Otis Clark, Tulsa Race Riot survivor and evangelist dies at age 109
BY TIM STANLEY World Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 23, 2012
5/23/12 at 2:48 AM
SEATTLE - Otis Clark, a world-traveling evangelist and one-time butler to Hollywood stars who was believed to be the oldest living survivor of the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot, died Monday in Seattle, family members said.
He was 109.
A funeral service is set for 10 a.m. Saturday at Eagle Mountain International Church in Fort Worth, Texas.
In Tulsa, a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. May 31 - the 91st anniversary of the Race Riot - at Greenwood Christian Center.
Biggers Funeral Home in Fort Worth is in charge of arrangements.
A minister for more than 85 years, Clark had spent the last few years as a bishop with Life Enrichment Ministries, an organization he co-founded with his daughter, Gwyn Williams.
A former Tulsa resident, Clark more recently had split time between his homes in Seattle and Dallas.
Born before Oklahoma statehood on Feb. 13, 1903, on a homestead near Guthrie, Otis G. Clark grew up in Tulsa, where in 1921 his family's home burned during the riot.
The riot claimed at least 38 lives and probably more - including Clark's stepfather, who was never found - and left thousands of black Tulsans homeless and destitute.
For the next four years, the Clark family would live in shanties built by the Red Cross.
Shortly after, Clark left Tulsa and joined his father, who was living in Hollywood, Calif.
There, he found work as an extra in the movie industry and would later tell stories of working as a butler for Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin and other stars.
Also while in California, Clark got involved with the famous Azusa Street Mission, the birthplace of the Pentecostal movement.
He was ordained as a minister and became a leader in the movement, spending much of the next few decades preaching and evangelizing.
He came through Tulsa from time to time on visits and eventually moved back.
Even into his 100s, Clark continued to drive and handle most of his daily chores by himself.
At 104, he traveled to Zimbabwe for a three-week mission trip and as recently as January was evangelizing in Canada.
In 2008, Clark and other riot survivors assembled in Tulsa for the premiere of "Before They Die," a documentary film about the riot and the survivors' ongoing struggle for reparations.
"We had our own little town down there. ... We never got nothing for it. Nothing," Clark told the Tulsa World at the time.
He was optimistic overall, however, about race relations, noting that during his lifetime he had witnessed great change.
"We're doing better between the races. ... we get along better than we did back then. We have more freedom now. We can do things we couldn't do then."
The Rev. Gary McIntosh of Tulsa's Greenwood Christian Center, who knew Clark for 25 years and will speak at the memorial service, said Clark "lived a simple life; he was relaxed and peaceful. But he lived with intention - and that was to live the goodness of God.
"Despite all that he had seen, he always said, 'I want to be better not bitter.' And he wasn't."
State Rep. Jabar Shumate, D-Tulsa, said Clark was "bright and energetic" when he was with him recently in Washington, D.C.
"He was the most humble man I have ever met," Shumate said.
Williams said her dad ate healthy food and was still active at 109. He wore glasses to read but took no medications and still had his own teeth.
"The biggest thing I'm going to miss about him is the hope that he gave other people to go on, young and old - how he inspired others," Williams said.
"You have a lot of pastors who retire at 65, but here he was, still traveling the world and looking ahead," she added.
Clark's survivors include his daughter, Gwyn Williams, and one granddaughter. He was preceded in death by two wives.
For more information on memorial contributions, visit tulsaworld.com/lifeenrichment
Original Print Headline: Tulsa Race Riot survivor, evangelist dies at age 109
Tim Stanley 918-581-8385
Otis Clark: Reflecting on the Tulsa Race Riot in 2008, he noted the changes he had seen in his lifetime, telling the Tulsa World, "We're doing better between the races. ... we get along better than we did back then. We have more freedom now. We can do things we couldn't do then."