Considering the Tulsa Riot of 1921 from a Black Writer’s Perspective

Seven years ago I began my research into the Tulsa Riot of 1921. The result of that study was the release of Fires of Greenwood, a novel that chronicles the barbarous attack on a prosperous Black community, leading to the brutal killings of over three hundred men, women and children, and the destruction of thirty four blocks of successful businesses and beautiful homes. As we have witnessed throughout our turbulent history in this country, the official reason given for the massacre was the alleged attack of a young white girl, Sarah Page, by Dick Rowland, a nineteen-year-old Black bootblack. However, the actual facts of what happened in the Drexel building elevator on May 30, 1921 between those two, do not support the alleged reason for the massacre. I was, therefore, determined to write a novel depicting the real truth behind the slaughter of three hundred Black Americans, at the hands of a white mob.

Besides the mysterious relationship between the Dick and Sarah, what I found most compelling was discovering just how prosperous Black Americans were in their segregated community known as Greenwood. In fact, when Booker T. Washington past through the city on his way to speak in Boley, Oklahoma in 1905, he was so impressed with the number of successful businesses in the Greenwood corridor, he coined the term “Negro Wall Street” (once the term Negro was no longer acceptable, it was changed to “Black Wall Street”) as the best way to describe the area. Years later, in March 1921, Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois was just as impressed with the number of successful businesses, when he visited the community and delivered a speech at the Dreamland Movie Theater, owned and operated by Black entrepreneurs John and Loula Williams.

Dreamland Theater Rebuilt

Stradford HotelMy research also brought to life the Gurley and Stradford Hotels, places of lodging for Black visitors to the city. Dr. Du Bois actually stayed at the Gurley Hotel during his visit there. However, it was not considered the better of the two; the Stradford was the finest Black owned hotel in the country, and easily matched the white hotels in Tulsa for convenience, luxury and comfort. John Stradford and O. W. Gurley were two of the richest Blacks in Tulsa. Both men had become millionaires before all was lost on that dreadful day in 1921.

In addition to the Gurley and Stradford, there were William Anderson’s Jewelry Store, Henry Lilly’s Upholstery Shop, A. S. Newkirk’s Photography Studio, Elliott and Hooker’s Clothing Emporium, H. L. Byar’s Tailor Shop, Hope Watson’s Cleaners and Lilly Johnson’s Liberty Café that served home cooked meals at all hours, while nearby Little Café is where people lined up waiting for their specialty chicken or smothered steak with rice and brown gravy. And there was the famous Little Rose Beauty Shop, run by the matriarch of the community Mabel Little.

Black Wall Street (Pre-Riot)The area possessed fifteen Black physicians and Dr. Andrew Jackson was recognized by the prestigious Mayo Clinic as one of the finest doctors in the country. The community also built its own hospital and the magnificently structure Mt. Zion Baptist Church, known to rival any other church in Tulsa or the entire state of Oklahoma. All this came crashing down, as the invaders dropped turpentine soaked firebombs that lit up the entire community and torched many unsuspected men, women, and children.

Riot Survivor in AshesThe tragedy that befell the prosperous Greenwood district, as well as other similar communities in this country, was that Black Americans were too successful, and a jealous and envious white community was determined to eradicate those businesses. That egregious attack on innocent citizens was not about a Black man accosting a white girl. It was about Black men and women who had bought into the Booker T. Washington position that hard work and a commitment to the American dream of capitalism would pay off handsomely. O.W. Gurley, a strong advocate of the accommodationist approach, found out just how much whites respected successful businessmen and women of the darker hue when they shot his wife and burned down his hotel.

Tulsa clearly points out that the only acceptable behavior whites would condone was for Blacks to be passive and subservient to them. “Uppity” became synonymous with Black men and women stepping out of the role as servants and field hands. However, the positive message that shines through the pages of Fires is that Blacks in Tulsa refused to condescend to the arrogance of the majority, and were willing to fight and die rather than allow an innocent Black boy to be lynched by the mob. Finally, this writer portrays the relationship between Dick and Sarah in a manner not pursued by the many other researchers, who have studied the causes of the riot. The portrayal of their involvement makes for an interesting and entertaining read, which should always be the goal of the novelist.

This novel re-creates the events that led to this slaughter and brings to life true heroes who stood up to the evil and fought back. It is imperative that Black writers begin to “tell our story our way,” and that is what I have done in the pages of Fires.  Eminent scholar and Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree noted that, “Frederick Williams has taken the 1921 Tulsa Riot to new heights and reminds us all that we cannot forget the African American community that battled to protect their dignity and respect. We will never forget what happened to the members of “Black Wall Street’ and will make sure that generations of people will forever remember the hard working men and women who fought to preserve their dignity.”

