I would imagine that when most of you read the heading of this post, a smirk crossed your face and you asked who in the world was O. B. Mann? Furthermore, you probably wondered how could I possibly posit such a question when comparing a “no name” to an established heroic figure that every young person knows of either through reading books, or has seen in one of the two movies about the Alamo. Therein lies one of the major problems with the manner in which American history has been recorded and fed to our young in every school in this country. Truth be told, once the historical facts are revealed, O. B. Mann was a much greater person in his heroic efforts than Davey Crockett. My strong assertion is based on the causes for which each of these men was fighting in their lifetime.
Every schoolboy knows Davey Crockett as that rough and tough frontiersman who wore the coonskin hat and could shoot a rifle with precise accuracy. Crockett is best known as the hero who, along with a cadre of fighters, took on Mexico’s General Santa Ana at the Alamo on March 21, 1836, and though they lost, put up a gallant fight for freedom. Visions of John Wayne playing the role of Crockett will be forever etched into the memory of adults as well as children in this country. He may have lost the battle that day, but he is revered because he took on an evil force and refused to back down to its wickedness.
The truth be told, that interpretation of Crockett and what he fought to preserve is fallacious and that is why the question; “Who is the real hero?” Davey Crockett was like many Anglos who drifted toward Texas because that’s where the action was. He knew, as did all the others fighting to free Texas from Mexico, that the key issue was slavery. Under Mexican rule, slavery was illegal and southerners who had migrated to Texas (which includes Crockett who was from Tennessee) insisted that they break free from Mexico simply because Santa Ana would not legalize slavery. The irony of the War of 1836 is the belief that it was a war for freedom. To the contrary, it was a war designed to eventually take away the freedoms of the Blacks living there, and also open the door for southern planters to cultivate cotton plantations with slave labor. Instead of Crockett fighting against the evil, he was fighting to spread an evil.
O B. Mann was a Black man not known by the overwhelming majority of American citizens. He owned, along with his brother, Mann Brothers Grocery Store in the Greenwood section of Tulsa, Oklahoma, better known as Black Wall Street. In May 1918, he was inducted into the United States Army and before the war ended was sent with the famous Ninety-Second Infantry Division, an all-Black fighting force, to the trenches in Argonne Forest where he fought with distinction. Like many Black Americans at the time, he was encouraged by Black leaders to put their differences with the country aside, go and fight for democracy and the conditions would change when they returned home.
Like thousands of others, Mann followed the advice of men like Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois and fought valiantly for this country, despite the flood of flyers dropped from German airplanes encouraging the Black soldier not to fight for a country that treated them worse than what the Germans would. They fought, and after it was over came home to discover that what the Germans told them was true.
Many of the veterans who returned to an oppressive apartheid system refused to accept the abuse and one of those men was O. B. Mann. A tall, imposing figure, he had no problem telling the racist in Tulsa that Black veterans would not allow any man or woman to be lynched on their watch. So on Memorial Day 1921, when word got back to the Black community that Dick Rowland had been arrested for accosting a white girl, and when the local newspaper the Tulsa Tribune editorialized that Rowland would be lynched, Mann returned to action. Early that evening he and his men confronted the white mob in front of the courthouse, and when one of the white men was shot and killed by Mann the battle was on.
Early in the morning of June 1, over 10,000 white men, filled with rage and hate, crossed over the Frisco Railroad Tracks and attacked the residents of Greenwood. But with his men, Mann put up a courageous fight defending their side of town. They were so successful that the enemy brought in airplanes that commenced to drop kerosene soaked explosives on the buildings and the homes.
Much like Crockett at the Alamo, Mann and his men were outnumbered and with the addition of the airplanes could only hope to hold off the mob until many of the residents escaped into the woods. They were successful and as a result probably helped prevent a great deal more murders than what actually happened. Despite his efforts, the slaughter of innocent men, women, and children was so gruesome that the state of Oklahoma hid it from the history books for years. Still, there is no mention of the brave deeds of O. B. Mann and his men.
Unlike Davey Crockett who was defending a fortress that if he had won, would have brought about the enslavement of thousands of men, women and children, Mann was defending a section of the city in order to protect his people from the evil determined to destroy them.
Therefore, the answer to the question posed earlier is evident; O. B. Mann deserves his place in the annals of American history as a real hero.
You can learn more about this hero in “Fires of Greenwood: Tulsa Riot of 1921.”