, or later. The wound loca- 
tions of the remaining twenty-one blacks, all of 
whom died during the first twelve hours of the 
riot, were unspecified. The wounds of the 
twelve whites whose locations are known were 
nearly evenly distributed by anatomical region. 
The overall pattern of wound distribution is 
rather typical of those seen in hotly contested 
armed confrontations carried on at moderate to 
distant ranges. In this, it contrasts strongly with 
patterns observed in extra-judicial executions 
by firing squads."^ 

See Table 8 Anatomical Distribution of 

Gunshot Wounds of Confirmed Death 


Place of Death 

At the time of the riot, Tulsa had four major 
white hospitals. Tulsa blacks were served only 
by Frissell Memorial Hospital, that was burned 
during the riot. Greenwood blacks who did not 
flee Tulsa altogether were first taken to tempo- 
rary detention centers set up in the armory and 
Convention Center in downtown Tulsa. The 
hghtly wounded who were forced to walk to the 
detention centers. Those more seriously injured 
were either carried to the centers by the un- 
wounded or transported there by various means, 
including privately owned trucks and automo- 
biles, some of which were driven by white vol- 

While it appears that small first aid stations 
were set up at the de ten tion cen ters early on June 
1, it must have become quickly apparent that 
they were not sufficient to provide the care that 
the dozens of wounded required. Accordingly, 
the basement of Morningside Hospital was 
hastily converted to accommodate blacks. Ap- 
parently, this makeshift facility included not 
only cots for the wounded but a small operating 
room where all surgery on the admitted blacks 
was performed. For the next few days, all in- 
jured blacks were treated in the Morningside 
basement, that may not have exceeded 
5,000-square-feet of floor space. '' A brief 
glimpse of con di tions there can be gained from a 
story in the Tulsa World on June 2, that noted 
sixty-three wounded blacks were being treated 
there. So far as is presently known, none of the 


other white hospitals in Tulsa opened their 
door to African American patients. 

All thir teen of the white fa tal i ties were taken 
from the scene to one of four hospitals where 
they were either pronounced dead on arrival 
(DOA) or died later. Unfortunately, the death 
certificates are not always clear as to whether 
the victims who were admitted late on May 3 1 , 
or in the early morning hours of June 1, were 
actually dead when brought to the hospital, or 
died shortly afterwards. So far as can be pres- 
ently de ter mined, at least two and pos si bly four 
whites were actually dead on arrival. All four 
were pronounced dead at Oklahoma Hospital 
by the same physician. Dr. Lyle Archerloss. 

Only eight (3 1 %) of the twenty- six black fa- 
talities were brought to hospitals. Six died in 
Morning side, that as men tioned above, was the 
only one where blacks were treated in the first 
few days of the riot. A seventh died in Cinna- 
bar Hospital on June 7, about a week after the 
riot. Presumably, he had been transferred from 
Morningside after Cinnabar had been re- 
opened. The last died on August 20, in the Red 
Cross hospital that was set up in the Green- 
wood' s black Dunbar School after the riot. 

The other eighteen (69%) blacks were not 
taken to hospitals. The bodies of these sixteen 
individuals were found in the downtown area 
where the fighting began or in the ruins of 
Greenwood. Five days after the riot on June 6, 
the badly decomposed body of a black man 
was found about eight miles east of Tulsa. He 
had died of a gunshot wound of the neck. He 
was later identified as a man who had escaped 
from a temporary detention center. 

All of these bodies were taken directly to 
mortuaries and their death certificates were 
signed out by County Attorney Seavers. An- 
other of these "non-hospital" victims died in 
the armory detention center where he was 
taken after he was shot down by a teen- aged 
member of the mob while trying to surrender 
outside his home in Greenwood. Ironically, 
this man — a prominent physician — lay with- 
out medical attention for several hours before 
he finally succumbed to a bullet wound of the 
chest. His death certificate was also signed by 
the county attorney.^ 

See Table 9 Distribution of Confirmed 
Deaths by Place of Death 

Date of Death 

The records indicate that four of the white ca- 
sualties died before midnight on May 31. If this 
is correct then these men were most likely killed 
in the downtown area where the fighting first 
began. Seven others died on June 1, and one on 
June 2. The last white fatality died in the early 
morning hours of June 6. He was wounded a 
few hours earlier when white militia men fired 
on the car in which he was riding. The perpetra- 
tors, a least one of whom was wearing his 
World War I army uniform, claimed that the 
driver of the car refused to obey their orders to 

None of the twenty-six black victims is listed 
as having died on the evening of May 31. 
Twenty-one were signed out as having died on 
June 1, two on June 2, and two others on June 7, 
and June 10, respectively. The last black to die 
of riot wounds was a twenty-one year old who 
lingered until August 20, eleven weeks after the 

The fact that no black fatalities were recorded 
for the evening of May 31, is curious. Ac cording 
to several sources, many shots were fired by 
both sides during the retreat of the blacks from 
the courthouse area back to Greenwood, and 
some early newspaper accounts describe blacks 
lying wounded or dead in the downtown area. If 
the latter are true, it suggests that no medical aid 
was extended to those wounded blacks unfortu- 
nate enough to have been left behind during the 
retreat to Greenwood. 

See Table 10 Confirmed Deaths by Date of 


As in most of the United States at the time, 
Tulsa mortuaries were racially restricted. The 
three major establishments serving white 
Tulsans were Mitchell-Fleming, Mowbray, and 
Stanley-McCune. Black funerals were handled 
by a single Greenwood funeral home operated 
by S. M. Jackson, a graduate of the Cincinnati 
(Ohio) School of Embalming. In 1971, Jackson 
was interviewed by Tulsa historian Ruth 
Avery.* His account of his riot experiences is 


valuable since it provides some insight into the 
way the dead, both black and white, were han- 
dled. On the morning of June 1, when the white 
mob stormed into Greenwood, Jackson's fu- 
neral parlor was burned down. At the time, he 
was holding four embalmed bodies for burial; 
only two of these were retrieved (leaving one 
to wonder about the fate of the other two). At 
first interned, he was promptly paroled by the 
owners of Stanley-McCune who temporarily 
hired him to help process the bodies who were 
brought to their establishment. During the next 
few days he embalmed several blacks whose 
bodies were to be shipped to other cities for 

Stanley McCune also had a hastily arranged 
contract with Tulsa County to bury 
(unembalmed) the bod ies of blacks whose rel a- 
tives could either not afford to claim them for 
private burial or were not informed of the 
deaths. In all, Stanley-McCune handled the 
arrangements for two whites and eighteen 
blacks. The bodies of all of the blacks were 
prepared for burial by Mr. Jackson. He em- 
balmed two of these that were claimed and 
were buried in other cities. The remaining 
sixteen were not embalmed and placed in 
plain wood coffins. Mr. Jackson was able to 
re build his Green wood busi ness and han died 
the funeral of the last black riot victim who 
died on August 20, and whose body was 
claimed by his family for burial in his native 

See Table 11 Distribution of Confirmed 
Dead by Mortuary 

Burial Places 

Only three of the white victims were buried 
in Rose Hill, a privately operated cemetery. 
Another was buried in Watonga, a small town 
in western Oklahoma. The remaining nine 
were bur led in other states. Five of the black fa- 
talities were buried outside of Tulsa: two in 
other Oklahoma towns and three outside the 
state. The remaining twenty-one blacks (84%) 
were interred in Oaklawn, the Tulsa municipal 

See Table 12 Burial Places of Confirmed 

The Oaklawn Burials 

In light of the controversy surrounding the to- 
tal number of black victims of the race riot and 
the disposal of their bodies, the documented 
burials in Oaklawn take on a special signifi- 
cance. This is especially true in the light of the 
preliminary archaeological findings 

As noted above, twenty-one black victims, 
84% of the total, were buried in Oaklawn. At 
that time, the cemetery was segregated by race 
and blacks were buried in the western-most sec- 
tion, so it is safe to assume that these black riot 
victims also were buried there. Five of these vic- 
tims, all of whom died in Momingside Hospital, 
were buried by Mowbray mortuary. All these 
hospital cases died of gunshot wounds. Their 
death certificates were signed by a single physi- 
cian, J. F. Capps, M.D. Dr. Capps signed out two 
of these as "John Does." Four died on June 1, and 
the fifth in the early morning of June 2. 

The remaining sixteen were bodies found at the 
scene and taken to Stanley-McCune; their death 
certificates were signed by County Attorney 
Seavers. Six of these, four of whom were badly 
bumed, were not identified. A seventh unidenti- 
fied body was that of the previously described 
stillborn. The remaining nine were identified. 

These Oaklawn burials were conducted at 
county expense. The Mowbray and Stanley- 
McCune records indicate that the victims were 
not embalmed but buried in plain wooden cof- 
fins; they also show that the mortuaries charged 
the county $25 for each burial. An important 
feature of the Stanley-McCune records was a 
notation indicating the "grave number" of each 
burial. These numbers form a single sequence 
from 1 to 19, except for graves 15, 16 and 17. It 
is possible that these graves were filled by three 
of the Mowbray. Unfortunately, grave numbers 
were not given in the Mowbray records. 

The data currently available on these 
Oaklawn burials is given in Table 13. They are 
significant for several reasons. First, should ar- 
chaeological exploration of the area go for- 
ward, the excavators should encounter them. 
Assuming, as the records indicate, that they 
were buried in separate graves in the order indi- 
cated by the Stanley-McCune grave numbers, 
they should be encountered in an orderly row(s). 


If so, the available information that we have on 
them should be valuable in obtaining tentative 
identifications. For example, the skeletons in 
graves 7, 9, 13, and 18 should show some signs 
of fire exposure. If so, they should provide ten- 
tative leads to the non-burned skeletons in ad- 
jacent graves. By narrowing the number of 
possible decedents, the effort (and the cost) of 
DNA identification could be substantially re- 

See Table 13 Burials of Confirmed Dead in 
Oaklawn Cemetery 


Of course, this small group of documented 
fatalities cannot be considered a statistically- 
defined random sample of those who had some 
role in the riot, either as active members of the 
mob or as passive victims. However, it is prob- 
ably typical enough to provide some glimpses 
of the kinds of people who were caught up in 
the riot. 

The whites ranged in age from sixteen to 
thirty-nine years. As a group, they tended to be 
young, with a median age of twenty- seven 
years. The state of birth or residence of all thir- 
teen are known and, of these, only two were 
born in Oklahoma. The bodies of all but four 
were shipped to other states for burial and, of 
the four Oklahoma burials, only three took 
place in Tulsa. Of the ten for whom we have 
marital information, seven were single, one 
was divorced and another had been separated 
from his wife for nearly twelve years. Among 
the three married men, the wife of one was not 
living in Tulsa at the time of the riot. At least 
four and possibly six were employed in petro- 
leum-related jobs; three others held jobs sug- 
gesting transient status: two were cooks and 
the third listed as a "laborer." Judging from 
their occupations, all were of lower socioeco- 
nomic status except one, an oil company junior 

In short, the limited demographic informa- 
tion that can be drawn from such a small sam- 
ple indicates that these men were probably 
fairly typical of white Tulsans of the oil boom 
days: young, single, non-professionals from 
outside Oklahoma who had been lured to 
Tulsa by the promise of good jobs and good 

money. With no strong domestic ties to keep 
them home that night, drift ing around in the bus- 
tling downtown area on a nice summer evening, 
perhaps looking for ladies, liquor or other ex- 
citement, they also were the kind who might be 
expected to show up around the courthouse 
when the talk about lynching a black accused of 
assaulting a white girl got started. Since 
boot-legging was a busy cottage industry in 
Tulsa, it is possible that at least some of them 
had high blood-alcohol levels by the time the 
trouble began. 

Black victims, in contrast, tended to be older 
than whites. They ranged in age from nineteen 
to sixty-three. Blacks averaged close to 35 years 
in age — nearly seven years older than the 
whites. This difference is statistically signifi- 
cant. Of the eight for whom marital data is avail- 
able, five were listed as married. While their 
occupational status tended to be lower than that 
of the whites (and none were employed in the 
petroleum industry), two, a realtor who also 
owned a tailor shop and a highly-regarded phy- 
sician, were solidly middle class. Unlike the 
whites, most of whom were young, single, new- 
comers to Tulsa, this group of black victims ap- 
pears to have been stable, older citizens of the 
Greenwood community. 

These thirty-nine cases also demonstrate that, 
compared to white victims, those who were 
black victims were treated with what would to- 
day be considered cavalier, if not criminal, care- 
lessness. This is in di cated by the fact that at least 
one was allowed to bleed to death without med- 
ical attention in a detention center instead of be- 
ing taken immediately and directly to a hospital 
after being gunned down in Greenwood while 
trying to surrender. Another indication of this is 
found in the death certificates. Those of at least 
four of the thirteen whites were pronounced 
dead before midnight on May 31, indicating that 
they were promptly taken to hospitals. In con- 
trast, none of the death certificates of black vic- 
tims are dated earlier than June 1, a finding that 
suggests that whether dead or still alive, they lay 
unattended for at least several hours. More evi- 
dence is provided by the fact that adequate treat- 
ment facilities were denied blacks until 
sometime in the late morning or afternoon of 


June 1, when a makeshift ward and surgery 
was hastily set up in the basement of one of the 
several hospitals that normally admitted only 
whites. Only then were the many black 
wounded provided with care, and some al- 
lowed to die under the care of nurses and phy- 

If Tulsa medical care givers were callous 
and care less in their treat ment of black riot vic- 
tims, representatives of the Tulsa funeral in- 
dustry were not far behind them. This is shown 
by the hasty, "county" burials in Oaklawn on 
June 1 and 2. Their death certificates in most 
cases signed by a layman. County Attorney 
Seavers. Much of the vital information on 
these certificates such as address, age, marital 
status, next-of-kin, etc. was left blank or filled 
in with a hastily scrawled "don't know". This 
indicates that authorities with the responsibil- 
ity to contact families and identify victims did 
not bother to track them down in the admit- 
tedly crowded and confused detention centers. 
Thus, some families that might have been able 
and willing to claim their dead and bury them 
properly were not given this opportunity. 
Whether they could af ford to or not, most prob- 
ably did not know for sure that their relatives 
were already dead and buried in unmarked 
pauper graves until they were released from 

Another finger of blame points to law en- 
forcement authorities at the local and county 
levels. As noted previously, all of these deaths 
— both black and white — were homicides 
which oc curred within the j u ris die tion of ei ther 
the Tulsa Police Department (thirty- seven 
cases) or the Tulsa County Sheriffs Depart- 
ment (two cases). Yet, so far as is known, these 
murder cases were not investigated while at 
least some of the perpetrators could be identi- 
fied and apprehended. Prosecutorial authori- 
ties, both county and state, also are accountable 
since they apparently did not aggressively 
press for such investigations. 

These hard truths cannot be presented with- 
out pointing out that many white Tulsans and 
Tulsa institutions (particularly some churches 
and the local Red Cross) took a courageous 
role in the riot by offering protection and care 

to their black neighbors. Their brave actions 
have been well documented elsewhere and will 
not be considered in detail here. 

It should also be pointed out that what hap - 
pened in Tulsa could have taken place in almost 
any other city in the United States in 1921. Nor 
were the conditions and circumstances leading 
to this tragic event a uniquely Oklahoman, or 
even "Southern" phenomenon. In the data con- 
sidered here, this is probably best illustrated by 
the known birthplaces or residences of the 
white fatalities. Of the thirteen men who were 
killed, only two were native Oklahomans. None 
were from states of the deep South. Five — the 
two Oklahomans, a Texan, an Arkansan and a 
native of Kentucky — were from Confederate 
border states in which the populations were of 
deeply divided loyalties during the Civil War. 
The remaining seven were from midwestern or 
northeastern states. 


In summary, perhaps the least that can be said 
of the physicians, undertakers, police, and pros- 
ecutors of Tulsa of the time was that they were 
not hypocritical: they treated their black fel- 
low-citizens no better when they were dead than 
they did when they were alive. 

Although this preliminary report is limited to 
treatment of the confirmed dead, it cannot be 
closed without considering the as yet uncon- 
firmed dead of the Tulsa race riot. First to be 
considered are the eighteen deaths that occurred 
in the Maurice Willows Hospital operated by 
the Red Cross until January 1, 1922. A system- 
atic search of vital statistics records to find their 
names and the causes of their deaths has not yet 
been made. Some may have died of complica- 
tions of wounds received dur ing the riot; if so, of 
course, such deaths would add to the riot deaths. 
Others, particularly, if children or elderly whose 
homes were destroyed or their family life dis- 
rupted, may have succumbed easily to diseases 
they may have otherwise survived; while actu- 
ally not killed in the riot the deaths of these vic- 
tims would certainly have to be considered as 
riot- related. 

As noted in the introduction of this prelimi- 
nary report, we already have the names of many 


possible descendants and, hopefully, may ob- 
tain still more. These reported dead will first 
be scanned against vi tal sta tis tics re cords to see 
if their death certificates have been somehow 
overlooked. If they are not found, it will not 
necessarily mean that they did not die in the 
riot since there is at least some tenuous evi- 
dence that more people, especially blacks, 
died in the riot whose deaths were not re- 
corded. Most of this evidence, it is true, is in 
the form of wildly varying estimates that ap- 
peared in both the Tulsa and national press in 
the days and weeks immediately following the 
riot. Many Tulsans, white and black, have rec- 
ollections of bodies of victims being disposed 
of in irregular ways in the first few days fol- 
lowing the riot. These estimates and stories 
cannot be dismissed lightly. 

As one whose entire professional life has 
been devoted to the investigation of mass di- 
sasters such as fires and floods, aircraft acci- 
dents, hu man rights vi o la tions, war crimes and 
acts of terrorism throughout the world, this 
writer is fully aware of the often exaggerated 
estimates of the number of victims that surface 
in the wake of the chaos and confusion follow- 
ing such events. At the same time, experience 
has shown that in manner of these situations, 
official counts of the dead or often seriously 

In the present case, it should be pointed out 
that, like nearly all other states at the time of 
the riot, Oklahoma had no adequate system for 
the medicolegal examination of violent or un- 
attended deaths. Today, the law mandates that 
all such deaths fall within the medicolegal re- 
sponsibility of the State Medical Examiner. 
Bodies of such victims are examined and, 
when necessary, autopsied by forensic pathol- 
ogists to determine the cause and manner of 
death. At the time of the riot, the law required 
that death certificates be signed by attending 
physicians or, as we have seen, certain public 
officials in exceptional cases. However, it ap- 
pears that there was no controlling legal au- 
thority (to use a phrase currently in vogue) that 
required that medically unattended deaths not 
coming to the attention of officers of the court 
be documented with a state death certificate. 

Therefore, it is possible that bodies found in the 
ruins of Greenwood during the days immedi- 
ately after the riot were simply buried without 

That this may have indeed happened is sug- 
gested by a statement apparently made by Major 
O. T. Johnson, a Salvation Army officer sta- 
tioned in Tulsa at the time. According to stories 
in at least two newspapers, the Chicago De- 
fender, June 11, 1921 and-S*^. Louis Argus, June 
10, 1921, Johnson is said to have stated that he 
hired a crew of over three dozen grave diggers 
who labored for several days to dig about 150 
graves for Negro victims. Unfortunately, any of- 
ficial report that Major Johnson may have sub- 
mitted to the Salvation Army has not yet been 
located. However, the possibility the statement 
attributed to him was indeed true is at least 
partly supported by two witnesses. One, Eunice 
Cloman Jackson, the wife of black mortician S. 
M. Jackson stated in 1971 that her step-father 
was part of a crew of fifty-five grave diggers; 
when she was asked where the bodies were bur- 
ied, she replied that ". . .most of them were out at 
Oaklawn. That was the cemetery for burying 
them. . .."'' Clyde Eddy, a young boy at the 
time, remembers seeing large wooden crates, 
each containing several burned bodies, await- 
ing burial in Oaklawn in the days following the 
riot. If bodies were collected from the burned 
out area of Greenwood they may well have been 
collected in crates rather than individual coffins 
and transported to Oaklawn for burial by Major 
Johnson and his large crew of grave diggers. 
They most likely wood have been carried on 
trucks, railroad flatcars (the Frisco tracks ran 
adjacent to Oaklawn), or both, thus accounting 
for the several eyewitness reports that bodies 
were seen being carried from the Greenwood 
area on both trucks and flatcars. 

The theory that perhaps as many as 150 bod- 
ies were buried in Oaklawn under Major John- 
son' s supervision can be framed as an 
hypothesis that can be tested by archaeological 
exploration of the area described elsewhere in 
this volume by Drs. Brooks and Witten.'' Such 
an effort would, at the least, result in the recov- 
ery of the twenty-one black confirmed dead 
from their unmarked graves so that they can be 


more suitably memorialized and, possibly, it would result in the recovery of the bones of the 
identified.Ifthe hypothesis turns out to be true, undocumented dead and, thus, help provide a 

solution to a lingering mystery. 


Theoretical indeed, since at this late date the perpetrator most likely would be as dead as his victim and the case, 
thereby, moved to a higher (or, possibly, lower) jurisdiction. 

'The geriatric problems of conducting such a trial would be a nightmare. Imagine the complications resulting from 
the inter-tangling of iv and catheter tubes of the witnesses and defendant as they traded places on the witness stand! 
^Tulsa World, June 3, 1921. 

^The geriatric problems of conducting such a trial would be a nightmare. Imagine the complications resulting from 
the inter- tangling of IV and catheter tubes of the witnesses and defendant as they traded places on the witness stand! 

^Tulsa World, June 3, 1921. 

''Snow, Clyde. 1993 Forensic Anthropology Report, in Anderson, Snow et al. The Anfal Campaign in Iraqi 
Kurdistan: The Destruction ofKoreme. (Middle East Watch/Physicians for Human Rights, New York and Boston: 

* At this time, the three or four am bu lances in Tulsa were op er ated by mor tu ar ies and it ap pears that all of them were 
fully employed in taking wounded whites to the various hospitals. 

Warner, personal communication, November 11, 2000. 

What a excruciatingly cruel fate for a physician to have his death certificate signed by a lawyer! 

* Avery, R. "African- American S .M. Jack son (Mor ti cian) and his wife, Eunice Cloman Jack son on June 26, 197 1 ", 
unpublished transcript of taped interview. 

See the report of Drs. Brooks and Witten elsewhere in this publication. 

Eddy, loc. cit. 

' ' Brooks and Witten, loc. cit. 


(Courtesy Department of SpecialCollections,McFarlinLibrary, University ofTidsa). 

