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Tulsa race massacre
The Tulsa race massacre, also known as the Tulsa race riot or the Black Wall Street massacre,was a two-day-long massacre that took place between May 31 – June 1, 1921, when mobs of white residents, some of whom had been appointed as deputies and armed by city officials, attacked black residents and destroyed homes and businesses of the Greenwood District in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The event is considered one of “the single worst incident[s] of racial violence in American history” and has been described as one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in the history of the United States.The attackers burned and destroyed more than 35 square blocks of the neighborhood—at the time one of the wealthiest black communities in the United States, colloquially known as “Black Wall Street.”
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More than 800 people were admitted to hospitals, and as many as 6,000 black residents of Tulsa were interned in large facilities, many of them for several days. The Oklahoma Bureau of Vital Statistics officially recorded 36 dead. The 2001 Tulsa Reparations Coalition examination of events identified 39 dead, 26 black and 13 white, based on contemporary autopsy reports, death certificates, and other records. The commission gave several estimates ranging from 75 to 300 dead.
The massacre began during Memorial Day Weekend after 19-year-old Dick Rowland, a black shoeshiner, was accused of assaulting Sarah Page, a white 17-year-old elevator operator in the nearby Drexel Building. He was arrested and rumors that he was to be lynched were spread throughout the city, where a white man named Roy Bolton had been lynched the previous year. Upon hearing reports that a mob of hundreds of white men had gathered around the jail where Rowland was being held, a group of 75 black men, some armed, arrived at the jail to protect Rowland. The sheriff persuaded the group to leave the jail, assuring them that he had the situation under control.
The most widely reported and corroborated inciting incident occurred as the group of black men left, when an elderly white man approached O. B. Mann, a black man, and demanded that he hand over his pistol. Mann refused, and the old man attempted to disarm him. A gunshot went off, and then, according to the sheriff’s reports, “all hell broke loose.” At the end of the exchange of gunfire, 12 people were dead, 10 white and 2 black. Subsequently, the group reportedly fled back into Greenwood, shooting as they went. Alternatively, another eyewitness account was that the shooting began “down the street from the Courthouse” when black business owners came to the defense of a lone black man being attacked by a group of around six white men. It is possible that the eyewitness did not recognize the fact that this incident was occurring as a part of a rolling gunfight which was already underway. In either case, as news of the violence spread throughout the city, mob violence exploded. White rioters invaded Greenwood that night and the next morning, killing men and burning and looting stores and homes. Around noon on June 1, the Oklahoma National Guard imposed martial law, ending the massacre.
About 10,000 black people were left homeless, and the cost of the property damage amounted to more than $1.5 million in real estate and $750,000 in personal property (equivalent to $34.18 million in 2021). By the end of 1922, largely, the residents’ homes had been rebuilt, but the city and real estate companies refused to compensate them.Many survivors left Tulsa, while residents who chose to stay in the city, regardless of race, largely kept silent about the terror, violence, and resulting losses for decades. The massacre was largely omitted from local, state, and national histories.
In 1996, 75 years after the massacre, a bipartisan group in the state legislature authorized the formation of the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. The commission’s final report, published in 2001, states that the city had conspired with the racist mob; it recommended a program of reparations to survivors and their descendants. The state passed legislation to establish scholarships for the descendants of survivors, encourage the economic development of Greenwood,[not verified in body] and develop a park in memory of the victims of the massacre in Tulsa. The park was dedicated in 2010. Schools in Oklahoma have been required to teach students about the massacre since 2002, and in 2020, the massacre officially became a part of the Oklahoma school curriculum.
