Race Riot Charges Dropped

Tuesday, December 11th 2007, 10:48 am
By: News On 6

Tulsa County made history on Tuesday, by changing something that has been a part of Tulsa’s history for decades. The News On 6’s Jennifer Loren reports 86 years after the Tulsa Race Riot, a judge dismissed all the charges against the men accused of starting it.

While the defendants are no longer living, county officials hope the action of Tuesday’s hearing will make a difference.

It was the summer of 1921 when the Tulsa Race Riot exploded on Greenwood Avenue. Hundreds of people were killed and businesses and homes were destroyed. Later that year, a Tulsa County grand jury blamed 56 men in Tulsa's black community for agitating the riot. Eddie Faye Gates was part of a government-funded commission assigned to study the riot.

"They never were guilty. They did the suffering and to have the only written report blame it on them was terrible,” said Tulsa historian Eddie Faye Gates.

It wasn't until recently that the indictments came to the attention of Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris. A biographer discovered the riot charges as she researched the life of a man named Andrew Jackson Smitherman. She asked Harris to take another look at his case.

"And when I started doing the research, not only did I believe it was the right thing to do to dismiss the grand jury indictment against Mr. Smitherman, but against all the defendants,” said Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris.

The biographer who contacted Harris was at Tuesday's hearing.

"First, I'd like to thank District Attorney Harris for accepting my request to revisit the record of Andrew Jackson Smitherman, for tolerating my numerous phone calls and most importantly for determining that the right thing to do was to dismiss the charges, not only against Smitherman, but against all of the men who were wrongly accused in the indictment,” said biographer Dr. Barbara Nevergold.

Tulsa County District Judge Jesse Harris ruled in favor of the district attorney's motion. He dismissed all of the charges against all of the men.

"So today we've taken one more step I hope in racial healing and unifying this community to come together,” ruled Judge Jesse Harris.

The district attorney said there were four legal reasons for dismissing the indictments. First of all, there were never any prosecutions on the indictments. There were no speedy or public trials held. All of the men were presumed innocent until proven guilty and no evidence was ever presented against them. And last, all of the defendants and witnesses are dead.

Watch the video: Charges Dismissed From Race Riot