The Investigation of Potential Mass Grave Locations 

for the Tulsa Race Riot 

by Robert L. Brooks and Alan H. Witten 


On the night of May 3 1 , and June 1 , 1 92 1 the 
City of Tulsa witnessed a racial conflict be- 
tween whites and the minority black popula- 
tion living in the Greenwood section that was 
unprecedented in United States history during 
the twentieth century. This violence, some- 
what erroneously labeled as a riot, was brought 
about by the inflammatory coverage by the 
Tulsa Tribune of an alleged rape attempt of a 
white girl by a young black male. Tensions had 
been mounting with a number of racial inci- 
dents occurring prior to the night of May 3 1 . 
The economic success of the Greenwood com- 
munity un doubt edly played a role in fuel ing re- 
sentment among the white population and 
further escalating the violence. Through the 
night of May 31, and into the morning of June 
1, whites virtually destroyed the Greenwood 
section. There were an undetermined number 
of deaths, both black and white, with estimates 
rang ing from the of fi cial count of 36 to ap prox- 
imately 300. Over 1,000 residences were 

burned and another 400 looted. The business 
district of Greenwood was to tally de stroyed and 
probably accounts for much of the $4 million in 
claims filed against the city in 1921.' Following 
this night of destruction and bloodshed, blacks 
were forcibly interned under armed guard. 
Eventually, over 4,000 blacks were held at the 
fairgrounds and other locations. Under provi- 
sions of the imposed martial law, blacks also 
were re quired to carry iden tity or "green cards." 
This introduction only serves to broadly por- 
tray the conditions that existed in Tulsa during 
the "Race Riot." Detailed accounting regarding 
the causes of the riot, the progression of events, 
casualties, and property are discussed in other 
chapters of this report. This study focuses on 
those who died during the violence, what hap- 
pened to their remains, and our efforts to relo- 
cate them almost 80 years later. 

Casualties in the Tulsa Race Riot 

As portrayed in the many studies conceming 
the Tulsa Race Riot, there is no well- documented 


evidence for the number of people who died 
during the violence. Ellsworth notes that the 
Department of Health's Bureau of Vital Statis- 
tics estimate was ten whites and 26 blacks, 
whereas estimates in the Red Cross records 
were around 300 deaths.^ There were other fig- 
ures in the Tulsa Tribune, in two contradictory 
ar ti cles, of ca su al ties of 68 and/or 175 . While an 
accurate number of individuals who died during 
the violence may not be possible some 80 years 
later, some perspective can be gained by exam- 
ining the black population of Tulsa and the 
Greenwood section and likely mortality profiles 
during a conflict of this nature. 

It is estimated that approximately 11,000 
blacks resided in Tulsa in 1921, most living in 
the area of the Greenwood section. The black 
population probably represented around ten 
percent of the total population of Tulsa. Using 
the Bureau of Vital Statistics counts, casualties 
among blacks using this statistic would be two 
percent of the black population. 

Given the intensity of the conflict and the 
fact that many of the blacks resisting invasion 
of their community by whites were armed vet- 
erans of World War I, it would not be unrea- 
sonable to estimate 150 to 300 deaths. A death 
toll of 150 is only slightly greater than one per- 
cent of the black population. It is also sus- 
pected that the number of whites who died 
would exceed the ten individuals cited by the 
Department of Health. Unlike many riots, the 
racial conflict in Tulsa on the night of May 3 1 , 
initially contained well-armed groups of 
blacks and whites. Later, as blacks were over- 
run by the increasing number of whites invad- 
ing Greenwood, they lost the numerical 
capability for defending their property and 
sometimes, their lives. 

The historicity of the Tulsa Race Riot must 
also be factored into the intensity of the vio- 
lence. World War I ended three years prior to 
the violence. Thus, there were many blacks as 
well as white males who retained recent 
knowledge of warfare and armed conflict. 
Some of these veterans probably had retained 
their rifles from the war. Simply stated, this 
was not a riot of a few individuals with shot- 

guns and pistols pitted against unarmed victims, 
at least not at the beginning. 

Based on these considerations, the mortality 
profile would have comparable numbers of 
deaths among black and white males initially. 
As white numbers swelled and they successfully 
made their way into Greenwood, the number of 
black deaths would increase and also would re- 
flect increasing numbers of women and children 
in residences. This profiling provides some 
credibility (although no hard evidence), for ca- 
sualty counts between 175 and 300. If there 
were a greater number of victims than reported, 
then the City of Tulsa and the Army National 
Guard would have to deal with a significant 
health problem. Based on weather records for 
the City of Tulsa on May 3 1 and June 1 , the tem- 
peratures hovered around 100 degrees. This 
would have made it a necessity that victims be 
handled expediently to prevent outbreaks of 
disease. One means of dealing with the deaths of 
large numbers of people is through mass graves. 
The following section discusses the plausibility 
of mass graves and possible locations. 

Mass Graves and the Tulsa Race Riot 

There are numerous accounts as to the dispo- 
sition of the riot victims. There are reports of 
victims being placed on flatbed rail road cars and 
moved by rail from Tulsa. Other accounts have 
victims being thrown in the Arkansas River or 
being incinerated. However, the most fre- 
quently re ported ver sion is of vie tims be ing bur- 
ied in mass graves. Some of these are oral 
histories of riot survivors. However, in many 
other cases they are secondary histories, stories 
that have been handed down through genera- 
tions and across kinship lines as well. The diffi- 
culty here has been distinguishing oral histories 
that carry a higher level of credibility where 
there is some additional thread of evidence, in- 
formation, or something that makes that partic- 
ular individual's testimony more believable, 
from others of more speculative nature. In sort- 
ing through the hundreds of taped oral histories, 
telephone calls, and written accounts, three lo- 
cations were identified that held greater credi- 
bility. This was based on the frequency of their 
reporting, the veracity of the individuals giving 
the account, and the plausibility of the location. 


Bed frames rise out of the de stnic tion in the Green wooddis trict (Courtesy OklahomaHis toricalSociety). 

What is meant by plau si bil ity is whether the lo- 
cation would have functioned as a mass grave 
or as a means of disposing of the victims. For 
example, the city incinerator was reportedly 
used to cremate riot victims. However, accord- 
ing to Clyde Snow, an internationally known 
forensic scientist, this would not have been a 
feasible strategy based on what we know of the 
size of the incinerator and the likely number of 
riot victims. It would have been too time con- 
suming and requiring too much engineering 
coordination. The three locations frequently 
cited and thought to merit further study were 
Newblock Park, Oaklawn Cemetery, and 
Booker T. Washington Cemetery. 

Newblock Park is located adjacent to the 
downtown area and the Greenwood section. It 
is bounded to the south by the Arkansas River, 
to the east by a residential area and 7th Street, 
to the north by Charles Page Boulevard, and on 
the west by more city property (Figure 1). At 
the time of the Tulsa Race Riot, Newblock 
Park was the location of the city landfill, the 
city incinerator, and a substantial amount of 
open land. Because of wooded tree lines, 
much of the area of Newblock may have been 
blocked from view. Today, Newblock Park is 
dramatically altered from the way it appeared 
in 192 1 ; much of the park is greenspace. How- 
ever, this greenspace hides the remains of old 

water pumping system buildings, numerous 
utility lines, as well as the Parkview drainage 
channel leading to the Arkansas River. There is 
also a railroad line between the park and the Ar- 
kansas River as well as a levee constructed by 
the Corps of Engineers in the 1940s. Thus, the 
landscape is markedly different than that wit- 
nessed by Tulsans in the summer of 1921. There 
have been numerous unverifiedaccountsof vic- 
tims of the riot being buried in Newblock by 
whites and/or the National Guard. Accounts of 
their remains be ing sub se quently un earthed dur- 
ing the many public works projects taking place 
there since the time of the riot have been re- 
ported. However, no evidence exists in the City 
of Tulsa' s files documenting a mass grave or hu- 
man remains being found in Newblock. The nu- 
merous reports of bodies being placed on the 
sand bar north of the 1 1th Street Bridge also fig- 
ures in the Newblock Park ac count. If vie tims of 
the riot were to be placed in a mass grave in the 
Newblock Park area, this sand bar of the Arkan- 
sas River adjacent to the park could have served 
as a staging area for the event. 

Oaklawn Cemetery is also located in the 
downtown area although not adjacent to the 
Greenwood section. It is bounded to the west by 
the Cherokee Expressway (1-444), to the south 
by 1 1th Street, and to the east by Peoria, and to 
the north by 8th Street (Figure 2). At the time of 


the riot, Oaklawn functioned as a cemetery, 
one that contained plots for people from many 
different socio-economic lifestyles, including 
white and black paupers. Like much of the 
Tulsa landscape, Oaklawn changed signifi- 
cantly in the following 80 years. The Cherokee 
Expressway did not exist at the time of the 
Tulsa Race Riot and undoubtedly claimed the 
extreme western portion of the cemetery dur- 
ing its construction. Reports of victims of the 
riot being buried at Oaklawn include individ- 
ual graves in addition to the mass interment. 
Currently, there are markers for two blacks 
who died during the riot in the black section of 
Oaklawn. It is not known whether the place- 
ment of the headstones for these graves is ac- 
cu rate or not. As with Newblock Park, burial of 
the riot victims is attributed to whites. 

The final location that was frequently men- 
tioned was Booker T. Washington Cemetery. 
Unlike the other sites, Booker T. Washington 
Cemetery is located in south Tulsa at what was 
in 1921 a rural outlier of the city. Booker T. 
Washington is bounded to the south by a creek 
drainage and sand borrow pit, to the north by 
South 91st Street, to the west by a Catholic 
Cemetery, and commercial and residential 
land to the east (Figure 3). At the time of the 
riot in 1921, there was probably little develop- 
ment with most of the area being agricultural 
land. The accounts of Booker T. Washington's 
use as burial place for riot victims also vary 
from the other two locations. Ac cord ing to oral 
histories of riot survivors, it was blacks that 
brought victims to Booker T. Washington for 

This occurred a few days after the riot sug- 
gesting that these may have been blacks that 
were wounded during the riot and died a few 
days after the conflict. 

Archaeological Methods and the Search 
for Mass Graves 

Research conducted by Scott Ellsworth and 
Dick Warner revealed the three locations de- 
scribed above as holding the greatest potential 
for mass graves within the Tulsa city limits. 
The problem then was how to examine the 
three sites to determine whether they might 
yield evidence of a large communal grave. In 

the case of human rights violations in foreign 
countries this has been accomplished through the 
use of informants and mechanical equipment. 
However, in the case of the Tulsa Race Riot, 
some 80 years later, survivors of the riot' s knowl- 
edge and memory of the 1920s landscape, com- 
pared to that of today, is questionable. Without 
precise knowledge of mass grave locations, the 
use of mechanical equipment to search for re- 
mains is not cost-effective. Thus, archaeological 
examination methods were used to seek mass 
grave locations in the three site areas. 

Archaeologists frequently examine the land- 
scape for evidence of prehistoric and early his- 
toric peoples settlements. While evidence of 
these settlements may be exposed on the sur- 
face, they are frequently buried by many feet of 
soildeposits. Thus, archaeologists havere sorted 
to using a variety of methodological tools to 
cost-effectively examine the subsurface. Some 
of these methods use conventional mechanical 
equipment such as backhoes and hydraulic cor- 
ing rigs. These offer the advantage of providing 
physical evidence of subsurface remains. Their 
disadvantages are that they disturb the ground 
subsurface and are heavy users of time and fi- 
nancial resources. Beginning in the 1940s, ar- 
chaeologists began to explore non-invasive 
means of examining the soil subsurface through 
application of the principles of physics.^ By 
sending differ ent types of phy s i cal im pulses into 
the ground subsurface, archaeologists could 
measure differencesbetweennatural so ilforma- 
tions and culturally altered conditions. These 
contrasts are referred to as anomalies. When 
sampling over a large area, the pattern in these 
anomalies can often be articulated with recog- 
nizable shapes (e.g., houses, fireplaces, graves, 
etc.). Geophysical applications in archaeology 
were more frequently practiced in Europe from 
the 1940s through 1960s, However, following 
the transistor revolution of the 1970s, they be- 
came widely used around the world, particularly 
in the United States. There are three basic 
methods of geophysics applied in archaeology: 
magnetometer, resitivity, and radar. 

The magnetometer measures changes in mag- 
netic properties between cultural features and 
natural properties of the soil. These changes or 


differences are usually due to the presence of 
ferrous metal objects although baked clays 
around burned houses or fireplaces also may 
present a strong magnetic response. Magne- 
tometers today are extremely sensitive and can 
pick-up responses from small objects such as 
nails or gun parts. Resitivity involves measur- 
ing the resistance to an electrical current in- 
jected into the subsoil. Typically, the 
differences in values yielded by resitivity are a 
result of variation in ground moisture. These 
changes in ground moisture content are fre- 
quently due to collection of moisture around 
cultural features such as houses, walls, and 
privies. The third method applied is ground 
penetrating radar. Here, radar signals are pro- 
jected into the ground and are reflected back 
upon encountering an object or natural feature 
(much like sonar on ships). The difference in 
the character of soil between a natural soil se- 
quence and one where some type of cultural 
feature is present (e.g., house, trash pit, or 
grave) will variably reflect back to the radar 
unit and present an approximation as to the 
shape of the anomaly. 

There are obvious benefits to use of geo - 
physical methods in archaeological investiga- 
tions. They permit cost-effective subsurface 
examination of large areas. In many, areas, the 
highly portable nature of to day' s equip ment al- 
lows examination of confined or congested ar- 
eas (e.g. wooded areas). Most importantly, 
these geophysical applications are 
non-invasive and do not physically disturb the 
subsurface areas under investigation.^ There 
are some disadvantages as well. They can re- 
spond to nearby surface features and they are 
sensitive to "noise" in the subsurface and may 
present distorted signals. In such cases, infor- 
mation on anomalies may be misleading or er- 
roneous. The other drawback to these methods 
is that they lack a "ground truth" element. The 
actual character of the anomaly can only be 
confirmed by physical examination of the 
subsurface though excavation. 

In the spring of 1998, it was recommended 
to the Tulsa Race Riot Commission that a 
search for mass graves sites be attempted 
through use of geophysical investigations. 

Based on the cost-effectiveness of examining 
large areas and the non-invasive nature of the 
methods, geophysical examination of 
Newblock Park, Oaklawn Cemetery, and 
Booker T. Washington Cemetery appeared to be 
the most reasonable approach to study of this is- 
sue. The Commission at their February, 1999 
meeting approved use ofgeo physics to examine 
for potential mass grave sites. 

Archaeological Geophysics at the Three 
Suspected Mass Grave Locations 

Phase I 

On July 20 and 21, 1998, initial geophysical 
examination of the three- suspected mass grave 
locations was undertaken. David L. Maki and 
Geoffrey Jones of Archaeo-Physics conducted 
the geophysical investigations. Conditions at the 
time of the study were extremely hot and dry. 
Temperatures on the two days of fieldwork were 
105 and 106 degrees. As discovered later, the ex- 
tensive heat and drought of the summer of 1998 
had some bearing on the results of the July work. 
The following details on Phase I investigations 
have been excerpted from Maki and Jones. 


The search for mass graves at the three loca- 
tions was carried out with a pulse EKKO 1000 
ground penetrating radar unit (GPR). Ground 
penetrating radar was selected for this initial ex- 
amination because of its successful use in de- 
tecting both prehistoric and historic graves in a 
variety of settings. A noted in Maki and Jones 
report the GPR unit may locate anomalies 
through reflections from disturbed soil associ- 
ated with the grave shaft such as bones, coffins, 
grave goods, and breakdown in normal soil con- 
ditions. Two different frequency antenna's 
were used, 450 MHz and 225 MHz. The higher 
frequency antenna was used to obtain better res- 
olution although this frequency also experiences 
a loss in the depth of ground penetration. The 
antenna utilized was determined by local soil 
conditions at each locality. Each of the three po- 
tential mass grave locations was also sketched 
and a grid im posed over the area to be ex am ined. 

Newblock Park 

Using information obtained from their oral 
history research, Scott Ellsworth and Dick 


Warner assisted in the selection of the area for 
examination. This area is near the eastern ex- 
tent of the park immediately adjacent to the 
Parkview drain age chan nel. Soils at Newblock 
Park consisted of silt, sand, and clay with rela- 
tively high moisture content. From a baseline 
established for the study area, data were sys- 
tematically collected along transects spaced 
some .75 meters (ca. 30 inches) apart using the 
225 MHz antenna. A total of 38 transects of 
GPR data were collected. Depth of subsurface 
pen e tra tion of the ra dar sig nal was lim ited to .5 
meters to 1.5 meters due to high conductivity 
soils. Interpretation of the Newblock Park data 
was also complicated by reflection from the 
numerous building foundations and buried 
utility lines, especially the sewer lines. How- 
ever, one anomalous area of interest was iden- 
tified and is present on Transects 8-11 (Figure 
4). Additionally, Transect 10 exhibits sloping 
reflections that might represent the walls of a 
shallow excavation (or pit). There also was an 
inverted reflection that potentially reflects a 
buried object of some nature. Investigations 
were inconclusive as to the specific nature of 
the reflective pattern. 

While one anomaly was revealed during the 
work at Newblock Park, this does not discount 
the potential for other anomalies in areas not 

Oaklawn Cemetery 

As was the case at Newblock Park, Scott 
Ellsworth and Dick Warner assisted in identi- 
fying the areas at Oaklawn to be examined. 
Here, the study area was restricted to the black 
part of the cemetery. Three areas (A, B, and Q 
were targeted for GPR survey. Areas A and B 
were square and rectangular plots of land 
within the black section of the "The Old Pot- 
ters Field" of the cemetery near 11th Street. 
Area C was a rectangular plot of land on the 
west side of Oaklawn nearest theCherokee Ex- 
pressway. One noteworthy feature of areas A 
and B was the presence of recognized single 
grave areas as marked by headstones. Soils in 
Oaklawn Cemetery are much like those at 
Newblock Park, exhibiting a mixture of silt, 
sand, and clay and a relatively high moisture 
content. Baseline grids were established for 

the three areas. A 15 meter square (ca. 45 feet) 
grid was laid-out for Area A and data were sys- 
tem at i cally col lected at .75 me ter (ca. 30 inches) 
spacing using a 225 MHz antenna. Area B was a 
grid roughly 25 meters (75 feet) east-west by 7 
meters (21 feet) north-south. Area C was a grid 
of some 13 meters (40 feet) north-south by 8 
meters (25 feet) east-west. 

These two areas were inspected using a 
transect interval of one meter and 225 MHz an- 
tenna. Forty-three transects of ground penetrat- 
ing radar data were col lected. As was the case at 
Newblock Park, depth of subsurface penetration 
by the radar signal was limited due to high con- 
ductivity soils. There was also a "ringing" re- 
sponse that made signal interpretation difficult. 
Despite these difficulties, 14 anomalies were 
identified at Oaklawn with 13 of these located 
within Area A (Figure 5). The remaining anom- 
aly was found in Area B. Seven of these anoma- 
lies occur with burial markers. Thus, these 
distinctive reflections probably reflect marked 
and unmarked single interments. No evidence 
was found to suggest the presence of a mass 
grave in the three areas surveyed at Oaklawn 
Cemetery. However, this again does not dis- 
count the potential for a mass grave site within 
another, unexamined part of the cemetery. 

Booker T. Washington Cemetery 

With information provided by Scott 
Ellsworth and Dick Warner, three areas at 
Booker T. Washington Cemetery were selected 
for GPR study. Soils here differed from those at 
the other two locations, consisting of a homoge- 
nous sand with relatively low moisture content. 
Area A was a roughly 40 meter (ca. 120 feet) by 

7 meter (21 feet) rectangular segment south of 
the gravel road. Area B was a 22 meter (ca. 66 
feet) by 22 meter (66 feet) square north of the 
gravel road and roughly 20 meters (60 feet) 
north of Area A. Area C contained two separate 
segments. The first was a 40 meter (120 feet) by 

8 meter (ca. 25 feet) rectangular unit oriented 
north- south, whereas the second was a smaller 
18 meter (55 feet) by 3 meter (9 feet) unit ex- 
tending east- west approximately 5 meter (15 
feet) east of the initial Area C unit. Ground pen- 
etrating radar data were systematically collected 
from the three units using 1 and 2 meter (3 and 6 


feet) transect spacings. Because of the sandy 
nature of the soil, both 225 MHz and 450 MHz 
antennas were used. The 450 MHz antenna 
was used in Areas A and B and both antenna 
frequencies were used in the two Area C seg- 
ments. A total of 40 transects were collected 
from the three areas. One anomaly was identi- 
fied in Area A and was thought to potentially 
represent an individual grave. A much larger 
anomaly was recorded in the initial unit in 
Area C (Figure 6). The reflection suggested a 
zone of disturbed soil approximately 6.5 me- 
ters (ca. 20 feet) by 3 meters (9 feet) extending 
to a depth of at least a meter. This anomaly 
was thought to potentially represent a pit such 
as one might find with a mass grave. 

Investigations at Newblock Park, Oaklawn 
Cemetery, and Booker T. Washington Ceme- 
tery did not conclusively demonstrate the pres- 
ence of mass graves. However, anomalies were 
found at Newblock Park and Booker T. Wash- 
ington Cemetery that merited further investi- 
gation. During the fall of 1998, it was 
recommended to the Tulsa Race Riot Com- 
mission that these anomalies be physically 
studied to ascertain whether they represented 
mass graves. This request was approved by the 
Commission in October, 1998. 

Phase II 

Following approval to study the anomalies 
at Booker T. Washington and Newblock Park, 
a methodology was developed to allow us to 
determine the nature of the anomalies without 
significantly disturbing these features. The 
plan was to take core samples from each of the 
anomalies using a three-inch truck-mounted 
bull probe. The three-inch cores would mini- 
mally disturb the anomalies while providing 
necessary information on the context and con- 
tent of these features. This work was per- 
formed with the assistance of Dr. Lee Bement 
using the Archeological Survey's truck 
mounted coring rig on December 16, 1998. 

Newblock Park 

Because of the potential for buried utility 
lines at Newblock Park, an initial step in the in- 
vestigation was to obtain from the City of 
Tulsa a map identifying the placement of lines 
in relation to the anomaly to be investigated. 