2 Monday, May 30 (Memorial Day)
2.1 Encounter in the elevator
2.2 Brief investigation
3 Tuesday, May 31
3.1 Arrest of Rowland
3.2 Newspaper coverage
3.3 Stand-off at the courthouse
3.4 Taking up arms
3.5 Violent outbreaks
4 Wednesday, June 1
4.1 Fires begin
4.3 Attack by air
4.4 Arrival of National Guard troops
5.2 Property losses
5.3 Identities of the African-American victims
5.4 Public Safety Committee
5.6 Tulsa Union Depot
5.7 1921 grand jury investigation
5.7.1 Allegations of corruption
5.7.2 John A. Gustafson
5.8 Breaking the silence
6.1 Olivia Hooker
6.2 Eldoris MC Condichie
6.3 George Monroe
6.4 Mary E. Jones Parrish
6.5 Lessie Benning field (“Mother Randle”)
6.6 Hal Singer
6.7 Essie Lee Johnson Beck
6.8 Vernice Sim ms
6.9 Lena Eloise Taylor Butler
7 Tulsa Race Massacre Commission
8 Post-commission actions
8.1 Search for mass graves
8.3 Survivors’ lawsuit
8.4 John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park
8.5 Renewed calls for restitution
9 President Biden’s visit
10 Tulsa Historical Society and Museum
11 Present-day Black Wall Street
12 In popular culture
12.2 Film and television
12.3 Music and art
13 See also
16 Further reading
17 External links
In 1921, Oklahoma had a racially, socially, and politically tense atmosphere. The territory of northern Oklahoma had been established for the forced resettlement of Native Americans from the southeast, some of whom had owned slaves.The “first Black inhabitants of Indian Territory were those who came as enslaved people with their native owners.” Other areas had received many settlers from the South whose families had been slaveholders before the Civil War. Oklahoma was admitted as a state on November 16, 1907. The newly created state legislature passed racial segregation laws, commonly known as Jim Crow laws, as its first order of business. The 1907 Oklahoma Constitution did not call for strict segregation; delegates feared that, should they include such restrictions, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt would veto the document. Still, the first law passed by the new legislature segregated all rail travel, and voter registration rules effectively disenfranchised non-whites. This meant that they were also barred from either serving on juries or serving in local public offices. These laws were enforced until they were ruled unconstitutional after the passage of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. Major cities passed laws that imposed additional restrictions.
On August 4, 1916, Tulsa passed an ordinance that mandated residential segregation by forbidding members of either race from residing on any block where three-fourths or more of the residents were members of the other race. Although the United States Supreme Court declared such an ordinance unconstitutional the following year, Tulsa and many other cities continued to establish and enforce segregation for the next three decades.
Many servicemen returned to Tulsa following the end of the First World War in 1918, and as they tried to re-enter the labor force, social tensions and white supremacist sentiment increased in cities where job competition was fierce. An economic slump in Northeastern Oklahoma increased the level of unemployment. The American Civil War, which ended in 1865, was still in living memory; civil rights for African Americans were lacking.
The Ku K lux Klan was resurgent (influenced by the popular 1915 film The Birth of a Nation).Since 1915, the Ku K lux Klan had been growing in urban chapters across the country. Its first significant appearance in Oklahoma occurred on August 12, 1921. By the end of 1921, 3,200 of Tulsa’s 72,000 residents were Klan members, according to one estimate. In the early 20th century, lynchings were common in Oklahoma as part of a continuing effort to assert and maintain white supremacy.By 1921, at least 31 people, mostly men and boys, had been lynched in the newly formed state; 26 were black.
At the same time, black veterans pushed to have their civil rights enforced, believing that they had earned full citizenship as the result of their military service. In what became known as the “Red Summer” of 1919, industrial cities across the Midwest and Northeast experienced severe race riots in which whites attacked black communities, sometimes with the assistance of local authorities.
As a booming oil city, Tulsa also supported a large number of affluent, educated, and professional African-American residents. Greenwood was a district in Tulsa that was organized in 1906 following Booker T. Washington’s 1905 tour of Arkansas, Indian Territory, and Oklahoma. It was a namesake of the Greenwood District which Washington had established as his own district in Tuskegee, Alabama, five years earlier. Greenwood became so prosperous that it came to be known as “the Negro Wall Street” (now commonly referred to as “the Black Wall Street”). Most black people lived together in the district. Black Americans had created their own businesses and services in this enclave, including several grocers, two newspapers, two movie theaters, nightclubs, and numerous churches. Black professionals, including doctors, dentists, lawyers, and clergy, served the community. During his trip to Tulsa in 1905, Washington encouraged the cooperation, economic independence, and excellence being demonstrated there. Greenwood residents selected their own leaders and raised capital there to support economic growth. In the surrounding areas of northeastern Oklahoma, they also enjoyed relative prosperity and participated in the oil boom.
