One can never look at the infamous Tulsa Race Riot as an isolated event. It was not that at all. Such cataclysmic incidents seldom are. The signs of the times were like neon lights flashing across the sky.
We can begin with World War I, when the black citizens of America answered the call to serve their country.
During World War I 380,000 African Americans served in the wartime Army. Approximately 200,000 of these were sent to Europe. More than half of those sent abroad were assigned to labor and stevedore battalions, but they performed essential duties nonetheless, building roads, bridges, and trenches in support of the front-line battles. Roughly 42,000 saw combat. http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/369th-infantry/
In 1919, there were an unprecedented sixty-one lynchings of African-Americans in the U.S. In 1920, another sixty-one; and in 1921 fifty-seven. It’s difficult in these times to imagine the extreme degree of lawlessness that existed to allow such slaughter to occur.
Because such hatred was not relegated to America, World-wide efforts sprang up to halt racial hostilities. One such effort was the Pan-African Congress in Paris organized by Harvard-educated Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois. (Du Bois had distinguished himself as the first African-American to earn a doctorate in the U.S.)
The more the black communities stepped out to assert themselves, the more fear, suspicion, bitterness, and jealousy grew among the white communities.
This was true in Tulsa, Oklahoma as well. It was in this strange and unsettled time era that the four titles in my Tulsa series take place.
More about the social climate in Tulsa in 1921 in my next Tulsa Series blog post.
When country girl Tessa Jurgen learns that her bootlegging father has promised her in marriage to a man she doesn’t love, she seeks refuge in the supposedly progressive boomtown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The year is 1921.
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Photo Credit: Beryl Ford Collection/Rotary Club of Tulsa, Tulsa City-County Library and Tulsa Historical Society.