Brad DeLong provides extracts from a Financial Times column on the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921: "The 1921 Tulsa Riot". Here are some more:
"Historians call the firestorm that convulsed Tulsa from the evening of May 31 into the afternoon of June 1 the single worst event in the history of American race relations...
...In 1921, a leafy neighbourhood sprawled here [North Tulsa - Ben]. Back then it was called Greenwood, and it was a black neighbourhood as affluent as any in America. Its small but thriving business district was dubbed "black Wall Street". Greenwood, as Clark and other survivors remember it, was a city within a city. "We had it all," he says, "Shops, schools, movie theatres, doctors, lawyers, newspapers -you name it."
Sixteen years earlier a vast petroleum field had been discovered nearby, and by 1921 Tulsa had become known as "the oil capital of the world". The town was awash in oil dollars, and the ascendant class of oilmen and their families needed more than domestics - they needed a service sector. Greenwood bloomed... as many as 10,000 blacks enjoyed the quiet and prosperity on the western edge of the Ozark Mountains. But Greenwood posed a challenge. "The old order would not stand much longer," wrote legal scholar Alfred Brophy in Reconstructing the Dreamland, the most recent of more than half a dozen books on the riot. "It was a culture that would not easily abide unequal treatment."
The riot began, as the battles in America's race wars often seem to, with an allegation of sexual assault. On the warm afternoon of Memorial Day, May 30, 1921, in the Drexel Building that still stands downtown, a 19-year-old black shoeshine boy named Dick Rowland had gone to the "coloured" men's toilets on the top floor. Sarah Page, a 17-year-old white girl - an orphan, Tulsans were soon told, working her way through college - ran the elevator. What transpired between the two remains a mystery, but whether Rowland tripped, or grabbed Page's hand, or never even touched her, the girl screamed. It was enough. By the following afternoon, a front- page headline in the Tulsa Tribune, trusted daily of the town's white citizens, exhorted: "Nab Negro for Attacking Girl in Elevator". Rowland, the Tribune cried, had attacked Page. The spectre of rape raised, the lynching calls ensued.
At the courthouse downtown where Rowland was being held, a white mob squared off against armed black men. Veterans of the first world war, they had come from Greenwood to stave off a lynching. Shots broke out and mayhem ensued. Officers of the Tulsa police and county sheriff's department sided with the whites, hastily deputising hundreds and handing out weapons. National Guard troops were called in from neighbouring towns, arriving in trucks mounted with machine-guns. The guardsmen not only abetted the violence, but disarmed and rounded up hundreds of black defenders of Greenwood. As the whites fired at will, local biplanes circled above, scouting for blacks and - according to some reports - dropping incendiary explosives.
When martial law finally brought quiet, 35 blocks of Tulsa's north side - with 1,256 houses and 23 churches - had burned to the ground. Hundreds of homes and shops had been looted. Black men had been shot, burned and dragged through the streets...
...The true death toll will never be known. The confirmed count stopped at 39, but a Red Cross tally at the time ran as high as 300 dead - most of them black.
In the riot's aftermath, an all-white grand jury affirmed that "there was no mob spirit among the whites, no talk of lynching and no arms". No participant in the riot was ever tried for a felony crime."
The longer article in the Financial Times is concerned with the reparations movement in the US. DeLong was tipped off by a post at Crooked Timber.
My grandfather, Ben Muse, was born in North Carolina and lived in Virginia after 1934. In the 1950s and early 1960s, he worked for desegregation and civil rights. But, he started in 1898 in Durham, North Carolina, with attitudes that were typical of that time and place, and only gradually worked his way to a point where he actively opposed segregation.
Towards the end of his life, he remembered early 20th Century Durham as a city with relatively moderate racial views for the south. The white citizens believed in segregation, but they were disturbed by the lynchings from the deeper south. Moreover:
"The accomplishments of Durham Negroes had attracted some national attention and were a source of pride to Durham whites. The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company of Durham was, as it remains today, one of the largest and most successful black business enterprises in the nation. Yet racial segregation was scrupulously observed. In spite of the presence of distinguished blacks in the town, I often heard it said Negroes were like children, to be treated kindly but "kept in their place."
Matthew Lassiter explains how he moved beyond this point:
"...Like numerous other white southerners who came to oppose segregation, Muse's intellectual odyssey toward an increasingly liberal and outspoken racial stance involved highly personal experiences and time spent outside the South. In the mid-1950s, as the Brown decision changed the parameters of political discourse in Virginia and the rest of the South, Muse wrote an autobiographical manuscript (which has never been published) detailing the evolution of his own racial views. In this revealing retrospective he vividly portrayed his youthful beliefs in black inferiority and the importance of blacks remaining in "their place." His early view of history, largely influenced by D.W. Griffith's film Birth of a Nation, recognized the evils of slavery while viewing Reconstruction as a tragic era of northern and black aggression justly ended by noble southerners such as the Klu Klux Klan. Muse described how his questioning of these traditional beliefs began during the years he spent abroad in the diplomatic corps, which included cultural interaction with diplomats from African nations. When he was in Paris, he noted, "race prejudice seemed provincial and unsophisticated."