Encounter in the elevator
On May 30, 1921, 19-year-old Dick Rowland, a black shoe shiner who was employed at a Main Street shine parlor, entered the only elevator in the nearby Drexel Building at 319 South Main Street in order to use the top-floor “colored” restroom, which his employer had arranged for use by his black employees. There, he encountered Sarah Page, the 17-year-old white elevator operator who was on duty. Whether—and to what extent—Rowland and Page knew each other has long been a matter of speculation. The two likely knew each other at least by sight because Rowland would have regularly ridden in Page’s elevator on his way to and from the restroom. A clerk at Renberg’s, a clothing store on the first floor of the Drexel, heard what sounded like a woman’s scream and saw a young black man rushing from the building. The clerk went to the elevator and found Page in a distraught state. Thinking that she had been sexually assaulted, he summoned the authorities. Apart from the clerk’s interpretation that Rowland had attempted to rape Page, many explanations have been given for the incident, with the most common explanation being that Rowland tripped as he got onto the elevator, and as he tried to catch his fall, he grabbed onto the arm of Page, who then screamed. Others suggested that Rowland and Page had a lover’s quarrel.
The 2001 Oklahoma Commission Final Report notes that it was unusual for both Rowland and Page to be working downtown on Memorial Day when most stores and businesses were closed, but it has also been speculated that Rowland was there because the shine parlor which he worked at may have been open, to draw in some of the parade traffic, while 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.
Although the police questioned Page, no written account of her statement has been found, but apparently, she told the police that Rowland had grabbed her arm and nothing more, and would not press charges.The police determined that what happened between the two teenagers was less than an assault, and conducted a low-key investigation rather than launching a man-hunt for her alleged assailant.
Regardless of whether or not assault had occurred, Rowland had reason to be fearful, as African American men accused of raping white women were often prime targets for lynch mobs. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Rowland fled to his mother’s house in the Greenwood neighborhood.
Arrest of Rowland
On the morning after the incident, Henry Carmichael, a white detective, and Henry C. Pack, a black patrolman, located Rowland on Greenwood Avenue and detained him. Pack was one of two black officers on the city’s police force of about 45 officers. Rowland was initially taken to the Tulsa city jail at the corner of First Street and Main Street. Late that day, Police Commissioner J. M. Adkison said he had received an anonymous telephone call threatening Rowland’s life. He ordered Rowland transferred to the more secure jail on the top floor of the Tulsa County Courthouse.
Rowland was well-known among attorneys and other legal professionals within the city, many of whom knew him through his work as a shoe shiner. Some witnesses later recounted hearing several attorneys defend Rowland in their conversations with one another. One of the men said, “Why, I know that boy, and have known him a good while. That’s not in him.”
The Tulsa Tribune, owned, published, and edited by Richard Lloyd Jones, and one of two white-owned papers which were published in Tulsa, broke the story in that afternoon’s edition with the headline: “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl In an Elevator,” describing the alleged incident. According to some witnesses, the same edition of the Tribune included an editorial warning of a potential lynching of Rowland, titled “To Lynch Negro Tonight.”The paper was known at the time to have a “sensationalist” style of news writing. Allegedly all original copies of that issue of the paper have apparently been destroyed, and the relevant page is missing from the microfilm copy.The Tulsa Race Riot Commission in 1997 offered a reward for a copy of the editorial, which went unclaimed. A copy of the “Tulsa Tribune” of 1 June 1921 was found: on the front page was an article headlined “Nab Negro for attacking girl in an Elevator” [right].The editorial page was also found: it did not have an article headlined “To Lynch A Negro Tonight”.Other newspapers of the time like The Black Dispatch and the Tulsa World did not call attention to any such editorial after the event.So the exact content of the column – and whether or not it existed at all – remains in dispute.However, Chief of Detectives James Patton attributed the cause of the riots entirely to the newspaper account and stated, “If the facts in the story as told the police had only been printed I do not think there would have been any riot whatsoever.”
