The Tulsa Race Massacre, previously known as the Tulsa Race Riot, took place on May 31 and June 1, 1921. It is considered one of the worst incidents of racial violence in the United States.
Through the years there have been many initiatives to repair the damage from those fateful days. History allows us to visit the past so we shall never let it happen again.
Our storyteller is Otis Clark, who was 19 years old May 31, 1921. Otis and his friend became targets for rifle shots from whites across the street. In Chapters 2, 3 and 4 Otis talks about the days leading up to the massacre, the bullets fired at him and the aftermath.
“The riot was just starting. The whites were taking over that section of the city, which was closest to them, just across the Frisco tracks. My cousin, they lived way out on Greenwood and had a little café way up out on Greenwood there. So we made up our minds to try to get out to where they lived. But when we got out there, they were fixing to go to Claremore to kind of get out of the troubled area.” Listen to the full interview here.
“The Race Riot for me was that I remember that my father told Charlie who happened to be the driver and the butler at that time, that he could not go home, that he was staying there at the house. He did not want him going home, so he stayed.”
At 105, Wavel Ashbaugh remembered the Tulsa Race Massacre: “I remember… yes, a little bit. But I do know that there was trouble because we had a black man and his wife that worked for us. And my mother took them over back roads and get them to safety. I don’t know where she took them but they said, “Mama’s gone to take them to safety.” And she took them away someplace to be safe.”
Wavel died March 11, 2019. She was 108.
Thank you for listening, and for sharing these stories with your friends. Make time to record your family history…You will be glad you did!
May 31, 2019
Tulsa Tribune May 31, 1921
On the first day of the Tulsa Massacre, the Tulsa Tribune published a story with the headline “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in an Elevator”.
Jenkin “Jenk” Jones Jr. was the last publisher and editor of the Tulsa Tribune which closed September 30, 1992. In his oral history, Jenk talks about the headline that has been seen as a contributing factor in the Race Massacre.
“Well, I hadn’t seen that headline till my sister brought it up to me a few weeks ago. But if that’s an inflammatory headline I don’t know journalism, because it was very much the style of the day in newspapers everywhere. You wanted a strong, active verb early on and they used the term “Negro,” which is what blacks generally were known as in those days. I never saw the story.
I do know that my grandparents hid black people in their home during the Race Riot. I also know that my grandfather, when he was the publisher in Madison, had taken Booker T. Washington into his home when all the hotels in that so-called “liberal city” refused to serve him. And, of course, my great grandfather, at considerable risk, fought to free the black slaves as part of Mr. Lincoln’s army. So I think there’s a family history there that is a counter to any sense of racism.
I do know also that when the riots hit a lot of American cities in the ’60s, and Tulsa was at a very, very tense point, my dad did something I don’t think I’ve ever seen him do, and that was, he ran a front page editorial that just said, “Let’s cool it.” And it was a commonsense thing. “Let’s back off from this. We’ve got no reason to have problems. We can discuss any differences we’ve got.” And it just relieved the pressure. It was almost like a front coming through and chasing the thunderstorms out.
So I think the family has a pretty good record. We were also among the first newspapers in Oklahoma to employ black reporters and photographers. I don’t know the particulars, there’s been talk of an inflammatory editorial but nobody has ever come up with one. You know, there’s many old copies of newspapers that lie around, something would have come up.”
You can hear the rest of Chapter 3 – “May 31, 1921” here.
Jenk Jones’ oral history, which was recorded in 2011, is about his family and the publishing of the Tulsa Tribune. He is a very good historian and you will gain great information by listening to his entire story but in particular we urge you to listen to Chapter 3.