Shedding light on the `darkest hour'
BY JASEN CORNS World Staff Writer
Jun 4, 2001
1/20/13 at 8:41 AM
Otis Clark, 98, a survivor of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, speaks
Sunday at a commemoration marking the the 80th anniversary of the riot, as Mayor Susan Savage
looks on. The event was held at Mount Zion Baptist Church near downtown Tulsa.
Below, the hands of 98-year-old Tulsa Race Riot survivor Otis Clark (top)
and Rabbi Charles Sherman of Temple Israel embrace during a prayer.
Photos by A. CUERVO / Tulsa World
80th anniversary of Tulsa Race Riot observed
Otis Clark walked slowly to the podium, dressed in white from bow tie to shoes, as more than
400 people stood and showered him with adulation.
Then the 98-year-old delivered an unpolished speech, recalling a couple of stories from his
younger days, and punctuated his moment in the spotlight with a call to be "on God's side."
Clark's speech had nothing to do with the Tulsa Race Riot.
Yet it had everything to do with the Tulsa Race Riot.
Along with a handful of other survivors, Clark was commemorating the 80th anniversary of
the 1921 riot Sunday afternoon at Mount Zion Baptist Church near downtown Tulsa. Gov. Frank
Keating and Tulsa Mayor Susan Savage were among the dozen
speakers at the nearly three-
hour-long ceremony, which was followed by a reception.
Clark was adored Sunday not for his eloquence, but because beneath his wrinkles and white
hair rested a scarred 18-year-old whose house was burned to the
ground, whose pet bulldog was killed and whose friends and neighbors were killed by angry
He and other survivors were embraced as living links to the city's darkest hour, and praised
for their tenacity that, speakers said, enabled the story of the riots to break out of a long
"conspiracy of silence."
Many repeated their calls for more reparations to riot survivors, while also praising recent
efforts of the Oklahoma Legislature. Last week, Keating signed into law a bill directing
$750,000 to a memorial of the riot, and another bill establishing a Greenwood area
redevelopment authority and a scholarship account for as many as 300 Tulsans.
Sunday, Keating said the memorial will not only be a remembrance, "but a firm commitment
that this will never again occur."
George Henderson of the University of Oklahoma, a civil rights scholar, author and lecturer,
delivered the keynote speech. Henderson said "what has been done cannot be undone, but it can
be acknowledged and overcome.
"We're on the cusp of reconciliation," he said, calling for a "just and fair closure" for
"I don't believe God brought Tulsa this far to leave the Tulsa Race Riot in the category of
`unfinished business'," he said. "What is the loss of life worth? What is the loss of liberty
worth? What is the loss of happiness worth?"
He also said it was "time to forgive" all parties involved, and advised black Tulsans to
"not hide behind the riot" as an excuse for poor scholastic achievement, drug abuse or other
"Don't say it's because I'm black or someone burned my house down," Henderson said. "Say
it's because I'm lazy."
Where Clark was beloved and Hen
derson respected, Gary Blaine of Hope Unitarian Church stole the show. Blaine's words were
often met with "Amens" and other words of support from the audience, which followed his speech
with a rousing standing ovation.
Blaine delivered an impassioned speech condemning what he called a "systemic racism" with
roots in capitalism and imperialism that demand the exploitation of "inferior races."
He also criticized the church for being "the greatest conspirator of silence."
"Silence," Blaine said, "is always the partner of racism."
Jasen Corns, World staff writer, can be reached at 581-8369 or via e-mail at