With this in for ma tion, avoid ance of ar eas with a 
high density of utility cables, conduits, etc. was 
accomplished. Ten core samples were drawn 
from the anomaly. The cores were typically ex- 
tended to a depth of 2 meters (6 feet). Material 
recovered from these samples included brick 
fragments, concrete, broken glass and 
whiteware, and cinders. The de bris ap pears to be 
uni formly dis trib uted through out the area of the 
anomaly with little stratigraphic integrity. The 
artifactual data were suggestive of fill for what 
was apparently the basement or subfloor of a 
water pump station. The reflective shapex of 
this fea ture as de tected with the ground pen e trat- 
ing radar probably represents the slightly 
slumped subsurface walls of the razed building. 
Thus, the anom aly at Newblock Park can be dis- 
counted as a mass grave site. This does not, 
however, mean that Newblock Park can be dis- 
counted as holding potential for a mass grave. 

Booker T. Washington Cemetery 

During the study of Newblock Park, the 
truck-mounted coring rig was damaged and 
could not be used to investigate the anomaly in 
Area C at Booker T. Wash ing ton. The work here 
was accomplished using manually operated cor- 
ing rods. These rods were capable of probing to 
depths of up to 1 meter (3 feet). Between 10 and 
15 probes were randomly placed through the 
anomaly in Area C. No cultural material or evi- 
dence of graves was obtained during this work. 
Soils from the cores were uniform, correspond- 
ing to the natural soil stratigraphy, with no evi- 
dence of a disturbed context. At approximately 
90 cm (35 inches), a sand lens with some clay 
content was encountered. This also marked 
slightly moister soils. Because of the drought 
conditions encountered in July, it appears that 
the radar was reflecting back from this moister 
clay lens, presenting a pit- like image. The po- 
tential single grave in Area A also was investi- 
gated with three core probes. These were 
negative as well. Although there are multiple re- 
ports of Race Riot victims being buried at 
Booker T. Washington, these locations were 
not discovered during this work. 


The December, 1998 investigations con- 
ducted at Newblock Park and Booker T. Wash- 


ington Cemetery failed to substantiate the 
anomalies as the sites of mass graves or even 
individual graves. The work did re veal why the 
ground penetrating radar presented these 
anomalies as pitlike features. This demon- 
strates the necessity of physically investigat- 
ing such features before viewing them as valid 
mass grave locations. The first two phases of 
work also address but small portions of the 
three potential locations. That other areas 
within Newblock Park, Oaklawn Cemetery, 
and Booker T. Washington Cemetery hold 
mass grave sites cannot be discounted. 

Phase III 

In the spring of 1999, an eyewitness was 
found to the digging of a mass grave at 
Oaklawn Cemetery. Mr. Clyde Eddy, who was 
a child of ten at the time of the riot, witnessed 
white laborers at Oaklawn digging a "trench." 
There also were a number of black riot victims 
present in several wooden crates. While Mr. 
Eddy did not directly see the victims being 
placed in this trench-like area, it is reasonable 
to assume that its purpose was for a mass 
grave. Mr. Eddy recalls this area being within 
the white section of the "Old Potters Field" 
and was able to point out the area in a visit to 
Oaklawn during the spring, 1999. Based on 
thisnew information, further study of Oaklawn 
Cemetery was approved. Because a specific 
area was identified, thus limiting the search 
area, it permitted a more expansive examina- 
tion using geophysical methods. Three differ- 
ent geophysical applications were used at 
Oaklawn: magnetometer, electromagnetic in- 
duction, and ground penetrating radar. Dr. 
Alan Witten of the Department of Geology and 
Geophysics, University of Oklahoma con- 
ducted these investigations at Oaklawn on June 
4, 1999 and subsequently, on November 22, 

A rectangular grid of 15 meters (45 feet) 
north- south by 50 meters (150 feet) east- west 
was established over the area that Mr. Eddy 
identified. Be cause the location was based on a 
visual history from some 80 years ago, the tar- 
geted area was enlarged by about a factor of 
four to ensure complete coverage. This rectan- 
gular area lies within 4 meters (12 feet) of the 

iron fence facing 1 1th Street. Fourteen head- 
stones or footstones are present within the unit. 

The unit, referred to as the Clyde Eddy Area, 
was first examined using a Geometries 858 ce- 
sium magnetometer. North-south transects were 
walked with the magnetometer at 1 meter (3 
feet) intervals. Signals were acquired at a rate of 
5 samples per second. Numerous magnetic 
anomalies were identified. Most of these repre- 
sent headstones reinforced with iron rebar or 
ferrous objects associated with single marked 
interments. However, there was one large mag- 
netic anomaly at 24.5 west and 3.5 south that 
could not be explained by the presence of the 
single graves (Figure 7). This anomaly extends 
over an area of some 2 meters (6 feet) 
north-south by 2.6 meters (ca. 8 feet) east-west 
to a depth of 1 to 1.6 meters (3-5 feet). This was 
a strong ferrous object signal. It could represent 
a coffin with considerable quantity of ferrous 
metal hard ware or a fer rous metal object with no 
relation to the cemetery. Because it is doubtful 
that victims of the riot would have been buried 
with sizable amounts of metal or in metal cof- 
fins, this feature probably did not re late to burial 
of the race riot victims. 

The Clyde Eddy Area was subsequently ex- 
amined using electromagnetic induction (EMI) 
with a GEM-2. The GEM-2 is a broadband in- 
strument that responds to variations in electrical 
conductivity somewhat like a resitivity device. 
Transects were covered in a manner identical to 
that for the magnetometer ( 1 meter spac ing with 
5 sam pies per sec ond). The GEM-2 re ceives sig- 
nal variation from both high conductivity ob- 
jects (metal) as well as non-metallic conductors. 
Data acquired with the GEM-2 obtained results 
similar to that of the magnetometer. However, 
in addition to these responses, the GEM-2 also 
identified an area in the northwestern quadrant 
that exhibits a regular shape and could represent 
an area of altered soil electricalconductivity as a 
result of past excavation (Figure 8). This was 
roughly an area some 5 meters (15 feet) square. 

Ground penetrating radar was initially per- 
formed on June 4, in conjunction with the 200 
MHz antennas with a Mala Geosciences 
RAMAC system. Transects of systematically 
collected GPR data for the Clyde Eddy Area re- 


vealed no reflections of possible cultural ori- 
gin. This work, though, was conducted without 
the benefit of the results of the magnetometer 
and EMI data, A second GPR study was con- 
ducted on November 22, 1998. 

GPR data acquisition in this second survey 
was focused on the two anomalies revealed by 
the magnetometer and ENR Two grid areas 
were established and north- south transects at 1 
meter (3 feet) in ter vals were run for the two po- 
tential features. Both 250 and 500 MHz anten- 
nas were used in data collection. The 250 MHz 
antenna provided no new data; the reflections 
were basically the same as those obtained on 
June 4 , 1998. The 500 MHz antenna presented 
a much different picture. The radar identified 
an anomaly in the same location as that re- 
vealed by the GEM-2 unit. Ground penetrating 
radar data depict a feature measuring approxi- 
mately 5 meters (15 feet) square, a unit essen- 
tially the same size as that defined by the 
GEM-2. The GPR data additionally suggest 
the presence of an isolated object in roughly 
the center of the anomaly and that the feature 
has walls that appear to be vertical with 
well-defined corners (Figure 9). 

Interpretations and Conclusions 

The third phase of geophysical work at 
Oaklawn Cemetery resulted in the identifica- 
tion of two subsurface anomalies or features. 
One anomaly represents a highly ferrous 
subsurface deposit. This is not believed to be 
associated with the Tulsa Race Riot. The other 
anomaly bears all the characteristics of a dug 
pit or trench with vertical walls and an unde- 
fined object within the approximate center of 
the feature. Because this anomaly showed up 
on both EMI and GPR surveys, it is not be- 
lieved to be a false signal. The vertical walls 
also support an argument for this being some 
sort of dug feature. Without the presence of an 
eyewitness, this would just represent another 
"anomaly" to be examined. However, with 
Mr. Eddy's testimony, this trench-like feature 
takes on the properties of a mass grave. It can 
be argued that the geophysical study, com- 
bined with the account of Mr. Eddy, are com- 
pelling arguments for this feature being 
considered a mass grave. 

Conclusions and Recommendations for 
Further Study 

Between July,1998, and November, 1999, 
geophysical investigations were conducted at 
three locations thought to potentially represent 
sites of mass graves for victims of the Tulsa 
Race Riot. Examination of select areas at 
Newblock Park and Booker T. Washington 
Cemetery through use of ground penetrating ra- 
dar failed to reveal any features suggestive of a 
mass grave. As has been reiterated throughout 
this report, the failure to identify a mass grave at 
specified locations does not negate the potential 
for a mass grave within either Newblock Park 
or Booker T. Washington Cemetery. It only 
documents that such a feature was not present 
within the area examined. 

Initial study of Oaklawn Cemetery with 
ground penetrating radar revealed a number of 
individual internments but no evidence of a 
mass grave. With an eyewitnessaccountpermit- 
ting a narrowing of the search window, a second 
examination was conducted at Oaklawn Ceme- 
tery. Through use of electromagnetic induction 
and ground penetrating radar, a 5 meter (15 
feet) square anomaly with vertical walls was 
identified within the area pointed out by the 
eyewitness as where a trench was dug for bury- 
ing riot victims. While this evidence is compel- 
ling, it cannot be viewed as factual until the 
feature has been physically examined by exca- 
vation to determine if this represents a grave 
site, and, more importantly, if a grave, whether 
it contains multiple individuals. The situation at 
Oaklawn Cemetery has been further compli- 
cated by cemetery records indicating that an 
adult white male had been buried there shortly 
before the riot and two white children were bur- 
ied within the boundaries of this feature follow- 
ing the riot. This information seems 
contradictory to the presence of a mass grave at 
this location. 

There are a number of recommendations that 
should be considered. They are enumerated as 

1 . Oral history and ar chi val work should con- 
tinue the search for more specific data on areas 
within Newblock Park and Booker T. Washing- 
ton Cemetery. Other locations that have some 


credibility should also be reexamined (if mer- 

2. Continued examination of records at 
Oaklawn Cemetery to resolve the somewhat 
paradoxical issue of a mass grave where other 
non Race Riot related people were reportedly 

3. Further examination of the potential mass 
grave feature at Oaklawn with geophysical ap- 
plications. This would involve changing the 
angle of orientation used in the transects (e.g., 

a north west-southeast di rec tion) to effect the re- 
flection of the signal. Other options would be 
the use of different antenna and changing the 
signal rate. 

4. At the discretion of commissions govern- 
ing the Race Riot investigation, the City of 
Tulsa, and the Greenwood community limited 
physical investigation of the feature be under- 
taken to clarify whether it indeed represents a 
mass grave. This is not a recommendation to ex- 
hume any remains but to clarify the nature of 
this anomaly. 


' Ellsworth, Scott, 1982. Death in a Prom isedLand: Yhe TulsaRace Riot of 1921 . (Lou isianaState University Press, 
Baton Rouge: 1982). 

hbid., p. 70. 

Aikens, M. J., Physics and Archaeology. (Claredon Press, London and New York: 1961). 
'' Wynn, J. C, "Archaeological Prospection: An Introduction to the Special Issue. Special Issue: "Geophysics in 
Archaeology," Geo/>/z>'5/c5 51(3), 1986. 

Heimmer, D. H., Near-Surface, High Resolution Geophysical Methods for Cultural Resource Management and 
Archaeologicallnvestigations. (National Park Service, U.S. Government Printing Services, Denver: 1992). 

^ Maki, D. and G. Jones, "Search for Graves from the Tulsa Race Riot Using Ground Penetrating Radar." 
Archaeo-Physics, Report of Investigations Number 5, 1998. 


(Cour tesy Department of Spe cial Col lee tions, McFarlin Li brary, Uni versity ofTulsa). 

History Uncovered: 
Skeletal Remains as a Vehicle to the Past 

By Phoebe Stubblefield and Lesley M. Rankin-Hill 

I am invisible, understand, simply because 
people refuse to see me. 

— Ralph Ellison 


During the last 20 to 30 years, several large 
and nu mer ous small Af ri can Amer i can skel e tal 
populations have been studied by physical an- 
thropologists. Each population has contributed 
significantly to the reconstruction of African 
American lives, experiences, communities, 
and historical events. African Americans to a 
great extent are the "invisible people" in the 
historical record. This is a common problem 
whenever one studies non-elite people in the 
historical past, especially members of the 
underclass. These are the people who facili- 
tated the lives of the wealthy and the powerful 
of society; they built cities, provided goods 
and ser vices, and, to a great ex tent, were the es- 
sential elements of a growing society. How- 

ever, they remain obscure in publications of 
their times and the history books. Elites leave 
significant documentation of their lives in a va- 
riety of forms and these materials have a high 
probability of being archived. The few sources 
of documentation for the poor and under classes 
of a society are likely to be lost. 

Therefore, when African American skeletal 
populations are discovered or recovered they 
pres ent a unique op por tu nity to add to the his tor- 
ical record and document the lives of the indi- 
viduals and their community. Physical 
anthropological studies provide a direct method 
of assessment (providing evidence) when skele- 
tal populations like the New York African 
Burial Ground or the Dallas Freedmen' s ceme- 
tery become available. 

African American skeletal populations have 
become available under several conditions: 1) 
the intentional excavation due to land redevel- 
opment or threat of environmental damage; 2) 


the accidental discovery of an abandoned cem- 
etery; 3) archaeologicalexcavationprojects for 
historical/anthropological research and docu- 
mentation. These skeletal populations, repre- 
sent a broad spectrum of African American 
lifestyles throughout the eighteenth, nine- 
teenth, and twentieth centuries in the Western 

Biological and behavioral factors affect the 
human skeleton because the skeleton is a dy- 
namic system, that undergoes growth and de- 
velopment throughout the individual's life 
span. In general, these biological and cultural 
factors can interfere in the normal processes of 
bone growth and loss, causingdiseaseepisodes 
and/or periods of delayed growth. These expe- 
riences can be usually indelibly recorded on 
the skeleton and dentition. Through observing 
these "historical remnants" of bones and teeth, 
the physical anthropologist has a means of 
measuring a population's health. In addition, 
the skeleton can record the actual cause(s) of 
death and/or contributory factors surrounding 

Therefore, the potential contribution and 
importance of the Tulsa Race Riot victims' 
skeletal remains would be significant to both 
the documentation of the historical event and 
to African American history. It is imperative 
that these remains be located, recovered, 
"given a voice" through skeletal analysis, and 
then reinterred with dignity, as most of the Af- 
rican American skeletal populations have been 
and will be in the future. 

A discussion of the basic types of analysis 
and information that physical anthropologists 
and forensic anthropologists can provide is 
presented below. 

The Role of Forensic Anthropology in the 
Identification of Deceased Individuals 

Forensicanthropology has had an ac tive role 
in American science and medicolegal investi- 
ga tions since at least 1 878, when Har vard anat- 
omist Thomas Dwight published his essay on 
identifying human skeletal remains.' Existing 
as a poorly recognized subfield of the scien- 
tific discipline called physical anthropology, 
forensic anthropology received little scholarly 
or public notice until the task of identifying 

andrepatriating the de ceased from World War II 
and the Korean War brought the field into prom- 
inent activity. Technical advances at this time 
and a steady increase in academic interest in the 
field led to its later organization as a section of 
the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in 
1972. Since that time, forensic anthropology has 
been a recognized subfield of physical anthro- 
pology and the forensic sciences, requiring the 
usual academic rigors of obtaining the higher 
degrees in anthropology (at least a Master's de- 
gree), as well as the special training and certifi- 
cation of its section in the Academy. 

A forensic anthropologist is a physical an- 
thropologist who has been trained to recognize 
and examine human skeletal remains for indica- 
tions of sex, age, height, unique characters of 
the individual, features which might indicate 
how the person died, and processes that affect 
the skeleton after death. Although a forensic pa- 
thologist or other medical doctor may seem a 
more appropriate conductor of such analyses, 
their education and training focuses on changes 
in soft tissue. The forensic anthropologist is ex- 
pected to recognize bone outside of its natural 
context even if it is reduced to small fragments. 
He or she can iden tify all the bones of the hu man 
skeleton, determine if a bone is human or not, 
and understand that the shape of a bone is re - 
lated to its function in the body and its owner' s 
relationship to other animals. 

Forensic anthropologists serve the public in 
several types of investigations. As a result they 
work with the other agents concerned with the 
disposition of human remains, such as medical 
examiners or coroners, local and federal law en- 
forcement and family organizations. The most 
common circumstances are criminal investiga- 
tions on a local or federal level, such as a local 
homicide or the results of terrorist activity. 
Other circumstances include mass disasters of 
natural or human cause, such as the recovery of 
tornado or aviation accident victims. The U.S. 
Army maintains a staff of forensic anthropolo- 
gists at a facility based in Hawaii who are dedi- 
cated to the continued recovery and 
identification of Americans lost in the past 
armed conflicts. Frequently the public learns of 
the forensic anthropologists work when it in- 


Whik stories have per sisted for years that the bod ies of riot vie tints were thrown into the Arkan sas River, there is little ev idence to support 
thisoraltmdition. Considerable omlandwrittenevidencedoesexist,however,whichpointstoAfrican-Americanriotvictimsbeingburiedin 
un marked graves atOaklawn Cent e tery, BookerT. Wash ing ton Cent e tery, andperhaps, NewblockPark (Courtesy department of Spe cial 
Col lee tions, McFarlin Li brary, Uni versity ofTidsa). 

volves cases of historical interest, such as the 
ex hu ma tion of Pres i dent Zachary Tay lor for an 
investigation of the cause of his death, or the 
recovery and identification of the remains of 
the last Czar of Russia and his household. 

The varieties of occasion that require the 
skills of a forensic anthropologist are suffi- 
ciently diverse that the anthropologist may en- 
ter the project at various points and utilize a 
wide assortment of skills. The list below is a 
summary of exercises that could be employed 
in a generic investigation. While it seems a 
short list, many activities take place under 
each section. While all of the items listed will 
be covered, most of the remainder of this chap- 
ter will focus on item three, laboratory analy- 

1. Scene or locality search for skeletal re- 
mains or burials 

2. Recovery of remains by surface recovery 
or excavation 

3. Laboratory analysis 

4. Report production 

As previously stated, forensic anthropolo- 
gists are trained to discriminate between hu- 
man and non-human bone. In many 

investigations, the anthropologists services be- 
gin and end (if no hu man bones are found) at this 
step when he or she is called to a locality or med- 
ical examiner's office and asked to make a de- 
termination. At an investigation scene the 
forensic anthropologist will search for and iden- 
tify human bone, look for indications of burials, 
and conduct necessary excavations in a system- 
atic manner using thorough documentation. In 
the search for burials, in addition to using visual 
clues, the anthropologist may employ special- 
ized equipment and techniques, such as ground 
penetrating radar and infrared photography. 

As part of recovery of remains, the anthropol- 
ogist may map the locality in order to have a re- 
cord of the position of the remains relative to a 
fixed landmark and any significant features of 
the site. This is a typical part of a criminalinves- 
tigation and can be conducted in conjunction 
with scene investigators. Locating the site on an 
existing map and noting the physical address of 
the location may suffice, but in wooded areas or 
along roadsides the anthropologist may employ 
a Global Positioning System (GPS) unit to get 
the geographic coordinates of the site. If a burial 
is involved the site must be mapped with the lo- 


cation of the burial indicated (sometimes the 
burial is the site), while the burial itself re- 
ceives a mapping grid. The grid provides a 
means of mapping the location of each bone or 
artifact found within the burial. An organized 
and thorough excavation may provide the in- 
formation that allows the reconstruction of the 
events surrounding the burial of the deceased. 
In one instance the late Dr. William Maples 
successfully documented differing times of 
death for multiple individuals in one grave, 
based on the information gained from his thor- 
ough excavation.^ In addition to any physical 
mapping of the burial, good note taking, pho- 
tography and/or videotaping during the exca- 
vation also will ensure a good record of what 
was found during the excavation. 

Once human remains are found, they are 
collected in a manner that will protect the pri- 
vacy of the family of the deceased, keep mate- 
rial remains in association, and prevent fragile 
material from further breakage or deterioration 
from exposure to air and sunlight. The remains 
are then maintained in a secure location while 
the anthropologist conducts the analysis. 
Good security ensures the remains and any 
items with them stay to gether and are not adul- 
terated or altered by outside influences. 

What Skeletal Remains Tell Us 

In everyday living, our skeletons are frames 
from which we work our muscles, frames 
which we pro tectfrom breaking when ever pos- 
sible and rely on as silent partners as we move 
through and manipulate the world around us. 
Yet human bones are not just a frame for the 
flesh, they also are frames for our identities. 
An anthropologist can get more information 
from a skeleton with all of its parts present, no 
bones broken, and little or no degradation from 
the environment. Even fragmentary remains 
will tell much about their former owner. Fo- 
rensic anthropologists investigate six proper- 
ties when examining skeletal remains: age, 
sex, ancestry, stature, unique characters of the 
skeleton, and indications of trauma. 

Age Assessment 

Unless the skeleton is sparsely represented, 
forensic anthropologists do not rely on only 
one technique to arrive at an age assessment. 

The best as sess ments are a sum mary con clu sion 
based on as many parts of the skeleton as possi- 
ble. This technique becomes especially impor- 
tant when dealing with mature individuals, 
because they have fewer age-specific characters 
than infants, children, and young adults. 

Age Determination in Infants, Children, and 
Young Adults 

The techniques for determining skeletal age 
in children are based on standards of skeletal 
and dental maturation developed for living chil- 
dren. Infant remains are aged by comparing the 
length of the long bones of the legs or arms to 
guidelines for the maturation of living infants. 
One difficulty in aging infant remains is that 
their bones are very fragile, do not pre serve well 
under ground, and are rarely recovered from 
burials. Older children, depending on how far 
into development they are, can be aged by vari- 
ous techniques, including long bone length, de- 
gree of completed growth of the teeth, and 
degree of completed growth of the long bones. 
Age assessments using dental remains are pri- 
marily based on the degree of development of 
each tooth crown and root, the simultaneous 
presence of adult and baby teeth, and whether a 
tooth has erupted and if so how far. This tech- 
nique is useful from infants with teeth still de- 
veloping inside the jaws, to teenagers with 
developing wisdom teeth. The dental eruption 
sequence may alone be enough to obtain an age 
assessment, but eruption of the wisdom teeth 
cannot be considered an indication of adulthood 
be cause their erup tion times are highly vari able. 

