EXCERPTS FROM 1921 RIOT EYEWITNESS ACCOUNTS
H.C. WHITLOW, JR.: President Woodrow Wilson gave the debut of the racist movie Birth of the Nation at the White House. That was tantamount to nurturing the re-birth of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan spread across the nation...took over the Oklahoma legislature. Elected a governor. Tulsa became a hotbed of Klan activity. The leading citizens and law officers were members. The secret organization was no secret in Tulsa. We lived in servant's quarters just west of where City Hall is now. When the riot broke out trucks loaded with dead bodies passed by my house. They were headed toward the Arkansas River. They were either dumped in the river, or buried somewhere on the way to Sands Springs. Airplanes flew over and dropped firebombs. That's how blacks were driven out of Greenwood. After the riot, instead of hatred on the part of whites, it was more benevolent, more protective, more passive and more covert animosities. They practiced a quite shame. They would like to forget it ever happen. Whites don't show up very well in the real story of the riot. They don't want it dug up. They want their wholesome image intact.
ROBERT FAIRCHILD, SR.: I shined shoes with Dick Rowland. He was an orphan and had quit school to take care of himself. The Drexel Building was the only place downtown where we were allowed to use the restroom. Dick was a quite kind of fella. Never in no trouble. When he went to use the bathroom...in the elevator he slipped and bumped her, she screamed, he ran, and was accused of raping a white woman. "In broad daylight?" The Tribune wrote a story that triggered the crowd at the Court House: "To lynch a Negro tonight." The Tribune called him "Diamond Dick." Me, or nobody on Greenwood ever heard that name for him before. They invented it. Dick Rowland was poor as me. Neither of us probably ever saw a real diamond. Some of our folks went to the Court House to protect Dick. There was a shooting. The Frisco railroad tracks became no man's land. Our men held them off for a while, but when morning came, a whistle blew and their numbers were too many... I was marched to the fairgrounds. We were bedded down in livestock stalls.
BRIGADIER GENERAL CHARLES F. BARRETT: In the midst of 15,000 to 20,000 blood-madden rioters, all the colored section appeared to be on fire and desultory firing kept on between snipers on both sides, while the guard marched through the crowded streets. Trucks loaded with scared and partially clothed Negro men and women were parading the streets under heavily armed guards. In all my experience, I have never witnessed such scenes that prevailed in this city when I arrived at the height of the rioting - 25,000 whites, armed to the teeth were ranging the city in utter and ruthless defiance of every concept of law and righteousness. Motorcars bristling with gun swept through your city, their occupants firing at will.
ROSYLYN NELSON: I was about 12 when the riot came. Papa told me they drug my Uncle Willie behind a motor car until he was dead - with people laughing and clapping. I don't know about that. But my Uncle Cletus never came around no more. We didn't talk about it much. Our church was Vernon AME. All was left was the basement. That's where we had church. I was Going to Booker T. I don't know if they died, or left, but some in my class didn't finish school with us. Never saw them after the riot. Maybe they left. Maybe they dead. Just gone. On the North side nothing was left. The pride of our side of town was the (Stratford) hotel. It was gone, burned down. Old folks said they lynched Mr. Stradford, Mr. Smitherman and Mr. Gurley. I don't know. That's what they said. Dr. Jackson was killed. He went to our church. Lawyer (H.A.) Guess married his sister. They stayed. Never heard about no airplanes until now.
OTIS CLARK: The morning that the riot started we heard the shooting... just a couple of blocks from the end of Greenwood on Archer. After we heard the shooting, I came to.... Jackson's Funeral Home. It was also right on the end of Greenwood, a few doors down. He (Samuel Jackson) had not been long purchasing a new ambulance...we went to the undertaker...one of the young men that drove during the funeral sessions was also going out to the garage to get the ambulance. There was a old mill right across the tracks, right on Greenwood. You could look out of the mill, they could look right over and see us. While the boy was trying to unlock the door to get the ambulance...somebody white shot out...They were up in that mill which was probably four or five stories high, and they shot out of that mill and hit the boy on the hand... Blood shot out his hand. I'm standing right behind him. He dropped the keys and we ran to the back part of the funeral home by the dead folk.
