I was disappointed to see Friday's editorial in the Daily Oklahoman about the recent tragic murders in Tulsa, provocatively titled "Circus accompanying Revs. Jackson, Sharpton is last thing Tulsa needs." There are many things to say about the editorial. For instance, it focuses animosity towards people who are rallying to protest what is now quite obviously a set of tragic, racially motivated killings and shootings. I have rarely seen in recent years an editorial that is so insensitive to the cause of protesting racism. (I know, I know, the editorial board at the Daily Oklahoman will say, they support the "death sentence that cold-blooded killers are given in this state.") But right now I want to focus on the editorial's misunderstanding of the 1921 Tulsa riot. The editorial says this:
Connections have been made between last week's gunfire and the 1921 racial violence in Tulsa. What's the connection? None. In the earlier case, armed gangs divided along racial lines. It was certainly not a mass murder like the bombing or the Tulsa shootings. It was less a race riot than a race war.
It's one of the many continuing tragedies of the Tulsa riot -- which witnessed the destruction of much of the African American community of Greenwood (which was itself the result of racial zoning in Tulsa and then racially restrictive covenants) -- that it is remembered as a clash of white and black mobs. As people at the time understood, the "riot" was a concerted action by the Tulsa authorities. When some Greenwood residents appeared at the Tulsa County Courthouse to protect a young African American man being held there on sensationalized charges of assaulting a young white woman, a confrontation set off the riot. Over the next few hours, the riot gathered steam and in the morning of June 1, 1921, the police, local units of the National Guard, and hastily deputized special officers systematically disarmed and arrested African Americans. They were taken to what newspapers referred to as "concentration camps" around the city. Thence followed looting and burning of Greenwood -- often by the special deputies. Dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people died. It was the destruction of the dreamland that was the African American community in Tulsa.
This story of official culpability in the riot is supported by such traditional sources as the Oklahoma Supreme Court in the 1926 case Redfearn v. American Central Insurance Company. In Redfearn a Native American property owner sought money from his insurance company and the Supreme Court discussed what happened during the riot.
This was something in which the local officials, not just some angry white mob, had culpability. Surely the people at the Daily Oklahoman, who lived there while the Tulsa riot commission did its extensive historical work, know the accurate history of the riot -- or ought to.