The May 31st edition of the Tulsa Tribune is a major key to the development of the Riot in Tulsa, and therefore it will be helpful to take a look at what we know, and what exists.
The Tulsa Tribune was a daily, evening paper, beginning publication in 1919. It was founded by Richard Lloyd Jones, Sr. and was published by the Jones family until the paper ceased publication in 1992.
The paper was published in two editions, the City edition, which came out in the afternoon, and the State edition, which was published later and was then sent out to the rest of the state, carrying the same content, but the next day’s date.
Up to this point, the only copy available has been a microfilm copy of the vandalized City edition with part of the front page and the editorial page removed.
The microfilm was produced by the Micro-Photo Service Bureau, Cleveland, Ohio. The date of filming is unknown, but could have been as early as the middle 1940s. The filming was later taken up by the Micro Photo Division of Bell & Howell.
If we look at what has been said about this issue of the Tribune, in chronological order, we see the following.
In Mary Parrish’s book interviewing survivors in 1922, Events of the Tulsa Disaster, P. S. Thompson (pp.29-30) reported an article in the Tribune said that:
… threats were being made to lynch a Negro for attempted criminal assault upon a White girl…
Also in Parrish, A. H. (pp. 47-9) stated that
The Daily Tribune, a White newspaper that tries to gain its popularity by referring to the Negro settlement as ‘Little Africa’ came out on the evening of Tuesday, May 31, with an article claiming that a Negro had had some trouble with a White elevator girl in the Drexel building. It also said the Negro had been arrested and placed in jail and that a mob of Whites were forming in order to lynch the Negro.
Loren Gill, in his 1946 thesis The Tulsa Race Riot, mentions the first page article “Nab Negro for Attacking a Girl in an Elevator,” and cites this as the 1 June 1921 edition. He quoted the text of the article as being:
A negro delivery boy who gave his name to the police as ‘Diamond Dick’ but who has been identified as Dick Rowland, was arrested on South Greenwood avenue this morning by Officers Carmichael and Pack, charged with attempting to assault the 17 year-old white elevator girl in the Drexel building early yesterday.
He will be tried in municipal court on a state charge.
The girl said she noticed the negro a few minutes before the attempted assault looking up and down the hallway on the third floor of the Drexel building as if to see if there was anyone in sight but thought nothing of it at the time.
A few minutes later he entered the elevator she claimed, and attacked her, scratching her hands and face tearing her clothes. Her screams brought a clerk from Renberg’s store to her assistance and the negro fled. He was captured and identified this morning both by the girl and clerk, police say.
Rowland denied that he tried to harm the girl, but admitted he put his hand on her arm in the elevator when she was alone.
Tenants of the Drexel building said the girl is an orphan who works an elevator operator to pay her way through business college.
Gill’s citing of the date of June 1, means that he could have been looking at the State edition, rather than the City edition.
Scott Ellsworth’s interview with W. D. Williams, dated June 7, 1978, said that there was an article in the newspaper “To Lynch Negro Tonight”. Ellsworth noted the missing editorial page, and implied that such an article may have been on the editorial page. (Death in a Promised Land, pp. 47-8)
On the face of it, there is almost certainly an article, and possibly an editorial, although neither exists in the microfilmed newspaper.
According to the Final Report of The Race Riot Commission:
“Since Gill’s thesis first appeared, additional copies of this front-page article have surfaced. A copy can be found in the Red Cross papers that are located in the collections of the Tulsa Historical Society. A second copy, apparently from the “State Edition” of the Tulsa Tribune, could once be found in the collections of the Oklahoma Historical Society, but has now evidently disappeared. 90″
Endnote 90 cites the Red Cross Collection, Tulsa Race Riot 1921, Tulsa Historial Society. And says that the OHS copy was uncovered by Bruce Hartnitt, a Tulsa based researcher, sometime before 1996.
I should also mention that according to the Final Report of The Race Riot Commission: (p. 55) implication has migrated to suggestion:
“This front page article was not, however, the only thing that the Tulsa Tribune seems to have printed about the Drexel Building incident in its May 31, edition. W.D. Williams, who later taught for years at Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa, had a vivid memory that the Tribune ran a story titled “To Lynch Negro Tonight.” 91 In fact, however,what Williams may be recalling is not another news article, but an editorial from the missing editorial page.”
Endnote 91 cites the Williams Interview.
Citing the Final Report, Ellsworth’s Death in a Promised Land, and Alfred L. Brophy, “Tulsa (Oklahoma) Riot of 1921” in Walter C. Rucker & James N. Upton, eds., Encyclopedia of American Race Riots (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007), the current Wikipedia article (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tulsa_race_riot, retrieved 6/18/2014) is explicit:
The Tulsa Tribune, one of two white-owned papers published in Tulsa, broke the story in that afternoon’s edition with the headline: “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl In an Elevator”, describing the alleged incident. According to some witnesses, the same edition of the Tribune included an editorial warning of a potential lynching of Rowland, and entitled “To Lynch Negro Tonight”. The paper was known at the time to have a “sensationalist” style of news writing. All original copies of that issue of the paper have apparently been destroyed, and the relevant page is missing from the microfilm copy, so the exact content of the column (and whether it existed at all) remains in dispute.
In the University of Tulsa, McFarlin Library, Department of Special Collections there exists a photocopy of the front page of the June 1, 1921 State edition, which appears to have come from the Oklahoma Historical Society, shows the article, but not the editorial. I have been in contact with the Oklahoma Historical Society, and their copy has been lost.
Ian Swart, Archivist & Curator of Collections of the Tulsa Historical Society offered a possibility that hadn’t occurred to me. I contacted Sherri Perkins, Local History and Digital Collections Librarian, of the Tulsa City-County Library to see if there was a copy of anything in the Beryl Ford Collection. She was able to uncover the newspaper in a very short time.
So, yesterday afternoon, I had in my hands, the actual paper edition of the State edition of the May31/June 1 1921 Tulsa Tribune. You can see the digital copy of it (all 16 pages) at this link.
You may notice the text of the article does match the article quoted by Gill.
And while they sent out the State edition with the “Nab Negro” article, there is no editorial “To Lynch Negro Tonight.”
As to what was contained in and what happened to the missing portion of the City edition, there are three possibilities to consider: a) that the survivors and witnesses misremembered the article and there never was such a headline (which then raises the question of why the editorial page would be torn out); b) that the damage may have been the result of a storage or handling accident – the June 2nd City edition suffered similar damage, and the two were stored together, or; c) the editorial did exist in the City edition and the editors wrote a completely new editorial specifically for insertion into the State edition.