Stand-off at the courthouse
The afternoon edition of the Tribune hit the streets shortly after 3 p.m., and soon news spread of a potential lynching. By 4 p.m., local authorities were on alert. White residents began congregating at and near the Tulsa County Courthouse. By sunset around 7:30 p.m., the several hundred white residents assembled outside the courthouse appeared to have the makings of a lynch mob. Willard M. McCullough, the newly-elected sheriff of Tulsa County, was determined to avoid events such as the 1920 lynching of white murder suspect Roy Belton in Tulsa, which had occurred during the term of his predecessor. The sheriff took steps to ensure the safety of Rowland. McCullough organized his deputies into a defensive formation around Rowland, who was terrified.[failed verification] The Guthrie Daily Leader reported that Rowland had been taken to the county jail before crowds started to gather. The sheriff positioned six of his men, armed with rifles and shotguns, on the roof of the courthouse. He 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 sight. The sheriff went outside and tried to talk the crowd into going home but to no avail. According to an account by Scott Ells-worth, the sheriff was “hooted down”. At about 8:20 p.m., three white men entered the courthouse, demanding that Rowland be turned over to them. Although vastly outnumbered by the growing crowd out on the street, Sheriff McCullough turned the men away.
A few blocks away on Greenwood Avenue, members of the black community gathered to discuss the situation at Gurney’s Hotel.Given the recent lynching of Bolton, a white man accused of murder, they believed that Rowland was greatly at risk. Many black residents were determined to prevent the crowd from lynching Rowland, but they were divided about tactics. Young World War I veterans prepared for a battle by collecting guns and ammunition. Older, more prosperous men feared a destructive confrontation that likely would cost them dearly. O. W. Gurney stated that he had tried to convince the men that there would be no lynching, but the crowd responded that Sheriff McCullough had personally told them their presence was required.About 9:30 p.m., a group of approximately 50–60 black men, armed with rifles and shotguns, arrived at the jail to support the sheriff and his deputies in defending Rowland from the mob. Corroborated by ten witnesses, attorney James Luther submitted to the grand jury that they were following the orders of Sheriff McCullough who publicly denied he gave any orders:
I saw a car full of neg-roes driving through the streets with guns; I saw Bill McCullough and told him those neg-roes would cause trouble; McCullough tried to talk to them, and they got out and stood in single file. W. G. Dags was killed near Boulder and Sixth street. I was under the impression that a man with authority could have stopped and disarmed them. I saw Chief of Police on south side of courthouse on top step, talking; I did not see any officer except the Chief; I walked in the court house and met McCullough in about 15 feet of his door; I told him these neg-roes were going to make trouble, and he said he had told them to go home; he went out and told the Whites to go home, and one said: “they said you told them to come up here.” McCullough said “I did not” and a negro said you did tell us to come.
Taking up arms
Having seen the armed black men, some of the more than 1,000 whites who had been at the courthouse went home for their own guns. Others headed for the National Guard armory at the corner of Sixth Street and Norfolk Avenue, where they planned to arm themselves. The armory contained a supply of small arms and ammunition. Major James Bell of the 180th Infantry Regiment learned of the mounting situation downtown and the possibility of a break-in, and he consequently took measures to prevent it. He called the commanders of the three National Guard units in Tulsa, who ordered all the Guard members to put on their uniforms and report quickly to the armory. When a group of whites arrived and began pulling at the grating over a window, Bell went outside to confront the crowd of 300 to 400 men. Bell told them that the Guard members inside were armed and prepared to shoot anyone who tried to enter. After this show of force, the crowd withdrew from the armory.