The long bones of the arms and legs each 
have a main shaft that develops ends that fuse as 
the person matures. The age that the ends de- 
velop and fuse to the main shaft occurs so regu- 
larly that age can be assessed within a couple 
years if enough of the skeleton is present. Limb 
bones stop being useful for age assessment in 
early adult hood. The bones in the arm, be ing the 
last to fully develop, do so at about 18 years in 
women and 19 years in men. As a general rule 
when confronted with a skeleton that looks ma- 
ture on first glance, the collarbone is examined 
first. The collarbone is the latest fusing long 
bone, becoming complete by about 25 years in 
males and females. If the collarbone is com- 


pletely united, the anthropologist uses tech- 
niques for aging adult remains. 

Age Estimation in Adults 

Assessing age in the adult skeleton presents 
a special challenge because any parts that were 
going to fuse as a part of maturation have done 
so. Most standardized techniques for age as- 
sessment in adults focus on age related changes 
to mature bone in portions of the post-cranial 
skeleton. In 1920 and again in 1989, anthropol- 
ogists published standards for age changes at 
the fibrous joint between the pubic bones, tile 
pubic symphysis.^ Similarly, in 1986, anthro- 
pol o gists be gan pub lish ing stan dards for the age 
changes to the sternal end of the fourth rib. 

Quite frequently a skeleton is too fragmen- 
tary or too poorly preserved to retain the pubic 
bones or the fourth rib. In such a case more 
marginal age estimation techniques may be 
used such as closure of the cranial sutures. 
Contrary to popular belief, cranial suture clo- 
sure, as seen by the disappearance of the lines 
separating the bones of the cranium, is one of 
the most unreliable techniques for estimating 
age. Cranial sutures do not close in a system- 
atic fashion in any human population. As a re- 
sult, an age estimate of 30 to 50 years is not 
uncommon from this technique, which only 
signifies that the remains are adult, as was al- 
ready known. Cra nial su tures are used only as a 
last resort, such as when only a cranium is 

In ad di tion to us ing the suit able stan dard ized 
techniques for the skel e tal re mains, the an thro- 
pologist also examines all the collected re- 
mains for general indicators of age. He or she 
examines the teeth, to see how worn or de- 
cayed they are in order to assess how long they 
were in use. Tooth wear is a population de- 
pendent character because some populations 
use their teeth as tools, get more dental care, or 
eat more grit than others. The joint surfaces 
and ver te brae also are ex am ined for signs of ar- 
thritic development. In general, an older body 
will show more signs of lost cartilage and have 
more extensive bony growth on the margins of 
the joint. Vertebrae in particular begin devel- 
oping bony growths called osteophytes as a 
person enters his or her 30s. The osteophytes 

increase in size and number as a person grows 
older. Another indicator of greater maturity is 
the presence of ossified soft tissue, such as the 
thyroid and cricoid cartilage of the throat, the 
cartilage joining the ribs to the sternum, and 
sclerotic portions of the descending aorta. As 
stated earlier, every suitable method, beginning 
with the most rehable, should be used for an age 
assessment, but forensic anthropologists are es- 
pecially careful while using qualitative clues. 
An overused and overworked body will have ar- 
thritic development and ossified soft tissue at a 
younger age than otherwise expected. 

Sex Assessment 

It is extremely difficult to estimate sex for 
pre-pubertal remains because the characters of 
the skeleton that indicate sex do not appear until 
after puberty. A few techniques have been pro- 
posed for estimating sex in infants, but the reli- 
ability of these techniques is questionable. Hunt 
and Gleiser (1955) developed a technique for 
children age two to eight, based on a combina- 
tion of dental and skeletal development of the 
hand and wrist. This technique works better 
than 50 percent of the time, but does require a 
fairly intact skeleton. 

For adult remains, estimating sex can be one 
of the simpler parts of a forensic analysis if cer- 
tain parts of the skeleton are present. Given a 
choice, a forensic anthropologist would always 
prefer to have an intact pelvis, with the second 
choice being an intact skull. For either part two 
approaches are used to estimate sex, a morpho- 
logical assessment and/or a metric assessment. 
The morphology or shape of the pelvis differs 
between males and females. This difference can 
be recorded by noting the presence of features 
associated with a particular sex, or by measur- 
ing the pelvis and using statistical analysis to es- 
timate sex. 

Forensic anthropologists understand that the 
sex differences in the human pelvis are related 
to differences in function and are trained to rec- 
ognize the physical differences associated with 
function. The female pelvis differs from the 
male in being designed to pass a large brained 
infant through a narrow space. The pelvis is 
made of three bones, the two innominates plus 
the sacrum. The innominates, themselves are 


composed of three bones that fuse at about age 
13 in girls and 15 in boys, the pubis, ischium, 
and ilium. As a means of orientation, consider 
that when you sit down on a firm surface the 
bone that makes contact is the ischium, the 
bony hip you rest your hand on is the ilium, and 
the part that may unfortunately connect with 
the bar on a mens bike is the pubis. The female 
pelvis differs visibly from the male by having, 
among other features, a rectangular shape to 
the body of the pubis, a wide sciatic notch be- 
tween ilium and ischium, and a pronounced 
angle beneath the body of the pubis. 

In contrast to the pelvis, sex differences in 
the skull make males exceptional. Larger size 
plays a part here rather than a different shape, 
because while skulls serve the same function 
no matter the sex, men tend to be larger and or 
more robust than are women. Greater 
robusticity means that in the male skull projec- 
tions protrude farther, and ridges are rougher 
and sharper. In the skull, the male brow tends 
to project farther than in females, and the mass 
of bone behind the ear, the mastoid process, 
tends to be larger. Size and ruggedness also 
will dis tin guish male long bones and ver te brae. 

Forensic anthropologists do not rely solely 
on morphology to estimate sex because there 
are several circumstances when this technique 
is insufficient. Skeletal remains are frequently 
fragmentary. Also, differences in size and 
shape occur as central tendencies surrounded 
by variation. Therefore, we can say that the fe- 
male pelvis has certain features, but we do not 
expect every female pelvis to have all those 
fea tures in the same de gree. In ad di tion, hu man 
populations differ in the de gree to which males 
are more robust than females. Consider the 
contrast of the American quarterback with his 
cheerleader girlfriend juxtaposed to the East- 
ern European bride. The alternative to, or sup- 
port for a morphological assessment is to 
compare measurements of the pelvis, skull, or 
other parts of the skeleton to statistical samples 
tions of Giles and Elliot are frequently used to 
determine sex for skulls from Americans of 
European and African descent.^ Statistical 
procedures are very important in the next two 

points of a forensic identification, ancestry and 

Determining Ancestry 

The skull is the best source of information for 
estimating ancestry from the human skeleton. 
Just as with the pelvis in sex assessment, mor- 
phological and metric analysis of the skull can 
show the geographic population to which an in- 
dividual belonged. A geographic population is 
the large collection of people such as Europe- 
ans, Africans, and Asians that is usually called a 
"race." Here the term race is avoided because 
the skull only indicates genetic ancestry, not the 
so cial con no ta tions of race . So cial is sues of race 
such as "passing," or "one-drop rule," are rarely 
represented by the shape of the skull. In the 
same way that someone resembles his or her 
other relatives, that resemblance carries down 
to the bone and can be approximated with mea- 
surements and careful observation. When as- 
sessing ancestry we frequently state it in terms 
of descent. Typically in the United States we en- 
counter individualsof European, African, Asian 
(which includes Native Americans), or mixed 
descent. This does not mean that the individual 
in question recently immigrated to the United 
States; rather, it means that the person's ances- 
try is derived from that population. 

Forensic anthropologists determine ancestry 
by examining the morphology of the skull and 
by taking measurements at several points on the 
skull. In a morphological exam the anthropolo- 
gist looks for particular sets of anatomical fea- 
tures that are found with greater frequency in 
certain populations. Closely related people will 
share more cranial features with each other than 
with their more distant re la tions on the next con- 
tinent. On the other hand, since large popula- 
tions are not made up of clones, the 
anthropologist cannot expect everyone in a par- 
ticular population to have the same features in 
the same degree or combinations. Also, since all 
humans are related, the anthropologist cannot 
expect any cranial feature to necessarily be ex- 
clusive to a particular population. Therefore, an 
assessment of ancestry is based on a suite of 
characters that tend to appear or are found in 
similar degree in particular populations. For ex- 
ample, the anthropologist might look for a short. 


high cranium combined with a narrow nasal 
aperture as part of an indication of European 
ancestry, but he or she would not require a 
short, high cranium because some Europeans 
have long craniums. Nor would we look only 
for the ratio of skull length to height because 
different populations can have the same ratio. 
See the table below for a list of some of the 
characters used for determining ancestry. 

In addition to the morphological assess- 
ment, the forensic anthropologist can conduct 
a met ric anal y sis of the skull. A met ric anal y sis 
requires that a skull be measured across sev- 
eral points, and those measurements compared 
to a statistical sample of individuals of known 
ancestry. In the United States many forensic 
anthropologists rely on another set of equa- 
tions designed by Giles and Elliot that distin- 
guish between people of European, African, 
and Native American descent. Anthropolo- 
gists at the University of Tennessee also have 
produced a statistical package called 
FORDISC that serves a combined function of 
ancestry and stature estimation. Metric analy- 
sis is often the preferred route to ancestry de- 
termination because it does not require that the 
eye be trained to recognize morphological 
traits, and because it is more effective on frag- 
mentary skulls. 

Stature Estimation 

Estimation of the standing height of the liv- 
ing individual is an exclusively metric proce- 
dure. Anthropologists have developed 
predictive equations thatestimatestaturebased 
on the length of various bones of the body. 
These equations exist for several populations, 
including Native Americans and Americans of 
African and European descent. Trotter and 
Gleser designed the most commonly used 
equations in response to the repatriation effort 
of WWII and Korean War dead.' Normally, leg 
length is the greatest contributor to standing 
height, so most of the predictive equations are 
based on length of the long bones of the leg, the 
femur, tibia, and fibula. Other anthropologists 
have developed equations for the complete 
skeleton, vertebrae, long bones of the arm, and 
bones of the hands and feet. In cases where 
preservation is poor and bones are fragmentary 

and incomplete, Steele developed equations for 
predicting the complete length of the long 
bone.* One additional concern regarding stature 
estimation is that as people enter their 40s they 
begin losing height, so stature estimates for 
older individuals must be corrected. The rate of 
correction is minus 0.06 centimeters for every 
decade past 30. 

Trauma Analysis 

The assessment of trauma in skeletonized re- 
mains requires the ability to distinguish be- 
tween perimortem trauma and postmortem 
damage. Perimortem trauma is damage caused 
to bone in the interval surrounding the time of 
death. The interval is defined by the time period 
during which the bone is "green" or behaves 
with the plasticity of its living state. Any trauma 
that occurs while the bone is fresh and green is 
perimortem trauma including damage that oc - 
curs shortly after death. Perimortem trauma that 
would have either contributed to or is directly 
associated with the cause of death is classified 
as trauma associated with the cause of death. 
For ex am pie, perimortem rib frac tures can oc cur 
in a victim without those fractures being the 
cause of death, but the accompanying cranial 
gunshot wound would be trauma associated 
with the cause of death. 

Forensic anthropologists are trained to recog- 
nize the types of trauma that can be found on 
bone including blunt force, sharp force, gunshot 
wounds, and burning. By visual inspection, 
touch, use of a light microscope, and radiogra- 
phy, the anthropologistcan identify these forms 
on trauma from the characteristic marks they 
leave on bone. Blunt force trauma is associated 
with fractured or crushed bone, such as in a 
greenstick fracture or a depressed cranial frac- 
ture. Blunt force injuries to green bone may 
leave clear identifying marks of the instrument 
used to inflict the trauma, such as grooves or di- 
rect impressions of the weapon. Sharp force 
trauma includes incised cuts, stab wounds, and 
chop ping in ju ries. This type of trauma leaves an 
assortment of marks, such as nicks, punctures or 
serrated grooves, which are observable by 
touch, plain vision, and under the microscope. 
The anthropologist may make a silicone cast of 
cutmarks for later comparison to the cutting 


edge of a suspect weapon. Gunshot wounds, 
especially to thin or tabular bones, have char- 
acteristic beveled shapes. Bullets frequently 
leave traces of lead on the bone, which can be 
seen on an x-ray. Typical fracture patterns are 
found on bone burned during the perimortem 
interval. Fire damage may occur in conjunc- 
tion with other forms of trauma, so the anthro- 
pologist is prepared to find evidence that 
might be obscured by the charring and break- 
age caused by burning. 

Postmortem damage occurs after death, af- 
ter the bone has become brittle from decompo- 
sition and drying. Some damage may occur 
during recovery such as marks acquired during 
excavation from shovels, trowels or probes, 
damage from careless handling such as break- 
age, and marks from scalpels or scissors. Other 
forms of damage are from natural agents such 
as dog or other carnivore chewing, rodent 
gnaw marks, root etching, and flaking and 
cracking caused by exposure to sunlight. At- 
tempts to dispose of remains also will cause 
postmortem damage, such as cutmarks, chemi- 
cal bums, and burning from fire. Forensic an- 
thropologists are careful to minimize the 
occurrence of postmortem damage during and 
after recovery of re mains. Postmortem dam age 
is distinguishable from perimortem trauma by 
the lack of indicators of plastic behavior in the 
bone, a color difference between the outside 
bone and the newly exposed bone, and the pat- 
tern (e.g., only at joints) or type (e.g., carni- 
vore chewing) of the damage. 

Idiosyncratic Characters 

Individual characters can be the clearest in- 
dicators of identity in skeletal remains. The fo- 
rensic anthropologist carefully inspects the 
skeletal remains in order to document any fea- 
tures that might have been noted by family 
members or placed in a medical or dental re- 
cord. The anthropologist documents healed 
fractures, atypical anatomy, signs of diseases 
that affect bones such as anemia, syphilis, can- 
cer, or medical appliances such as prostheses, 
wires and sutures, and dental restorations and 

The anthropologist can make positive iden- 
tifications by comparing antemortem radio- 

graphs to postmortem radiographs of the same 
area, and matching the anatomy and/or medical 
appliances found in each. Another technique, 
called video superimposition, allows the anthro- 
pologist to match photographs taken in life to 
the features of the skull. In cases when the re- 
mains represent a complete unknown, the an- 
thropologist may build or commission a facial 
reconstruction of the deceased based on the as- 
sessment of sex, ancestry, age, and published 
data on skin thickness. The reconstruction is ei- 
ther three-dimensional, using clay to represent 
the skin, or conceived of in two dimensions by a 
sketch artist. 

The recent advances in genetic analysis has 
made it possible to describe the most unique 
characters of the individual, his or her DNA se- 
quence. In non-living tissue, bone is the best 
preserver of DNA. Therefore, it is possible to 
take a small sam pie from the pre served bone of a 
deceased person and match the DNA to a sam- 
ple collected while the individual was living, or 
to match the sample to the nearest relatives. 
Only a small bone sample is needed, because a 
technique called PCR (polymerase chain reac- 
tion) allows the volume of DNA to be amplified 
until there is an abundant amount to sequence. 

The Report 

After all the analyses and descriptions are 
complete, the forensic anthropologist generates 
a report of his or her findings. This report will 
document in a succinct and clear form all the 
findings and conclusions regarding sex, ances- 
try, stature, traumaanaly sis, andindividualizing 
characteristics, made by the anthropologist. Any 
supporting documents such as radiographs, pho- 
tographs, slides, or videotapes will accompany 
the report. Depending on the nature of the in- 
vestigation this report will be submitted to a 
medical examiner, committee, orfamily organi- 
zation, or, in the case of an interdisciplinary pro- 
ject, be combined with the reports of the other 
project members. 


It is clear from the above description that 
"dead men do tell tales." Physical anthropolo- 
gists and forensic anthropologists tell the stories 
of the individual skeletons and skeletal popula- 
tions they study. This work identifies individu- 


als, and provides evidence for reconstructing 
communities and historical events. The focus 
of locating the remains of Tulsa Race Riot vic- 
tims is not to prove that it happened or to count 
the dead. When the individuals who lived and 

died in Greenwood in 1921 are recovered they 
will be treated with respect and their stories will 
be documented. Their voices, therefore, will be 
added to the historical record, finally giving 
them and their families closure with dignity. 


T.D. Stewart and Charles C. Thomas, "Essentials of Forensic Anthropology", 1979. 

'William R. Maples and Michael Browning, Dead Men Do Tell Tales, (Doubleday, 1994). 

'Todd, T.W., "Age Changes in the Pubic Bone: I. The Male White Pubis." American Journal of Physical 
Anthropology 3:2^5-334, 1920. Katz, D. and Suchey, J.M., "Race Differences in PubicSymphyseal Aging Patterns in 
the Male." American Journal of Physical Anthropology 80: 167-172, 1989. 

""iscan M.Y., Loth, S R. and Wright, R.K., "Metamorphosis at the Sternal Rib: A New Method to Estimate Age at 
Death in Males." American Journal of Physical Anthropology 65: 147-156, 1984. 

E. Giles and O. Elliot, "Sex determination by Discriminant Function Analysis of Crania," American Journal of 
Physical Anthropology 21:53-6^, 1963. 

'E. Giles andO. Elliot, "Race IdentificationFromCranialMeasurements,"JoMr«a/o/i<bre«5/c5c;e«ce5 7: 147-157. 
233 "Stature Estimation," 1962. 

trotter M. And Gleser G. 1952. Estimation of stature from long bones of American whites and Negroes. Amreican 
Journal of Physical Anthropology 10:463-514. 

Steele, D. Gentry, "Estimation of Stature from Fragments of Long Limb Bones," T.D. Stewart ed., "Personal 
Identification in Mass Disasters," National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., 
1970. pp. 85-97. 

Table 1. Short list of cranial characters and their expression in specific populations 




Skull length 



Long or 









Incisor shape 





(Coitr tesy Department of Spe cial Col lee tions, McFarlin Li brary, Uni versity ofTulsa). 

Riot Property Loss 

By Larry O'Dell 

An account of the property damage in North 
Tulsa during the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot can 
impart solid information. But researching the 
history of an African American controlled 
community seventy-nine years later, however, 
entails many problems associated with the ra- 
cial climate of the era. Through out the re search 
process not just the destruction of property, but 
also the loss of life had to be considered. When 
tallying up the monetary value of a community 
the results are insignificant when compared to 
the loss of a father, mother, brother, sister, son, 
or daughter. Yet, the physical character of the 
community and the property lost are an impor- 
tant aspect to any undertaking to understand 
this awful occurrence in Oklahoma history. 

Most of Tulsa's African American popula- 
tion re sided in the north east sec tion of the city. 
The first step in the research involved building 
a database of North Tulsa for the years of 

1920-1923. This would not only show the resi- 
dence of many African Americans affected by 
the riot, but also would give a clue to the wealth 
and prosperity of black Tulsa by revealing the 
addresses of businesses, professionals, and civic 
locations. Also, listing the name and location of 
a resident in 1920, and then tracking that name 
through 1923, should shed insight on whether 
there was a huge population loss in North Tulsa 
and help to pinpoint citizens that may not have 
survived the riot. 

The database utilized city directories, 1920 
census information, and the appendix to Mary 
E. Jones Parrish's account. Events of the Tulsa 
Disaster, which has a partial list of losses and 
their addresses. With its document's comple- 
tion, this database became a tool itself when 
compared to maps, interviews, Sanborn Insur- 
ance maps (created for insurance purposes and 
including descriptions of building and the mate- 


THE TULSA RtOT HORROR: This View Covere the Devastated Area From Archer Iforlli, to Stand 

(Courtesy Greenwood Cultural Center). 

rials they are made of), plat maps, warranty 
deed records, building permits. Red Cross re- 
ports, and so on. The database highlights prob- 
lems in the records for North Tulsa. Many of 
the African Americans in the census records 
do not show up in the 1920 city directory and 
vice versa. Poor research or lack of interest by 
the city directory would probably account for 
the discrepancies. The census takers would 
likely mirror this attitude. 

The United States census of 1920 reported 
10,903 African Americans living in Tulsa 
County. The census also claimed that 8,878 
blacks lived in the city of Tulsa, or that 10.8 
percent of Tulsans were African Americans.' 
The influx of African Americans continued, 
totaling almost 11,000 by 1921 and, according 
to the database founded on city directory esti- 
mates, included 191 businesses. There were 
fifteen doctors, one chiropractor, and two den- 
tists practicing in the district as well as three 
lawyers. This section of town contained a li- 
brary, two schools, a hospital, and an office of 
the Tulsa public health services. Two newspa- 
pers, the Tulsa Star and the Oklahoma Sun, 
were published in North Tulsa. African Amer- 
ican fraternal lodges and churches dotted the 
neighborhoods and business districts in the 
northeastern quadrant of the city. 

The database listed 159 businesses in 1920; 
after the riot in the 1922 city directories, 120 
businesses are listed. The Red Cross reported 
that 1,256 houses burned, that 215 houses were 
looted and not burned, and the total number of 
building not burned but looted and robbed was 
314. According to 1920 census entries, a num- 
ber of the residences in North Tulsa contained 
more than just one family. Greenwood Avenue 
held the heart of the district, with two theaters 
and many of the prominent businesses located 
there. Distinguished business owners and lead- 
ers of the community resided on Detroit Ave- 
nue, the western boundary to the African 
American section; across the street were white 
houses and businesses. Another economically 
prosperous section of the African American dis- 
trict was the Lacy sector in the eastern part of 
the community' 

Three sources corroborate an approximate 
value for the destroyed property: the Tulsa Real 
Estate Exchange Commission; the claims filed 
against the city in the City Commission meet- 
ings; and the actual damage claimed in court 
cases against insurance companies and the city 
of Tulsa. The Tulsa Real Estate Exchange Com- 
mission reported 1.5 million dollars worth of 
property damage, with one-third of it being in 
the business district. This research by the com- 
mission was done shortly after the riot and may 


a.ii.d Pipe Hillj Elast FiTqiii Hartford and West to Boston. — Blafk Dispatch Publishing Co-, Ohlahomii Cilj 

be suspect because of their temporary involve- 
ment in the plan to relocate the black 
population and de velop the Green wood area for a 
train station.^ The Real Estate Commission esti- 
mated personal property loss at $750,000. Be- 
tween June 14, 1921, and June 6, 1922, Tulsa 
residents filed riot-related claims against the city 
for over $1.8 million dollars. The city commis- 
sion disallowed most of the claims. One excep- 
tion occurred when a white resident obtained 
compensation for guns taken from his shop. 
The sum of the actual damage filed in the 193 
retrieved court cases equaled $1,470,711.56, 

which is in close relation to the $1.5 and the $1.8 
million of the other estimates.^ 

Of course, not all residents took insurance 
companies or the city to court, but most of the 
prominent businessmen and women, as well as 
the influential residents did have detailed peti- 
tions drawn out against both entities. In 1937, 
Judge Bradford J. Williams summarily dis- 
missed most of the court cases. North Tulsans 
claimed a variety of possessions in these cases. 
For ex am pie. Dr. R. W. Mot ley claimed not only 
his surgical instruments and medicines, but 
Chippendale book cases, a set of the Harvard 

Destruction in the black 
business district incurred 
most of the financial loss of 
the riot (Courtesy of West- 
ern History Collections, 
University of Oklahoma Li- 


Ruins of a building completedmonthspriortotheriot(CourtesyOklahomaHistoricalSociety). 

