The New York Times/June 3, 1921
Citizens in Mass Meeting Voice Shame Over Riots That Razed Negro Quarter
Blame Police and Sheriff
Widespread Efforts Start to Relieve Distress of Homeless—3,000 Negroes Quit City
Governor Orders Inquiry
City Still Under Martial Law, But Some Rules are Relaxed—Half the Guardsmen Leave
This oil metropolis of the Southwest was emerging tonight from one of the most spectacular outbreaks of lawlessness that has been known in Oklahoma since the early pioneer days. The combined agencies of law and order of city, county and State, directed in person by Governor Robertson and other State officials, had gained the upper hand and comparative quiet prevailed as fuller details of the tale of murder, arson and vandalism were unfolded. The city remained under martial law, although slight modifications were ordered by the military authorities.
A careful survey tonight showed the known dead to be thirty instead of the supposed 85 to 100 as estimated last night. Of the known victims nine are whites and twenty-one are negroes.
Some still believe that many other negroes perished in the burning of their section at an estimated loss of $1,580,000, and that these will never be known. There are vague reports also that negroes’ bodies were thrown into the river and that others were buried outside the city.
There has been a tremendous revulsion of feeling as the result of the outbreak, which Adjutant General Barrett, commanding the military forces, bluntly declares was caused by “an impudent negro, a hysterical girl and a yellow journal reporter.”
Tonight a reconstruction commission, formed by citizens, announced that the mile-square burned area would be rebuilt. A thousand business men will contribute to start a city-wide fund for the rehabilitation of the devastated district.
In the meantime the City Government, the police and the Sheriff’s office are under heavy fire as having by incompetent handling of the situation brought shame upon the community.
Governor Orders an Inquiry
Before returning to Oklahoma City this afternoon the Governor ordered the immediate impaneling of a Grand Jury with plenary powers to investigate the uprising. He stated that the Attorney General and every agency of the State government would cooperate to impose the fullest penalties of the law on those guilty of instigating the riots. He especially asked an inquiry into the conduct of the Police department and the Sheriff’s office, which he condemned.
In accordance with the Governor’s direction, Judge Valjean Biddison ordered the Grand Jury investigation to begin June 8. It is planed to call large numbers of witnesses, white and black, in an effort to fix responsibility for the outbreak.
A host of bankers, business men and civic leaders assembled in mass meeting to organize city-wide relief for the thousands of negroes, rendered homeless and destitute by the destruction of the negro quarter.
A committee of seven was appointed to assume charge of the work of relief and restoration, in cooperation with the Red Cross, which has worked unceasingly for thirty-six hours to alleviate the sufferings of the dispossessed blacks.
Judge Loyal J. Martin, ex-Mayor, who was later chosen Chairman of the committee, said at the mass meeting:
“Tulsa can only redeem herself from the countrywide shame and humiliation into which she is today plunged by complete restitution and rehabilitation of the destroyed black belt. The rest of the United States must know that the real citizenship of Tulsa weeps at this unspeakable crime and will make good the damage, so far as it can be done, to the last penny.”
Says Citizens Must Rebuild
“We have neglected our duties and our City Government has fallen down. We have had a failing police protection here, and now we have to pay the costs of it. The city and county is legally liable for every dollar of the damage which has been done. Other cities have had to pay the bill of race riots, and we shall have to do so probably, because we have neglected our duty as citizens.”
Loud applause greeted his declaration that most of the damage done to property was done by “criminals who should have been shot on the spot.” He urged that the commission determine whether city and county authorities would be able to cope with the situation after the troops leave. Then he went on:
“If the police authorities cannot take charge of the city, we’d better get the American Legion on the job and have a hundred men in readiness for outbreaks.”
Judge H.L. Standeven said the entire city would have to take part in the burden of reconstruction.
C.B. Rogers supported Judge Martin’s stand that every lawbreaker who took part in the rioting and plundering should have been shot. He declared that the business men of Tulsa had fallen down on their job and that now they must make restitution.
When nominations were made from the floor for the positions on the executive Committee the name of Mayor C.D. Evans was proposed. It was howled down in a chorus of “No! He’s fallen down already!”
Remorse followed swiftly in the wake of the race war, as the smoking ruins of the negro quarter cooled. Thousands of citizens early this morning volunteered their services for relief and hundreds of automobiles, including many of those of the wealthy, were proffered to transport relief supplies to the negro detention camps.
Many heads of families began early to search for domestic servants and their families, many of whom had been faithful helpers for years.
Throughout the day coupes and limousines drove away from the internment camps with negro passengers. Many well-to-do families, maintaining domestic quarters, gave shelter to entire families.
