Vernon AME

The Vernon African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of north Tulsa’s oldest institutions, was added this month to the National Register of Historic Places. JOHN CLANTON/Tulsa World

I wish to correct misconceptions related to the Tulsa race riot of 1921 in an article about the AME Church  ("Historic Vernon AME Church in north Tulsa added to National Register," Sept. 2).

Specifically, I object to using "massacre" in the article, as it is both inaccurate as to definition and serves only to needlessly inflame people.

As a historian, I have taught Oklahoma history many times. According the Oklahoma adjutant general’s report, the riot took 36 lives, including 26 black citizens and ten whites. It was preceded by a variety of incendiary incidents.

It began with a black gentleman being held in the jail on suspicion of assaulting a white woman. Fearing a lynching, many mostly armed black citizens surrounded the courthouse along with a number of whites. The police chief deputized several white men.

A black person in the crowd fired and either killed or wounded a deputized officer. The posse returned fire, and whites appeared with weapons. Gunfire broke out as black residents retreated. Whites then invaded the north Tulsa black neighborhoods, resulting in much of the area being destroyed.

The governor summoned the state militia to restore order. Gunfire was exchanged between militia and citizens, both black and white. An armored car may have been employed.

The riot was quelled the day after it began, and people of both races were arrested or detained. The Red Cross provided care to the homeless, as did the broader Tulsa community. The riot was a disgrace and a tragedy and stain on our state.

But, it was not an "indiscriminate and merciless slaughter" as the word "massacre" is defined.

Editor’s note: Many details of the events of 1921 are in dispute. A 2001 commission authorized by the Oklahoma Legislature said estimates of the number killed range from 36 to 300.

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