Classics, a mahogany library table, a silk mo- 
hair library outfit, a Steinway piano, and 
Rodgers silverware, among other items. Other 
claims were for livestock, rental property, and 
other essential materials. A study of these 
claims reveals the diverse wealth and poverty 
in the community, one that could match or ex- 
ceed that of many other many communities in 
1921 Oklahoma. 

According to Mary Parrish's book, court 
case claims, warranty deed records, and court 
clerk records, many African Americans in 
Tulsa owned rental property. Black Tulsans 
who suffered significant financial loss attrib- 
uted to rental properties included R.T. 
Bridgewater, J.H. Goodwin, Sadie Partee, 
Loula Williams and G.W. Hutchins. Many 
other African Americans possessed rental 
property, including Carrie Kinlaw, Virgil 
Rowe, John Swinger, Emma Works, S.M. 
Jackson, J.B. Stradford, Osborne Monroe, 
C.W. Henry, Mrs. Warren and A.L. Stovall. 

Also, many white Tulsans conducted real 
estate busi ness in the Afri can Ameri can dis trict 
prior to the riot. One of the better known white 
businessmen, Cyrus S. Avery, sold multiple 

lots in the Greenwood addition to black resi- 
dents in the years before the riot. A powerful 
member of the chamber of commerce, Avery 
served as a member of the Tulsa Water Board 
for the Spavinaw water project, and he also di- 
rected the Executive Welfare Committee that 
collected $26,000 for the Red Cross after the 
riot.^ E.W. Sinclair also conducted real busi- 
ness in North Tulsa. Sinclair was the president 
of Exchange National Bank and vice president 
of Sinclair Pipeline. Other significant white 
property owners in the district were: S.R. 
Lewis, vice-chairman of the taxpayer's commit- 
tee; W.H. Botkin, real estate financier; Tate 
Brady, former Democratic national committee- 
man and Oklahoma commander of the Sons of 
Confederate Veterans; T.E. Smiley, realtor; R.J. 
Dixon, realtor; George Stephens, realtor; H.E. 
Bagby, department manager of Exchange Na- 
tional Bank; Claude Sample, realtor; H.C. 
Stahl, information not found, but probably re- 
lated to W.E. Stahl involved in insurance, loans 
and bonds; Earl Sneed, lawyer; Win Redfeam, 
proprietor of the Dixie Theater; The Brockman 
brothers, realtors; and J.A. Oliphant, lawyer.' 





^ H 

n't .'■ i^'- ,- ^ ^ \, 


Portion of the Sanborn map dated 1920 with occupants drawn from the 1921 CityDirectory overlapped. 

It is problematic to determine property own- 
er ship in 1 92 1 North Tulsa for a va ri ety of rea- 
sons. The city renamed some of the streets in 
the area aftertheriot,creatingcomplicationsin 
the transference of an address from pre-riot to 
modern.'" Also, urban renewal and the accu- 
mulation of North Greenwood property for the 
highway and Rogers State University (Now 
OSU-Tulsa), create a gap in the records of 
property and cause old addresses, legal and 
otherwise, do not display on the county clerk 
computer system. City directorieslistresidents 
by their city ad dress, and even com par ing these 
to city plats can cause confusion on the legal 
address; but, luckily, all warranty deeds and 
other tracking devices are made with the legal 
address, making this a time-consuming but not 
an insurmountable task. A great problem 
arises when the legal address is all that is 
known; matching it to a street address tends to 
be complex unless the owner and not the renter 
is listed in the city directory. Oftentimes two 

buildings would be on one lot making the as- 
signment of street addresses almost entirely 
guesswork. Another problem consists of prop- 
erty transfer that is conducted by means other 
than money convoluting the value of the prop- 
erty. In many instances a transfer of deed would 
be listed as costing the buyer only one dollar. 

When looking for a certain individual or fam- 
ily, the best place to begin is the compiled data- 
base of city directories. After finding the 
address, if it can be located on the existing 
Sanborn maps, the size and make up of the struc- 
ture and its location on the property can be de- 
termined. The Sanborn map will also pinpoint 
the legal address. If it is located outside the 
Sanborn map area it needs to be ex am ined on the 
plat maps. Using the legal address, ownership 
can be determined by going to the Tulsa County 
Clerk's office. In theory, finding the last trans- 
action in the tract indexes before 1921 should 
in di cate the owner at the time of the riot. Be sides 
problems listed in the paragraph above, how- 


BlackTubanssalvagedwhattheycouldfrom their burned homes and businesses and began tore build on their own, usingwhateverma te ri- 
als they could find. It took some congregations years to rebuild their burned churches (Courtesy Oklahoma HistoricalSociety). 

ever, many times the lot will be split and sold 
to two par ties, mak ing it dif fi cult to de cide who 
owned what part of the lot. 

Examining the properties of Percy and 
Mabel Little pro vides an ex am pie of how us ing 
the database, warranty deed records, plats, and 
county court house records can provide needed 
data. The Littles resided at 617 East Independ- 
ence, which is not on a portion of the Sanborn 
Insurance maps. Percy had interest in the Bell 
and Little Restaurant on land owned by J. 
Hodnett or W. Appleby at 525 Cameron. The 
Littles had just bought some land off Green- 
wood Avenue at the legal address lots 13-14, 
block 8 Greenwood Addition, for $600 from 
C.S. Avery on April 12, 1921. The bank re- 
leased them from their mortgage on June 8, 
1923. The 1923 directory lists P.L. Little at 
1301 Greenwood. This residence should be on 
the land they purchased. This property before 

the riot could have been used as a beauty parlor; 
after the riot Mrs. Little put an ad for her beauty 
parlor in Mary Parrish's book. Events of the 
Tulsa Disaster, that claimed the address as 1301 

Another example is Osborne Monroe. Ac- 
cording to the 1921 Tulsa City Directory, Mon- 
roe and his wife, Olive, lived at 410 Easton, lot 
3, block 17 North Tulsa, and worked as a porter 
at 117 South Main Avenue. Mary Parrish listed 
the loss of their residence as $1,000. According 
to the Sanborn Insurance maps their house be- 
fore the riot was a one- story frame house with a 
porch. In August 1920, Monroe received a 
building permit to build a $2,000 one-story 
frame structure on lot 1 block 15 North Tulsa 
Addition. In a petition filed against the Me- 
chanics and Traders Insurance Company of 
New Orleans, Osborne Monroe claimed fire de- 
stroyed his property, consisting of two one-story 


shingle-roof, frame building with stone piers 
foundation and brick chimneys and flues, on 
June 1, 1921. Six months after the riot, Mr. 
Monroe requested building permits on Decem- 
ber 6, 1921, to build a frame building on lot 1, 
block 15 North Side Addition and on Decem- 
ber 12, 1921 to build three frame buildings on 
lot 1, block 15 North Tulsa Addition at $400 
each. This would be on the 500 block of Exeter 
or North Elgin Place. '^ 

By early July 1921, the city of Tulsa began 
granting building permits to African American 
residents of North Tulsa. O.W. Gurley re- 
ceived a permit on July 2 for a one- story brick 
building that was to cost him $6,000. The earli- 
est to rebuild were gen er ally the "Deep Green- 
wood" business owners. For example, Gurley, 
Goodwin, Woods, Young, Bridgewater, and 
Williams were among the first to gain a build- 
ing permit. This happened amidst the efforts 
of white Tulsa to industrialize this sector with 
various codes to prevent black rebuilding.' "* 
The city manager or the fire marshal likely is- 
sued more permits to individual families as the 
winter of 1921 approached.'^ 

Although much of the research on owner- 
ship of all property in North Tulsa may not be 
de fin i tive, the char ac ter of the Green wood area 
can be deciphered before and after the riot. A 
thriving area of the town of Tulsa where the 
majority of the business district was owned 
and managed by the African American resi- 
dents. Green wood also con tained a di verse res- 
idential area. But, there were extensive 

business dealings, especially in real estate, by 
whites and oftentimes, by major leaders of the 
white busi ness or civic com mu nity con ducted in 
North Tulsa. The majority of the wealth oc- 
curred in the "Deep Greenwood" business sec- 
tion and in the residential areas around Detroit 
Avenue and what was known as the Lacy Sector 
northeast of the busi ness dis trict. Using the three 
different sources explained above (Records of 
The Tulsa Real Estate Exchange Commission, 
claims addressed at the Tulsa City Commission 
meetings, and the various court cases) each with 
its own particular faults, an estimate of just un- 
der $2 million of property damage in 1921 dol- 
lars can be made. When using a consumer price 
index inflation calculator, a tool provided by the 
website at NASA, a 1921 amount of $1.8 mil- 
lion would equal an amount of $16,752,600 in 

The tragedy and triumph of North Tulsa tran- 
scends numbers and amounts and who owned 
what portion of what lot. The African American 
community not only thrived in an era of harsh 
"Jim Crow" and oppression, but when the big- 
otry of the majority destroyed their healthy 
community, the residents worked together and 
rebuilt. Not only did they rebuild, they again 
successfully ran their businesses, schooled their 
children, and worshiped at their magnificent 
churches in the shadow of a growing Ku Klux 
Klan in Oklahoma and continuing legal racial 
separatism for more than forty years. In fact, one 
of the largest Ku Klux Klan buildings, not only 
in the state, but the country stood within a short 
walking distance of their community." 


Tulsa Klans New $200,000 Klavern ^Will 
Accommodate 3,000 Klansmen 

H['.Ri'. is Lhe nitT* Jioo.ooc Kl-uicm 
of TylsH Klan hturtlbcr i, ReuJm 
qf Oktahoma. 

The buildinj^ w^s Rnanced by mem- 
bers of Tuba Kldfi w-'ho p«refia3*d 
stock in the fcojiLdinf; assocjatkm ai $*■? 

a shdrt. The neifc' Kl^vtrn wLLl seat 

T,r.\x^ J\lil^l^^lU■n and jS. loCBied near the 
tfntcr of the Ttil-sa iMisifiess Jlitria. 
i"hv iCwccurHf Ls ai bricK and sted 
finished \n stucfii 

tifll?eFi t>r tht: Tulro \i.\stn have tieert 
nfirivcd to the new hLiikJina nhith iiu^ 
r-L'udy Jf>r cxrcLipetriL'y in \ffjy 

(Courtesy OklahomaHis tori calSo ci ety) . 


Bureau of the Census, 1920. 

Scott Ellsworth, Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State 
UniversityPress.l982).rM/5aa/yL)/>ecto«e5forl920-1923(Tulsa:Polk-HoffhineDirectory Company, 1920-1923). 
hbid, p. 72. 

Records of Commission Proceedings, City of Tulsa, September 2, 1921. J.W. Megee's pawnshop received 
$3,994.57 for guns and ammunition taken from the store during the riot. 

' Court cases vs. theCity of Tulsaand var i ous in sur ance companies. AI though thepu ni tive dam ages were claimed in 
many of these cases, for this purpose only actual damage was tallied. 
^Dismissal records from court cases filed. 

^Motley vs. Mechanics and Traders Insurance Company, Case No. 23404 Tulsa Country District Court (1937) 
* Avery, Ruth Sigler, "Cyrus Stevens Avery," Chronicles of Oklahoma, 45 (Spring 1967), pp 84-91. 
Tulsa City Directory , 1921 (Tulsa: Polk-Hoffhine Directory Company, 1921) 

Comparing the 1920 to the 1922 Tulsa City Directories. 

Tulsa City Directories, Tulsa County Court cases, etc. 

^^^ Tulsa City Directories, Court Cases, Deed Records, etc. 

"Building permits garnished from The Tulsa Daily Legal News, 1921-1922. 

'''Ellsworth, Death in a Promised Land, pp. 84-89. 

^^Ibid., p. 90. 

<http://www/j>. The CPl in fla tion cal cu la tor is for adjust ing costs from one year to 
another using the Con sumer Price In dex in fla tion in dex. The cal cu la tor is based on the average inflation index during 
the cal en dar year. The CPl rep re sents changes in prices of all goods and ser vices pur chased for consumption by urban 
household. User fees and sales and excise taxes paid by the con sumer are also in eluded. In come taxes and investment 
items (like stocks, bonds and life insurance) are not included. 

Carter Blue Clark, "A His tory of the Ku Klux Klan in Oklahoma" (Ph.D, diss., Uni ver sity of Oklahoma, 1976), p. 7 1 . 


The William's Dreamland Theater 
before the riot, destruction after the 
riot, rebuilding process, and opened 
after the riot (AH Photos Courtesy 
Greenwood Cultural Center). 


OnJune 7, 1921, the Tulsa City Com mission passed a fire ordinance whose real pur pose was 
to prevent black Tulsansfrom rebuilding the Greenwood commercial district whre it had 
pre vi ously stood. Afri canAmeri can attorneyB. C. Franklin, shown at right, helped the legal 
effort thatwassuccessfulinovertuming the ordinance (CourtesyTulsaHis tori calSociety). 

Assessing State and City Culpability: 
The Riot and the Law 

By Alfred L. Brophy 

The Tulsa riot represented the breakdown of 
the rule of law.' As Bishop Mouzon told the 
congregation of the city's Boston Avenue 
Methodist Church just after the riot, "Civiliza- 
tion broke down in Tulsa." I do not attempt to 
place the blame, the mob spirit broke and hell 
was let loose. Then things happened that were 
on a footing with what the Germans did in Bel- 
gium, what the Turks did in Armenia, what the 
Bolshevists did in Russia.' That breakdown of 
law is central to understanding the riot, the re- 
sponse afterwards, and the decision over what, 
if anything, should be done now. 

This essay assesses the culpability of the 
city and the state of Oklahoma during the riot, 
questions that are of continuing importance to- 
day. This essay begins by reviewing the chro- 
nology of the riot, paying particular attention 
to the actions of governmental officials. It 

draws largely upon testimony in the Oklahoma 
Supreme Court's 1926 opinion in Red/earn v. 
American Central Insurance Company to por- 
tray the events of the riot. Then it explores the 
attempts of Greenwood residents and other 
Tulsans who owned property in Greenwood to 
obtain relief from insurance companies and the 
city after the riot. 

Investigating Tulsa's Culpability in the Riot 

This section summarizes the evidence of the 
city's culpability in the riot. It emphasizes that 
Tulsa failed to take action to protect against the 
riot. More important, city officials deputized 
men right after the riot broke out. Some of those 
deputies — probably in conjunction with some 
uniformed police — officers were responsible 
for some of the burning of Greenwood. After 
the riot, the city took fur ther ac tion to pre vent re- 
building by passing a zoning ordinance that re- 


Green woodBusi nessDis trictdev as tatedby the race riot (Western his tory Col lee tion, Uni versity of Oklahoma Libraries) . 

quired the use of fireproof material in 

"The Riot" 

Questions of Interpretation and Sources 

In reconstructing the historical record of the 
1921 Tulsa Race Riot, there are difficulties in 
interpretation. Questions ranging from general 
issues such as the motive of Tulsa rioters and 
was a riot inevitable given the context of vio- 
lence and racial tension in 1920s Tulsa to spe- 
cific issues such as whether Dick Rowland 
would have been lynched had some black 
Tulsans not appeared at the courthouse, the na- 
ture of instructions the police gave to their dep- 
uties, and how many people died can be 
answered with varying degrees of certainty.^ 
The record establishes with about as much cer- 
tainty as on any issue related to the riot that 
"special" deputy police officers were deeply 
involved in the burning of Greenwood. Con- 
temporaneous reports establish the shameful 
record of the hastily deputized police. 

Looking for Evidence: The Official 

Important details of the riot are recorded in 
several contemporary accounts. The 1926 "* 
opinion of the Oklahoma Supreme Court in 
Red/earn v. American Central Insurance Com- 
pany, the least biased of the contemporaneous 
"official" reports of the riot, demonstrates the 
close connection between Tulsa's special police 
and the riot. It culminated a two year suit by 
William Redfearn, a white man who owned two 
buildings in Greenwood: the Dixie Theatre and 
the Red Wing Hotel. Redfearn lost both build- 
ings, both were insured for a total of $19,000. 
The American Central Insurance Company re- 
fused payment on either building, citing a riot 
exclusion clause in the policies. Redfearn sued 
on the policy and the case was tried in April, 
1924. The insurance company claimed that the 
property was destroyed by riot and the judge di- 
rected a verdict for the defendant at the conclu- 
sion of the trial. During the trial and subsequent 
appeal, Redfearn and the insurance company 
advanced competing stories about the riot. Their 
briefs present one of the most complete stories 
of the riot now available.'' They also capture the 
uncertainty of facts and outcome that is central 
to a true understanding of history. For we have 


Cu ri OS ity reigned as whites toured the de stroyedGreen wood district after the riot (Courtesy WestemHis- 
tory Collection, UniversityOfOklahomaLibraries). 

the written, neatly stylized version of "ancient 
myth" and the other unwritten, chaotic, full of 
contradictions, changes of pace, and surprises 
as life itself/ As we try to recoverthe unwritten 
history, Redfearn's hundreds of pages of testi- 
mony are indispensable. It may no longer be 
possible to think of the events put in motion by 
the Tulsa Tribune 's story on Rowland having 
any other outcome. However, it is necessary to 
understand the contingencies, to put ourselves 
back in the events as they were occurring, and 
to understand how forces came together in the 
riot. We now know the broad contours of the 
riot, but the testimony fills in gaps in specific 
areas and recovers the chaotic, fearful envi- 
ronment in which black and white Tulsans 
struggled to prevent violence, even as strong 
forces, like the ideas of equality and enforce- 
ment of the law against mob violence clashed 
with white views of the place that blacks 
should occupy. The following account is 
drawn from those briefs and is supplemented 
with contemporary newspaper stories. 

Evolution of the Riot 

As best as we can now determine, a crowd of 
whites began gathering at the Tulsa County 
courthouse in the early evening on Tuesday, 
May 31. They were drawn there at least in part 
by a newspaper story implying that nine- 

teen-year-old Dick Rowland had assaulted sev- 
enteen-year-old Sarah Page, a white elevator 
operator.* Sometime around 4:00 p.m. to 5:00 
p.m. and certainly by 6:30 p.m., rumors that 
Dick Rowland would be lynched that evening 
circulated in the Greenwood community. 
Greenwood residents were becoming more anx- 
ious as the evening wore on. William Gurley, 
owner of the Gurley Hotel in Greenwood and 
one of the wealthiest blacks in Tulsa, went with 
Mr. Webb to the courthouse to investigate the 
rumored lynching. The sheriff told him "there 
would be no lynching; if the witness could keep 
his folks away from the courthouse there would- 
n't be any trouble." Gurley then went back to re- 
port his conversation with the sheriff to the 
crowd gathered outside his hotel. The crowd 
was skeptical. "You are a damn liar," said one 
person. "They had taken a white man out of jail a 
few weeks before that, and that they were going 
to take this Negro out." At that point the speaker 
"pointed a Winchester at [Gurley], and was 
stopped by a Negro lawyer named Spears." 

At approximately 9:00 p.m., the situation was 
becoming more heated. William Redfearn, 
owner of a theater testified: 

that he closed his business about 9:00 
p.m. or 9:30 p.m. on the evening of May 31. 
He closed it because a colored girl came 


into the theatre and was going from one 
person to another, telling them something, 
and he looked out into the street and saw 
several men in the street talking and 
bunched up. Upon inquiry as to what was 
wrong, someone said there was going to 
be a lynching and that was the reason they 
had come over there. 

Redfearn went to the courthouse, where 
someone asked him to go back to Greenwood, 
to try to dis suade the black res i dents from com- 
ing to town. Despite Redfearn' s efforts, he was 
unsuccessful. When he returned, "there was a 
bunch of men standing in front of the police 
station and across the street when he arrived at 
that place; that there was probably fifty or 
sixty men in front of the police station. The 
police chief attempted to persuade the blacks 
to disperse. Gurley told the court about the un- 
stable scene at the courthouse: 

That some white man was making a 
speech and advised the people to go home, 
stating that the Negroes were riding 
around with high powered revolvers and 
guns downtown; that the speech had some 
effect and the crowd started to disperse, 
but would soon come back; that while this 
man was speaking the witness noticed 
"some colored men coming from Main 
street; that when the machine was up in 
front of the courthouse, the people there 
closed in around that bunch of men, and 
that when they got mixed up a pistol went 
off, but the crowd soon dispersed, and he 
didn't know whether anyone was killed or 



Shooting started after the confrontation.'^ 
After the shooting, "hell . . . broke loose," as 
O.W. Our ley told Wil liam Redfearn when they 
met that night. '^ The record is not as clear on 
what happened immediately after the initial 
shooting. White witnesses were likely reluc- 
tant to testify and few blacks witnessed the 
next events around the courthouse. 

The mob broke into Bardon's pawnshop, 
looking for guns. Henry Sowders, a white man 
who operated the movie projector in the Wil- 
liams' Dreamland Theater in Greenwood, 

closed up shop around 10:30 p.m. His car had 
been com man deered by blacks and he was taken 
back towards the courthouse by a black man. As 
he passed the courthouse, he was told he "had 
better get on home to his family, if he had one, or 
else get some arms, for the thing was coming 
on." The police department's reaction to the 
events "coming on" was to commission hun- 

I 7 

dreds of white men. 

One of the best descriptions of the unfolding 
of events came from Columbus F. Gabe, a black 
man who lived in Greenwood for about 15 
years. His testimony at the Redfearn trial pre- 
serves the unfolding of the entire riot and thus 
allows us to reconstruct a picture through a sin- 
gle character. He first heard about the lynching 
around 6:30 p.m. He went home to pick up a 
gun, and then he went to the courthouse. When 
Gabe arrived at the courthouse, there were per- 
haps about 800 people there and tensions were 
already running high. Some people were yelling 
to "Get these niggers away from here." Mean- 
while, Gabe was told by a carload of blacks to 
arm himself. Whites were going to the armory to 
arm themselves and several carloads of armed 
blacks headed to wards the court house. Gabe left 
the courthouse area, but was still within earshot 
when the gun that began the riot went off. The 
next morning, he was ousted from his house by 
two men. One said to the other, "Kill him," and 
the other said, "No, he hasn't a gun, don't hurt 
him," and said, "Get on up with the crowd." He 
was then taken to the Convention Center. 

