Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Last Witness Passes but the Atrocity Lingers

The White mob was held at bay for a while by Black veterans along the Frisco Railroad Tracks in Tulsa as part their neighborhood behind them was already in flames.  Not long after this photo, the defenders were overwhelmed.

Otis G. Clark did not quite make it.  One of last known survivors and an eyewitness old enough to remember the two days of horror known as the Tulsa Race Riots died on May 21 in Seattle. He was reputed to be 109 years old.

That would have made him 18 years old when violence broke out in Oklahoma’s oil boom town on May 31, 1921.  A lifelong resident of the Greenwood neighborhood, the thriving center of a flourishing African-American community, the young man spent a night of terror dodging rampaging white mobs and then witnessed his family home being burned to the ground, along with almost all of the neighborhood.

Clark made it to the railroad yards with others and hopped a northbound freight to safety and a new life.  It was in interesting life, too.  After drifting around taking all sort of jobs, he ended in California where he became Joan Crawford’s butler.  Then he turned to preaching and was advertised as The World’s Oldest Evangelist.

Like many traumatized survivors, Clark seldom spoke of his ordeal until a resurgent Black community in Tulsa began demanding that the city face its dark past in the 1970’s.  Since then he often shared his story and his powerful eyewitness testimony helped bring the story to new light.

He told Tim Madigan, author of The Burning: Massacre, Destruction, and the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, “We had two theaters, two pool halls, hotels, and cafes, and stuff. We had an amazing little city.”
Greenwood was a bustling place.  In addition to the amenities mentioned by Clark there were two newspapers, several churches, a branch library, and a thriving business strip.  Residents of the neighborhood worked in Tulsa business and homes. 
In the early days when Oklahoma Territory had been carved out of the Indian Territory once promised in perpetuity to tribes relocated there from all over the United States, there had been the kind of easy going informal meritocracy of the frontier.  Black cowboys worked the ranches.  Black homesteaders busted the tough prairie soil.  Blacks adopted and assimilated in the Cherokee and other tribes mixed freely.  Black whores serviced white customers and visa-versa.  Blacks came as construction laborers and oil field roughnecks. 

But in post World War I America racial attitudes were polarizing and deteriorating rapidly.  The Federal government had long since abandoned Reconstruction in the states of the old Confederacy and had ceased to enforce the Fourteenth Amendment which promised equal justice before the law and had abandon enforcement of Civil Rights laws.  Jim Crow reigned across the South and was spreading to border and western states.

Racial tensions had heightened during and after World War I.  Labor shortages had empowered blacks to leave sharecropping and head to big cities for good paying industrial jobs.  The planters and local oligarchs resented the loss of their semi-chattel.  White workers in northern cities worried that their wages were being undercut.  Horrible race riots had broken out in Chicago in 1919 where white gangs rampaged through Black neighborhoods.

Blacks, on the other hand were feeling more empowered than they had in years.  Many placed high hopes that the record of Black troops in the war, and their service on the home front would earn them respect and greater freedom.  Many of their leaders had promised them that would be the case.

Returning veterans, toughened by war, were less likely to meekly submit to indignities.  Incidents flared across the country.  There was also the beginning of a movement against the lynch law that was spreading across the South and mostly targeting blacks.

About the same time D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation opened across the country to ecstatic reviews.  It glorified the defense of outraged southern womanhood from “arrogant and ignorant” Reconstruction Black politicians and their carpet bagger and scallywag allies by the and heroically presented Knights of the Ku Klux Klan.  Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat with Southern roots screened the movie at the White House and endorsed it.  Wilson also systematically dismantled the last little Federal civil rights enforcement and re-introduced segregation in Federal facilities nation-wide.

A new version of the Klan, started as a sham by hustlers looking to peddle sheets, crosses, and memorabilia spread like wildfire across the nation.  It often took deepest roots outside of the old Confederacy.
By 1921 Tulsa, whose population had swelled to over 100,000 in the oil boom including many new White residents from Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, and southern Missouri, was a tinder box ready to explode.
It didn’t take much.

On May 30 Dick Rowland, a Black shoe shiner got on a downtown elevator and in the process evidently stepped on the foot of the operator, a White woman named Sarah Page.  She let out a yelp of pain or a scream.  By afternoon rumors were racing through the city that Rowland had attacked her.  He was arrested and taken to jail.

