The Tulsa Race Riot is one of the most shameful events in all of American history and as we know, that’s a high bar to meet. That event took place 95 years ago today. Amazingly, an account of this event written by the father of the legendary African-American historian John Hope Franklin, who was a leading black lawyer in Tulsa at the time, was recently discovered.
“I could see planes circling in mid-air. They grew in number and hummed, darted and dipped low. I could hear something like hail falling upon the top of my office building. Down East Archer, I saw the old Mid-Way hotel on fire, burning from its top, and then another and another and another building began to burn from their top,” wrote Buck Colbert Franklin (1879-1960).
The Oklahoma lawyer, father of famed African-American historian John Hope Franklin (1915-2009), was describing the attack by hundreds of whites on the thriving black neighborhood known as Greenwood in the booming oil town. “Lurid flames roared and belched and licked their forked tongues into the air. Smoke ascended the sky in thick, black volumes and amid it all, the planes—now a dozen or more in number—still hummed and darted here and there with the agility of natural birds of the air.”
Franklin writes that he left his law office, locked the door, and descended to the foot of the steps.
“The side-walks were literally covered with burning turpentine balls. I knew all too well where they came from, and I knew all too well why every burning building first caught from the top,” he continues. “I paused and waited for an opportune time to escape. ‘Where oh where is our splendid fire department with its half dozen stations?’ I asked myself. ‘Is the city in conspiracy with the mob?’”
The Tulsa Race Riot needs to be a much more central event to our national history. A national park site would be a good place to start, but given that the city of Tulsa is pretty much unwilling to deal with this event, that’s unlikely to happen soon. The discovery of this manuscript may help.