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The following is a guest post by Arlene Balkansky. Arlene recently retired from being a librarian in the Newspaper and Current Periodical Reading Room, and was a regular writer for Headlines and Heroes. One hundred years ago, Greenwood, a prosperous Black neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, described as Black Wall Street, was destroyed by white mobs in one of the worst episodes of racial violence in American history. The of dead remains unknown, but could be as many as , with millions of dollars in property damage.
Local newspaper coverage has been linked to an ominous role in the massacre. Walter F. White, at the time Assistant Secretary of the NAACP and later its head as Executive Secretary for 25 years, arrived on the scene quickly to investigate the loss of life, the massive destruction, and why the attacks occurred. His findings were soon published, mainly in Black newspapers. The June 1 state edition did not carry any such headline, including on its back containing editorials.
In addition, Walter White and others only focused on the front- article at the time. Past, as well as current, historians agree that the front- Tulsa Tribune article was unfortunately within the usual realm to provoke a lynching, whether the second May 31 article with its direct call to lynch Rowland existed or not. It is possible that a May 31 edition, no longer existing, could have carried such an article.
For example, a June 1 second extra state edition is known to exist because its front is in Red Cross records held by the National Archives. Riot Reports and Statistics, p. This editorial also contains the general press coverage that became the norm: the presence of armed Black men who arrived at the courthouse to prevent the lynching of Dick Rowland were to blame for setting off the white crowd and leading to the enraged destruction of Greenwood. The World published four editions on June 1 that have been digitized in Chronicling America.
These include a final edition and three extras, each with banner headlines, including two focused on white casualties. Their offices in Greenwood had been destroyed. Will she recompense us for our loss? Baughman, had been managing editor of the Star before beginning his own venture in Andrew Jackson Smitherman, fled north with his family. Smitherman believed that having armed Black men going to the courthouse to prevent the lynching of Rowland was crucial.
This matched the views expressed frequently in his newspaper, such as in October when the Star reported about Black self-defense in Okmulgee, Oklahoma. Beginning on June 26, , the Tulsa grand jury findings were published in newspapers. There were indictments of a few white officials, including Police Chief John Gustafson, and several Black Tulsans, among them publisher A. Smitherman and his brother John, a deputy sheriff. Smitherman and his family eventually settled in Buffalo where he returned to newspaper publishing with The Buffalo Star and the later Empire Star.
He died in His indictment was finally dismissed in and he was posthumously inducted into the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame, And what about the two teenagers involved in the initial incident—Dick Rowland and Sarah , the elevator operator? left shortly after the massacre and Rowland in mid-October after he was released from prison with no charges filed.
Many more newspaper articles related to the Tulsa Race Massacre are freely available in the Chronicling America historic newspapers online collection. While the coverage is voluminous in the second half of , it tapers off by , a pattern that follows the lack of wide public knowledge about the massacre that only began to change in the s. One Tulsa newspaper did not go along with the silence. The Black-owned Oklahoma Eagle , began publishing in , initially using the salvaged printing press of the Star.
It was published by Theo. Baughman, out of the ashes of The Oklahoma Sun. In the late s, Edward L. Goodwin, Sr. The Goodwin family continues to publish the Eagle and to include frequent articles and annual features about the massacre. Awesome Arlene! We have been following some of the TV specials related to this incident.
What an awful stain on our country. Lets hope there are some reparations for the descendants of those lost. Thank you for this post. My great-grandfather Lewis Daniel Stewart owned the black barbershop in Okmulgee when the massacre occurred. We need to keep this history alive. Why reparations? Who does it benefit? Does it change the minds or behavior of a greater of people?
Reparations to those families that were impacted by this great injustice only momentarily satisfies their condition, or somehow soothes the guilt of those who feel their ancestors inflicted this injustice through their actions or silence. Perhaps there is a better solution to this for both parties. One alternative would seem to be to rebuild the neighborhood destroyed by the mobs; however, the construction that has occur since then makes them seem somewhat impossible: an interstate highway divides the neighborhood, a ballpark has been built over part of the area, and a college covers another large area of the neighborhood.
It is conceivable that facades of some of the major buildings like the Dreamland Theater, the Baptist Church, or the large hotel next to the AME Church could be constructed as reminders for those now living of what this neighborhood contributed to the Tulsa community. Would this be enough to impact the lives of those who did not know or understand the injustice done to these people?
Perhaps not! Another possibility would be to use the grassy mound near the interstate highway as a virtual cemetery with crosses and hetones to represent those who lost their lives in the massacre. I believe this memorial would be glaring evidence that such behavior as that that caused this neighborhood to be destroyed should never be repeated. Use the money wisely that was being considered for reparations. Influence as many individuals as you can.
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We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy. Interesting, too, about the missing issues and articles. Ginger Anderle May 28, at pm Awesome Arlene! Stewart June 1, at am Thank you for this post.Girl at Tulsa america
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Tulsa Race Massacre: Fact checking myths and misconceptions