Some thoughts on THE TULSA RACE RIOT OF 1921

BY
I. MARC CARLSON

(Note:  These are clearly my opinions, and observations here).


23 January, 2002:

        In the past few months, my attention has been pulled back to this topic:  Three new books have been published recently about the Riot  Tim Madigan, The Burning; James S Hirsch, Riot and remembrance: the Tulsa race war and its legacy;Alfred L Brophy, Reconstructing the dreamland: the Tulsa race riot of 1921: race, reparations and reconciliation.  I haven't read any of them at this moment.  So really I don't have anything I can say about them.  I may need to come up with a new page detailing the different publications about the riot and what sort of bias they have.
        Along those same lines, I was recently given copies of two unpublished works by local historians William M. O'Brien Who Speaks for Us?  The responsible citizens of Tulsa in 1921; and Robert D. Norris Jr., The Oklahoma National Guard and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921: A Historical, Tactical and Legal Analysis.  I'll be honest, I am not convinced about all aspects of O'Brien's hypothesis, but it was a pleasure to read  - well researched, well thought out, and nicely balanced.  Where I was unsatisfied were just very minor interpretive things  I will be scattering bits and pieces of his information here and there, especially in the timeline section (and used with permission). What he's saying needs to be heard.  I have less to say about Norris's work since I haven't finished it yet.
        Both Norris and O'Brien were involved with the Riot Commission, and they appear to me to be unsatisfied with the report produced by that group, they are both more than interested in continuing to pursue the goal of finding out and dealing with what happened - and proving it.

 


August 11, 2001:

        Well, it's been six months since the "Final" report of the Tulsa Race Riot came out, and the Riot Commission made it's recommendations.  I believe that the state was last talking about a scholarship and a memorial, before the silence fell.  All interest in the Riot seems to have dried up since the publication of the report, and it went on sale (for the record, you can get a copy, or you could, as of this writing, at the TRRC website -- the parts that appear to be missing in the online version are missing in the printed one as well).   A number of the pages that were at the TRRC web page, such as the list of "confirmed" dead, were no longer available the last time I checked. -- in fact everything BUT the report has been pulled from the web-page.  This wouldn't be bad, if the information was actually IN the report.  Unfortunately the final report seems pretty darned unfinished (if nothing else, it could use some serious editing).  It contains numerous assertions that are contradicted by material in the document itself (e.g. p. 11 "Everyone who has studied the riot agrees that the Klan was present in Tulsa at the time of the riot and that it had been for some time." compared with p.47 "Less easy to document, however, is whether the Klan was organized in Tulsa prior to the 1921 race riot..." and continuing on for several paragraphs describing the differing opinions and evidence, and explaining Ellsworth's position), while there are things that are missing although misted in the table of contents (e.g. The Chronological Maps of the Tulsa Race Riot") or are described in the articles (Where are the tables in Dr. Clyde Snow's article?).  All things considered, the report just comes across to me as a thrown-together document slapped together by people who started to look for the truth, but ultimately gave in to people who wanted their mythology validated just to get the unpleasant experience over with.  I'm not sure I can blame them -- God knows I've been ignoring the topic lately because it is so frustrating.
        So, where does that leave this page?  I will be continuing to work on it as I can, since it's the only way I have to honor the unknown and forgotten people who suffered and died.  This does not mean that I am planning on giving in to sensationalism or obfuscation to make things seem worse than they were.


January 5, 2001:
        There was an interesting article in the Tulsa newspaper this morning about the Riot Commission.  Again it emphasizes the difficulty of getting to agree on anything on this topic.  Already having blown it's credibility over the issue of digging to prove bodies or not, several weeks ago the Commission decided to split the difference on the "was Tulsa Bombed" question - and presenting both sides of the issue.  I can live with that, no matter how wishy-washy it comes across.   The major complaints as listed in the articles of  12 Dec 2000 and 23 Dec 2000, and echoed in this morning's paper,  were a) that denying the bombing - regardless what reason, common sense, and actual expert testimony says, trivializes the oral - i.e."the Black" sources, and b) that the case against the Whites must be overwhelmingly damning or else the legislature might not cough up the reparations being asked for.  Considering that the oral testimony taken since the Event has been from -both- Blacks and Whites, claiming that discounting the oral testimony is a strike against the Blacks, strikes me as being Racist.  Moreover, it looks as though as it might be Racism being used to obscure the fact that some individuals are wanting to get money out of this, and aren't really interested in the Truth.   That sounds like a Conspiracy Theory, doesn't it?  It should, because that's exactly what it is (and no, I don't really believe it, although I still think it's Racist).
        Also in the paper this morning was a discussion of the -other- Conspiracy Theory regarding this event --

"-- thinks the planes were part of an organized and well-planned assault masterminded by what she calls "the Elites" ... "-- it was a premeditated assault, launched by city leaders and driven by racial hatred, jealously and greed."

