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Black History Month: A.J. Smitherman

Black History Month: A.J. Smitherman

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A building burns during the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Courtesy/Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library, The University of Tulsa

Through his Tulsa newspaper, A.J. Smitherman pushed for black independence and unity while exhorting his fellow African Americans to stand up for their rights.

But in 1921 the outspoken founder of the Tulsa Star was temporarily silenced.

During the Tulsa Race Massacre, like much of the rest of the Greenwood District he called home, Smitherman’s press, business and residence were destroyed.

Moreover, Smitherman was among nearly 60 black Tulsans who would be indicted for offenses related to rioting. Smitherman was jailed, as was his brother, sheriff’s deputy John Smitherman.

A.J. Smitherman left Tulsa after posting bond and went on to open a newspaper in Buffalo, New York, where he became an outspoken civil rights advocate.

No prosecutions ever resulted from the indictment, which named 56 individuals.

In 2007, the decades-old indictment was finally dismissed, with Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris saying it was in the best interests of justice and the community.

Black History Month: Notable Oklahomans and state history


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