Negroes Gladly Accept Guards

Faith Hieronymous

Tulsa World/June 2, 1921

Homeless Taken to Ball Park Offer No Objections to Plan


Many Refugees Lugged Their Belongings With Them Through Broiling Heat


Great Boxes of Food Carried to McNulty Park by Red Cross and Others

“Get back, please, get back”!

And the order was emphasized with drawn pistols and bayonets. The speakers were uniformed guardsmen outside of McNulty Park yesterday noon when swarms of the curious pressed up against the gates and made it almost impossible for the negroes being constantly unloaded out in the street to get through. Thousands of negroes from all over the city were being carried in cars and trucks, protected by armed men to the park and to Convention hall for safety.

To a group of white men standing to one side a grizzled negro, bent with eager supplication, came running. He held out his hands broadly smiling.

Household Goods Goes Along

“Well, if heah ain’t Mr. Robinson! If heah ain’t Mr. Robinson,”’ he kept saying over and over. The man addressed took the negro with him inside the park where no one was allowed – except blacks, soldiers and mercy workers. Outside, the white sun beat blankly down upon the unloading refugees, lugging their meager possessions with them into the park, upon trucks filled with ice, huge boxes of food, tubfulls of coffee, upon rickety wagons filled with huge bundles bursting open with their contents of clothing and with household goods, from trucks to phonographs that the refugees had packed up in their flight and that were drawn, some of them by skinny mules that brayed loud protest as they stood parked in the hot sun. One of these wagons was drawn up in the shade; perched on top of the trunk it held was a negro, black as the ace of spades. He nonchalantly chewed a straw.

“Hi, you niggah,” hailed a fellow sufferer from the top of the grandstand. The straw chewer looked up to behold a black youth in the act of transferring a swath of yellow cheese to his recipient mouth. “Hi, you niggah, that trunk youseh?”

“It mos’ suhtainly am nobody else’s whatevah!” the traveler returned with dignity and transferred his attention again to his straw.

Accept Their Fate

Inside the park was color and heat – stifling, odorous heat – the crying of babies, the sound of many voices and the moaning of women; and negroes – thousands of negroes huddled together as far as the eye could see from one end of the grandstands to the other.

The majority of them accepted the inevitable in good part; crowded and hot and sticky as it was, there was good cheer every place.

Seated on the floor, an old woman with a gray handkerchief closely knotted about a wrinkled face that might have been carved from dark oak, rocked gently back and forth, moaning softly. In her hand she held the quart measure of hot vegetable soup that was being doled out by the hundreds by Red Cross workers. Someone bent over and touched her on the shoulder.

“Sister,” she asked “Why don’t you eat your soup?”

Tears stole out from under the half closed lids.

“Oh, lawdy,” she moaned, “Me, a ole woman what has worked so hard all muh life, an’ now everthing gone! Mah house burned, mah chaihs burned, mah chickens burned. Nuthin’ have I got but the clothes on mah back! O, Lawdy, that I should live to see such trouble come to me!” and she rocked back and forth in her misery.

Black – but Human

A comely young negro woman standing near her wept. She too said she had lost everything that she had. She and her husband had owned their own land one other home, which they rented, and both with everything they owned in the world but the clothes that they wore when they made their escape at dawn this morning, had been burned. Just then her husband came up to her with a half loaf of bread, “Here’s some bread, honey,” he said, “cain’t you eat it?”

She turned from him, “Eat? And us paupahs? I cain’t eat.”

A slender and middle aged black woman, cool and immaculate in a blue and white uniform, sat with an open Bible on her knee. Around her was a group of little children. She looked up at her questioner.

“I brings it along wif me,” she said quietly. “No’m, I aidn’t los mah home. I lives on the south side and white folks come and get me dis mawnin. I’m a widow, I finds help here, see what Paul says. ‘We’ll all come cl’ar in the judgment day.’ “That niggah that done wrong, he cain’t come cl’ar and nobody cain’t come cl’ar, black or white, who ain’t done right in this thing.”

Relief Workers Labor

The little pickannies by her side kneeling at the bench for more advantageous attack upon the beans and bread spread out before them, rolled their eyes at their mother in her earthiness. Behind the group a large, brown-eyed mulatto woman cuddled a light-skinned baby against her breast. The baby lifted great blue, black-lashed eyes and cooed and gurgled and kicked its little bare feet. The mother smiled and with a little catch in her voice said: “He don’t know what this is all about. My husband and I left before daylight and we don’t know whether our home is standing yet or not. It doesn’t seem possible that this thing is happening in Tulsa.” She spoke excellent English and her brown eyes filled with tears. “I think everybody feels that the negro who first caused all this trouble ought to be punished; we all want him punished, but without bringing so much trouble on us all.”

Red Cross and other relief workers labored unceasingly for hours, the men carrying in huge boxes of sandwiches, bread, tubs of coffee and distributing them. The crowds were saddened that it was impossible, literally, to care for them as they should be cared for under the existing conditions and one of them standing in the center of the grandstand and shouting for attention, directed all the men to go up to the other end of the park, in the shadow of the grandstand, where food and drink would be given them and the women and children here would be cared for first. Then tin cups, cans of salmon sandwiches – food was handed out to the hungry multitude just as fast as the busy people serving them could work.

Half lying, half sitting a negro girl with heavy-lidded eyes stared before here with such blank misery in them that more than one person hesitated before her. Someone asked her if she were ill. She raised tear filled eyes.

“No’m, I ain’t sick.” She scarcely noticed her questioner. Was there anything could be done for her?

“No, I don’t got nothin’.”

That was all she would say.

Want Rowland Punished

Near the entrance leading down below the grandstand stood a slender black woman, looking, always looking. She had been standing there in that searching attitude for more than half an hour. Someone asked her if she had lost something. She turned on her questioner with something like anger.

“Los’ something. You ax me has ah los’ something?Ah done los’ mah home and ah done los’ mah close. Ceptin these heah on mah back and mah shoes is burned.” She held out a foot in a charred shoe. “An ah ain’t seen mah husban’ since we left this mawnin’ with our house a burnin.’

Ah ain’t seen mah husband.” Her voice rose to a wail and she wrung her hands. “It seems to me nothin’ wouldn’t mattah no mo if I could jes see mah husband.”

They were willing to talk, most of these people shepherded under the roof of the grandstand. Punishment for the black man whose crime started all the trouble swift and terrible punishment was what they all wanted, but not all this sorrow and misery for something they could not help. They were pathetically grateful to the white folks who had come for them and brought them to a place of safety and who were caring for them. And, considering the thousands of them that there were, they were quiet and orderly.

In the afternoon trucks guarded with uniformed and armed men carried the negroes at McNulty Park and Convention Hall to the fairgrounds, where there was more room and better air for them. The crowds from Convention Hall were taken first, then the negroes from McNulty Park. White people having negroes in their employ were permitted to come to the fairgrounds, identify their servants and take them, under police guard and with the protection of police badges, back to their homes. It was the plan to provide a safe shelter for as many of the negroes as possible in as short a time as was practical.

The humane society, whose workers have been busy with the Red Cross and other agencies who have turned their energies toward relief work, has issued a call for extra funds and clothing for the benefit of the negro refugees, hundreds of whom have nothing in the world but the clothes they had on when they escaped from their burning homes.

The majority of the churches of the city have opened their doors for refugee work and the members were busy all day yesterday with more errands of mercy.