At the courthouse, the crowd had swollen to nearly 2,000, many of them now armed. Several local leaders, including Reverend Charles W. Kerr, pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, tried to dissuade mob action. Chief of Police John A. Gustafson later claimed that he tried to talk the crowd into going home.
Anxiety on Greenwood Avenue was rising. Many black residents worried about the safety of Rowland. Small groups of armed black men ventured toward the courthouse in automobiles, partly for reconnaissance and to demonstrate they were prepared to take necessary action to protect Rowland. Many white men interpreted these actions as a “Negro uprising” and became concerned. Eyewitnesses reported gunshots, presumably fired into the air, increasing in frequency during the evening.
In Greenwood, rumors began to fly – in particular, a report that whites were storming the courthouse. Shortly after 10 p.m., a second, larger group of approximately 75 armed black men decided to go to the courthouse. They offered their support to the sheriff, who declined their help.
There are conflicting reports about the exact time and nature of the incident, or incidents, that immediately precipitated the massacre. According to the 2001 Commission, “As the black men were leaving, a white man attempted to disarm a tall, African American World War I veteran. A struggle ensued, and a shot rang out.” Then, according to the sheriff, “all hell broke loose.”At the end of the exchange of gunfire, 12 people were dead, 10 white and two black.
Another firsthand account originates from Eloise Taylor Butler – the daughter of the famed “Peg Leg” Taylor – who was nineteen years old and in Greenwood on that day. According to Eloise’s great-granddaughter, who passed on the story that Eloise told her, while “the initial story was that it started at the Courthouse,” in fact, “It escalated to the Courthouse. It started like down the street from the Courthouse.” This key inciting incident reportedly occurred when a group of around six white men approached and beat down a lone black man. Black store owners reportedly then came out of nearby shops to help defend the black man, and “once they started defending him, they ended up having to shoot.” The account further notes, “[The black store owners] fought back the best they could. But…[the white mob] started on that end of town, where the black people started fighting, [the white mob] set those initial shops on fire at the very beginning.” The 2001 Commission itself does note that “African American homes and businesses along Archer were the first targets” of the white mob’s arson.These could possibly be the same shops “down the street from the Courthouse” where this inciting incident reportedly took place, and it establishes an immediate motive for those particular shops being targeted first. Of course, it may simply be the case that they were targeted first only out of convenience – Archer being the first street on Greenwood’s side of the Frisco Tracks. Moreover, while the Taylor account seems adamant that this incident occurred before the initial gunfight at the Courthouse (and then “escalated to the Courthouse”), it’s still possible that the incident Taylor witnessed was itself simply a product of the rolling gunfight that is known to have ensued across the streets of Tulsa following that first widely-reported exchange of gunfire.
The gunshots triggered an almost immediate response, with both sides firing on the other. The first “battle” was said to last a few seconds or so, but took a toll, as ten whites and two black men lay dead or dying in the street. The black men who had offered to provide security retreated toward Greenwood. A rolling gunfight ensued. The armed white mob pursued the black contingent toward Greenwood, with many stopping to loot local stores for additional weapons and ammunition. Along the way, bystanders, many of whom were leaving a movie theater after a show, were caught off guard by the mobs and fled. Panic set in as the white mob began firing on any black people in the crowd. The white mob also shot and killed at least one white man in the confusion. According to the Oklahoma Historical Society some in the mob were deputized by police and instructed to “get a gun and get a nigger”.
At around 11 p.m., members of the National Guard unit began to assemble at the armory to organize a plan to subdue the rioters. Several groups were deployed downtown to set up guard at the courthouse, police station, and other public facilities. Members of the local chapter of the American Legion joined in on patrols of the streets. The forces appeared to have been deployed to protect the white districts adjacent to Greenwood. The National Guard rounded up numerous black people and took them to the Convention Hall on Brady Street for detention.
At around midnight, a small crowd of whites assembled outside the courthouse. Members of the crowd were heard yelling expletives and calling for Rowland to be lynched, but ultimately did not storm the courthouse.
