Race Riot Commission Public Meeting Hears Survivor Stories

Tuesday, August 10th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

The investigation into Tulsa's historic race riot gave a public ear Monday to the stories of those who survived. Officially, the 1921 riot killed 36 people, but those who were there say some 300 people died during Tulsa's darkest hour. A state commission designed to find the truth after all these years heard testimony from some who lived through the nightmare.

A few survivors of the riot heard their stories repeated. The commission is recording survivor stories to determine just what happened after a black man and a white woman somehow touched in an elevator. "He accidentally stepped on her foot and she ran screaming in fear out the front door," said Scott Ellsworth, historian.

The black man was arrested, a lynch mob formed, shots rang out and then the fires started. Historians now believe the riot killed 300 blacks. The fires leveled blocks of homes, businesses and churches, crushing the center of the prosperous Greenwood business district known then as the "black wall street".

90-year-old Joyce Hill remembers the riot. Her father sent their family out of town to escape. "Yes, we escaped. He sent us walking for five miles," she said. "We walked until mama got tired, she was pregnant. We stopped at a farm and stayed without food all day until they picked us up in a truck and brought us home," Hill continued. "Somebody was out looking for the people that had walked out."

Besides hearing testimony, the commission has ordered archeological studies to search for the rumored mass graves. So far they've found nothing conclusive, but the search will continue. The commission continues to look for evidence, a search welcomed by survivors, who at the end of their lives are seeing the most complete public accounting of what happened in Tulsa in 1921.