Negroes Blame Peonage for Outbreak in Tulsa

The New York Tribune/June 3, 1921

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People issued a statement yesterday concerning the arrival in New York of eight negroes who left the Tulsa region three weeks ago because of racial hostility. The statement said:

“The refugees asserted that under the system of peonage which prevails in Oklahoma crops have been taken from the colored farmers and share-croppers by white planters, who have given in return only a bare subsistence to the negro tenant.

“When the price of cotton fell, asserted the refugees, negroes came in hungry from the country, seeking work and food. These negroes, they said, were arrested and put on chain gang labor and general warnings were issued that negroes in that section would all have to leave the state.”

These arrivals from Oklahoma said, according to the statement, that they themselves had been the victims of peonage in and near the town of Okmulgee, which is about thirty miles from Tulsa, scene of the riots, and that colored people in that section had received warnings weeks ago to leave the state or suffer the consequences.

Lizzie Johnson, one of the eight, said that white cards had been posted outside the doors of colored homes in Okmulgee warning the negro occupants to leave, and that a similar warning had been published weeks ago in an Okmulgee newspaper.

Stella Harris asserted, according to the statement, that before her flight her house had been set on fire three times in one night and that but for the friendliness of a white brakeman from the North who awoke them they would have been burned to death.

James Weldon Johnson, secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said:

“One incident never causes a race riot. The causes accumulate for weeks and months before the outbreak.

“If the stories told by refugees from Oklahoma are true conditions virtually of slavery, similar to those laid bare recently by Governor Dorsey in Georgia, prevail in Oklahoma.

“Robbery of negro tenants, brutalities of every description, burning of homes and enforced labor for a mere subsistence wage will inevitably bring about trouble. Under these circumstances it is absurd to lay the entire trouble to a single case of assault, if, indeed, the case actually occurred.

“The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People again calls to the attention of all Americans the crying need for a thorough and sweeping Federal investigation of the practice of peonage and the virtual enslavement of colored people in the South.”

The association has issued an appeal for funds for the relief of the riot sufferers, promising that every cent donated will be expended for relief purposes. Accounting will be made for all funds received.