Throughout the early morning hours, groups of armed white and black men squared off in gunfights. The fighting was concentrated along sections of the Frisco tracks, a dividing line between the black and white commercial districts. A rumor circulated that more black people were coming by train from Muskogee to help with an invasion of Tulsa. At one point, passengers on an incoming train were forced to take cover on the floor of the train cars, as they had arrived in the midst of crossfire, with the train taking hits on both sides. Small groups of whites made brief forays by car into Greenwood, indiscriminately firing into businesses and residences. They often received return fire. Meanwhile, white rioters threw lighted oil rags into several buildings along Archer Street, igniting them.
As unrest spread to other parts of the city, many middle class white families who employed black people in their homes as live-in cooks and servants were accosted by white rioters. They demanded the families turn over their employees to be taken to detention centers around the city. Many white families complied, but those who refused were subjected to attacks and vandalism in turn.
At around 1 a.m., the white mob began setting fires, mainly in businesses on commercial Archer Street at the southern edge of the Greenwood district. As news traveled among Greenwood residents in the early morning hours, many began to take up arms in defense of their neighborhood, while others began a mass exodus from the city.Throughout the night both sides continued fighting, sometimes only sporadically.
As crews from the Tulsa Fire Department arrived to put out fires, they were turned away at gunpoint.Scott Elsworth makes the same claim,but his reference makes no mention of firefighters. Mary E. Jones Parrish, a survivor of the massacre, gave only praise for the National Guard. Another reference Elsworth gives to support the claim of holding firefighters at gunpoint is only a summary of events in which they suppressed the firing of guns by the rioters and disarmed them of their firearms.Yet another of his references states that they were fired upon by the white mob, “It would mean a fireman’s life to turn a stream of water on one of those negro buildings. They shot at us all morning when we were trying to do something but none of my men was hit. There is not a chance in the world to get through that mob into the negro district.” By 4 a.m., an estimated two dozen black-owned businesses had been set ablaze.
Tulsa co-founder and Ku K lux Klan member W. Tate Brady participated in the riot as a night watchman.This Land Press reported that previously, Brady led the Tulsa Outrage, the November 7, 1917 tarring and feathering of members of the Industrial Workers of the World — an incident understood to be economically and politically, rather than racially, motivated. Previous reports regarding Brady’s character seem favorable, and he hired black employees in his businesses, as reported by his great-grandson.
Upon sunrise, around 5 a.m., a train whistle sounded (Hirsch said it was a siren). Some rioters believed this sound to be a signal for the rioters to launch an all-out assault on Greenwood. A white man stepped out from behind the Frisco depot and was fatally shot by a sniper in Greenwood. Crowds of rioters poured from their shelter, on foot, and by car, into the streets of the neighborhood. Five white men in a car led the charge but were killed by a fusillade of gunfire before they had traveled one block.
Overwhelmed by the sheer number of attackers, black residents retreated north on Greenwood Avenue to the edge of town. Chaos ensued as terrified residents fled. The rioters shot indiscriminately and killed many along the way. Splitting into small groups, they began breaking into houses and buildings, looting. Several residents later testified the rioters broke into occupied homes and ordered the residents out to the street, where they could be driven or forced to walk to detention centers.A rumor spread among the rioters that the new Mount Zion Baptist Church was being used as a fortress and armory. Purportedly twenty caskets full of rifles had been delivered to the church, though no evidence was found.
Attack by air
Numerous eyewitnesses described airplanes carrying white assailants, who fired rifles and dropped firebombs on buildings, homes, and fleeing families. The privately owned aircraft had been dispatched from the nearby Curtis s-Southwest Field outside Tulsa. Law enforcement officials later said that the planes were to provide reconnaissance and protect against a “Negro uprising”. Law enforcement personnel were thought to be aboard at least some flights.Eyewitness accounts, such as testimony from the survivors during Commission hearings and a manuscript by eyewitness and attorney Buck Colbert Franklin, discovered in 2015, said that on the morning of June 1, at least “a dozen or more” planes circled the neighborhood and dropped “burning turpentine balls” on an office building, a hotel, a filling station, and multiple other buildings. Men also fired rifles at black residents, gunning them down in the street.