Barney Cleaver, a black member of the Tulsa 
Sheriffs Department, presented similar testi- 
mony about the way the forces gathered mo- 
mentum around the riot. He was policing 
Greenwood Avenue when he heard rumors of a 
lynching, so he drove up to the courthouse. Ac- 
cording to Cleaver, as the blacks were dispers- 
ing, a gun fired and then people began to run 
away. He stayed at the courthouse until about 
four o'clock the next morning and then he 
headed back to Greenwood, where he met about 
15 or 20 black men. He told the group that no 
one had been lynched and that they should go 
home. Someone then "made the remark that he 
was a white man lover."" 


On the mom ingofJune 1, mostblackTubanswhowere taken into custodywere brought to Con ventionHall, on Brady Street Later, de ten tion 

The next morn ing, a whis tie blew about 5:00 
a.m., and the invasion of Greenwood began. 
Gurley left his hotel around 8:30 a.m., because 
he became worried that it might bum and as 
white rioters appeared. Gurley stated, 

"Those were white men, they was wear- 
ing khaki suits, all of them, and they saw, 
me standing there and they said, 'You 
better get out of that hotel because we are 
going to bum all of this Goddamn stuff, 
better get all your guests out.' And they rat- 
tled on the lower doors of the pool hall and 
the res tau rant, and the peo pie be gan on the 
lower floor to get out, and I told the people 
in the hotel, I said T guess you better get 
out.' There was a deal of shooting going 
on from the elevator or the mill, somebody 
was over there with a machine gun and 
shooting down Greenwood Avenue, and 
the people got on the stairway going down 
to the street and they stampeded. ^ 

Gurley hid under a school building for a 
while. When he came out, he was detained and 
taken to the Convention Center. 

The Oklahoma a Supreme Court's Version 
of the Riot 

The Oklahoma Supreme Court's opinion in 
Red/earn, written by Commissioner Ray, ac- 
knowledges the city's involvement in the riot. 
The court wrote that "the evidence shows that a 
great number of men engaged in arresting the 
Negroes found in the Negro section wore police 
badges or badges indicating they were deputy 
sheriffs." It questions, however, whether the 
"men wearing police badges" were officers or 
were "acting in an official capacity.'' That 
statement indicates Commissioner Ray's 
pro-police bias. The case was appealed from a 
directed verdictagainstRedfearn, that meant the 
trial judge concluded there was no evidence 
from which a jury could conclude that the men 
wear ing badges were officers. Yet, cases involv- 
ing resisting arrest routinely conclude that a po- 
lice badge indicates one's authority to arrest. 
Simply put, if one of the blacks involved in the 
riot resisted one of the men wearing a badge, he 
could have been prosecuted for resisting arrest. 
Commissioner Ray could have insulated the in- 
surance company from liability with the state- 
ment that, even assuming the men wearing 
badges were police officers, they were acting 
beyond their authority and were thus acting as 


AfricanAmericans were de- 
tained by many different 
white 's, not only the police 
or National Guard (Cour- 
tesy Department of Special 
Collections, McFarlin Li- 
brary, University ofTidsa). 

rioters. Ray's inconsistency in applying prece- 
dent suggests that his motive was not a solely 
impartial decision of the case before him, but 
the insulation of the police department and 
Tulsa from liability. 

There is substantial testimony in Redfeam's 
brief, moreover, demonstrating a close con- 
nection between the "police deputies" and the 
Police Chief Fire Marshal, Wesley Bush, 
stated that when he arrived at the police station 
sometime after 10:00 p.m., 

the station was practically full of peo - 
pie, and that the people were armed; that 
there would be bunches of men go out of 
the police station, but he didn't know 
where they would go; that they would 
leave the police station and go out, and 
come back - they were out and in, all of 
them, that they were in squads, several of 
them together.^^ 

The instructions those special deputies re- 
ceived are unclear. According to pleadings in a 
suit filed by a black riot victim, one deputy offi- 
cer gave instructions to "Go out and kill you a 

d m nigger."" Another allegation was that the 

mayor gave instructions to "bum every Negro 
house up to Haskell Street."" Other contempo- 
rary reports contain similar allegations." 

Whether they received instructions to "ru[n] 
the Negro out of Tulsa," as one of the photos of 
the riot was captioned or not, many of the rioters 

wore badges and started fires.' Green Smith, a 
black carpenter who lived in Muskogee and was in 
Tulsa for a few days working on the Dreamland 
Theater installing a cooling system, testified to the 
role of the special police during the riot. He awoke 
before 5:00 a.m. and went to work at the theater, 
but soon heard shooting. The shooting was heavy 
from 5:00 a.m. until around 8:00 a.m., and then it 
let up. But by 9:30, "there was a gang came down 
the street knocking on the doors and setting the 
buildings afire." Smith thought they were police. 
In response to a cross-examination question, how 
he could know they were police. Smith testified, 
"They came and taken fifty dollars of money, and 
I was looking right at them.'" He saw a gang of 
about ten to twelve wearing "Special Police" and 
"Deputy Sheriff badges. "Some had ribbons and 
some of them had regular stars."" Smith was ar- 
rested and taken to the Convention Center. 

The insurance company's brief presents 
a different story, one that blames Tulsa 
blacks. But perhaps most telling is the insur- 
ance company's argument at the end of the 
brief, in which the insurance company was 
arguing that there was a riot and, therefore, 
they did not have to pay for the losses. 
There were from a few hundred to several 
thousand people engaged in the Tulsa race 
riot. They met at different places including 
the courthouse. Greenwood Avenue, the 
hardware store, and the pawn shop. They 
fully armed themselves with guns and am- 


Statement: L. J. Martin, Chairman 

City of Tulsa's Executive Welfare Committee 

"Tulsa can only redeem herself from the country-wide shame and humiliation in which she is 
today plunged by complete restitution of the destroyed black belt. The rest of the United States 
must know that the real citizenship of Tulsa weeps at this unspeakable crime and will make good 
the damage, so far as can be done, to the lastpermy. " 

Ellsworth, Scott - Death In A Promised Land, p. 83 

(Photo Courtesy Oklahoma Historical 

Leading business men are in hourly conference and a movement is now being organized, 
not only for the succor, protection and alleviation of the sufferings of the negroes, hut to 
formulate apian of reparation in order that homes may be re-built and families as nearly 
as possible rehabilitated. The sympathy of the citizenship of Tulsa in a great way has 
gone out to the unfortunate law abiding negroes who have become the victims of the 
action, and bad advice of some of the lawless leaders, and as quickly as possible 
rehabilitation will take place and reparation made. . . 

Tulsa feels intensely humiliated and standing in the shadow of this great tragedy 
pledges its every effort to wiping out the stain at the earliest possible moment and 
punishing those guilty of bringing the disgrace and disaster to this city. 

Minutes, Tulsa Chamlrer of Commerce Board Meeting June 15, 1921 

munition, with a common intent to exe- 
cute a common plan, to-wit: the 
extermination of the colored people of 
Tulsa and the destruction of the colored set- 
tlement, homes, and buildings, by fire. 

Apportioning Blame to the City 

Whatever interpretation one places on the 
origin of the riot, there seems to be a consensus 
emerging from historians that the riot was 
much worse because of the actions of Tulsa of- 
ficials. Major General Charles F. Barrett, who 
was in charge of the Oklahoma National Guard 
during the riot and thus was a participant in the 
closing moments of the riot, wrote in his book 
Oklahoma After Fifty Years about the role of 
the deputies in fueling the riot. The police 
chief had deputized perhaps 500 men to help 
put down the riot. 

He did not realize that in a race war a 
large part if not a majority, of those special 
deputies were imbued with the same spirit 
of destruction that animated the mob. 

They became as deputies the most danger- 
ous part of the mob and after the arrival of 
the adjutant general and the declaration of 
martial law the first arrests ordered were 
those of special officers whohad hindered 
the fire men in their abortive efforts to put 
out the incendiary fires that many of these 
special officers were accused of setting.^" 

Several other white men testified about the 
role of the police. Accordingtotestimonyfound 
in the Oklahoma Attorney General's papers, a 
bricklayer. Laurel Buck, testified that after the 
riot broke out he went to the police station and 
asked for a commission. He did not receive it, 
but he was instructed to "get a gun, and get busy 
and try to get a nigger."^' Buck went to the 
Tulsa Hardware Store, where he received a gun. 
Like many other men. Buck was issued a 
weapon by Tulsa officials. Buck then stood 
guard at Boston and Third. In the words of the 
lawyer who questioned Buck, he "went to get a 
Negro." By that he meant that, if be had seen a 


black man shooting at white people he would 
have "tried to kill him." He was "out to protect 
the lives of white people . . . under specific or- 
ders from a policeman at the police depart- 
ment." And the only reason Buck did not kill 
any blacks was that he did not see any. The 
next morning he went near Greenwood, where 
he saw two uniformedpoliceofficersbreaking 
into buildings and setting them afire. 

Another witness, Judge Oliphant, linked the 
police and their special deputies to burning, 
even murder. The seventy-three-year old 
Oliphant went to Greenwood to check on his 
rental property there. He called the police de- 
partment around eight o'clock and asked for 
help protecting his homes." No assistance 
came, but shortly after his call, a gang of men 

— four uniformed officers and some deputies 

— came along. Instead of protecting property, 
"they were the chief fellows setting fires." 
They shot Dr. A.C. Jackson and then began 
burning houses.'^ 

Oliphant tried to dissuade them from burn- 
ing. "This last crowd made an agreement that 
they would not burn that property [across the 
street from my property] because I thought it 
would bum mine too and I promised that if 
they wouldn't, ... I would see that no Negroes 
ever lived in that row of houses any more."" 

The record from the testimony of credible 
whites before the attorney general and in the 
Red/earn case, in conjunction with General 
Barrett's book, demonstrate the involvement of 
the city in the destruction. 

State Culpability: The Divided (and 
Ambiguous) Roles of the National Guard 

During the opening moments of the crisis, the 
local units of the National Guard behaved admi- 
rably. They defended the armory against a 
crowd of gun-hungry whites, then offered their 
assistance to the police in putting down the riot. 
However, it is precisely that offer of assistance 
and their subsequent cooperation with the Tulsa 
police that calls their behavior into question. 

There also is substantial evidence that the 
out-of-town units of the National Guard — those 
who had traveled throughout the night from 
Oklahoma City — helped restore order when 
they arrived around 9:00 am on the moming of 
June 1 . They deserve some of the credit for limit- 
ing the loss of life caused by the white mobs that 
invaded Greenwood. Nevertheless, the local 
units of the National Guard may have acted un- 
constitutionally in restoring order. The guards- 
men arrested every black resident of Tulsa they 
could find and then took them into "protective 
custody." That left Greenwood property unpro- 

i^ATf^'H^*^ ^i^^ir*'* ^rm'tr^wm /ynt-*^'o* 

(Courtesy Department of SpecialCollections.McFarlinLibrary, University OfTidsa). 


tected -and vulnerable to the "special deputies" 
who came along and burned it. 

The key questions then become, what was 
the role of the local units of the National Guard 
that were present in Tulsa even before the riot 
broke out and were there throughout the riot? 
What was the role of the out-of-town units of 
the National Guard that arrived from 
Oklahoma City around 9:00 a.m. the morning 
of June 1? 

The local units knew that there was trouble 
brewing in the early evening of May 31. They 
closely guarded their supply of ammunition 
and guns and waited orders from the governor 
about what to do next. Sometime after 10:00 
p.m., following the violent confrontation at the 
courthouse, the local units, under the direction 
of Colonel Rooney, went into action and trav- 
eled the few blocks from the armory to the po- 
lice station, where they established 
headquarters. The soldiers helped to stop loot- 
ing near the courthouse. ^^ They then began 
working in conjunction with local authorities 
to try to quell the riot. There was consideration 
given to protecting Greenwood by keeping 
white mobs out. But such a plan was aban- 
doned in favor of another, which had disas- 
trous consequences for Greenwood. The local 
units of the Guard systematically disarmed and 
arrested Greenwood residents, leaving their 
property defenseless. When the "special depu- 
ties" came along in the wake of the Guard, it 
was a simple tasktoburn Green woodproperty. 

After- Action Reports: The Testimony of 
the Local Units of the National Guard 

The National Guard's after-action reports 
describe their role in the riot using their own 
words. Two reports in particular suggest that 
the local units of the Guard — while ostensi- 
bly operating to protect the lives and property 
of Greenwood residents — disarmed and ar- 
rested Greenwood residents (and not white ri- 
oters), leaving their property defenseless, 
allowing deputies, uniformed police officers, 
and mobs to burn it. 

According to the report filed by Captain 
FrankVan Voorhis, the police called around 
8:30 p.m. to ask for help in controlling the 
crowds at the courthouse. No guardsmen went 

to the court house un til they re ceived or ders from 
Lieutenant Colonel Rooney, the officer in 
charge of the Tulsa units of the National Guard. 
Van Voorhis arrived after the riot had broken 
out at 10:30 p.m., with two officers and sixteen 
men. They went to the police station, where 
they apparently began working in conjunction 
with the police. At 1: 15 a.m. they "produced" a 
machine gun and placed it on a truck, along with 
three experienced machine gunners and six 
other enlisted men. They then traveled around 
the city to spots where "there was firing" until 
3:00 a.m., when Colonel Rooney ordered them 
to Stand Pipe Hill. At that point, Rooney de - 
ployed the men along Detroit Avenue, from 
Stand Pipe Hill to Archer, where they worked 
"disarming and arresting Negroes and sending 
them to the Convention Hall by police cars and 
trucks." Van Voorhis' s report details the cap- 
ture of more than 200 "prisoners." Van 
Voorhis' s men were able to disarm and capture 
those Greenwood residents without much gun- 
fire. It appears that his men killed no one. 

Captain McCuen's men, however, did fire 
upon a number of Greenwood residents in the 
process of responding to what the local units of 
the Guard called a "Negro uprising." Sometime 
after 1 1 :00 p.m., McCuen brought 20 men to the 
po lice sta tion, where Col o nel Rooney had set up 
headquarters. They guarded the border between 
white Tulsa and Greenwood for several hours. 
Then they began moving towards Greenwood 
and established a line along Detroit, on the west 
side of Greenwood. They began pushing into 
Greenwood, using a truck with an old (and 
likely inoperable machine gun on it), probably 
around 3:00 a.m. McCuen's men, like Van 
Voorhis' s, were working in close conjunction 
with the Tulsa police. They arrested a "large 
number" of Greenwood residents and turned 
them over to the "police department automo- 
biles," that were close by "at all times." Those 
cars "were manned by ex-service men, and in 
many cases plain-clothes men of the police de- 
partment." The close connection between the 
local units of the National Guard and the pohce 
department is not surprising. Major Daley, for 
instance, was also a police officer."*" The Guard 
established its headquarters at the police station 


^^ The local units were instructed to follow the 
directions of the civilian authorities/' Once 
they went into operation, the local units took 
charge of a large number of volunteers, many 
of whom were American Legion members and 
veterans of the war." 

Some may argue that the Guard was taking 
Greenwood residents into protective custody. In- 
deed, the local units of the National Guard told 
the men they were disarming, and they were 
there to protect them."*"* Nevertheless, the af- 
ter-action reports suggest that the Guard's work 
in conjunction with local authorities was de- 
signed to put down the supposed "Negro upris- 
ing," not to protect the Greenwood residents."*^ 

McCuen's men did not seem to be working 
to protect blacks. In fact, after daylight he re- 
ceived an urgent request from the police de- 
partment to stop blacks from firing into white 
homes along Sunset Hill, located on the north- 
west side of Greenwood. "We advanced to the 
crest of Sun set Hill in a skir mish line and then a 
little further north to the military crest of the 
hill where our men were ordered to lie down 
because of the intense fire of the blacks who 
had formed a good skirmish line at the foot of 
the hill to the northeast among the outbuild- 
ings of the Negro settlement which stops at the 
foot of the hill." The guardsmen fired at will 
for nearly half an hour and then the Green- 
wood residents began falling back, "getting 
good cover among the frame buildings of the 
negro settlement." As the guardsmen ad- 
vanced, they continued to meet stiff opposi- 
tion from some "negroes who had barricaded 
themselves in houses." According to McCuen, 
the men who were barricaded "refused to stop 
firing and had to be killed." It is unclear how 
many they killed. Later, at the northeast corner 
of the settlement, " Ten or more negroes barri- 
caded themselves in a concrete store and a 
dwelling." The guardsmen fought along side 
civilians, and at this point, some blacks and 
whites were killed. 

As the guardsmen were advancing, fires ap- 
peared all over Greenwood. Apparently, the 
white mobs followed closely after the guards- 
men as they swept through Greenwood disarm- 
ing and arresting the residents. They fires 

followed shortly afterwards. In essence, the 
guardsmen facilitated the destruction of Green- 
wood because they removed residents who had 
no desire to leave and appeared more than capa- 
ble of defending themselves. While the af- 
ter-action reports are sparse, they create a 
pic ture of the lo cal units of the Guard work ing in 
clo se con j unc tion with the lo cal ci vil ian au thor i- 
ties to disarm and arrest Greenwood 
was those same civilian authorities who were 
later criticized for burning, looting, and killing 
in Greenwood. 

Colonel Rooney, who was in charge of the lo- 
cal units of the Guard, admitted that the Guard 
fired upon Greenwood residents. However, he 
claimed that his men only fired when fired 
upon." Rooney' s men were lined up facing into 
Greenwood and they positioned to protect white 
property and lives. When the Guard heard that 
blacks were firing upon whites, they moved into 
po si tion to stop the fir ing . When the Tulsa police 
thought that five hundred black men were com- 
ing from Muskogee, they put a ma chine gun crew 
on the road from Muskogee with orders to stop at 
the invasion "at all hazards."" When Colonel 
Rooney heard a rumor that the five hun dred black 
men had commandeered a train in Muskogee, he 
went off to organize a patrol to meet it at the sta- 
tion." Yet, in contrast, when whites were firing 
upon blacks who were in the Guard's custody, 
they re sponded by hur ry ing the pris on er s along at 
a faster pace. The Guard seems to have been too 
busy working in conjunction with civilian au- 
thorities arresting Greenwood residents, or too 
preoccupied putting down the "Negro uprising" 
to protect Greenwood property. 

McCuen concluded that "all firing" had 
ceased by 1 1:00 a.m. The reason for the end of 
the fighting was not that the Guard had suc- 
ceeded in bringing the white rioters under con- 
trol. Rather, it was that the Greenwood residents 
had been arrested or driven out. "Practically all 
of the Negro men had retreated to the northeast 
or elsewhere or had been disarmed and sent to 
concentration points." 

Interpreting the Local Units' Actions 

There remains the question of how one 
should interpret the actions of the National 
Guard's local units. Individuals appear to have 


H. A. Guess, Black Wall Street 
Attorney & Riot Survivor 

"Tulsa Will". . .The question is will Tulsa raise to the emergency and make good the losses 
which she has visited upon her colored citizens in the upheavel of June 1st, better known as 
Tulsa Race Riot? Will her broadminded, big-hearted leaders and town and empire builders 
surrender to the whim of a few political buccaneers and land schemers whose ulterior motive 
is self-aggrandisement at the expense of the public will, or, will they rush aside some of the 
cob-webs of legal technicalities and face the issues of facts in a courageious, generous and 
altruistic spirit that has so signally characterized the triumphal march at the head of modem 
civilization of the proud Anglo-Saxton race, and proceed to get on foot plans for the 
rehabilitation of the burned district?. . .What are some of the things that should be foremost in 
such a program? 

Reparation. . . will restore confidence of those whose faith has been seriously shaken; will 
give notice to the outside world that if Tulsa is big enough, strong enough, cosmopolitan 
enough to match the greatest race riot in American history, she is also generous enough, 
proud enough, rich enough and possessing enough respect for law and order and disdaining 
anything that savors of greed, graft and legal oppressions, to fail to do entire justice to a 
sorely tried people whose accumulations, in many instances, of a life-time, were swept away 
in a few hours and too, without any fault on their part. It may very well be said by Tulsa's 
legal advisers that there is no precedent for re-embursement in such cases; that a bond issue 
and election to make good the losses would be illegal. We answer the race riot was also 
illegal and, since the damage wrought was also great, some way should be found to make 
good the loss. There is and should be an adequate remedy to adjust every great wrong. 

Column, Oklahoma Sun, August 3, 1921 

been ar rested based on race. Some have argued 
that the Guard took Greenwood residents into 
protective custody and that they protected 
lives by doing so. There were simply too few 
guardsmen to protect all of Greenwood from 
invasion by white mobs.^' So the question be- 
comes, is it permissible to draw such distinc- 
tions based on race in time of crisis? Was it 
constitutionally permissible to arrest (or take 
into protective custody) Greenwood residents? 
Did the local units of the National Guard be- 
have properly? Mary Jones Parrish captured 
the frustration of Greenwood residents after 
the riot: 

It is the general belief that if [the state 
troops from Oklahoma City] had reached 
the scene sooner many lives and valuable 
property would have been saved. Just as 
praise for the State troops was on every 
tongue, so was denunciation of the Home 
Guards on ev ery lip. Many stated that they 
[the local guard] fooled [the residents] out 
of their homes on a promise that if they 
would give up peacefully they would give 

them protection, as well as see that their 
prop erty was saved .... When they returned 
to what were once their places of business 
or homes, with hopes built upon the prom- 
ises of the Home Guards, how keen was 
their disappointment to find all of their 
earthly possessions in ashes or stolen." 

Parrish' s account testifies to the belief 
among Greenwood residents that the local 
troops were culpable and the out-of-town units 
were responsible for ending the riot, or at least 
for restoring order afterwards. 

While in ex tremely rare in stances it is per mis- 
sib le for the government to draw invidious dis- 
tinctions based solely on race," such action 
must be narrowly tailored. In 1921, the Su- 
preme Court recognized that it was inappropri- 
ate for the government (as opposed to private 
individuals) to segregate on the basis of race." 
The reports of the Guard units based in Tulsa ac- 
knowl edge that they ar rested many blacks, be gin- 
ning as early as 6:30 a.m. on June 1. At that 
point, much of Greenwood was still intact. It is 
likely that had the local units not arrested those 


residents, their homes would not have been va- 
cant and they might not have been burned. In es- 
sence the Guard created the danger when they 
took Greenwood residents into custody. 

Much of the United States Supreme Court's 
law on racial arrests arises out of World War 
II. Three cases in particular address the consti- 
tutionality of drawing distinctions based on 
race: Hirabayashi v. United States, decided 
in June 1943, and Korematsu v. United 
States.^ ' and Ex Parte Endo, ^^ decided on the 
same day in December 1944. They all ad- 
dressed the legality of the United States laws 
regarding Japanese Americans. Hirabayashi, 
the first of the race cases to reach the United 
States Supreme Court, addressed the constitu- 
tionality of a curfew imposed on Americans of 
Japanese ancestry living in Hawaii. A majority 
of the court upheld the racially discriminatory 
curfew. One concurring justice observed that 
"where the peril is great and the time is short, 
temporary treatment on a group basis may be 
the only practicable expedient whatever the ul- 
ti mate per cent age of those who are de tained for 
cause." ' The concurring opinions were care- 
ful to note that distinctions based on race were 
extraordinarily difficult to justify. They went 
"to the brink of constitutional power."*"" While 
arrests might be justified upon a showing of 
immediate harm, they had to be justified. "De- 
tention for reasonable cause is one thing. De- 
tention on account of ancestry is another," 
Justice William O. Douglas wrote. Justice 
Murphy ' s con cur rence fur ther lim ited the go v- 
emment's power to detain American citizens 
without any showing that they posed a 

While the Supreme Court unanimously up- 
held a curfew imposed upon American citi- 
zens on the basis of race, in two cases decided 
the next year, some justices voted against con- 
tinued distinctions based on race. In Ex Parte 
Endo, Mitsuye Endo, an American citizen 
whose loy alty to the United States was unques- 
tioned, challenged her continued detention in a 
relocation camp. The United States sought to 
justify the detention on the ground that there 
were community sentiments against her and 
that, in essence, she was detained for her own 

safety. In rejecting the argument, the United 
States Supreme Court observed that community 
hostility might be a serious problem, but it re- 
fused to per mit con tin ued de ten tion on that ba sis 
once loyalty was demonstrated." 

The most important-and most heavily criti- 
cized case of the trilogy was Korematsu, which 
upheld the forced relocation of Japanese Ameri- 
cans. The court upheld the relocation, with the 
bold contention that "when under conditions of 
modern warfare our shores are threatened by 
hostile forces, the power to pro tect must be com- 
mensurate with the threatened danger."" The 
majority opinion acknowledged that the major- 
ity of those interned were loyal." We now rec- 
ognize the decision as improper. Indeed, the 
Civil Rights Act of 1988, that provided $20,000 
compensation to each Japanese American per- 
son interned during World War II was premised 
on the belief that Korematsu and the relocation 
that it upheld was wrong. The act apologized for 
the relocation and internment and provided 
some compensation for those affected. 

Justice Roberts' dissenting opinion in 
Korematsu, argued that the relocation was un- 
constitutional, and recognized that citizens 
might occasionally be taken into protective cus- 
tody. At other times, the government can, Rob- 
erts acknowledged, "exclude citizens 
temporarily from a locality." For example, it 
may exclude citizens from a fire zone. But the 
internments went beyond limited exclusion for 
the protection of the people excluded and so 
Roberts thought them improper. Korematsu in- 
volved internment "based on his ancestry, and 
solely because of his ancestry, without evidence 
or inquiry concerning his loyalty. . .."" 

The evidence seems to establish that the local 
units of the National Guard, in conjunction with 
police deputies, arrested based on race, not on 
danger to the Greenwood residents themselves. 
The fear of Tulsa's police force was that the 
Greenwood residents were engaged in an upris- 
ing. Their response was to disarm and arrest, in 
some cases taking life to do so. That behavior is 
suspect even under the majority's opinion in 
Koremastsu. Under Justice Roberts's dissent, 
the actions of the local units of the National 
Guard are even more suspect. There is one other 


precedent that is important in interpreting the 
National Guard's actions: the United States 
Supreme Court's 1909 decision in Moyer v. 
Peabody. ""^ That case arose from a conflict be- 
tween miners and mining companies in Colo- 
rado. The president of the Western 
Federation of Miners was arrested by the Na- 
tional Guard and detained for several weeks, 
even though there 'was no probable cause to 
arrest him. Simply put, he had committed no 
crime. Colorado's governor explained that 
there was an insurrection and that he had to ar- 
rest Moyer and detain him to put down the in- 
surrection.''' Justice Holmes gave the 
National Guard, acting under the governor' s 
orders, broad power to arrest in order to put 
down an insurrection. Holmes refused to al- 
low a suit against the governorfordeprivation 
of constitutional rights, as long as the gover- 
nor had a good faith belief that the arrest was 
necessary. It is easier, though, to classify the 
arrest of one person in Moyer, as justified, 
than the wholesale arrest of Greenwood resi- 
dents. Moyer supported limited arrests to stop 
insurrections. The local units of the National 
Guard, in conjunction with deputized Tulsa 
police officers, arrested thousands. In the pro- 
cess — according to their own reports — they 
killed an unspecified number of blacks. Such 
actions are difficult to defend even applying 
the legal standards of the times. 

Newspaper Accounts of the Official 
Involvement in the Riot 

The accounts of the riot as it was unfolding 
in the Tulsa World show the coordination of 
the police. National Guard, and white citi- 
zens. Some white men were working to arrest 
"every Negro seen on the streets." Many of 
those people had at a minimum volunteered 
their services to the police. "Armed guards 
were placed in cars and sent out on patrol 
duty. Companies of about 50 men each were 
organized and marched through the business 
streets."' ' As the Tulsa fForW stated in an ed- 
itorial on June 2, "Semi-organized bands of 
white men systematically applied the torch 
while others shot on sight men of color."" 

The black press presented starker pictures 
of official involvement in the destruction. An 

account of Van B. Hurley, who was identified 
as a former Tulsa police officer, was printed in 
the Chicago Defender in October 192 1. The 
account was circulated by Elisha Scot, an at- 
torney from Topeka, Kansas, who represented 
a number of riot victims. The Defender re- 
ported that Hurley, "who was honorably dis- 
charged from the force and given splendid 
recommendations by his captains and lieuten- 
ants," named city officials who planned the at- 
tack on Greenwood using airplanes. Hurley 
described "the conference between local avia- 
tors and the officials. Afterthismeeting Hurley 
asserted the airplanes darted out from hangars 
and hovered over the district dropping nitro- 
glycerin on buildings, setting them afire." 
Hurley said the officials told their deputies to 
deal aggressively with Greenwood residents. 
"They gave instructions for every man to be 
ready and on the alert and if the niggers wanted to 
start anything to be ready for them. They never 
put forth any efforts at all to prevent it whatever, 
and said if they started anything to kill every b_ 
son of a b_ they could find."" Hurley's account 
is somewhat suspect, but it fits with Laurel 
Buck's testimony that the police told white 
Tulsans to "get out and get a nigger." 

At a minimum, there was substantial planning 
by the police for the systematic arrest and deten- 
tion of Greenwood residents. Fire Marshal Wes- 
ley Bush reported that he saw armed men 
coming and going from the police station all eve- 
ning. The Tulsa Tribune re ported that there had 

been plans to take Greenwood residents to 
the Convention Center. It is very difficult at 
this point to reconstruct the instructions from 
the mayor and police chief to the deputies. That 
difficulty arises in large part because the city 
refused to allow a serious investigation of the 
riot. There are, however, a substantial number 
of reports of those instructions and the pattern 
of destruction certainly fits with those reports. 
Quite simply, it is difficult to explain the sys- 
tematic arrest of blacks, the destruction of their 
property, and the timing of the invasion of 
Greenwood without relying upon some coordi- 
nation by the Tulsa city government, with the 
assistance of the local units of the National 



T, J, ELLJOtt and 
K, B, ffllDCSit, at 
Elliott i HpoKtr, 








Cimiee new the Pliitntlrfs, t. J. ^Lliatt tloA S. D, Jteo**!", 
«« BHiatt 4 HbolcBT, and fi»r their eat^gt of iiotian agalnet 
dafandaflit sillsg* Mid avttt: 

1, Tbat th« 4$f 413 ilsti 1 1 ^iof XnsurEiica Coiq>[Ljiy of i^erlca, 
li B. otcek cofflpanjr Jtnd eti to-;Tlt: tho 39tli JSiy of Jaojusjfy, 
l,9ai, sn^ alsQ on to* 'lit; tiie 'Jth dicgf nf IvptM, 1S31, defasaunt 

Many owners of destroyed property took actionagainstinsurance companies. 

Statutory Liability for City's Failure to 

Asking for rep a ra tions for the riot does not 
re quire us to read our own mo ral ity back onto 
Tulsa at the early part of the century. Many 
states provided a rem edy for the city' s fail ure 
to protect riot victims in the 1920s. At the 
time of the riot, for instance, Illinois had a 
statute providing a cause of action for dam- 
age done by riot when the local government 
failed to protect against the rioters. The Illi- 
nois law provided that the municipality 
where violence occurred was liable to the 
families of "lynching" victims. It allowed 
claims for wrongful death up to $5,000.^^ 
The Illinois courts construed "lynching" to 
include deaths during race riots." If the riot 
had occurred in Illinois, there would have 
been a right to recover if the police failed to 
protect the victims. Tulsans knew about the 
statutes in Illinois and Kansas. They even 
consulted an attorney from East Saint Louis 
for help in understanding their legal liabil- 

The Aftermath of the Riot: Of Prosecutions, 
Lawsuits, and Ordinances 

As Tulsans began to shift the rubble after the 
riot, they asked themselves how had such a trag- 
edy oc curred, who was to blame, and how might 
they rebuild. A grand jury investigated the riot' s 
causes and returned indictments against about 
seventy men, mostly blacks. The city re-zoned 
the burned district, to discourage rebuilding, as 
Greenwood residents and whites who owned 
property in Greenwood filed lawsuits against 
the city and their insurance companies. The law- 
suits, filed by more than one-hundred people 
who lost property, testify to the attempts made 
by riot victims to use the law for relief, and its 
failure to assist them, even after the government 
had destroyed their property. 

The Failure of Reparations Through 

Greenwood residents and property owners 
(both black and white), filed more than one- 
hundred suits against their insurance compa- 
nies, the city of Tulsa, and even Sinclair Oil 
Company, that allegedly provided airplanes that 
were used in attacking Greenwood. Not one of 


those suits was successful. One, filed by Wil- 
liam Redfeam, a white man who owned a hotel 
and a movie theater in Greenwood, went to 
trial and then on appeal to the Oklahoma Su- 
preme Court. Redfearn's insurance company 
denied hability, citing a riot exclusion clause. 
The clause exempted the insurance company 
from liability for loss due to riot. 

The Oklahoma Supreme Court interpreted 
the damage as due to riot-an understandable 
conclusion, and thereby immunized insurance 
companies from liability. ^^ Following the fail- 
ure of Mr. Redfearn's suit, none other went to 
trial. That is not surprising. It is difficult to see 
how anyone could have prevailed in the wake 
of the Red/earn opinion. They lay fallow for 
years and then were dismissed in 1937. 

The Grand Jury and the Failure of 

Just as the legal system had failed to provide 
a ve hi cle for re cov ery by Green wood res i dents 
and property owners, the legal system failed to 
hold Tulsans criminally responsible for the 
reign of terror during the riot. The grand jury, 
convened a few days after the riot, returned 
about seventy indictments. A few people, 
mostly blacks, were held in jail. Others were 
released on bond, pending their trials for riot- 
ing. However, most of the cases were dis- 
missed in September, 1921, when Dick 
Rowland's case was dismissed. When Sarah 
Page failed to appear as the complaining wit- 
ness, the district attorney dismissed his case.*" 
Other dismissals soon followed .* ' Apparently, 
no one, black or white, served time in prison 
for murder, larceny, or arson, although some 
people may have been held in custody pending 
dismissal of suits in the fall of 1921. 

The grand jury's most notable action is not 
the indictments that it returned but the white- 
wash it. engaged in. Their report, which was 
published in its entirety in the Tulsa World un- 
der the heading "Grand Jury Blames Negroes 
for Inciting Race Rioting: Whites Clearly Ex- 
onerated," ' told a laughable story of black cul- 
pability for the riot. The report is an amazing 
document, that demonstrates how evidence 
can be selectively interpreted. It is, quite sim- 

ply, a classic case of interpreter' sextremebiases 
coloring their vision of events. 

The grand jury, which began work on June 7, 
took testimony from dozens of white and black 
Tulsans. It operated within the framework es- 
tablished by Tulsa District Judge Biddson. He 
instructed the jurors to investigate the causes of 
the riot. Biddson feared that the spirit of law- 
lessness was growing. The jurors' conclusions 
would be "marked indelibly upon the public 
mind" and would be important in deterring fu- 
ture riots." It cast its net widely, looking at the 
riot as it unfolded as well as social conditions in 
Tulsa more generally. 

The grand jury fixed the immediate cause of 
the riot as the appearance "of a certain group of 
colored men who appeared at the courthouse . . . 
for the purpose of protecting . . . Dick 
Rowland." From there it laid blame entirely on 
those people who sought to defend Rowland's 
life. It discounted rumors of lynching. "There 
was no mob spirit among the whites, no talk of 
lynching and no arms."* 

Echoing the discussions of the riot in the 
white Tulsa newspapers, the grand jury identi- 
fied two remote causes of the riot which were 
"vital to the public interest." Those causes were 
the "agitation among the Negroes of social 
equality" and the break down of law enforce- 
ment. The agitation for social equality was the 
first of the remote causes the jury discussed: 

Certain propaganda and more or less agitation 
had been going on among the colored popula- 
tion for some time. This agitation resulted in the 
accumulation of firearms among the people and 
the storage of quantities of ammunition, all of 
which was accumulative in the minds of the Ne- 
gro which led them as a people to believe in 
equal rights, social equality, and their ability to 
demand the same." 

The Nation broke the grand jury's code. 
Charges that blacks were radicals meant that 
blacks were insufficiently obsequious. They 
asked for legal rights. 

Negroes were uncompromisingly denounc- 
ing of "Jim-Crow" cars, lynching, peonage; in 
short, were asking that the Federal constitu- 
tional guar an tees of "life, lib erty, and the pur suit 
of happiness" be given regardless of color. The 


Negroes of Tulsa and other Oklahoma cities 
are pioneers; men and women who have dared, 
men and women who have had the initiative 
and the courage to pull up stakes in other 
less-favored states and face hardship in a 
newer one for the sake of greater eventual 
progress. That type is ever less ready to submit 
to insult. Those of the whites who seek to 
maintain the old white group control naturally 
do not relish seeing Negroes emancipating 
themselves from the old system.^"" 

Such was the mind set of the grand jury that 
they thought ideas about racial equality were to 
blame for the riot, instead of explaining why 
Greenwood residents felt it necessary to visit the 
courthouse. Thus, the grand jury recast its evi- 
dence to fit its established prejudices. And as it 
did that, as it confirmed white Tulsa's myth that 
the blacks were to blame for the riot, it helped to 
remove the moral impetus to reparations. 

Preventing Rebuilding? 

Given the context of racial vio lence and seg- 
regation legislation of Progressive-era 
Oklahoma, it makes sense that one of the city 
gov em ment' s first re spouses was to ex pand the 

fire ordinance to incorporate parts of Green- 
wood. That expansion made rebuilding in the 
bumed district prohibitively expensive. The city 
presented two rationales: to expand the indus- 
trial area around the railroad yard and to further 
separate the races.*' 

The story of the zoning ordinance is one of the 
few tri umphs of the rule of law to emerge from the 
riot. Greenwood residents who wanted to rebuild 
challenged the ordinance as a violation of property 
rights as well as on technical grounds. They first 
won a temporary restraining order on technical 
grounds (that there had been insufficient notice 
before the ordinance was passed). Then, follow- 
ing re-promulgation of the ordinance, they won a 
permanent injunction, apparently on the grounds 
that it would deprive the Greenwood property 
owners of their property rights if they were not 
permitted to rebuild. 

And so, hav ing won one court vie tory. Green- 
wood residents were left to their own devices: 
free to rebuild their property, but without the di- 
rect assistance from the city that was crucial to 
doing so. Now the question is whether the city 
and state wish to ac knowl edge that as a debt and 
to pay it? 

(Courtesy West eniHis tory Collection, University of OklahomaLibraries). 



'This brief report on "the riot and the law" is necessarily summary. For a fuller exploration of many of the issues 
discussed here, see Alfred L. Brophy, "Reconstructing the Dreamland" (2000), available at 
'Black Agitators Blamed for Riot, Tulsa World, June 6, 1921. 

'There are seven key questions, which need answers in developing a clear picture of the riot: (1) How did Tulsa go 
from minor event in elevator to attempted lynching? 

(2) How did Tulsa go from confrontation at the courthouse to riot? 

(3) What was the role of the police? That question has several sub-parts: 

(a) How many were commissioned as deputies? 

(b) What instructions did police give the deputies? 

(c) How much planning was there for the attack on Greenwood? 

(4) What was the role of the mayor? 

(5) What was the role of the NationalGuard? 

(6) What motivated the changing of the fire ordinance and the rezoning of Greenwood to require building using 
fireproof material? How was that resolved? 

(7) Was a riot inevitable? That question has several sub-parts: 

(a) Was there planning before the evening of May 31, to "run the Negro out of Tulsa," as some alleged. See, e.g., 
"The Tulsa Riots", 22 The Crisis, pp. 114-16 July 1921. "Compare Public Welfare Board Vacated by Commission: 
Mayor in Statement on Race Trouble", Tulsa Tribune, June 14, 1921 (reprinting Mayor T.D. Evans speech to City 
Commission. June 14, 1921) "It is the judgment of many wise heads in Tulsa, based upon observation of a number of 
years that this uprising was inevitable. If that be true and this judgment had to come upon us, then I say it was good 
gen er al ship to let the de struc tion come to that sec tion where the trou ble was hatched up, put in mo tion and where it had 
its inception." 

(b) Were racial tensions so great that there would have been a riot even without the attempted lynching of Dick 
Rowland? See Wal ter F. White, "The Erup tion of Tulsa", TheNa tion , pp. 909-9 10 (de tail ing ele ments of racial ten sion 
and lawlessness in Tulsa). See also: R. L. Jones," Blood and Oil", Survey 46, June 1921. 

On questions of historical interpretation, where the record is only imperfectly preserved, there are inevitable 

^221 Pacific Reporter p. 929 (1926). 

The other "of f i cial" re ports, the grand jury re port and the fire mar shall' s re port, are lesshelp ful in re con struct ing the 
riot. The hast ily pre pared grand jury re port blamed Tulsa's blacks for the riot. The grand jury report focused blame on 
"exaggerated ideas of equality." See "Grand Jury Blames Negroes for Inciting Race Rioting: Whites Clearly 
Exonerated", Tulsa World, June 26, 1921, pp. 1,8 (reprinting grand jury report). The grand jury report, for instance, 
de clared that the riot was the di rect re suit of "an ef fort on the part of a cer tain group of c ol ored men who ap peared at the 
courthouse. ..for the pur poseofprotect ing . . .DickRowland...."/(i.atl. An in direct causeoftheriotwas the "agitation 
among the Ne groes" for ideas "of so cial equality. "W. It is an extraordinary document, which illustrates in vivid detail 
how an investigationcanselectevidence,refusetoseekoutalternativetestimony,and then formulateaninterpretation 
that is remarkably biased in the story it creates. 

The fire marshal's report cannot be located. There was another investigation, perhaps by a special city court of 
inquiry. See "Hun dred to be Called in Probe", rMfca World, June 10, 1921. "With the formal empanel ing and swearing 
in of the grand jury Thursday morning the third investigation into the causes and placing or responsibility for the race 
rioting in Tulsa law week was begun."; "Police Order Negro Porters Out of Hotels", Tulsa Tribune, June 14, 1921. 
"This ac tion fol lows scath ing crit i cism of the sy s tem that al lowed the Ne gro por ters to carry on theirne far i ous prac tices 
of selling booze and soliciting for women of the underworld made ... at the city's court of inquiry held several weeks 

Brief of Plaintiff mError,Wil liamRedfearn, Plain tiffinErrorv.AmericanCentrallnsurance Company, 243 P 929 
(Okla. 1926), No. 15,851 [hereinafter Plaintiff's Brief]. 

Of the previous his to ri ans of the riot, only Ellsworth has even men tioned Redfeam' s suit. See Ellsworth, supra note 
2, at 135, n. 57. No one has utilized the Oklahoma Supreme Court's opinion or the briefs. 

'Ellison, "Going to the Territory", in Ellison, Go/«g to the Territory, p. 124 (1986). See also Brent Staples, Parallel 
Time: Growing Up in Black and White, 1994, (exploring ways that life unfolds and the ways that individuals and 
families perceive, react to, and rewrite that history). Ellison's essay spoke in terms similar to those employed by 
Bernard Bailyn, whose widely read monograph on Thomas Hutchinson, the governor of Massachusetts on the eve of 


the American Revolution, presented a sympathetic portrait of the Loyalist, in an effort to present a comprehensive 
por trait of the com ing of Rev o lu tion. See Ber nardBailyn, The Or deal of Thomas Hutch in son IX, 1974. One hopes that 
the Redfeam tes ti mony , when com bined with a care ful read ing of the other texts, will en able us to "embrace the whole 
event, see it from all sides." W. We might even see "the in es cap able bound ariesofac tion; the blindness of the actors-in 
a word, the tragedy of the event." Id. 

The competing narratives of the insurance company and Redfearn showed the ways that Tulsans interpreted what 
happened dur ing the riot and the con clu sions they drew from those events. Cf . Ju dith L. Maute, Peevyhouse v. Gar land 
Coal and Mining Co. Revisited: The Ballad of Willie and Lucille, 89 NW. U. L. REV. 1341, 1995, (exploring in detail 
the background to an infamous Oklahoma case). Redfeam shows the competing interpretations of the riot's origins 
even within the Green wood com mu nity it self and the con straints imposed upon the Oklahoma S u preme Court by de sire 
to limit the city's liability. The testimony shows the diversity of opinions in Tulsa and the ways that legal doctrine 
shapes those opinions. 

Those com pet ing in ter pre ta tions can tell us a great deal about larger Tulsa and Amer i can so ci ety , much as stud ies of 
medicine and law serve as mirrors for society more generally. See, e.g., Edward H. Beardsley, A History of Neglect: 
Health Care for Blacks and Mill Workers in the Twentieth-Century South VIII, 1987; Eben Moglen, The 
Transformation of Morton Horwitz, 93 Column. L. Rev. 1042, 1993, (discussing modes of legal history and the 
reflections on culture they provide). 