The next day the city’s afternoon newspaper, the Tulsa Tribune not only reported on Rowland’s arrest, but positively claimed that he had attempted to rape Page.  Going further, an editorial titled To Lynch a Negro Tonight.  It has widely been regarded as a signal for a lynch mob.

That might not be too unexpected of a newspaper that identified itself as Democratic in a town with a big Southern White population.  But the Tribune was owned and edited by Richard Lloyd Jones, a self-described liberal crusader.  Jones was the son of the legendary progressive leader of the Western Unitarian Conference and the Unity movement, Jenkin Lloyd Jones and an experienced journalist and former editor of Collier’s and Cosmopolitan magazines and of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.   That same year Jones was instrumental in founding All Souls Unitarian Church in the city.  Despite all of this, he evidently quickly adopted the predominant racial attitudes of the White population.

Copies of that issue of the Tribune have mysteriously vanished from the paper’s own archives and from the files of local libraries.  They exact wording of the editorial has been lost.  But enough witnesses later remembered it so that there can be no doubt that it was, indeed, published.

If Jones, or members of his staff, wanted to signal a lynch mob, they succeeded.  A mob began to form outside the Tulsa County Courthouse at 7:30 and continued to grow in numbers and ferocity through the evening.  It demanded that Rowland be handed over for “summary justice.”  Authorities, who had been criticized for handing over a white youth to a lynch mob eight month earlier, refused.

When word reached the Greenwood neighborhood a group of about 20 veterans armed themselves and proceeded to the courthouse to offer themselves as deputies to defend the jail.  Their offer was flatly refused.  The men returned to the neighborhood.

The angry mob tried to break into the National Guard Armory to obtain more arms, but was turned back by Guardsmen.  Reports of this filtered back to Greenwood in a garbled manner and believing that it was the Courthouse being stormed, a second, larger group of armed volunteers responded to the courthouse after 10 P.M.  They were again turned down.

As the group attempted to leave, scuffles broke out between them and the mob.  A shot was fired, by whom and at whom it is not known.  A full blown riot erupted.

The enraged White mob fanned out over the city seeking black targets.  Black Veterans held a line for a while along the railroad tracks.  Meanwhile a Black man was killed in a downtown movie theater, the first known fatality.  Any Blacks found on the streets were attacked.  Men in automobiles sprayed gunfire into Black businesses and homes.  Around midnight fires were set in the Greenwood business district which rapidly spread as the Fire Department refused to respond.  By morning most of the neighborhood lay in ashes.

But the worst was not yet over.  Leaders planned an all out systematic military style assault on the community at dawn as dazed survivors of the fires roamed the streets.  The National Guard was mobilized, but rather than being sent to protect Greenwood, it was dispatched to screen upscale White neighborhoods from non-existing attacks.

The mob struck at dawn as planned, unopposed by authority.  Black defenders were out gunned and quickly over-run.  Untouched areas were put to the torch.  Blacks moving were shot on sight.  A well known local surgeon Dr. A. C. Jackson tried to surrender, but was summarily executed on the spot.  The mobs spared neither women nor children when found.  There were reports of gang rapes.  And the mob was heavily armed.  At least one machine gun was used and there were reports of firebombs being hand dropped from a bi-plane. 

When out of town Guardsmen finally arrived at 9:30 in the morning, it was virtually all over.  The entire neighborhood was smoldering wreckage.  More than one thousand homes and businesses were destroyed, while credible estimates of riot deaths range from fifty to three hundred, virtually all Black, with hundreds injured.

The city was place under Marshall Law.  Many Greenwood residents, like Clark fled.  Other determined to stay, erecting shanties and living in tents for more than a year.

Official investigations resulted in not a single charge being brought against a White man for the violence.  An all-White Grand Jury officially blamed Blacks for the violence and determined that all actions by Whites were acts of “self-defense.”

Ironically Rowland, the supposed attacker of a White woman, was found not-guilty on all counts.  But the damage was done.

The events of 1921 were for years expunged from Tulsa’s official memory.  A conspiracy of silence and fear settled over the city that lasted for decades.

As historians began dredging up the sordid past in the 1980’s pressure began to mount for some kind of official acknowledgment of what had happened.  Finally in 1997 a special State Legislative Commission was formed to investigate the “incident” and report back with recommendations for action.  The Commission’s report, issued in 2001, put the blame squarely where it belonged and castigated local and state authorities at the time not only for ignoring the crisis, but for actively abetting attacks on the Black community.  The report called for reparations to be paid to survivors for losses, similar to the reparations granted survivors of a similar riot against the Black town of Rosewood, Florida, in 1923.  The legislature let the report languish without action.