        I'll be trying to look at this, with all the objectivity I can muster, elsewhere.  But I feel it necessary to point out that some people ARE going to believe in conspiracies -- regardless of the facts of the case -- why, I really don't know.  They just do.  That's just an unpleasant reality.  I have to accept that reality, even if I don't care for it, because it's the Truth, and not a convenient rationalization. On the other hand, I'm White - what I say doesn't matter since obviously I'm just a mouthpiece for the Elites (I just wish they'd pay better).    So it continues; where we have revered the Kennedy Assassinations, the King Assassination, Bill Clinton's Administration, UFO's, we can now include the Tulsa "Elites".  Whatever.


December5, 2000
        It's been a long and not terribly productive year apparently, for the Race Riot Commission.  By the March meeting, things were going along swimingly, with all sorts of plans for reparations (although, if you ask me, dunning the City, many of whom didn't even have ancestors living in the area at the time, to give money to people because they are Black, doesn't strike me as being particularly encouraging to "racial harmony"), appearances on national television, and a final report published in the fall of 2000 (or, depending on your sources, Feb 2001) .    Sometime after the posting of the March minutes, the TRRC web site stopped being updated.  In June, it was decided to NOT excavate the purported mass grave in Oaklawn Cemetery since it was possible that there might not be such a grave and that this could potentially hurt the Commission's credibility (it's nice to see certain traditions don't change.  When faced with a chance of looking bad, official Tulsa would prefer to not uncover the Truth, whatever that may be, and stick to silence and myth.   Hopefully, it won't be another 70 years before someone gets around to finally excavating and seeing if there are any bodies there or not).  Shortly after that, the Legislature failed to secure funding for the Commission, and the Commission seems to have vanished beneath the waves.  Rumor has it that the membership is fighting one another over differing agendas, and political disagreements.  Unfortunately, I have no facts to refute or support those rumors - take them for what you will.
           Recently, I was visiting the TRRC web-page, and was looking at the listing of "Names of confirmed dead from injuries during the Tulsa Race Riot", and I realized that there was a problem with it.  So I went back and checked the various records I could find, and it turns out that many of the White folks listed as having been killed in the Riot, didn't actually die.  A number of them remained alive, and appeared in later City Directories, others were just put into the hospital with minor injuries, but may have given fictitious names.  Also, at least one of the "unidentified men" (age 40? 6’ 165lb brown hair) was later identified as George Walter Daggs (for whom, at least 2 different ages were given in the newspapers).   In any case, the TRRC list is flawed.  For a different interpretation of the data, please check here.
        What this means is that I've finally gotten back to researching this topic, and will be updating this page more often for a while.


January, 2000:
        Nearly a year has passed since the following section written, and that time has seen a lot of discussion based on the report of the Commission. Essentially, the Commission's material has followed the post-70's party line in condemning the White community for the entirety of the riot, while exonerating the Black community and maintaining its "victim" status. While that's very nice, and PC, it's not good history. Well, with luck someone someone will be able to objectively examine the evidence and draw conclusions that are not predicated on skin shade and emotionalism. Members of both sides were guilty in these events, and there were innocent victims, also on both sides (although in all honesty there were more Black victims -- as though people in history are mere numbers)


        In the decade since this paper was written, there has been a gradual change in the perceptions of the Riot and its aftermath.  Most important is the fact that it is now discussed. 1996 saw the 75th anniversary of the event, and it was observed by memorial services.  In 1997, the Tulsa Race Riot Commission was formed to look into the topic and submit a report on it to the Legislature.  This Commission appears to be making some effort to separate myth from the matter at hand. And, several books have been recently published, including former journalist Bob Hower's 1921 Tulsa race riot and the American Red Cross, "Angels of Mercy", a re-printing of Mary Parrish's Events of the Tulsa Disaster (as Race riot 1921: events of the Tulsa disaster), Majorie Ann Tracy's Master's Thesis The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921: the politics of lawlessness, and Jewell Parker Rhode's novel the Magic City. The Riot is being seen as the important part of history it is, and not something to be consigned to dusty oblivion. Just this past weekend, the World published an article on the possible location of some of the purported mass graves (Tulsa World, 31 January 1999). Personally, I would be interested in seeing what is in those graves, on the hope that it might help put things to rest regarding the speculation about numbers of people killed.
        On the negative side of the ledger, however, is the continuing predilection of the media to focus on the sensational, as though the real suffering and trauma of the people who endured the events wasn't enough to communicate the significance of the events. Even the excerpts of my paper, which were published by a Tulsa church to "memorialize" the Riot, were selectively drawn to emphasize the sensational and under-score the tabloid nature of how we are taught to view the world. If this sounds harsh, you can take my word for it that I've calmed down considerably regarding that incident.

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The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 - Some thoughts on the Tulsa Race Riot. Copyright © 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002  I. Marc Carlson
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