Tulsa Race Riot: Report looks at National Guard role
BY RANDY KREHBIEL World Staff Writer
Dec 7, 2000
1/20/13 at 7:56 AM
It contends that state troops sided with whites rather
than being impartial.
It's a question certain to be debated long after the Tulsa Race Riot Commission's work
Did local units of the Oklahoma National Guard help angry whites burning and
looting Tulsa's Greenwood
district on the morning of June 1, 1921, as a report submitted this week to the
Or, as others maintain, were the 50 or so members of the 1st Battalion, 3rd
Infantry who could be mustered on short notice among the few sane heads during the
18-hour melee that left dozens dead and more than 30 city blocks in ruins?
The issue is significant. Agreement
seems to be general that Tulsa's Police Department bore the greatest governmental
responsibility for what happened. Its chief, notoriously corrupt and with no real
qualifications for the job, was convicted of dereliction of duty over his handling of
the affair. Widespread reports that police stood by and did nothing during the riot,
or that individual officers actively participated in it, came from both whites and
National Guard complicity, however, seems to be crucial to those pressing for financial restitution. Without it, the two
legislators on the commission have made clear, reparations have no chance with the
Historians John Hope Franklin and Scott Ellsworth rely heavily on the report of
Capt. John McCuen in concluding that the local units "would not play an impartial role
in the `maintenance of law and order.' "
McCuen commanded Company B, a small detachment sent into the northern part of
Greenwood, where the OSU-Tulsa campus is now, on the morning of June 1. This area
appears to have been more or less intact when McCuen and his men entered it at about 9
Company B's orders were to stop snipers firing into an adjacent white neighborhood,
round up black residents and not to fire unless fired upon.
According to McCuen, he and his men engaged in two gun battles with barricaded blacks
who "refused to surrender" and killed a number of them. On the second occasion Company
B joined with "white citizens" in subduing about 10 armed blacks.
Ellsworth and Franklin identify McCuen's "white citizens" as "a mob of white
rioters" and write "No longer remotely impartial, the men of B Company, Third
Infantry, Oklahoma National Guard, had now joined the assault on black Tulsa."
Ellsworth and Franklin also criticize the deployment of guardsmen on Detroit
Avenue, where black and white neighborhoods adjoined and whites reported sniper fire
from church belfries in Greenwood, and Guard involvement in the systematic detention
of all blacks.
Certainly neither law enforcement officials nor the National Guard protected black
property from vandals and looters once Greenwood residents had either fled or been
Still, there are those who argue that local guardsmen performed with courage and
On the night of May 31 a few guardsmen faced down a surly crowd demanding access to
armory and its arsenal of 80 Springfield rifles, 16,000 rounds of ammunition and six
Browning automatic rifles.
Later, after charges that soldiers sprayed blacks with "machine guns" -- weapons the
local guard did not have -- officers vehemently denied the rapid firing, .50-caliber
Brownings ever left the armory.
Maj. Paul Brown, commanding officer of the "sanitation detachment" -- a medical unit
-- began treating wounded blacks almost immediately and arranged surgeries for the most
seriously injured. The next day he reactivated an old hospital for use by blacks and
commandeered beds in the Oklahoma and Tulsa hospitals for pregnant black women.
Maj. Byron Kirkpatrick, Lt. Col. L.J.F. Rooney and other guardsmen took on the mob
that had broken into a hardware store, cleared them out and locked the place back up.
Charles Daley, a National Guard major as well as a police inspector, began
disarming whites shortly after midnight on June 1 and organized a picket line along
the Frisco railroad tracks in an ultimately futile attempt "to prevent any further
firing over into the negro district."
"(T)he officers and men," Da
ley wrote, "were exposed to rifle and pistol fire both from . . . blacks and . . .
In 1937 Frank Van Voorhis, a National Guard captain in 1921, told an interviewer
"Our idea was to drive the negroes back into their own district and urge them to
surrender without bloodshed. . . . Realizing that the maddened armed whites were our
worse problem, it seemed best to get between the two forces."
By mid-morning of June 1, said Voorhis, blacks "were through, gladly surrendering,
(but) the whites were in a state of frenzy, killing negroes at random . . . keeping up
the horror by burning and plundering." Voorhis claimed that troops from Oklahoma City,
widely praised by the commission report and others, arrived after "the riot was
already quelled and quiet restored."