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June 2, 1921: Read the Tulsa World's account of the Tulsa Race Riot
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June 2, 1921: Read the Tulsa World's account of the Tulsa Race Riot

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With martial law in force, forbidding the indiscriminate use of the streets to vehicles and pedestrians until 8 o’clock Thursday morning; with 5,000 negro refugees confined in the buildings at the county fair grounds east of the city; with “Little Africa” in ashes, and with Adjt. Gen. Charles F. Barrett here in command of seven companies of national guardsmen, Tulsa is comparatively quiet after a night and part of a day of race rioting.

Official figures on the number of dead are not obtainable because of the chaos and disorder that have accompanied the riot and the lack of time by relief workers to keep an accurate count of casualties. They are unofficially placed at 100 — 90 negroes and 10 whites.

“We have the situation well under control,” Adjutant General Barrett stated at 8:30 o’clock. “We do not anticipate any further rioting, although nothing has been overlooked as a precaution against its recurrence. With Tulsa under martial law, which is now in force, we expect to see rapid readjustment of conditions.”

Difficult to check negroes

The difficulty of determining the number of dead negroes is caused by the fact that the bodies were apparently not handled in a systematic manner. Byron Kirkpatrick, aide to General Barrett, said last night that none of the bodies had been handled by guardsmen, but that it was reported a number of bodies were removed in motor trucks operated by citizens. Kirkpatrick said he does not know where they were taken — whether they were placed at some specific point for later attention, if they were dumped into a large hole, or thrown into the Arkansas River.

Fifteen bodies of blacks are in a local undertaking establishment. Reports heard over the city indigents that five to eight times that number of negroes were killed during the riot. A careful check of the dead is to be taken by the Adjutant General Thursday, according to Kirkpatrick, in determining the exact number of lives lost. It is possible that some negroes who were mortally wounded were taken from the city by those who fled in either late or early Wednesday morning.

There were 16 injured white people still in hospitals last night. Of this number six are believed by hospital attendants to be in critical conditions.

The number of injured negroes will probably reach into the hundreds. Sixty-eight were treated at one hospital. First aid treatment was given at the national guard armory and at virtually all churches, which were quickly converted into first aid stations.

In their search to determine the number of lives lost, guardsmen today will inspect closely the debris in Little Africa to find how many negroes were burned to death, Major Kirkpatrick said last night.

Fear another uprising

The most disturbing element, except the general regret over the deplorable conditions that have prevailed, is the frequent reports and rumors that negroes are preparing for revenge and that they have gathered at Red Bird, a negro settlement and other towns preparatory to making a concerted attack upon the city of Tulsa to destroy the business section and the public utilities.

Every precaution has been taken to guard against any probability of a new outbreak on behalf of those reported to be congregating at points on the outskirts of Tulsa.

Governor takes the lead

Martial law was proclaimed by Gov. J.A. Robertson about 11 o’clock Wednesday morning, notice having been received in the form of a telegram from the governor at that time by adjutant General Barrett when on his arrival with three companies of guardsmen from Oklahoma City at 1 o’clock Wednesday morning, established headquarters at the office of fellow Commissioner J.M. Atkinson.

Refugees, as well as a few of the belligerent negroes who are believed by officials to have been instrumental in precipitating the riot, were placed in Convention hall and at McNulty park. Frequent calls were received during the day at the police station from negroes, singly and collectively, asking that they be taken to a place where their lives would be safe. These calls were answered by motor trucks and motor cars, most of which were given to the individuals. Convention hall and the baseball park were most accessible, and were pressed into immediate but temporary service.

The refugees are being well cared for through the generosity of local business men. All day long Wednesday bread, milk, fruit and other eatables were furnished to them, and early in the afternoon they were lined up and given bread and meat. There was plenty of the ice water and shade, so no one suffered from the intense heat. In most cases the men were separated from the women and children. Generally they viewed the deplorable situation optimistically, in spite of the fact that they were homeless. Here and there could be seen a refugee grieving the death of a husband or a wife.

Caring for these refugees is in charge of a military commission named by Major T.I. Evans and approved by Adjutant General Barrett. This commission is able to make a thorough investigation of the riots and if possible determine who was guilty of starting it. Composing the committee are Orra E. Upp; F.E. White of the Ad Club; Rev. L.S. Marton; Lee Levering of the Rotary Club; Rev. Harold G. Cooke of the Lions Club; C.M. Avery; I. Burr Gibbons of the Rotary Club; J.A. Veasey of the City Club; Fred Shaw of the Chamber of Commerce; John Mitchell of the Tulsa Traffic Association; E.S. Hutchison of the Retail Merchants association; Fred Johnson of the Junior Chamber of Commerce; E. Ree Guthrey of the Automobile Club; John Rogers of the Civitan Club; A.V. Davenport; A.M. Welch of the Humane Society; Ralph Smith, Harry Heinzman, Alva J. Niles, H.F. Newblock, C.F. Hopkins and G.R. McCullough. A meeting of this committee was held at 2 o’clock Wednesday afternoon, at which there were numerous expressions of regret over the unfortunate occurrences of the preceding period during which the riots raged.