GEORGE MONROE: When we saw...four men with torches in their hands; these torches were burning. When my mother saw them coming, she says, "You get up under the bed, get up under the bed!" and all four of us got up under the bed. I was the last one and my sister grabbed me and pulled me under there, and while I was under the bed, one of the guys coming past the bed stepped on my finger, and as I was about to scream, my sister put her hand over my mouth so I couldn't be heard...I remember seeing people getting shot. I haven't mentioned too much because they would ask me who was it, where was it, and at five years old, I wouldn't know so I just kinda kept it to myself.
KENNY BOOKER: I was eight years old when the riot started. At The time, I don't recall what we were doing at the outset of the riot, but While they were shooting bullets my father had us to hide in the attic. While we were up there, bullets were raining, either from an airplane or Standpipe Hill they were shooting, and finally they came to where martial law was declared, and they had help with soldiers coming around. They came to ask my father, they used the provocative unacceptable 'N' word, "You have a gun?" He probably did have a gun but I don't know if he was shooting it. "I don't have a gun." Well, he said, "Please don't set my house on fire." He knew that we were up in the attic, so as soon as he left they set our house on fire and we were up in the attic, five kids, baby boy, my sister and three brothers, and we were able to get out without injury but bullets were zinging around there. But when we got down the telephone poles were burned and falling and my poor sister who was two years younger than I am, "Kenny, is the world on fire?" I said, "I don't think so, but we are in deep trouble," so we kept on and they carried us to Convention Hall. Didn't know what happened to my father at the time, but when we got down there, well there were quite a few people. My father happened to be working for a millionaire oil man, H. F. Wilcox, and they were letting people go if white people would vouch for them and say they would take care of them for a while. So he took us to his home, we lived in his basement and stayed there for a while.
ED KELLEY: I was going to work at a downtown theater when the Riot broke out. There was a black man behind me. We were both trying to get through the same door with no luck. I said I would try the door on the alley. By that time some fella came around the corner and pulled a gun on us. I said, "hey I'm white." I knew he was shooting at the black man. I said give me a chance to get around the alley. He said make it snappy. By that time the black boy decided he would cross over and go to the other alley. He got into the middle of the street this fella shot him. Shot him right on The streetcar tracks...They began to break in the hardware and pawn shops. They kicked in windows and got guns and ammunitions...I was the last one. There was nothing but air guns there. I was thinking of protection...There was a rumor that bunch of black folks were coming from Muskogee to help out... There were planes flying overhead that were supposed to spot 'em. That Never materialized. Some white folks who knew coloreds, or they worked for them tried to hide them.
VIOLA CLOWES: My father had this pick-up truck...The police saw His truck and told him to haul bodies dead bodies. I don't know where they Took them.
C.J. EDDY: A cousin of mine, we passed down by the old Oaklawn Cemetery. We saw a bunch of men working, digging a pit and we saw a bunch of wooden crates lying around. We went and took a look we walked up to the first crate and there were bodies of three blacks. The next crate it was much larger and there were at least four bodies in it.
JOE BURNS: There was a lot of commotion. Dad had an old pistol he put one in his pocket and he took off down as far as Greenwood. He had a cousin...and he told my dad..."get your wife and kids on outta here. Take these kids to the park now." There was a waterway...and it looked deep enough with coverage from trees and shrubs to hide. There were a lot of people hiding down there. A truck stopped up at the top of the road up there, which would've been Apache, and they hollered down there, said, "Hey, what you guys doing down there?" Dad told them he had his family down here, and he said, "One of you come up here and talk to us." It looked like it was soldiers, but they weren't dressed as soldiers, they only had one or two items of soldier's on, like a shirt or a hat, and wearing a helmet, and they had rifles. So Dad went up and talked with them, and Uncle Will went up there to talk to them too. He said, "We're going to have to take you boys downtown." He said, "No, you can't take us and leave the women and kids. Gotta have somebody here to protect them." He said, "Well, they'll be all right, we'll leave somebody here with them -- in fact, we'll send a truck back to pick them up." So that's what they did, they took my dad and my uncle away...left us down there. It wasn't long before they had another truck with some soldiers in it that came and picked us up, put us all in the truck, took us down to the Convention Center.