Muse wrote that by the time he returned to Virginia in 1934, his racial attitudes had changed substantially, but he felt no pressing obligation to challenge the status quo. He employed black laborers on his farm in Southside Virginia during his brief stint in the state legislature, and he recalled that segregation seemed at the time to be "silly...but not outrageous or oppressive." After moving to the northern Virginia town of Manassas in the mid-1940s, Muse interacted with African Americans more frequently and on a more equal basis. Perhaps the most crucial step involved his friendship with Stephen Lewis, a local black dentist with whom he discussed political and racial issues. In hindsight, Muse concluded: "perhaps the best antidote for race predjudice, the clearest X-ray through which a white man can see the foolishness and wickedness of it, is a Negro friend."
After the Second World War my grandfather, Ben Muse, moved to Manassas Virginia and opened up a printing plant.
In Manassas he met and became friends with an African-American dentist, Dr. Lewis. Later he wrote about Lewis:
"A Manassas experience which had a profound influence upon my thinking and my life was my friendship with Dr. Stephen J. Lewis, a Negro dentist. This was from nine to four years before the Brown decision, another decade before the breakthrough in race relations of the 1960s; and Manassas, though only thirty miles from Washington, was thoroughly southern in its racial attitudes. Dr. Lewis was a highly trained dentist with the best equipped laboratory in town. More than half of his patients were white, but they tried to avoid the embarrassment of being seen talking with him on the street! Intellectually, he was superior to any of the Manassas whites that I met, but a black intellectual was a phenomenon which made whites uncomfortable, and "Doc" Lewis was still a Negro; so they shunned him as far as conveniently possible. The Negro dentist was never seen in a white home and he could not eat in any restaurant in town; he could not have a Coke at any soda fountain.
Yet Dr. Lewis longed to play a part in public affairs. He accepted the humiliation of sitting on a special bench for "colored" to attend meetings of the county governing board, and at times when there was a pause in the discussion he would rise to express his opinion on some question. Few had a better grasp of the county's financial problems than he, and when he spoke the county fathers listened. Dr. Lewis was courteous and unobtrusive, but he never cringed. A naturally proud man, stockily built and well-dressed, smoking cigars incessantly, except for his color, one would have taken him for a leading citizen. But he suffered more poignantly than Manassas whites imagined.
In addition to his local practice Dr. Lewis was active in the National Dental Association (the organization of Negro dentists), and editor of its monthly magazine, which was formerly printed in Chicago. When he saw that we were setting up a substantial plant, he brought the Bulletin of the National Dental Association to us for printing. He spent many hours in my office, and there, as our friendship developed, he was intimate and uninhibited. Sometimes he was almost in tears, but basically he was optimistic, confident that before many years passed the American Negro would be recognized as an equal citizen. We talked about many things, including politics, but most of all the slow-moving trend toward enlightenment and justice in race relations. A voracious reader of newspapers, he watched pathetically for any rift in the cloud of prejudice. When he read of the ending of separation of the races in some railway passenger station, or of an attack upon race discrimination by some national figure, he would come to me jubilantly with the news.
Dr. Lewis died in 1950. When I visited him in the hospital in Washington during his final illness, he was effusively grateful and affectionate. Still dreamng of a Promised Land of human dignity, he last words to me were: "I'll not see it, but it's coming. It's coming - when we'll all be just people."
The initiative in this story belongs to Lewis; he approached Muse, bringing the printing business. It would have been more convenient for him, as editor, to deal with a Manassas printer rather than a printer in Chicago. Maybe he also saw the potential for building a personal relationship on top of the commercial relationship.
Source: Muse, Benjamin. The Twentieth Century as I Saw It. Carlton Press. New York. 1982. Pages 239-241.
On Easter Sunday, 1939, Marian Anderson performed from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Anderson, an African-American, had earlier been denied the opportunity to perform at the Daughters of the American Revolution's Constitution Hall. The Roosevelt Administration quickly offered this alternative venue. At the time, Anderson was one of America's leading classical singers, a contralto, at the height of her powers.
The following description of the events is taken from an April 2000 Commentary magazine review, by Terry Teachout, of a biography by Allan Keiler: Marian Anderson: A Singer's Journey. Teachout's review is called "The Soul of Marian Anderson." Keiler is a professor of music at Brandeis: