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IT HAPPENED IN TULSA Ed Wheeler

[[image]] The Distruction [[Destruction]] on "STAND PIPE HILL" TULSA RIOT, June 1st 1921

This is the story of a race riot. 

It is not a pretty story, and it is not told for its shock value or to reopen old wounds. 

It is presented because it happened fifty years ago to another generation whose story is pertinent to a contemporary generation. 

The date was June 2, 1921. 

The place was Tulsa, Oklahoma. 

The Tulsa World headline read, "DEAD ESTIMATED AT 100—CITY IS QUIET. 

One of the bloodiest race riots in the nation's history had finally ended. 

In the aftermath, knowledgeable estimates ran as high as 300 dead. 

Within 24 hours, 184 negroes and 48 whites were hospitalized for surgical care. 531 more were treated for various injuries. 

The total of 736 did not include wounded refugees who were treated at Muskogee, Sapulpa, Bartlesville and as far north as Kansas City, The death totals did not include those who died later of their wounds or were buried in unmarked graves. 

During the riot, thirty-five city blocks were completely looted and burned to the ground. Property losses far exceeded the initial estimate of $4 million. 

Martial law was declared by Governor J.B.A. Robertson and the Oklahoma National Guard used seven companies of armed Oklahoma National guardsmen from Tulsa, Wagoner, Oklahoma City, Bartlesville and Muskogee along with two companies of regulars from Fort Sill to enforce the orders of Adjutant General Charles F. Barrett. 

During and immediately following the riot, negro citizens were arrested if discovered on the streets without green cardboard tags countersigned by their employers. 

The Tulsa Fairgrounds was used as an internment camp for negroes and whites arrested during the riot. It was guarded by thirteen Oklahoma guardsmen from the 3rd Infantry division who were "armed and fully equipped." 

The negro community was summarily informed by insurance companies holding policies on property in the stricken area that "unless they wish to prove that either the city or state was negligent in the protection of that property, they would suffer total loss since the policies provided that destruction by fire caused by rioting or civil insurrection, renders the company writing the policy."

The Mount Zion Baptist Church which had been built at a cost of $84,000 and dedicated to serve the negro community less than six weeks before, lay gutted and charred. The parishioners who had borrowed $50,000 to help pay for the church and had signed the note a few weeks before, suddenly found themselves that much in debt and nothing to show for it. It is to their everlasting credit that the congregation voted to pay back the money, a process which would take 21 years.

The blame for the riot was heaped upon, "...negroes of the lower class—gamblers and bootleggers..." and "...a group of negroes who...had been worked upon by a law less element of white agitators, reds and bolshevists."

But this was hogwash.

Prejudice, suspicion, ignorance and hate caused the riot.

Intolerance, anger, rumormongering and fear fanned its flames.

Such elements were prevalent in abundance on both sides of the racial fence.

In addition, Tulsa was a sharply divided city in 1921.

The Ku Klux Klan was a viable, anachronistic organization that possessed political "clout" in the Oklahoma of the later period of the second decade of the 1900's and into the 1921's. In fact it was so strong that it surfaced in Tulsa to construct a headquarters building. White citizens who opposed the Klan, and there were many, did not oppose enough.

The negro population was confined to a ghetto (e.g.: "a quarter of a city in which members of a minority group live because of economic, legal, or social pressure.")

The negro ghetto centered on Greenwood Avenue, north of Archer street in an area that was euphemistically referred to as "Little Africa." "Little Africa" had gotten its name from the fact that it was a thriving business community created by and for the black citizenry. It was known throughout the country as a place for negroes to prove themselves. Negro-owned businesses grew and prospered and many blacks moved to Tulsa's "Little Africa" when faced with frustration, oppression, and lack of opportunities elsewhere. However, despite the relative prosperity, the area was still poverty-stricken with a high degree of illiteracy and drug addiction. 

In the white portion of the city, little was said and less was done to help the negro population. Some service organizations such as the American Red Cross did work to help
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