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Black Wall Street Tulsa Oklahoma 1921
Black Wall Street Tulsa Oklahoma 1921
Otis Clark survived deadly 1921 race riot in Tulsa, Okla.
By Matt Schudel / The Washington Post
Published: May 28. 2012 4:00AM PST
For years, few people dared to speak about what happened on the night of May 31, 1921, during one of the most deadly and devastating race riots in the nation’s history. Otis Clark, who was 18 at the time, had grown up in Greenwood, a thriving African-American section of Tulsa, Okla..
During a night that history almost forgot, Clark dodged bullets, raced through alleys to escape armed mobs and saw his family’s home burned to the ground. He fled Tulsa on a freight train headed north.
He would eventually move to Los Angeles, where he was the butler in the home of movie star Joan Crawford. He later turned to preaching and was known as the “world’s oldest evangelist.”
But for nine decades, he remained a living witness to a night of horror, when Greenwood died. Clark died May 21 in Seattle at age 109, family members told the Tulsa World newspaper. The cause of death was not disclosed.
Before the riot, Greenwood had 15,000 residents, a 65-room hotel, several banks and two newspapers. It also faced, on its border, growing racial resentment from an emboldened presence of the Ku Klux Klan.
On the final day of May 1921, white mobs were sparked into action by rumors that a young black man had improperly touched a white woman. Armed vigilantes were deputized by the local police, giving them the legal standing of a militia, as they gathered on the edge of Greenwood.
Clark had to flee his house. “Gunfire and the blaze from the fire was getting closer,” he told the Tulsa World in 2000.
He went to a mortuary, where another man was planning to get an ambulance out of the garage to help victims. “The man was just then about to open the door when a bullet shattered his hand into pieces, blood flying everywhere,” Clark recalled.
He ran through streets and alleys until he saw a cousin: “I jumped in the car and we hadn’t gone two blocks before we turned this corner and ran right into a crowd of white men coming toward us with guns.”
Running for his life, Clark eventually reached some train tracks, where he hopped on a freight car. He didn’t get off until he was in Milwaukee.
When the smoke cleared over Greenwood, more than 1,200 houses were destroyed, along with dozens of office buildings, restaurants, churches and schools. The death toll was first placed at about 35, but in the 1990s, when historians re-examined what is now known as the Tulsa Race Riot, they estimated that about 300 people — 90 percent of them African-American — were killed.
SURVIVORS OF 1921 TULSA RACE RIOTS SALVAGE HISTORY AT NEW YORK PREMIERE OF ‘BEFORE THEY DIE’Devastation of “Black Wall Street” in Oklahoma Is Not Forgotten
New York – Survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riots gave voice to a little-known and shameful chapter of history before hundreds of African American leaders from business, politics and media at the New York premiere of “Before They Die,” a documentary produced by Reginald Turner, CEO of Mportant Films, and Harvard Law Professor Charles J. Ogletree, Jr. The film is part of The Tulsa Project, a nonprofit foundation to raise awareness of the event and seek restitution for its survivors.
Otis Clark, 106, Wess Young, 93, and Dr. Olivia Hooker, 95, spoke about the 18-hour siege that destroyed 30 blocks of a thriving African-American residential and business community known as the “Black Wall Street,” leaving 300 known dead and 10,000 homeless.
Hosted by The Executive Leadership Council and The New York Times, the screening was part of a nationwide tour and fundraising effort.
“The time has come to correct the history books and seek justice for the Tulsa Race Riots survivors before they die,” said Professor Ogletree. Since 2002, he and Mr. Turner have waged a legal battle on the survivors’ behalf, leading up to an unsuccessful hearing in the Supreme Court in 2006. Professor Ogletree is a Harvard Law School Jesse Climenko Professor of Law, and Founding and Executive Director of the Charles Hamilton Houston Institute for Race and Justice.
“The film is focused on telling the story of the survivors, keeping African-American history alive and broadening awareness of it among all Americans,” said Mr. Turner, who directed the film.
“Before They Die” follows the survivors and their legal team headed by Professor Ogletree through the court system all the way to the Supreme Court and on to the U.S. Congress. It was shown at TheTimesCenter in New York.
“Showing our children the true light of history is the first step in teaching them the self-respect that will carry them to achievement and excellence,” said Carl Brooks, President and CEO of The Executive Leadership Council and The Executive Leadership Foundation. The Council provides African-American executives of Fortune 500 companies with a network and leadership forum that adds perspective and direction to the achievement of, their corporations and the community at large.
“We at The New York Times are proud that we covered this notorious event at the time and have now increased awareness of it again with this New York premiere,” said Desiree L. Dancy, Vice President, Diversity and Inclusion, The New York Times Company.
New Yorker Dr. Olivia Hooker, 95, recalled with perfect clarity being awaken from her bed by her mother and the sound of a hailstorm that was actually a rain of bullets —fired from a gun carrying an American flag. Dr. Hooker went on to make history by becoming the first African-American woman to enlist and go on active duty in the Coast Guard, then part of the U.S. Navy in World War II. She earned an M.A. from Columbia University Teachers College on the G.I. Bill, and a Ph.d at the University of Rochester where she was one of two black female students. She taught at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Fordham University and retired as Associate Professor in 1985.
The event was chaired by Jessica C. Isaacs, Senior Vice President, AIG, and Chairman, The Executive Leadership Council; and Westina Matthews Shatteen, former Managing Director, Community Business Development, Merrill Lynch Bank of America, and Board Member, The Executive Leadership Council.
The Tulsa Race Riots took place in the segregated Tulsa neighborhood of Greenwood, which was known as the “Black Wall Street” of America. It was founded by O.W. Gurley, the son of two former slaves who moved to Tulsa in July 1906 and bought 40 acres that would be sold exclusively to African Americans. Black Wall Street was a completely black-owned and black-operated community. Its initial business was a rooming house and grocery store built by Gurley in 1906. It housed many migrants fleeing the oppression in Mississippi and those in search of a better life despite the segregation mandates of the Jim Crow era.
For more information about the documentary, see http://www.beforetheydiemovie.com
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