For decades I was an Oklahoma History teacher in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Growing up in Tulsa there was indeed “a conspiracy of silence” regarding these tragic, horrific events, nothing ever discussed or covered about them in schools. Then a former Tulsa KOTV reporter, Skip Nicholson produced Greenwood Blues, The Tulsa Race War of 1921 for KOCO-TV 5 in Oklahoma City in 1983, followed by Tulsan Jilda Unruh producing Tulsa’s Secret: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 for KTUL-TV in 1985. Later the History Channel under Sean P Geary and Mark Montgomery produced In Search of History: The Night Tulsa Burned, in 1999, and PBS, as an episode of their American Experience series produced Goin’ Back to T-Town. All excellent programs focusing upon different aspects of re-telling the dramatic story. I would show these programs to my high school students. There was no “conspiracy of silence” in my classroom. I knew there were risks in doing so. My mentor at the high school where I taught, who was social studies department chair and with whom I did my student teaching in 1990-91, was earlier threatened by phone calls because he dared teach about the massacre and its consequences
As to my family and the riot: my dad was born in November of 1920 and my mom in December of 1921 (so neither had any memory of it. But my aunt Lois who was nine years older than my mom did. She told of how a car stopped in front of their house and picked up my maternal grandfather. The car was loaded with men with guns (probably rifles or shot guns). My grandfather was a Tulsa policeman, head of the fingerprinting bureau. She said this was the only time he ever left home armed. People in their neighborhood were hiding blacks in their garages to save them. My grandfather later became head of the Tulsa Fraternal Order of Police. My fraternal grandfather was a farmer on a rural site almost twenty miles from the area of the riot where Oral Roberts University presently is located. He told of how he went into his cornfield the next day after the riot and found blacks hiding there. They told him what had happened. He told them they could safely stay there as long as needed. A lifetime friend of my aunt and my parents, Clyde Eddy, was a ten year old witness to the clandestine mass burial of corpses at Oak Lawn cemetery. He became the subject of countless interviews (including 60 Minutes) from around the world by journalists and officials on what he had seen. I knew his family all my life, went to school with his kids, to weddings and funerals, etc. Excavations at the cemetery this past week have continued searching for victims’ remains.
B. C. “Buck” Franklin, was the heroic black Tulsa attorney who fought back in the aftermath of the Tulsa Race “Riot” in having the ordinances prohibiting the rebuilding by the Greenwood community residents declared unconstitutional. He was the father of the distinguished historian, John Hope Franklin, who literally wrote the book that high school and college students use when they study black history. From Slavery to Freedom, first published in 1947, and continually updated, more than three million copies have been sold. In 1995, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
I met Dr. Franklin many years ago as a beginning teacher where he provided his wise counsel and advice on being an effective and excellent educator. He signed my ancient copy of From Slavery, To Freedom, one of my most precious possessions.
To place in context the insidious and cancerous racism that existed in the City of Tulsa during the 1920s, please read this profoundly illuminating article below:
BENO HALL: TULSA’S DEN OF TERROR
6:25 pm on June 5, 2021 Email Charles Burris
The monstrous, three-story, steel reinforced, stucco building towered along the western edge of Greenwood. It dominated the landscape at the foot of Standpipe Hill, sporting a bright whitewash, the favorite color of its primary residents. Inside, its members vowed to protect their notion of “100% Americanism.” To become a guardian of liberty, they reasoned, you had to swear to secrecy and seclusion. And you had to embrace intimidation and violence as a way to assert your values.
In January of 1922, the Tulsa Benevolent Association of Tulsa, Oklahoma was officially formed as a holding company for the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, Incorporated. Among its founding members was Washington E. Hudson, the attorney for Dick Rowland—the young black man who was a scapegoat for the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. They provided the financing and leadership to begin building their Klan temple, or Klavern, known as Beno Hall. Locals jokingly called it “Be No Hall,” as in “Be No Nigger, Be No Jew, Be No Catholic, Be No Immigrant.”
Six months after its inception and bolstered by a raffle of 13 Ford automobiles netting nearly half of the $60,000 purchase price, the Benevolent Association bought the Centenary Methodist Church, at Main and Easton streets. The organization quickly outgrew this facility and the church was razed, making way for the future monument of white supremacy. Beno Hall was built for $200,000 ($1.5 million in today’s currency). Financing of the construction was kept quiet, but the land for the building was owned by the entrepreneur, politician, and early booster of Tulsa, Tate Brady, and his wife Rachel Brady, who received a large parcel of land as a Cherokee allotment in 1910. When Beno Hall was completed, it was one of the largest auditoriums in the Southwest, holding 3,000 people. Its size alone provided Tulsa with a visual reminder of the Invisible Empire’s power, passion and presence.