June 3, 1921
The scent of smoke lingered in the air even two days after the horrendous riot. Dazed, many people still wandered around, trying to locate loved ones. It was a time of disbelief that such atrocities happened in their community. Being black in Tulsa had never meant first-class citizenship, but until now it never caused such violent victimization. Murder and mayhem had swept through the successful Negro community of Greenwood District with a deadly and destructive fury. “Why we gotta wear badges?” a black man protested. “Cause that’s the new law,” the irritated police officer snapped. “It ain’t right. After all we been through you is tellin’ us we gotta identify who we is? I always been a free, law-abiding citizen, but when they come in our neighborhood terrorizing us and now tell us we under martial law, it ain’t right!” “Go on and have your employer get you a badge or stay off the streets. That’s the new rule. Now go ahead, boy, before I throw you in jail!” “I ain’t no boy, I’m a man just like you,” he grumbled walking away.
AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL CHURCH
New laws were being put into effect in Tulsa after the riot, not for protecting the victims but to subdue any thought of retaliation against white citizens. “Curfew! What gives them the right to issue a curfew only on Negroes?” Pastor Scoggins demanded from in front of the pulpit. “It’s not right!” Reverend Matthias agreed. “Is it just in the city, or does the county have a curfew too?” Reverend Metcalf asked, troubled. “They told me my taxis have to be off the street by eight at night,” L. D. Johnson said. “That shorts my money to make a decent living. I make a lot of my big fares after dark, and they know it.” “They don’t care about you making a living. They want us to all go broke,” H. T. Wilson declared. “What is the NAACP doing about this?” Reverend Matthias asked, turning to Ethan Freeman.
“It’s just in the township limits so far, but I think they’ll soon change it to include the counties,” Ethan said. “This is the last straw,” Reverend R. A. Whitaker declared as he stood up. “I’m sick of them harassing us when we’re the injured party.” The preacher stepped out into the aisle. “They burned down Mt. Zion Baptist Church because we dared to prepare to protect ourselves and fight back. They murdered innocent human beings and destroyed blocks of valuable property. Then they try to blame us for the riot. I’m sick of their twisting the facts.”
“Enough is enough,” Mr. French said from the rear of the church. The house was full for this covert meeting. The law was cracking down on every move made in Greenwood District. Police patrolled the area, stopping and questioning its citizens at random. What should have been police protection for the residents of Greenwood District became police persecution. “I can’t find my sister,” Georgia Logan said. “They took her out the house, I’m told, and then burned the house down. I can’t find where they took her. She’s sick and in a wheelchair.” “We’ll help search the hospital and the Red Cross with you,” an older woman volunteered. “I already did and she’s not there.” Tears pooled in Georgia’s eyes. “Maybe someone took her in,” Mrs. French suggested. “I need help feeding the survivors and finding them shelter,” Reverend Metcalf announced. You can use this church if you need to, Reverend,” Pastor Scoggins offered.
Clara Hydecker started crying. “They murdered my poor Sam for nothing! What are we going to do? My husband is dead, we have no home and no food, and everything we owned was burned with our house. I have no money and I have four children to feed!” A young man called out, “Yeah, what are we going to do? The law isn’t on our side. What are we going to do?” Billy Ray Matthias stood up. “We’re going to find food and feed as many people as we can. Then we’ll set up temporary shelter as best we can, tents if we have to for the time being. Then we organize a rebuilding plan. What we don’t do is give up. We don’t accept defeat, because that is exactly what they want.” “Yeah, we can rebuild this neighborhood even better than before if we try,” Vic Brown shouted. “Easy for you to say since your house ain’t burned to the ground,” Manny Griswold muttered. Billy Ray walked to the front of the sanctuary his imposing figure matched only by what he said. “The people of Greenwood District cannot give up. We have to get to work helping each other and rebuilding what was destroyed, but before we worry about any of that . . . we need to pray.”
Eagles Pointe County, Oklahoma
The race riot of May 31 and June 1, 1921, had turned a once thriving entrepreneurial community into a bloody battlefield. Hatred and terror reigned throughout the evening and into the wee hours of the night. To the beleaguered residents of Greenwood District, morning’s dawn unveiled the full horror of lost lives and property destruction.
Thirteen months after the racially motivated riot, Greenwood District still evidenced the assault on its citizens and destruction to its infrastructure. The rebuilding process was under way but would never fully heal the scars of that fateful evening. Gradual development was being made to restore demolished businesses and homes. It was not an easy task, but one that would be completed. The spirit of Greenwood would not tolerate eradication by those consumed with violent intent. Prayers were continually being offered for the people and the neighborhood from Christ-loving citizens of Tulsa, black and white, and across the country as well. Greenwood District would not remain a hollowed-out shell of a community but be raised from the dead by the hand and will of God. The county beyond the city limits had not suffered much of the murderous invasions and fiery attacks. Ranchers in Eagles
Pointe were busier than ever employing people from Greenwood and providing for the many displaced city dwellers. The most disheartening factor was that after all the wreckage, things had not improved and Tulsa’s caste system was still firmly in place. Amos Grapnel’s beady eyes darted around Cordell Freeman’s ranch as he was leaning against the large weathered barn. Grapnel’s short stature and chubby frame sported a protruding belly and balding head. He sporadically rocked back on his heels to show off the fancy boots he’d recently purchased in Texas. Tom Eberly, a frail gray-haired man who accompanied him, stood slightly bent over leaning on his walking stick as he watched Cord lift a bale of hay. Grapnel pulled out a pipe. “You ought to give it some real thought, boy,” he said reaching for the tobacco pouch in his back pocket.