Richard S. Warner concluded in his submission to The Oklahoma Commission that contrary to later reports by claimed eyewitnesses of seeing explosions, there was no reliable evidence to support such attacks. Warner noted that while a number of newspapers targeted at black readers heavily reported the use of nitroglycerin, turpentine, and rifles from the planes, many cited anonymous sources or second-hand accounts. Beryl Ford, one of the per-eminent historians of the disaster, concluded from his large collection of photographs that there was no evidence of any building damaged by explosions. Danny Gable commended Warner on his efforts and supported his conclusions. State representative Don Ross (born in Tulsa in 1941), however, dissented from the evidence presented in the report concluding that bombs were in fact dropped from planes during the violence.
In 2015, a previously unknown written eyewitness account of the events of May 31, 1921, was discovered and subsequently obtained by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. The 10-page typewritten letter was authored by Buck Colbert Franklin, noted Oklahoma attorney and father of John Hope Franklin.
Notable quotes include:
Lurid flames roared and belched and licked their forked tongues into the air. Smoke ascended the sky in thick, black volumes and amid it all, the planes – now a dozen or more in number – still hummed and darted here and there with the agility of natural birds of the air.
Planes circling in midair: They grew in number and hummed, darted, and dipped low. I could hear something like hail falling upon the top of my office building. Down East Archer, I saw the old Mid-Way hotel on fire, burning from its top, and then another and another and another building began to burn from their tops.
The sidewalks were literally covered with burning turpentine balls. I knew all too well where they came from, and I knew all too well why every burning building first caught fire from the top.
I paused and waited for an opportune time to escape. ‘Where oh where is our splendid fire department with its half dozen stations?’ I asked myself, ‘Is the city in conspiracy with the mob?’
Franklin reports seeing multiple machine guns firing at night and hearing “thousands and thousands of guns” being fired simultaneously from all directions.He states that he was arrested by “a thousand boys, it seemed,…firing their guns every step they took.”
Arrival of National Guard troops
Adjutant General Charles Barrett of the Oklahoma National Guard arrived by special train at about 9:15 a.m., with 109 troops from Oklahoma City. Ordered in by the governor, he could not legally act until he had contacted all the appropriate local authorities, including Mayor T. D. Evans, the sheriff, and the police chief. Meanwhile, his troops paused to eat breakfast. Barrett summoned reinforcements from several other Oklahoma cities. Barrett declared martial law at 11:49 a.m.,and by noon the troops had managed to suppress most of the remaining violence.
Thousands of black residents had fled the city; another 4,000 people had been rounded up and detained at various centers. Under martial law, the detainees were required to carry identification cards. As many as 6,000 Greenwood residents were interned at three local facilities: Convention Hall (now known as the Tulsa Theater), the Tulsa County Fairgrounds (then located about a mile northeast of Greenwood) and McNulty Park (a baseball stadium at Tenth Street and Elgin Avenue).
A 1921 letter from an officer of the Service Company, Third Infantry, Oklahoma National Guard, who arrived on May 31, 1921, reported numerous events related to the suppression of the riot:
taking about 30–40 black residents into custody;
putting a machine gun on a truck and taking it on patrol, although it was not functioning and much less useful than “an ordinary rifle”;
being fired on by black snipers from the “church” and returning fire;
being fired on by white men;
turning the prisoners over to deputies to take them to police headquarters;
being fired upon again by armed black residents and having two NC Os slightly wounded;
searching for black snipers and firearms;
detailing an NCO to take 170 black residents to the civil authorities; and
delivering an additional 150 black residents to the Convention Hall.
Captain John W. McClure reported that stockpiled ammunition within the burning structures began to explode which might have further contributed to casualties. Martial law was withdrawn on June 4, under Field Order No. 7.
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