Prosperity Publications, the publisher has contracted to convert this work into a screenplay and will pursue producing a movie that will be as compelling as recent movies such as Selma, The Butler and Twelve Years A Slave. In the meantime I invite you to purchase the novel through Amazon or communicate with the company at, or leave a message here on my writer’s blog.  A novel is always more comprehensive and thorough than the movie and that will be true with Fires. 

Greenwood MonumentYou can also visit the website of the Greenwood Cultural Center at or the John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park at both located on the grounds of the tragic events that happened on June 1, 1921, 95 years ago.

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A Brief Perspective On Race from Emmett Till to Donald Trump

It is, once again, that time of year for me. That time when I celebrate another year of living here among the billions of men, women, and children, who make up the population on earth. Of course, my communication is with a very minuscule section of that population. When I celebrated my birthday a couple years ago, I had one of my students approach me and ask, “Professor Williams how long you been here, sir?” In other words he was asking me how old I was, but felt it more polite to not ask in that manner. Well, I answered it from the context of his question and would like to share with you my answer, modified somewhat to include the past two years.

tilleversI told that young man that I have been here long enough to know, that this country’s persistent racial crisis has a historical precedent. I have been here long enough to know, that the justice system that failed to punish the murderers of Emmett Till in 1955, fails to punish the murderers of young Black boys in the streets of this country in 2016. I have been here long enough to know, that the racist that cowardly shot and killed Medgar Evers in the driveway of his home in 1963, are still among us. I have been here long enough to know, the hatred that could drive men to bomb a church with children inside during Sunday school, in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 still exist. I have been around here long enough to know, that the assassination of Malcolm X in 1965 and Dr. Martin King, Jr. in 1968, were not just random acts of violence but well-planned plots to eliminate two of the most effective Black leaders who, given time, would have united the Black race in a way never done before.


I have been around here long enough to know, that an economic system that is so unfairly skewed in favor of one race of people at the expense of others, will never be able to achieve economic parity unless a new system is put in place. I have been around here long enough to know, despite the ranting of Bill O’Reilly on FOX television, that white skin privilege is real and has always existed in this country. I have been around here long enough to know, that the conservative movement in this country is essentially an antithetical force to the gains Blacks have made, as a result of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill and the 1965 Voting Rights Law. I have been around here long enough to know, that the past three Republican Presidents, who have led the fight to overturn the progress that Blacks and other minorities have made as a result of federal legislation, have always found a Black man or woman to attach themselves to, in order to serve as subterfuge to what they planned to eradicate. For Ronald Reagan, it was Colin Powell. For George H.W. Bush, it was Clarence Thomas. For George W. Bush it was Condeleeza Rice. Now as we move into the Donald Trump era of the Republican Party, it appears that Dr. Ben Carson will fill that role. Ceremony to Commemorate Foreign Policy Achievementsdonald-trump-carson-1024



I have also been around here long enough to recognize the dangers confronting my race and culture, as our young men everyday are drawn more into a life of self-destructive, hedonistic pessimism. I have been
around here long enough to discern the change in our culture from the “Black is Beautiful” era of the late 1960’s and 70’s, to the Crack Cocaine epidemic of the 1980’s and 90’s. I have been around here long enough to know, that the bishop-t-d-jakes-bishop-eddie-longcreflo dollar church in austrailia
ministers in the Black church have moved away from the Social Gospel of Dr. King, Ralph Abernathy and Fred Shuttlesworth to the Prosperity Gospel of Creflo Dollar, T. D. Jakes, Eddie Long and I. V. Hilliard, and none of them have been able to influence our young so that they believe in themselves and in their race i-v-hilliard-photo(although I must admit that Dr. King came the closest). They all have failed to teach the doctrine of “Love your Neighbor as you love yourself,” because our young do not love themselves. Many of them love the drugs, love the gangs and love the guns. And that is pathological for the survival of our race.

I guess you can surmise that I have been around here a long time. I have to admit that I never thought I would live to see a Black elected president of this country. But I have been around here long enough to recognize, that his election would not solve the myriad of problems that my culture and people confront on a daily basis. I think we all now realize after seven years, that President Obama was not a panacea for what ails us as a people. I have been around here long enough to know, that the dangers we confront are now in-house and not the work of forces outside, as they have been in the past. I have also been around here long enough to know, that if we as a people want to change the direction that an important segment of our culture is taking toward self-destruction, we must all individually commit to do something dynamic to help effectuate that change. And if blessed by the creator I hope to be around here long enough to witness that transition.