Criticism was especially directed toward those white men who willfully destroyed the property owned by negroes and rendered thousands of innocent persons homeless.

From the time the first shots were fired about 9 o’clock Tuesday night until martial law was proclaimed, the entire city was in disorder. Hundreds of automobile loads of white men could be seen in the business district, where also it appeared that every male, from small boys in knee length trousers, to elderly men, was armed.

‘Little Africa’ in ruins

The heaviest fight took place between midnight and 6 o’clock Wednesday morning. Mobs of white men invaded Little Africa, intent upon killing every negro in sight. Several pitched battles ensued in which casualties occurred on both sides. It was shortly after midnight that whites apparently carrying kerosene or some other highly inflammable substance, entered the black district and started the fires that before daylight had reduced Little Africa to smoldering ruins. Greenwood Avenue, principal business street in the negro district, is a mass of broken bricks and debris. Only gas and water pipes, bath fixtures remain to mark the places where homes once stood. The negro residences remaining intact can almost be counted on one hand. There is not an undamaged business building owned by negroes in the entire district.

25 fires started

Officials believe the fires were started in at least 25 places at the same time as the entire district appeared to be in flames virtually at the same moment.

One of the fiercest engagements erupted at the negro church, which was only recently completed and which was destroyed by fire. It was being used by about 50 negroes, who had there barricaded themselves, providing a store of ammunition and preparing to resist all onslaughts. Several massed attacks were made upon the church by whites, but each time they were driven back. Finally someone set fire to the building. The occupants soon began to pour out, shooting as they ran. Several were killed on both sides, according to reports.

Many women wounded

Virtually all of the negro women who were wounded were the victims of stray bullets, as they were not active combatants. As soon as the fires began to rage fiercely rushed out of their homes after grabbing a few articles of wearing apparel and asked for protection, which was given them. They were later joined by their husbands, sons and fathers who remained in their homes during the disturbance, and all were taken to the places of refuge with motor trucks or in automobiles belonging to members of the mobs.

It was estimated that 1,500 negroes were taken to Convention hall and more than 4,000 to McNulty park prior to their transfer to the fairgrounds.

Hardware stores and pawnshops were broken open early Wednesday morning and ransacked of guns and ammunition.

Hundreds of blacks were seen leaving Tulsa along the roads to other towns, it was reported in this section of the county early Wednesday morning. Many of these went to Broken Arrow and Sapulpa, it was reported. Passengers on incoming trains Wednesday evening noticed many of these negroes returning to Tulsa, apparently satisfied that trouble had been quieted, but doubtless unaware that their homes had been destroyed.

There are approximately 500 National Guardsmen in the city, patrolling the devastated area and business and residential streets. One of the chief duties is to watch for pillagers. More than 25 white men and boys had been taken into custody by guardsmen for this offense up to 6 o’clock Wednesday evening.

Efforts of the fire department were almost futile and according to Chief R.C. Alder, their work was seriously hampered by threats from members of the white mobs. Through some freak of circumstance, none of the numerous wholesale grocery houses that are located near the Frisco and Katy tracks were destroyed, although some of them were directly in the path of the fires.

Adjutant General Barrett told the military commission Wednesday that preparation must be made for caring for the refugees for at least a week or 10 days and “not just today and tomorrow.” Measures to provide temporary homes for the negroes are to be determined as quickly as possible. It is probable, according to members of the commission, that a number of tents will be set up as soon as the debris is cleaned away.

All day Wednesday housewives, contractors and other employees of negro labor besieged the city hall requesting permission to obtain those of the refugees that had been in their employ previous to the riots. Such permission was granted only when these white persons agreed to keep the negroes indoors or at the scene of their labor.

Only those who were in the city Wednesday morning could appreciate the scene of wild disorder that presented itself. It appeared that everyone was in a state of expectancy, awaiting a fresh outbreak of rioting. At no time in the history of the city was traffic on the downtown streets so heavy. Sidewalks were filled with pedestrians, most of them armed. Spectators swarmed through the police station and through the city hall, feverishly asking for the latest news. City officials were hardly given a breathing spell as they answered questions issued written and verbal or from the municipal building.

Local police officials and Adjt. General Barrett worked in close operation. Joe Carson post American Legion, offered the service of its membership in any and all capacities.

The ruins of the burned continued to smoulder until Wednesday night. Here and there during the day the smoking debris would break into flames. Until all the troops arrived to patrol the district thousands of spectators, evidently satisfied that all negro snipers had been put out of the way, flooded down Cincinnati and Detroit avenues to witness the results.

Personal belongings and house goods had been removed from most homes and piled in the streets. On the steps of the few houses that remained sat feeble and gray negro men and women and occasional small child. The look in their eyes was one of dejection and supplication.

Judging from their attitude it was not of material consequences to them whether they lived or died. Harmless themselves, they apparently could not conceive the brutality and fiendishness of men who would deliberately set fire to the homes of their friends and neighbors and as deliberately shoot them down in their tracks.

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