Hearing Set To Dismiss Race Riot Charges

Monday, December 3rd 2007, 2:56 pm
By: News On 6

Tulsa goes on a journey to justice that has been 86 years in the making. A grand jury blamed dozens of black Tulsans for inciting the infamous Tulsa Race Riot. They were all charged with felony rioting. But, year after year, none of those charged were ever prosecuted. News On 6 anchor Jennifer Loren reports that now Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris says those defendants will not face prosecution, ever.

On June 1st, 1921, the Tulsa Race Riot exploded on Greenwood Avenue. The battle was between the prospering black community and a section of white Tulsans who wanted them out. Hundreds of people were killed. Most of them were black.

When the Tulsa County Grand Jury placed blame, it was also placed on the black community. Fifty-six men were blamed for agitating 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.

Eddie Faye Gates was part of a government-funded commission assigned to study the riot.

"There had been so much confusion. Who was in it? What happened to them? Who started it? How many were killed? And the record just wasn't there,” added Gates.

Most of those questions, she says, were answered by the commission, including the reasons the grand jury indicted those 56 black men. It was because they had weapons.

"There were a few WWI veterans who did have guns and weapons and ammunition. They had protected this country and they were going to protect themselves. But, they didn't start this. They did fight back,” said Tulsa historian Eddie Faye Gates.

But, it wasn't until recently that this came to the attention of Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris. A biographer discovered the riot charge as she researched the life of a man named Andrew Jackson Smitherman. He was a prosperous black Tulsan who owned the Tulsa Star newspaper. She asked Harris if the charge against Smitherman could be dropped.

"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 DA Tim Harris.

Harris says Tulsa's justice system broke down in the wake of the Race Riot and now, 86 years later, it's time to fix an atrocious mistake.

"I believe that the rule of law broke down at that period of time and I think it's the right thing to do to promote racial healing in this community,” added district attorney Tim Harris.

For Eddie Faye Gates, it's never too late to make things right.

"It's sad that so many aren't here to hear it. But, at least their descendants will know, their relatives, their offspring. And if not just the whole world will be grateful that at last they've been expunged,” said historian Eddie Faye Gates.

District Attorney Tim Harris has set a dismissal hearing on the charges for Tuesday, December 11th. The hearing will be at the Greenwood Cultural Center before Judge Jesse Harris.

Watch the video: DA Wants To Drop Race Riot Charges

Related Stories:

5/27/2007 Victims Of 1921 Race Riots Remembered

10/4/2007 Race Riot Memorial

5/16/2005 US Supreme Court refuses to revive Tulsa race riot lawsuit