'^See R. Halliburton, "The Tulsa Race War of 1921 ", 2 J. Black Studies, pp. 333-57, 1972. (citing story, "Nab Negro 
for Attacking Girl in an Elevator", Tulsa Tribune, May 31, 1921. 

'Plaintiff s Brief, supra note 6, at 44; 47 (testimony of Barney Cleaver); Brief of Defendant in Error, William 
Redfearn, PlaintiffinErrorv.AmericanCentrallnsuranceCompany, 243 P929 (Okla. 1926), No. 15,851 [hereinafter 
Defendant's Brief] at 74 (Testimony of Columbus F. Gabe). 

'"Defendant's Brief, supra note 9, at 101 (Testimony of O.W. Gurley). 

' ' Plaintiff s Brief, supra note 6, at 30 (Testimony of O.W. Gurley). 


"/Z)/J., at 48-49. 

'''a somewhat different, more detailed version of the confrontation appears in Ronald L. Trekell, History of the 
Tulsa Police Department 1882-1990, 1989. 

Plaintiff's Brief, supra note 6, at 48. 
""Ibid., at 44. 

"Charles F. Barrett, Oklahoma After Fifty Years: A History of the Sooner State and Its People, 1889- 1939, 1941. 
'* Plaintiff's Brief, supra note 6, at 40. 
'^ Ibid., at 44. 

Defendant's Brief, supra note 9, at 106. 

^ ' 22 1 Pacific Reporter, at 93 1 . 

"Plaintiff s Brief, supra note 6, at 67. 

"Petition in Robinson v. Evans, et al, Tulsa County District Court, No. 23,399, May 31, 1923. 


^^See, e.g., Walter F. White, "The Eruption of Tulsa", 1 12 Nation, June 29, 1921. 

See, e.g.. Plaintiff s Brief, supra note 6, at 61. It is important to note that one early criticism was that the sheriff 
failed to deputize of fi cers to quell fears of a lynch ing. See "Tulsa in Re morse," New York Times, June 3, 1921. General 
Barrett "declared the Sheriff could have [pacified the armed men] if he had used power to deputize assistants. The 
General said the presence of six uniformed policemen or a half dozen Deputy Sheriffs at the county building Tuesday 
night, when whites bent on taking from jail Dick Rowland . . . clashed with Negroes intent on protecting Rowland, 
would have prevented the riot.". See also "Tulsa Officials 'Simply Laid Down'," Sapulpa Herald, June 2, 1921. 
Reporting General Barren's belief that officials could have prevented riot by dispersing both blacks and whites. 

Plaintiff's Brief, supra note 6, at 62. 


Ibid., (emphasis in original). While the Oklahoma Supreme Court referred to the some of the special deputies as 
sheriff s deputies and some evidence mentions sheriffs deputies, it appears that the police were the only officials who 
com mis sioned spe cial dep u ties . I would like to thank Rob ert Norris and Rik Espinosa for clari fy ing this point with me. 

Defendant's Brief, supra note 2, at 207 (emphasis added). 

'"Charles F. Barrett, Oklahoma After Fifty Years, 1941. 


Testimony of Laurel Buck 30, Attorney General's Civil Case Files, RG 1-2, A-G Case No. 1062, Box 25 
(Oklahoma State Archives). 

"Testimony of Laurel Buck, supra note LI, at 32. See also "Witness Says Cop Urged Him to Kill Black", Tulsa 
Tribune, July 1 5 , 1 92 1 ; "In struc tion is Denied by Court", Tulsa World, July 16,1921, (sum mariz ing Buck' s tes ti mony) . 

"Testimony of John A. Oliphant, at 2, Attorney General's Civil Case Files, RG 1-2, A-G Case No. 1062, Box 25 
(Oklahoma State Archives). 

^^Ibid., at 6. 

^^Ibid., at 7. 

^^Ibid., at 8. 

See "Weapons Must be Returned," Tulsa World, June 4, 1921, (asking for return of weapons and threatening 
prosecution if weapons are not returned). 

Frank Van Voorhis, "Detailed Report of Negro Uprising for Service Company, 3rd Infantry Oklahoma National 

Guard," July 30, 1921. 

John W. McCuen, "Duty Performed by Company 3rd Infantry Oklahoma National Guard at Negro Up rising May 
31, 1921" (undated) Oklahoma State Archives. 

See"Rooney Ex plains Guard Op era tion," TM&a World, June 4, 1921; L .J. F. Rooney and Charles W. Daley to Adj. 
Gen. Bart lett, June 3, 1921 (Oklahoma State Ar chives) "I asked Major Daley where [the ma chine gun) had come from 
and he said 'we dug it up' and I inferred that he meant it was the property of the Police Department of which Major 
Daley is an officer.". 

""Brian Kirkpatrick, "Activities on night of May 31, 1921, at Tulsa, Oklahoma." July 1, 1921, Oklahoma State 
Ar chives "After pa trols had been es tab lished . . . I es tab lished your head quar ters in the of f ice of the Chief of Po lice." 

'Around 10:00 p.m. on the eve ning of May 31, Oklahoma' s Ad ju tant Gen eral, Charles Barrett, who latercriticized 
the local Tulsa authorities, told Major Byron Kirkpatrick of Tulsa to "render such assistance to the civil authorities as 
might be required." Kirkpatrick, supra note 41. 

Kirkpatrick, supra note 4J_ "I as sumed charge of a body of armed vol un teers, whom I un der stand were Le gion men, 
and marched them around into Main Street. There the outfit was divided into two groups, placed under the charge of 
of f i cers of their num ber who all had mil i tary ex pe ri ence, and or dered to pa trol the business sec tion and court-house, and 
to report back to the Police Station at intervals of fifteen minutes."; C. W. Daley, "Information on Activities during 
Ne groUp ris ing May 31, 1921," July 6, 1921, Oklahoma State Ar chives "There was a mob of 150 walking up the street 
in a column of squads. That crowd was as sem bled on the comer of Sec ond and Main and given in structions by myself 
that if they wished to as sist in main tain ing or der they must abide by in struc tions and fol low them to the let ter rather than 
running wild. This they agreed to do. They were split up at this time and placed in groups of 12 to 20 in charge of an 
ex-service man, with instructions to preserve order and to watch for snipers from the tops of buildings and to assist in 
gathering up all Negroes bringing same to station and that no one was to fire a shot un less it was to pro tect life af ter all 
other methods had failed.". 

''* Van Voorhis, supra note 38, at 3. 

"•^McCuen, supra note 39, at 2. 

""See "Rooney Explains Guard Operation", Tulsa World, June 4, 1921. "None of my men used their rifles except 
when fired upon from the east. The most visible point from which enemy shots came was the tower of the new brick 
church. This was sometime just prior to daybreak." 

There were fears, for ex ample, that blacks were com ing from Muskogee to re in force the Green wood res i dents: "In 
response to a call from Muskogee, indicating several hundred Negroes were on their way to the city to assist Tulsa 
Ne groes should fight ing con tinue, a ma chine gun squad loaded on a truck, went east of the city with or ders to stop at all 
hazards these armed men." "Race War Rages for Hours After Outbreak at Courthouse; Troops and Armed Men 
Patrolling Streets", Tulsa World, June 1, 1921. 

*^Ibid. See also Daley, supra note 43. "Upon receiving information that large bod ies of Ne groes were com ing from 
Sand Springs, Muskogee and Mohawk, both by train and automobile, [sic] This information was imparted to the auto 
patrols with in struc tions to cover the roads which the Ne groes might in on. At this point we received information that a 
train load was com ing from Muskogee, so Col. Rooney and my self jumped into a car, as sem bled a company of Legion 
men of about 100 from among the pa trols who were op er at ing over the city, and placed them in charge of Mr. Kinney a 
member of the American Legion and directed him to bring men to the depot which was done in a very soldierly and 
or derly man ner. In struc tions were given that the men form a line on both sides of the track with in struc tions to al low no 
Negroes to unload but to hold them in the train by keeping them covered. The train proved to be a freight train and no 
one was on it but regular train crew." 


McCuen, supra note 39, at 2. 
'' See, e.g., "Guards men at Cen ter of Riot Dis cus sion" ,DailyOklahoman, May 23, 2000, (re port ing de bate over role 
of National Guard's role in riot). 

'Mary Jones Parrish, Events of the Tulsa Disaster, p. 31, (circa 1921) (reprinted 1998). 

See Lee v. Washington, 390 U.S. 333, 1968. Affirming desegregation order in Alabama prison but observing that 
there might be instances where segregation was necessary to maintain order. The last time the United States Supreme 
Court upheld overt (non-remedial) racial distinction was Koremastu v. United States, 323 U.S. 214, 1944. That 
decisions — and the United States government'swillfulwithholdingofevidenceshowingthatsuchdiscriminationwas 
unnecessary — became the basis for the Civil Rights Act of 1988. See Eric K. Yamamoto, "Racial Reparations: 
Japanese Americans and African American Claims", 40 Boston College Law Review 477-523, 1998. ^ See, e.g., 
Buchanan v. War ley, 245 U.S. 60, 1917 (invalidating as unconstitutional a zoning ordinance that segregated on the 
basis of race). While Professor Aoki has recently analyzed the early twentieth century alien laws as important 
precursors to the in tern ment of Jap a nese- Americans dur ing World War II, Keith Aoki, "No Right to Own?: The Early 
Twentieth-Century "Alien Land Laws" as a Prelude to Internment", 40 Boston College Law Review 37-72, 1998, no 
one has yet interpreted the internment of blacks during the Tulsa riot, which drew no legal protest, as a testing ground 
for the idea of internment. See "85 Whites and Negroes Die in Tulsa Riots", supra note at 2. "Guards surrounded the 
armory, while others assisted in rounding up Negroes and segregating them in the detention camps. A commission, 
composed of seven city officials and business men, was formed by Mayor Evans and Chief of Police Gustafson, with 
the approval of 

General Banett, to pass upon the status of the Negroes detained." 

"See Van Voorhis, supra note 38. 

"320 U.S. 81, 1943. 

"323 U.S. 214, 1944. 

^*323U.S.283, 1944. 

"320 U.S. at 107. 


"/Z)/J., at 108. 

"/Z)/J. atll3. 

"323 U.S. at 302-03. 

"323 U.S. at 220. 

"/6/J., at 218-19. 


"323 U.S. at 226. 

"212 U.S. 78 (1909). 

Lbid., at 85 "So long as arrests are made in good faith and in the hon est be lief that they are needed in order to head 
the insurrection off, the Governor is the final judge and cannot be subjected to an action after he is out of office. . .." 

'""Race War Rages for Hours After Outbreak at Courthouse: Troops and Armed Men Patrolling Streets, Tulsa 
World, June 1, 1921. "Thousands of persons, both the inquisitive including several hundred women, and men, armed 
with ev ery avail able weapon in the city taken from ev ery hard ware and sport ing goods store, swarmed on Sec ond street 
from Boulder to Boston avenue watching the gathering volunteer army offering their services to the peace officers." 

"Race War Rages for Hours After Outbreak at Courthouse: Troops and Armed Men Patrolling Streets," Tulsa 
World, June I, 1921. 

""The Disgrace of Tulsa," Tulsa World, June 2, 1921. 

"Ex-Police Bears Plots of Tulsans: Officer of Law Tells Who Ordered Airplanes to Destroy Homes," Chicago 
Defender, Oct.25, 1921. See also: "At tor neyScottDigs Up In side In for ma tion on TulsaRiot,"5/ac^Z)w/'ate/?, October 
20, 1921. 

Plaintiffs Brief, supra note 6, at 67. 

See also Walter F. White, 'The Eruption of Tulsa," The Nation, June 29, 1921. Later White published another 
account of the riot: "I Investigate hynchings," American Mercury, January, 1929. '^See, e.g., "Act to Suppress Mob 
Violence," Illinois, LLurd's Revised Statutes, 1915-16 chap. 38, section 256a. 

See, e.g.. City of Chicago v. Sturigs, 222 U.S. 323, 1908, (upholding constitutionality of Illinois statute imposing 
liability on citiesforthree-quartersvalueofmobdam age, regard lessoffault);^r«o/(iv. CityofCentralia, 197 111. App. 


73, 1915, (imposing liability without negligence under Illinois statute, Hurd's Revised Statutes, 1915-16 chap. 38, 
section 256a, on city that failed to protect citizens against mob); Barnes v. City of Chicago, 323 M. 203 (1926) 
(interpreting same statute and concluding that police officer was not "lynched"). 

^'^"City Not Liable for Riot Damage", Tulsa World, August 7, 1921. 

"221 Pacific Reporter, 929, 1926. 

*"5'tote V. Rowland, Case No. 2239, Tulsa County District Court, 1921. 

*' See Sate V. Will Robinson etal, Case No. 2227, Tulsa County District Court, 1921. 

^- Tulsa World, June 26, 1921. 

"Judge Biddson's Instructions to Grand Jury," Tulsa Tribune June 9, 1921. 

^* "Grand Jury Blames Ne groes for In citing Race Rioting: Whites Clearly Ex on er ated," Tulsa World, June 26, 192 1 . 


*^Walter F. White, "The Eruption of Tulsa", The Nation, 909 June 29, 1921. One justice on the Georgia Supreme 
Court ex plained the or i gins of an At Ian ta riot in this way: "This one thing of the street car employ ees being re quired by 
their position to endure in patience the insults of Negro passengers was, more largely than any other one thing, 
responsible for the engendering of the spirit which manifesteditselfintheriot."Georg^;ai?a/7wa>' cfe Elec. Co. v. Rich, 
71 S.E. 759, 760 (Ga, 1911). 

*' S ee "Burned Dis trict in Fire Limits," Tulsa World, June 8, 1 92 1 , (re port ing the "real es tate ex change" or ga ni za tion 
sup ported ex pan sion of fire lim its, be cause it would help con vert burned area into in dus trial area near the rail road tracks 
and would "be found desirable, in causing a wider separation between Negroes and whites"). 

**"Negro Sues to Rebuild Waste Area," Tulsa World, August 13, 1921; "Three Judges Hear Evidence in Negro 
Suit," Tulsa World, August 25, 1921. The three-judge panel upheld the ordinance to the extent that it prohibited the 
build ing of per manent struc tures. But it al lowed the build ing of temporary struc turss.Ibid. The prop erty own ers ar gued 
that the city was depriving them of their property by such restrictive building regulations and that the restrictions 
en dan gered their health. See Pe ti tion inLockardv. Ev ans, etal. , Tulsa County Dis trict Court, Case 15,780 para graphs 

August 12, 1921. Their argument was based, at least in part, on the emerging police power doctrine that the state 
could reg u late to pro mote health and mo ral ity . The pe ti tion ers ap plied a cor ol lary to that doc trine, ar gu ing that the city 
was prohibited from interfering with that protection. The judges granted first a temporary restraining order against the 
ordinance in August because there was insufficient notice when it was passed. See "Can ReconstructRestrictedArea, 
Dis trict Judges Grant Re straining Or der to Ne groes", Tulsa World, Au gust 26, 1 92 1 . Then, fol low ing re-promulgation 
of the ordinance, the judges granted a permanentinjunction against it, citing the ordinance' s effect on property rights. 
See "Cannot Enforce Fire Ordinance, Court Holds Unconstitutional Act Against The Burned District," Tulsa World, 
September 2, 1921. The judges' opinion has been lost. 



Notes on Contributors 

Dr. John Hope Franklin, a native of Rentiesville, is the James B. Duke Professor of History Emeritus at Duke 
University. A member of the Oklahoma Hall of Fame, he is the author of numerous books, including From Slavery to 
Freedom, now in its eighth edition. His father, the well-known Tulsa attorney B. C. Franklin, survived the riot. 

Dr. Scott Ellsworth was bom and raised in Tulsa. The author of Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 
1921, he formerly served as a historian at the National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. 

Dr. Robert L. Brooks is the Director and State Archaeologist of the Oklahoma Archeological Survey. He is 
responsible for the management and protection of Oklahoma' s heritage resources, including unmarked graves and 
burial sites. 

Alfred L. Brophy is aprofessoroflawatOklahomaCityUniversity. A specialist in property law, he is president of 
the board of directors of Oklahoma Indian Legal Services. 

Dr. Danney Goble, a native Oklahoman, attained his Ph.D. at the University of Missouri. He has authored numerous 
books of regional history and the American South. He now is on the faculty at the University of Oklahoma. 

Larry O'Dell is a historian with the Oklahoma Historical Society. Raised in Newcastle, he currently serves as a 
research associate for the Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture project. 

Dr. Lesley Rankin-Hill is an associate pro fessorofan thro pology at the University of Oklahoma. A specialist in the 
study of burial remains and historic cemeteries, she is the author of ^ Biohistory of 19 Century Afro-Americans. 

Dr. ClydeSnow, of Norman, isaninternationallyrecognizedforensican thro pologist.Anexpertin the identification 
of human skeletal remains, he currently serves as a consultant to the Oklahoma State Medical Examiner. 

Phoebe Stubblefield is a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at the University of Florida. A specialist in forensic 
anthropology, she is also the grandniece of survivors of theTulsa race riot. 

Richard S. Warner, a lifelong Tulsan, is a member of the board of directors of the Tulsa Historical Society. A 
well-known au thor ity on the his tory of Tulsa, he has con trib uted to the Chron i cles of Oklahoma and other professional 

Dr. Alan H. Witten is the Schultz Pro fes sor of Geo phys ics at the Uni ver sity of Oklahoma. An ex pert in near-surface 
remote sensing, he has coordinated scientific research for archaeological investigations both in the United States and 



By State Senator Maxine Horner 

There is an intergenerational effect from the 
1921 Tulsa race riot that is the unconscious 
transmittal of an expe ri ence thatis mostmys te- 
rious and intriguing. In response to an incident 
like the riot which in effect, was potentially an 
act of ethnic cleansing, the message was clear: 
"We abhor you people and wish you were not 
here and in fact, are willing to make that hap- 

There are characteristicsof people who have 
been through a shared experience such as the 
Great Depression or in this case, the "riot" that 
emerged haunted as a result of that experience. 
The way they relate to their children and 
grandchildren and the world around them is 
not how they may have related had it not been 
for that experience. 

If a people have been terrorized to the de- 
gree that North Tulsa survivors and 
descendents were, it could be expected that 
they would not make themselves noticed or be 
noticed by the group that terrorized them in the 
first place. Alternative ways of relating and re- 
sponding may have to be developed or adapta- 
tions made by both groups for good or ill will. 
It is that perspective that allowed the horror of 
the riot in the first place. Since statehood and 
beyond, Oklahoma has taken its black citizens 
through intimidation, stereotypical condition- 
ing, segregation, and legal andsocialengineer- 
ing. Some of those conventions were even 
transmitted by representatives of the African 
American communitysuggesting that they cast 
down their buckets where they were — to con- 
form as second-class citizens. 

Speaking in Boley, Oklahoma during a con- 
vention of the National Negro Business 
League, famed educator Booker T. Washing- 
ton, told the gathering not to worry about being 
segregated. He recommended that instead, 
they build up the section, which had been as- 
signed to them, and they would make friends 
and be respected by the whites. Washington 
searched for an accommodation with whites, 
and a comfort zone for blacks being held back 

and terrorized through segregation and racism. 
He urged blacks "to pull themselves up by the 
bootstraps." In Tulsa they did. Staying in their 
place did not appease whites or inspire the 
friendship forecasted by Washington. 

After the epitaph for the black boulevard was 
written in flames, the aftermath led more toward 
aeon spiracy to furtherde humanize the suffering 
population than to demonstrate a justice toward 
its fellow citizens. That city government offi- 
cials and real estate interests attempted to force 
blacks off their land and develop the proprieties 
as an industrial area is a matter of record. 
Churches, schools, homes and business enter- 
prises were destroyed. Men, women and babies 
were carried away dead, to unknown places, as 
funerals were banned for not too mysterious rea- 
sons. The National Guard issued Field Order 4 
on June 2, that all able bodied Negro men were 
"required to render such service and perform 
such labor as required by the military commis- 
sion." In my view that is involuntary servitude, 
slavery by Marshal Law. Why did the National 
Guard not clear the area of all persons, black and 
white? Why were 6,000 African American citi- 
zens placed in concentration camps and walked 
through the streets as a defeated enemy - when it 
was in fact, a riot by whites? It was the black 
community under attack by terrorists. With esti- 
mates of from 150 to 300 dead, it was at best 
shameful, at worse, a massacre. 

This report does not answer all my questions, 
nor did I anticipate it would. It does draw a clear 
picture of the racial climate at the time, and of- 
fers reasonable men and women, if they choose, 
adequate information to draw some conclusion. 
On June 1, 1921, Lady Justice was blind. In- 
deed, her eyes were gouged out. As significant, 
accumulation of wealth was halted and the com- 
munity was left to begin again only with its own 
meager resources. What is owed this commu- 
nity 80 years later is a repairing — education 
and economic incentives and something more 
than sym bolic ges tures or an of fi cial re port as an 
apology extended to the survivors. The climate 


was real and official. The words of Mayor T.D. 
Evans spoken during the June 14, 1921 meet- 
ing of the Tulsa City Commission are brought 
to our attention once again: 

[T]his up ris ing was in ev i ta ble. If that be true and 
this judgment had come upon us, then I say it was 
good generalship to let the destruction come to that 
section where the trouble was hatched up, put in 
motion and where it had its in cep tion. All re gret the 
wrongs that fell upon the innocent Negroes and 
they should receive such help as we can give them. 
It. .is true of any warfare that the fortunes of war 
fall upon the innocent along with the guilty. This is 
true on any conflict, invasion, or uprising... 

Let us im me di ately get to the out side the fact 
that everything is quiet in our city, that this 

menace has been fully conquered, and that we 
are going on in a normal condition. 

The mayor had his way. The conspiracy of si- 
lence was launched. We can be proud of our 
state for reexamining this blot on our state and 
our conscience, and for daring to place the hght 
from this report on those dark days. This has 
been an epic journey. It can be an epic begin- 
ning. There are chapters left to write. To face, 
not hide again, the shame from this evil. Some 
remedial action is suggested in this report and 
oth ers are pre pared for statue in Sen ate Bills 75 1 
and 788 and House Bills 1178 and 1901 and 
House Joint Resolutions 1028 and 1029. The 
Oklahoma legislature is now the caretaker of 
this past and may disperse to the future forgiv- 
ing, fair, kind, deserved and decent justice.