Primary Source: Tulsa Race Riots (The New Republic - June 15th, 1921)

From “The Week” - The New Republic (New York, June 15, 1921) {Slightly Edited For Classroom Use}

ON June 1st and 2nd the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was the seat of a race riot in which thirty persons lost their lives, and the Negro residence was destroyed. It is some satisfaction to note that the militia acted efficiently, not, as in East St. Louis, in fear of, or in collusion with the mob. It is further satisfactory to note that the city seems visited by a genuine spirit of repentance. Plans are reported for replacing the burned houses at public expense. The local newspapers are conscience-stricken. Says the Tulsa World: “Proud, matchless Tulsa comes before the bar of Christian civilization this day, and with head bowed, the mantle of shame upon her cheek, and, we sincerely hope, with deep regret in her heart, asks that she be pardoned.” 

PROUD, matchless Tulsa was, on the night of November 9th, 1917, the seat of another outrage. Seventeen men, members of the I.W.W., were taken from the city jail by a mob, whipped, tarred and feathered, “in the name of the women and children of Belgium,” and turned adrift in the open country with the warning not to return. On this occasion the local press expressed no regret, and indeed incited the violence. It is not unfair to quote the Tulsa World’s editorial on the afternoon of November 9th: “If the I.W.W. or its twin brother, the Oil Workers Union, gets busy in your neighborhood, kindly take occasion to decrease the supply of hemp… The first step in whipping Germany is to strangle the I.W.W.’s. Kill them, just as you would kill any other kind of a snake. Don’t scotch ‘em; kill ‘em. And kill ‘em dead. It is no time to waste money on trials and continuances and things like that. All that is necessary is the evidence and a firing squad.”

THE connection between these two events is not entirely obscure. The ostensible cause of the race riot was the assembling of Negroes at the jail to prevent a mob of Whites from lynching a Negro prisoner accused of assaulting a white girl. It would appear, however, that race trouble had been brewing for some time. A party of Negroes, who had fled from Tulsa before the riot, testified in New York that they had left in response to repeated warnings, and indicated that business interests in Tulsa were seeking to dispossess Negroes of real estate holdings valuable for oil. 

The ostensible cause of the attack on the I.W.W.’s was their disloyalty, but there again trouble had been brewing ever since the I.W.W.’s came into the oil fields and met with some success in getting workers to organize for better wages and hours. There was the usual stirring up of industrial prejudice, and the effort to represent explosions and fires, which may have been accidental, as I.W.W. sabotage. Leading business men of the city acted with the mob which was organized at the Arsenal of the Home Guard. The editor of the World was a spectator. The police, who are accused only of inefficiency in connection with the race riot, acted by prearrangement with the mob against the I.W.W.’s, the Chief Inspector personally superintending their flogging. 

PROUD matchless Tulsa provides thus an object lesson for the country. The deliberate sacrifice of law and order and civil rights to the passion of patriotism or the greed of business is bearing its proper fruit. The prominent citizens of Tulsa who demoralized their police force and were active in, or accessory to, mob action, will do well to raise the $1,500,000 necessary to restore the burned homes of the Negroes, but they should know that this is in part the price of commercial patriotism. When the Oklahoman assures its colored readers that they should trust implicitly in the operations of the American courts it should remember the trial of the I.W.W.’s before Judge T.D. Evans, who held them in confinement ready for the mob, and later convicted one of the victims on his return to Tulsa, for carrying concealed weapons (in his own house) with the remark: “You are not guilty, but I will have to fine you one hundred dollars. These are no ordinary times.”

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