“Told you, I’m not interested in sellin’,” Cord said, hauling the bale toward the barn.
“Why not? Offering you more than twice what you paid. Can’t beat that for profit.”
“Don’t care about profit. I’m doing good right here and I don’t wanna sell my place, Mr. Grapnel.”
“Don’t be so quick to turn up your nose at a lot of money, boy. You could get another place if you want with what you’ll make, or . . . you could sit on your bank account and move back home with your folks.” Grapnel grinned slyly.
“I done told you I’m not interested,” was Cord’s irritated response.
“Plain pigheaded,” Grapnel grumbled, “just like your father.”
“We might as well go,” Eberly said, shifting his weight impatiently.
“Why are you so attached to this place anyway?” Grapnel continued. “It’s not your family’s land. You’re all alone out here except for those hired workers you got from town. Don’t have no family around here to keep you company. I’d think you’d be glad to be rid of this place seeing you lived here with that no-good wife that hung herself.”
Cord’s head jerked up. Lightning fast he dropped the bail and charged. Before Grapnel could react Cord had him by throat. “I’ll kill you for talkin’ that way about my wife,” he shouted, clamping tightly on the man’s throat. Grapnel’s eyes bugged as he desperately groped at Cord’s hand to get free. Eberly straightened up as best he could hollering, “Let ’em go! You’ll choke the life outta him!” He whacked Cord across the back with his cane twice. “Turn him loose!” The blows didn’t faze Cord. He was crazed with fury. “You come on my land talkin’ against my wife, you lowdown snake! I’ll kill you, so help me, I’ll kill you!” Grapnel’s color was starting to drain. Eberly looked over at Grapnel’s car trying to gauge how fast he could make it to the vehicle and retrieve his friend’s pistol. The sound of fast-moving hooves drew his attention and he turned all the way around. “Cord, let him go,” a frantic female screamed from on top of an impressive palomino. “Let him go, Cord!” A large muscular man ahead of her had already dismounted from a huge brown stallion and was hurrying toward the choking man. Eberly stumbled backward seeing the powerfully built black male rushing toward them. “Stay out of this,” Cord yelled, trying to maintain his grip when the man grabbed his hands, prying them loose from Grapnel’s neck. “Cord, please let him go,” the woman pleaded, bolting toward him after she jumped down from her horse. “They’ll kill you for sure if you do this,” the man warned looking Cord in the eyes. “Is that what you want . . . to die for killing this devil?”
Cord stopped applying pressure but he still had hold of Grapnel. “He should die - him and all his rotten kind. They killed those people in town and the law did nothin’ about it! Not one drop of justice to those murdering dogs. He was part of it, you said so yourself. He tried to kill you, didn’t he? So why shouldn’t he die?”
“You’re right, he was part of it and the law did nothing to him or the rest of them but believe me the Lord will do something. He’ll have His justice for all the evil done in this world.”
“Ain’t waitin’ on the Lord. This polecat needs dealing with now. He belittled my wife and I won’t put up with him or nobody else talkin’ like that about her.”
”Make him turn Amos loose,” Eberly demanded raising his cane in the air again.
“He gotta breathe.”
Cord’s sister, Benny, reached her brother and gently put her hand on his shoulder. “Cord, please, please don’t do this. Let him go. Billy Ray’s right, Jesus will have justice for all the wrongs done to our people, but not this way. They will answer to God, and if we wait it out, justice will be done. There’s been too much killing already; please, no more.”
“I oughta snap his nasty neck.”
“Don’t let this man goad you into tangling with the law, ’cause you’ll lose. That’s all they need is for you to get arrested for killing him then they’ll gladly see you in the electric chair. I couldn’t stand losing my big brother and neither could Momma. Please, please let him go.”
Tears filled her eyes. Cord released Grapnel, dumping him on the ground. Grapnel gasped for air, loudly coughing and holding his throat. Eberly limped over to his friend. Cord looked down at his foe with loathing. “I should finish you off,” he threatened. “I don’t care nothin’ ’bout dyin’ in no electric chair. I’d be with Savannah if I did.” He looked at his sister. “But for your sake, just for you and Momma, I won’t.”
“Thank the Lord.” Benny sighed, laying her head on his shoulder. “We love you, Cord, and we need you here with us.” She resented her brother’s devotion to his deceased wife but had learned not to show it. Billy Ray put his hand on Cord’s back.
“You made the right decision, the wise one.”
“He ought to be jailed for attackin’ a white man,” Eberly insisted, pointing his stick at Cord.
“Shut up, old man. Take your no ’count friend and get off my land!”
“Won’t forget this, boy. You wait and see, the law’ll handle your crazy black hide.”
Billy Ray lifted the still coughing victim off the ground. Grapnel couldn’t speak but his expression, a mix of fear and rage did. He jerked away. Billy Ray knew his hateful nemesis would never let this matter drop. Still, he tried to brush the dirt from Grapnel’s clothes as the incensed man rejected his assistance.
“I’m trying to help clean you off,” Billy Ray pointed out.
“Get your big black hands off me, boy,” Grapnel croaked snatching himself free, though barely able to stand.
“I’d as soon see you dead than have you touch me, you big ape.” He walked shakily toward his vehicle with Eberly limping beside him.
“Shoulda let me choke the life out him,” Cord grumbled squinting from the noonday sun.”