As the race enmity subsided under the pressure of rising public indignation, negroes were released from custody in large numbers. All were first identified and then paroled with white ribbon badges, marked “police protection.” They were permitted to leave the city or return to the devastated area which but 48 hours ago marked the peaceful scenes of daily life, or return to the camps, where every effort was being made to provide sanitary housing for those who could find no shelter.
The shacks that still stand on the outer fringe of the negro belt are housing as many as six and eight families tonight. Relief associations are sending truck loads of provisions and water into this section, where negro leaders in cooperation with the whites are distributing relief. Plans were afoot tonight for the erection of a tendted city on the ashes of the quarters where all refugees can be cared for under police protection until permanent provision can be made for them.
Of more than 15,000 negro residents about 3,000 have left the city. Most of the 12,000 remaining are wholly dependent for the necessities of life upon the relief that is being organized.
All the churches of the city, the Convention Hall, the baseball park and the extensive county fair grounds have been turned over to the Negroes. At the park and fair grounds, where the greater portion were received, conditions of great hardship prevailed. Not until tonight were sanitary conveniences provided after thirty-six hours in which men, women and children, many nearly destitute of clothing, had herded like livestock in the cattle barns that were their only shelter.
In view of the crowded conditions, Adjt. Gen. Charles J. Barrett, who is Military Dictator of the city, decided that it was best to face the lessening risk of further disturbances and release all the negroes possible from detention. About 8,000 were given leave to go but a large proportion were expected to return tonight for shelter.
While the city was thus turning to the work of relief, and restoration, every precaution was being taken by the military and police to prevent a recrudescence of rioting. The negro quarter was surrounded by a cordon of militia and only negroes were permitted to pass the borders of the area of destruction that began at the Frisco tracks and ranged north and east for thirty blocks.
Military depots were established at strategic points throughout the city from which units could be summoned at an instant’s notice to any quarter. The police, freed from the work of patrolling the negro and railroad districts, assumed charge of street traffic.
Negroes Show Resentment
As the terror of the negroes in the face of the swift catastrophe faded away evidence of resentment became manifest. Released negroes, appearing upon the streets this evening, while guarded in their speech and actions, betrayed a sullen reticence. There was, however, a tendency, especially among the women, to put much blame on negro agitators who organized the first small bands which went to the court house with the ostensible intention of preventing what the negro quarter believed was to have been a lynching.
The street element of Tulsa, a large percentage of whom took a leading part in the rioting, betrayed in the mass no pronounced change of heart. Although somewhat overawed by the indignation that burned on every side, there remained tonight a considerable number of the inhabitants who appeared content with what they regarded as just retaliation for the armed invasion of the city by the negroes.
General Barrett, in his address to the citizens’ mass meeting, said:
“In all of my experience I have never witnessed such scenes as prevailed in this city when I arrived at the height of the rioting. Twenty-five thousand whites, armed to the teeth, were ranging the city in utter and ruthless defiance of every concept of law and righteousness. Motor cars, bristling with guns swept through your city, their occupants firing at will.”
There was a tendency tonight, as details of the affray came out, to place much blame upon the police force and the county Sheriff’s office.
Prominent men declared that if the police had promptly arrived at the court house when the first armed blacks appeared on the scene, the disturbance that culimanted in disastrous race war could have been nipped in the end.
“If those first armed negroes had been summarily arrested or, refusing to yield, had been shot on the spot, this blot of disgrace would not now rest upon your city,” General Barrett asserted.
One sensational rumor was current tonight to the effect that the Sheriff, fearful of a lynching, telephoned to negro leaders to “come up here and protect your man.” This refers to the gathering of negroes before the Court House where the negro youth. Dick Rowland, accused of assault on a girl, was held. This report will be sifted by the Court of Inquiry as negro witnesses are said to have been found who swear that the Sheriff summoned them.
Investigation has disclosed that when this group was not disbanded, a formidable mob of blacks quickly assembled, as rumors of impending trouble spread and disorganized bands filtered southward to the support of the Court House contingent.
Within two hours, the situation was out of the hands of the police, with upward of 500 heavily armed negroes in control of one of the chief corners of the downtown district.
Unable to cope with the situation, and fearful that the angry negroes would ravage the city, the police seem to have yielded at the least tactic support to the formation of white bands. If they did not actually abet, they at least failed to stop the forcible entrance of hardware and sporting goods stores by whites rushing for guns and ammunition. One of the largest of these stores is directly opposite the Central Police Headquarters.
Many citizens do not blame the whites for their part up to sunrise of yesterday, by which time all the negroes had been swept from the city proper into their own quarter. It was then that bands of whites crossed the railroad district and began to invade and burn the negro houses.
Purely defensive warfare, it is urged by this group, had been waged up to this time and the city was safe until the authorities could be reinforced. The ruthless demolition later of virtually the entire negro quarter, south of the tracks, is condemned as indefensible violence.