J.B. STRADFORD: In some way, I don't know how, the Chief of Police informed us they had enough of the fight and the next day the matter would be adjusted fairly. As soon as we ceased fighting the Chief of Police telephoned to all the nearby cities and towns for reinforcements...He furnished guns and ammunition. The next morning the sound of whistles...signaled for them to come over into our section and kill, burn and rob. Quite a few of our group were caught in their house by the rioters. They would throw up their hands for mercy, but there was no mercy. They were shot dead. The practice was continued until 42 square blocks of our property was laid waste in ashes and 10,000 were homeless...I had a telephone call from Muskogee saying: "we are informed that you are having a bloody riot. If you need us we have 50 men ready to come." I told them I didn't think it was necessary. At the time I had no conception of the gravity of the situation..I saw airplanes. At the time there were only two planes in Tulsa. One was owned by Harry Sinclair, the oil magnate and the other was a government-owned plane...The militia had been ordered to takecharge of the affair, but instead they joined the rioters...The guard acted like wild men. It is incredible to believe that in this civilized age that a white man could be so void of humanity... my soul cried for revenge and prayed for the day to come when I could personally avenge the wrongs which had been perpetuated against me.
CLARENCE FIELDS: After the riot simmered, they picked up all the blacks and left our side of town open for the whites to loot and burn it. I still don't know why the National Guard didn't clear the area of everybody, or just fence it off from the attacking whites. The government soldiers were good and bad. Many of the deputized vigilantes were wearing their World War I uniforms. I saw them shoot a boy who ran...I saw them rescue a black man from some whites intent on killing him. I was shot at from the air...and a bullet hit the wood and splinters hit me in the arm. I saw where it came from and returned the courtesy...white hoodlums may have started it, but the good citizens joined in...We didn't talk much about the riot afterwards. They were still lynching black folks down south and nothing was done. Nobody wanted to stir up that trouble here anymore. We came to Oklahoma for freedom; many of us with the Indians on the Trail of Tears before the white man. Before statehood, blacks and whites and Indians were all together. Blacks were members of the tribes and represented much of the professional class. After statehood the legislature separated the races. Blacks and Indians had close relations. Until this day if a black says he's got Cherokee or Indian blood, you know he has roots in Oklahoma. When they separated the races, the southern factions of the state wanted to halt blacks marrying into the tribes and getting more of the Indian land allotments. They didn't know where the next oil well would come in, but they didn't want blacks in the equation. Why do you think all those rich, white oilmen were members of the Klan, but married to Indians? They were stealing Indian's land.
RUTH AVERY: It was never in the history books, yet it was the biggest riot that we've ever had in America...I talked to the sexton an Oaklawn Cemetery. He said truck loads were brought in and they were buried in the pauper field in the southwest corner...I saw two truck loads of bodies. They were Negroes with their legs and arms sticking out through the slats. On the very top was a little boy just about my age, he looked liked he had been scared to death.
