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Chapter 7
The Race Riot

The "Jim Crow" law was in effect in Oklahoma. On trains Negroes had their separate compartments. Separate waiting rooms were also required at stations. They were not welcome as patrons in white stores or restaurants. Thus, Negroes had their own town. They did enjoy the pride in their schools and businesses such as real estate, doctors, teachers, etc. 

However they had very good schools and were proud of them. Their schools were and are under the Tulsa School System. Their businesses however were all run by Negroes and they prospered. As Henry Whitlow, Tulsa Negro educator, said, "They earned their money in the white south part of Tulsa, but spent it in their own community."

I remember being on a streetcar and a very nice looking young Negro woman and a boy got on. The boy asked as they walked past me toward the back of the car, "Mother, why do we have to go to the back of the streetcar?" That's a question to think about. What if it were you and your son? Hard to answer, I'd say.

The public parks and rides in the parks were reserved for use by the blacks on Emancipation Day. I can't find a record of this day of celebration, but to the best of my memory, it was Aug. 17. On this day parks were reserved for the black's use only. The following information was obtained from the American Encyclopedia. Emancipation Proclamation, the announcement issued by Abraham Lincoln: January 1, 1863, abolishing slavery in all military sections of the South except territories occupied by Union Army.

June 17, 1862 - All captured, deserted, or fugitives of owners are freed. So it is possible June 17 is the day the blacks celebrate. Segregation was still in effect. The seating arrangement for the Ethel Waters concert had to be made to take care of this. Miss Waters was a noted Negro singer. The Convention Hall was divided down the middle. On one side of the middle aisle were whites, on the other side of the middle aisle the Negroes were seated-both downstairs and balcony. She was liked by both whites and Negroes, but each wanted its own sections. All were satisfied with this arrangement.

Tulsa was growing very rapidly in the teens and twenties. Hate groups, both white and colored, caused tension to run high. There were not enough trained police to help dissolve the trouble. Many times the law was taken over by radicals with both whites and blacks being victims.

Negroes originally lived 5 or 6 blocks east of our property, but by 1921 they had bought houses up to Detroit. A city ordinance was passed preventing them from buying west of Detroit. Since the east side of Detroit was Negro and the west was white, Dad could not sell his property. Whites didn't want it and blacks weren't allowed to buy it.

On June 1, 1921 (really the night before, I believe), these tensions came to a head. While in the elevator at the court house, a Negro boy made a remark to a white girl who was the elevator operator. As I understand, the remark didn't really amount to much, but he was arrested. The Negroes in open cars (we didn't have hard tops as now) with guns drove around and around the court house. Lynchings were common so the tension was high enough though the boy was placed on the top floor and the citizens of the town, now with a population of 73,000, had been given assurance that he would not be released to a mob.

Many people didn't know what was going on as the commotion was north of the Frisco tracks and about four blocks east of Main street. Phil Morris, a young man boarding with my parents, was downtown and came home about 9:00 o'clock that night and told us of the trouble.

As it was summer, the doors and windows were open. We lived on Standpipe Hill. Negroes lived across Detroit Street on the east side of the street. Our house at the corner of Fairview and Detroit faced Detroit and so was across the street from the beginning of Negro Town. In 1918, we moved into a house Dad built on the back of this property. This house was plumbed for water-except drinking water- and also had electricity. It faced Fairview Street.

The Negroes living across Detroit were doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. They went east to their work. We went west so each stayed to themselves. We lived north of the standpipe. We were told that both sides were fighting with clubs and guns--even machine guns--down on the railroad tracks that night.

As the hill crested where the water tower was, we could see only what happened from our east windows. We turned off the lights. Our bedrooms were on the west side of the house and so were out of danger. My niece Helen, then about 12 years old, was visiting us at the time. She and Mother went to bed, but Dad and I sat on the floor and watched out the double windows in the dining room. 

The windows came low enough to the floor for us to sit comfortably and still have a good view of the street. The Negroes were returning fire toward the whites shooting from near our house. There were several shots that hit our house. Some whites shot from our porch, too. The white groups were organized, but were vigilante--not the Home Guard.

I asked my father what was being done with the bodies. His answer was, "Hauling them to the Osage Hills, putting them in ravines and bulldozing dirt over them." No way could they have hauled the bodies through the town and past residents to dump them in the river. The smell would have been terrible.

We were unaware of all the destruction and fighting during the night, but we could hear shots from both sides. At daybreak white men came up Haskell and Fairview. During that morning, the whites went across Detroit, ordered the Negroes out and took them past our house to Convention Hall, the ball park and to various other places. These houses- 12 square blocks of them-were burned that night. We actually saw the houses across the street from our house being burned.

A large group of Negroes had been marched past our place to one of the detention places, but a Negro woman, not too young, was left standing in the middle of the street. She didn't know what to do so I told her to come in and wait where she could sit down. Not long after that some white men came in and said, "You have a Negro woman in here."

They wanted to know whether I knew the woman and why I had brought her into the house. I explained that she was left standing in the middle of the street not knowing what to do. The men gave me orders not to do that again. What hurt could an old woman alone do anyway? The home guards (now the National Guard) were called in and marshal law was established. A guard at Detroit and Fairview (our corner) allowed no one to go into the district unless he had business there or his home had been there.

The Negroes rebuilt by getting money from out of state and from individuals. While this was one of the worst riots in history, I feel we are further along in history than states that have had much later riots. Both sides have learned lessons I hope they won't forget. The "Jim Crow" law vanished many years ago. Property segregation has been removed and stores and restaurants not only welcome the Negro trade but hire them in all walks of business.

Reproduced by 
Kathie Harrison
Ancestral Whispers
Copyright 2012 
All rights reserved.