The Unitarian Universalist Church of All Souls, recognizing the historic complicity of one of its leading founders, joined with the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Restoration, College Hill Presbyterian Church, and Metropolitan Community Church United to attempt to raise at least symbolic reparations.  The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) contributed $20,000.  Combined with local donations $28,000 was made available to the rapidly dwindling numbers of survivors.  In addition the UUA gave a $5000 grant to the churches operating together as the Tulsa Metropolitan Ministry for continued anti-racism work.

Today All Souls is the largest congregation under one roof in the UUA with over 1,500 members.  It is noted for its social justice activism.  African American Pentecostal Bishop Carlton Pearson his followers after espousing universal salvation and losing his mega church ministry and were invited by Rev. Marlin Lavanhar and the congregation to bring their New Dimensions ministry to All Souls.  

The congregation is now considering a move back to the center of Tulsa, planning to occupy a whole city block with a new church and outreach facilities.

As for the Tulsa Tribune, it remained in the hands of four generations of the Jones family until it ceased publication in 1992.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Compassion for Campers Drive Continues

Note: This post was adapted from an article by Pam Sourelis The Voice, newsletter of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry

The Social Justice Committee of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation (UUC) in McHenry thanks you for all of your generous contributions to the Compassion for Campers drive. The drive will continue during the five months of the PADS sites off-season.

So we need your continued support.

Here is a story that will inspire you, shared by Ken West on his Facebook page:

A young person I know, Francisco Arreola, walked 14 miles this a.m. to my church—the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in McHenry—to deliver much needed items for our community's homeless. Francisco does not have access to transportation. The program is called Compassion for Campers and any toilet paper, toiletries, bug spray, sun block and non-perishable food items are most appreciated. These items help them through the warm season when the shelters are closed.
We have since learned that Francisco used a portion of his graduation money to buy the supplies.
And many thanks to Jail Brakers, who delivered 20 individual camping kits filled with fresh fruit, protein bars, toiletries, and other essentials to the PADS office last week as part of the Compassion for Campers drive.

Thanks also to First Presbyterian Church of Harvard, who has set up a collection box so that their members can take part in this drive.
You can join the effort by dropping off needed items at the UUC, 5603 Bull Valley Road in McHenry.  Call the church office at 815 322-2464 to confirm when the building will be open to accept contributions.
Campers need insect repellant, sunscreen, toiletries, and non-perishable food.

For a complete list of items needed, please email either Lisa Jacobsen at or Sue Rekenthaler at We will also put you on an action list to keep you informed of needed items and possible volunteer opportunities this summer.

Saturday Night Cookouts

We have also received a request for assistance with the PADS Saturday Night Cookouts. Joseph Brehm, the director at the Cary United Methodist Church Emergency Shelter, holds a cookout every Saturday night at Emrickson Park in Woodstock. The picnic starts at 6:00 P.M.  They usually have about 12 of our homeless neighbors in attendance. Anyone can show up, hopefully with a dish to share, pitch in, and socialize. Joseph is also looking for people to be part of a regular rotation or donations. Please contact either Lisa Jacobsen or Sue Rekenthaler if you are interested in this project.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

If the Question Ever Pops Up You’ll Know About Toast

An early single slice Toastmaster.

It took a few years, but American breakfast tables were on their way to being revolutionized when Charles P. Strite filed his application for a patent on the electric pop-up toaster on May 29, 1919.  

Toasting bread to preserve it by removing moisture dated back to Roman times.  In the 19th Century various devices were invented to hold slices of bread over an open flame for toasting.  But it was a tricky process requiring diligence and constant attention and a lot of bread simply went up in flames.  

In the 1890’s inventors in England and the United States patented similar devices that toasted bread over heated electrical wires one side at a time.  The devices were crude, expensive, and dangerous since the glowing filaments were openly exposed.  They also frequently failed or burst into flame because the temperature to toast bread—better than 350ยบ Fahrenheit—caused filaments in the air to melt or ignited near-by combustibles.  