W.D. WILLIAMS: My parents were leading business people on Greenwood. They had rent houses, a garage, a confectionary store, rooming houses and were part owners of a drug store. Ours was the first black family to own a car. When other blacks begin to buy them my dad had become a good mechanic from working on his. He opened a garage...We lost everything. When the riot came I was at the school getting ready for the prom. When I found out what was happening I went looking for my dad. He was on top of our building shooting back. A lot of black men were up there, even the white guy who ran the movie projector at the Dreamland for my dad. He told the white man to get me out of there, he would be along shortly. I ran down the Midland tracks, but we got separated. Later some white men stopped me. They said "you got a gun boy." I said no. "Take that hat off," they said. Two Of them marched me to Convention Hall and the other continued patrolling down the Midland Valley railroad tracks. I was there three or four days. I didn't know if my parents were living or dead. Everybody was talking about how the guard had shot down Dr. Jackson in cold blood. He was a good man...Liked by blacks and whites. Word spread about them going to let old man Stradford out and then lynch him. He owned a very fine hotel and didn't take no stuff from white folks. Finally, dad got out with the help of the white man who worked for him and found me. The guard put us on a work detail to clean up the mess. Afterward, we began to rebuild. My mother was a good businesswoman. I don't know where she kept it but she had some money. I think they got more from a bank in Boley and from Mr. Buckner, a rich black oilman who live in Wewoka. They replaced their businesses. One of the buildings on Greenwood and Archer still stands. The Dreamland Theater was sold to Urban Renewal and torn down to make way for the expressway...I am still proud to have seen my dad standing up for his race.
MAURICE WILLOWS (Red Cross Director): All that fire, rifles, revolvers, machine guns, and inhuman bestiality could be done with 35 city blocks with its 10,000 Negro population, was done...The number of dead is a matter of conjecture. Some knowing ones estimate the number killed as high as 300, other estimates being as low as 55. The bodies were hurriedly rushed to burial, and the records of many burials are not to be found...Eyewitnesses also claim that many houses were set afire from aeroplanes...The Public Welfare Board announced that Tulsa would not appeal to the outside world for contributions. This announcement was given wide publicity, which policy apparently met with universal approval...Just at the time when the Welfare Board was ready to announce its plans to the public, Mayor Evans again took up the reins of positive authority at the head of The city government. His first act was to discharge the old Public Welfare Board. He immediately appointed a new committee which he named The Reconstruction Committee. The new committee was politically constituted And did not have in its membership men of large financial power or influence...Seven weeks have elapsed. The Reconstruction Committee has shown practically nothing in the way of definite results...Their (The Reconstruction Committee's) activities revolved around the erection of a public sentiment which would force the Negroes to rebuild in a section somewhere outside the city limits...The Negroes have consistently said to the City, "pay us for what we have lost and we will talk to you about selling what we have left." Months and maybe years will elapse before the inside truth will come to the surface as to the real causes of the civil warfare.
B.C. FRANKLIN: While the ashes were still hot from the holocaust, certain questionable real estate men influenced the mayor and city commissioners to enact an ordinance with an emergency clause prohibiting owners of lots in burned areas from rebuilding unless they erected fire proof buildings...we immediately filed an injunction action against the city to enjoin and prohibit it from enforcing the ordinance...in the end our clients prevailed...There was never the slightest evidence that any responsible white residents of the city has anything to do with these murders. I don't think, however, that city and county officials handled the situation with the degree of intelligence, firmness, and care that they should have...It has taken the Negro, in fact the entire city, a long time to rise from the embers of that disaster. In fact, the Negro has not yet attained his former financial condition.
B. F. JOHNSON: Tuesday [May 31] I braced myself for work and was getting things in fair shape when the riot broke out and raged all night and part of the next day. They burned all the negro settlement half mile wide and more than a mile long. Probably 200 Negroes were killed or crippled for life-at one time the fireing (sic) line was within two blocks of our hotel and one negre [sic] defending himself was shot down across the street from our main entrance. The white people were largely to blame-there seemed [to] be on the part [of] many white people a sort of joy in having unrestrained priveleges [sic] in shooting the negroes. I think tho in the end the whites will suffer far more than the blacks. After the negroes had been driven to cover in the warehouses the soldiers U.S. came in car loads from Fort Sill and took the negroes thru town to the ball park...It was indeed the most heartless brutal piece of business I ever saw. We have nothing on Germany after this--what they did was often on act of orders-what these boys and men did was because they had hell in their harts [sic]. Many mothers were shot down with babes at their breasts and now some of the better white women of Tulsa are trying to comfort these little ones, who can only be comforted By their black mammies.
B. F. Johnson