One of the outstanding property losses was the razing of the largest negro church in the city, recently completed after long efforts by the colored citizens. A new public schoolhouse suffered a like fate.
Thirteen Arrests for Looting
Despite the fact that armed sentries have been patrolling the burned district, desultory pillaging was reported tonight. Thirteen men were taken in custody today on charges of vandalism. The authorities announced that extreme penalties under the law will be imposed on looters.
Fifty members of the local American Legion post were commissioned as regular police officers tonight and will organize patrols in support of the State Guardsmen.
At many places of business and in the hotels tonight, negro porters had returned to their customary duties, wearing “Police Protection” badges. Hotel, elevator and much business service had been demoralized by the rioting during which every negro face vanished like magic from the white districts.
Tonight the curfew was suspended and business houses and theaters were allowed to remain open. Transportation service was to start on regular schedules. Martial law, however, remained in rigid force and assemblages on the street were prohibited.
Many reports follow in the wake of the riot to the effect that the negro elements had long been preparing for a race war here. None of these, however, could be verified tonight, but some credence was given to reports that black agitators had been at work.
An independent statement by a police officer was that “sixty to seventy” armed negroes arrived Tuesday from Muskogee to help in a deliberate attack. This does not tally with the generally accepted story that the affair was a spontaneous rising because of the lynching rumors that flew about.
Attempts were made today to make political capital out of the riots. A feud had been on between the Republican city administration and the Democratic county and State administrations. A board of inquiry into the efficiency of the police and city administration concluded its hearings only a fortnight ago. The board, consisting of the city commissioners, whitewashed the administration in the face of fraud and incompetency preferred by a group of civic leaders and en evening newspaper.
Today brought a recrudescence of charges and countercharges, attempts to fix blame, shifting from the Republican Police Department to the Democratic Sheriff’s office.
250 Guardsmen Sent Home
TULSA, June 2.—Because of the marked lessening of tension, 250 of the National Guardsmen were returned to their home stations tonight, leaving approximately 300 men in control of the city.
In addressing the mass meeting of citizens this afternoon Adjt. Gen. Barrett was emphatic in charging that failure of the local peace officers to take proper action was responsible for the rioting.
General Barrett said that he came to Tulsa with 100 uniformed men from Oklahoma City and in a short time pacified 25,000 armed men. He declared the Sheriff could have done it if he had used power to deputize assistants. The General said the presence of six uniformed policemen or a half dozen Deputy Sheriffs at the county building Tuesday night, when whites, bent on taking from jail Dick Rowland, charged with attacking a white girl, clashed with negroes intent on protecting Rowland, would have prevented the riot.
He added that men holding special permits to carry weapons were chiefly instrumental in inciting the outbreak and did most of the shooting.
General Barrett stated that, while he was ordering the withdrawal of the National Guardsmen from Tulsa, there was no intention to remove the martial law edict until such time as it was shown the city could care for itself.
“Most of this damage was done by white criminals who should have been shot and killed,” E.U. Martin, the former Mayor, said after he was selected chairman of the Executive Committee.
“As the final outcome we must rebuild these houses, see that these negroes get their insurance, and get their claims against the city and county,” the Chairman said
A subscription of $500,000 will be asked, the committee announced tonight, to rebuild the homes owned by the negroes. No attempt will be made to rebuild the business buildings, many of which were owned by white persons, or homes which were rented.
Mayor Evans tonight issued an order revoking all special police commissions. The mayor acted under instructions from General Barrett, who stated that many of the ringleaders among the white rioters and men who did most of the shooting carried arms as special officers.
A military order tonight forbade holding in churches the funerals of those killed in the riot.
The ninth and last of the dead whites was identified as Ernest Austin, 39 years old, formerly of Houghton, N.Y., in which city an aunt, Mrs. Carrie Worden, lives.
Five of the negro dead have been identified. Among them is Dr. A.C. Jackson, shot while running from his burning home. He was one of Tulsa’s prominent negro physicians.
Thirteen bodies of negroes were buried in the City Cemetery here today. The act was without ceremony, it being said that feeling possibly might flare up if the burial were attended by any show.
The list of wounded mounted gradually during the day, as persons who had not been treated called on physicians. The approximate number was placed at 240, with the belief that many more than that were hurt, but did not report their injuries.
The matter of collecting insurance on the properties in the negro quarter destroyed by fire was in dispute today, the insurance men holding that their policies on the $1,500,000 worth of buildings destroyed did not recognize mob violence as a destructive agent. It was thought possible that some of the negroes might seek to recover from the city, seeking to establish that the city was negligent in not having provided sufficient protection, and, therefore, was responsible for the losses.
While many of the buildings burned were of flimsy construction, there were some imposing structures, including two theaters, several three-story buildings, and the plants of two newspapers, The Tulsa Star and The Oklahoma Sun.