The discovery of a strong nickel-chromium alloy by Albert Marsh made modern electrical toasters practical. George Schneider of the American Electrical Heater Company soon patented a toaster using Marsh’s alloy.  There was a race among dozens of companies to produce practical toasters.  

In 1909 the General Electrical Company’s Frank Shailor patented what would become the first really successful devise, the D-12 Toaster. In 1914 Lloyd and Hazel Copeman perfected a toaster that could “flip” the bread to face the heating filaments without having to touch it by hand.  Competing companies had to either license the Copeman patents for the Automatic Toaster—as did Westinghouse—or find new ways to expose both sides to heat.  

Dozens of different devices were introduced, but none were really satisfactory until Strite, a master mechanic at a Stillwater, Minnesota plant got tired of burnt toast in the company cafeteria.  Tinkering away, he used a mechanical timer and springs to create a toaster that would “pop-up” a slice when it reached the correct heat to brown the bread.  He was granted his patent in 1921 and founded the Waters-Genter Company to manufacture and market the toasters to restaurants.  

Originally assembled by hand, they were far too expensive for home use.  The first 100 were sold to the Childs restaurant chain.  By 1926 the company improved production techniques and redesigned the machine for home use under the brand name Toastmaster.  After 1938 he chrome sides of the toasters were etched with a triple loop logo meant to resemble the heating filaments inside.  The Edison Company eventually absorbed the Toastmaster brand.  Through various owners the name and basic design have continued to be marketed to this day.  

Toastmaster toasters and other appliances were manufactured in a plant in Algonquin, Illinois in McHenry County until the 1990’s.  Now all products are produced offshore, mostly in China.

Although popular, it took another invention to really send sales through the roof and make the toaster a center piece of every home kitchen. 

Bread was sold through local bakeries in whole loaves.  It had to be hand sliced at home to be put in the toaster.  As anyone who has ever tried it can attest, it takes a very sharp knife and some skill to slice white bread to a proper thickness without either mashing the loaf or sawing it to crumbs.  Which is why prior to 1930 most people probably had biscuits or cornbread with breakfast than toast.  But in 1928 Otto Frederick Rohwedder patented an automatic bread slicing machine that also wrapped and sealed the sliced loaf in protective waxed paper. 

In 1930 the Continental Baking Company introduced Wonder Bread and within just three years pre-sliced bread outsold whole loaves across the country.  With perfectly formed slices, sales of Toastmaster toasters skyrocketed as well.  

The rest, as they say is history.  Pass the butter and jam please.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Remember One of Our Own

Today our local paper, the Northwest Herald carried a very nice story on Pfc. Joseph Nelles, a chaplain’s assistant from Woodstock who was killed by Japanese bombs while preparing Mass on December 7, 1941.  See the article here .
However he was not the only local boy to lose his life that day.  I told the story of the other in this letter I sent to the paper this morning.

I appreciated your sensitive article on Memorial Day on Pfc. Joseph Nelles who was killed at Hickam Field on December 7, 1941.

You mentioned another Woodstock young man, Seaman Second Class Thomas Lounsbury who was killed the same day on board the USS Arizona.  His story deserves to be told, too.

Thomas was the youngest son of Robert and Florence Lounsbury, well known members of the community.  Robert managed the A&P Grocery.  Florence was the town librarian.  The family was very active in what was then known as the Congregational Universalist Church.

Thomas graduated from Woodstock High School in 1940 and enlisted in the Navy that October.  He had been stationed on the Arizona which had been sent from its home port in San Diego to Pearl Harbor in February 1941 as tensions with the Japanese Empire grew. 

When they did not hear from their boy after the attack, the Lounsburys feared the worst, but they did not get a telegram from the Navy confirming the worst until December 21.  Although his body was never recovered, it is believed that he went down with 1,177 of his shipmates on the doomed battleship.

The family continued to live in Woodstock for many years.  Florence in particular was a beloved figure not only as the kindly librarian, but as superintendent of her church Sunday School

The family donated a gold fringed flag to the congregation in honor of their son.  It is still one of its most prized artifacts.  For years it was carried at the head of a procession from the church at Dean and South Streets to lay flowers at the Civil War Monument the Square on the Sunday before Memorial Day.

The congregation has moved to McHenry and is now known as the Unitarian Universalist Congregation.  But Thomas Lounsbury has never been forgotten.  His flag stood by the Chancel table at our Memorial Day services on Sunday and his name remembered and honored among the cherished dead.

Patrick Murfin,

Crystal Lake


Note:  Reposted from Last Memorial Day

Observing Memorial Day was always a solemn obligation.  I learned that from my Dad.  He made sure that we attended the ceremonies of his American Legion Post in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  He would patiently explain the significance of each part of the ritual.  We were carefully instructed when to stand at attention with our hands or hats over our hearts and not to flinch when the color guard fired.

And I repeated the process for my children and grandchildren.  For many years I took them to the parade and memorial service in Crystal Lake.  When Maureen was little, we piled her in a Radio Flyer wagon and Kathy and I would walk with the big girls—and sometimes various cousins—the mile or so from our  house down Woodstock Street to Union Cemetery next to the Fire Station.  We would wait along the street for the parade to arrive and turn into the Cemetery.  I would often buy the girls small American flags with instruction not to let them touch the ground.

The parades themselves were never much as parades go.  No floats or people tossing candy to the kids.  Led by wailing sirens of Police motor cycles, the lead Color Guard was usually from the military—most often from near-by Great Lakes Navy Base, followed closely by the Legion and VFW.  For some years the local chapter of VietNow had a smart drill team with flags.  Of course there were the high school marching bands, a little uncertain and unsteady with the loss of their seniors days earlier to graduation.  On hot days, they shed their wool uniforms and shakos for t-shirts.  There were open cars with local politicians and dignitaries—the last local survivor of World War I got a great round of applause, as did that years’ Little Miss Poppy.  The rest of the parade featured Boy Scout Troops, Cub Scout Dens, Girl Scouts and Brownies, Camp Fire Girls, the 4-H, and all of the local T-ball and Little League teams.  Over the years the kids, and then the grand kids all got to march at least once.  The whole parade never took much longer than 15 minutes to pass us with the Fire Department trucks bringing up the rear with more blasts of air horns and sirens.

The parade would swing into the broad drive of the Cemetery leading to the tall Civil War Monument.  The Color Guards, bands, and marching groups would array themselves in an arc around the statue with us members of the public spread out among the grave stones.

An elderly Legion or VFW member would step to a microphone and try to get the attention of the crowd over a popping and inadequate PA system.  A Chaplain would intone a prayer.  The Bands would play the Star Spangled Banner and a Color Guard would raise the flag and the lower it to half staff.  Someone would read General Logan’s order to the Grand Army of the Republic establishing an annual day to decorate the graves of the fallen.  The bands would play a patriotic selection and a local dignitary would deliver a droning address no one could quite hear.  Wreaths would be presented to the Monument by the Legion, VFW, VietNow, the Auxiliaries and the Poppy Princess.

Then the Color Guard and the Firing Squad would return.  The Flag was slowly raised back to the top of the mast and the Squad fired three ragged volleys, frightening many of the children. A lot of years some of the old soldiers could not get their rifles to fire and the men fumbled with the bolt actions to try to clear them.
Then a bugler would strike up Taps.  As he finished a second bugler far back in the cemetery would strike the mournful echo.  However clumsy the rest of the ceremony might have been, this was the moment when my throat caught and my eyes always watered.


The bugle call Taps hat its origins, like Memorial Day itself, on the battlefields of the Civil War.  Union Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield, who commanded the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Division in the V Corps of the Army of the Potomac while at Harrison’s Landing, Virginia in July 1862.  The general was unhappy with a French bugle call then used by the Army.  He tinkered with another call known as Scott’s Tattoo, named for long time Army Commanding General Winfield Scott.  Butterfield’s arrangement was first played by his bugler, Oliver W. Norton, of Erie, Pennsylvania to signify the end of the day at his brigade camp.

The new tune was so popular that it was soon replacing the regulation “lights out” call among both U.S. and Confederate troops.

It is unclear when it began being used at funerals, but the association of death and going to sleep was a natural one.  When the Army finally officially adopted the call for its buglers in 1874 it was approved for both uses.

By the way, the Army takes a dim view of “Echo Taps” and specifically bans the use of a second bugle as “an inappropriate use of bugle” in military funerals and ceremonies.  It is popularly used, however, as in Crystal Lake, by civilian musicians.

The massive die off of World War II and Korean War veterans now running to dozens every day has put a strain on the capacity of the armed services to provide buglers for all grave side.  Many now are conducted with recorded renditions of Taps.