UPDATE: At the bottom of this story!
On the night of May 31st and into the morning of June 1st 1921 in a suburb called Greenwood, now a part of Tulsa, life forever change for thousands of people. This article is not going to focus on the details of the Greenwood Riots of 1921, this being the 100th Anniversary of that horrific event it is finally being put before the public through many documentaries, news stories and write-ups on the Internet.
The focus of this article is on another event that was taking place in Greenwood, at the same time, love in the midst of hate. As I was researching this I was intent to present the facts of the murders taking place just after a peaceful convention of Bible Students as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known. But in my research I came across an interview with a black Brother that took place just days after the riots, on June 22nd. That interview changed the focus of this article. What amazed me is that while all the racial hate was being expressed by the white citizens and the white government, there was a great amount of love being shown between white Bible Students and Black Bible Students.
This was a sharp contrast, as different as night and day could be. Hate pouring out from the white people of Christendom against the black people of Greenwood and in the middle of all this hate was…love. White Bible Students risking their lives to save their black Brothers. Even going to the point of walking into what was to become a slaughter house to remove their black Brothers.
So how did love manifest itself in the center of evil and hate? Let me tell a story that has not been told for nearly 100 years and had been mostly forgotten.
We will return to the picutre later in our story.
One of the phrases I came across a great deal in my research was “urban legend” “as the story goes”. A few sites just skipped the caution phrase all together and gave their opinion, so I had to take a sidetrack. As it turned out the Tulsa and Oklahoma Government along with the Army did a very good job destroying as much evidence as they could and even burying it, literally. They mass buried many dead bodies to avoid a true body count. Even the two Tulsa newspapers favored the white side of the account and buried the black truth. So I was running into dead end after dead ends on what was going on in this picture. For all the hate and evil that is apparent in the picture I had to know the truth. And I got another incentive to press for that truth. I did not know the facts and no one else I knew did either. But someone expressed to me that “Satan must be very pleased with that picture being shown around with Brother Rutherford’s image up there.” That pushed me, because there was a truth to this that was as yet un-covered and now I had to not only find it, but prove that statement wrong that Satan was not please with that picture.
As you can see in these screenshots of the 1921 Watchtower Brother Crist was assigned to canvas the surrounding areas in advance of the scheduled assembly May 30th 1921, where Brother Rutherford was the featured speaker giving the talk “Millions Now Living Will Never Die”. Brother Crist was also a traveling public speaker. At this time in the Watchtower history local Brothers did not give the public talk on Sunday but Brothers trained by the Watchtower Organization traveled in a local area to give the public talks. They also gave the canvassing talk to draw the public’s attention to any upcoming conventions.
Now if you look at the image for the Memorial Reports it shows Tulsa with ONE Class of 52. Due to Jim Crow laws* if any black person were Bible Students then 2 separate Classes had to be formed and the Memorial Report would note one as “colored”. But for Tulsa there is only 1 Class and as you will see in our upcoming interview is with a black Brother there were white Brothers as well. I have found some unconfirmed statements that the Bible Students in Tulsa met together, as one group. But I can’t find a confirmed report. However with only 1 Class reported and we do have confirmed reports of black and white Bible Students it does lend to the accounts that they met as a group.
The seed of Truth planted in Tulsa…
“According to a Tulsa World article dated June 30, 1974, it was a woman named Mrs. O.R. (Beulah) Covey.
This article goes on to say:..."While living in Oklahoma City, she had heard Charles T. Russell, the first president of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, speak in 1912. Convinced it was the truth of the Bible she began to study diligently. In 1913, she and her husband moved to Tulsa, and shortly after both were active as Bible Students.
The Covey's arranged to have the Watchtower Society's famous 'Photo-Drama of Creation' brought to Tulsa in 1914. . . . There were two showings a day for eight days at the old Grand Opera House located in the 100 block on East 2nd Street, and each drew a packed house.#
'The Watchtower Society sent four full-time ministers to Tulsa with the 'Photo-Drama' to follow up interest,' recalled Claus* "These were able to bring together eight or nine persons to study the Bible. They met at the Stroud* home located at the edge of town near Orcutt Lake (now the Swan Lake area). The house was down a crooked, sandy road full of sand burrs, which made walking very difficult, but this was the first “Kingdom Hall” for the city of Tulsa in 1914.'"
So the picture sets the stage for an event of love in the midst of hate. Brother Rutherford started his talk at 8pm CDT May 30th at Bryant (Convention Hall) Theater. Brother Rutherford’s talks lasted several hours. So it could have been past midnight when the Friends were dismissed that Sunday night. May 31st fell on a Monday, for the Tulsa Class that was a meeting night. Likely they talked a great deal about that new flash of light talk Brother Rutherford gave. Could you see yourself sitting in the Stroud house sharing your thoughts on the talk with your black Brothers and Sisters, and perhaps this is how they were able to get around the Jim Crow laws, the “Kingdom Hall” was a private home.
So as it was getting late the meeting ended and all walked home to get some rest. Perhaps it was on June 1st the Friends intended to remove the posters and finish cleaning the Hall. When Brother Hill, a black brother, made it home he was tired and just wanted sleep, but just after midnight on May 31st…well let’s let him tell it.
"Tulsa, Okla., June 22, 1921.
On the night of the Riot we had our class of Bible study, as usual. After the class was over, and far into the night, we heard shooting down town, which we could only interpret to mean that there was trouble of some kind. We went into the house and went to bed listening to the spasmodic shooting, which clearly convinced us that there was trouble of some kind.
In the morning the shooting was more severe in front of our house. The Whites were firing on Colored, who, seemingly unaware of the trouble, were on their way to work, and in passing were met with vollies of shot. We remained in the house until some folks came and stated that if we wanted protection we had better go to Convention Hall at once. This we promptly did, leaving our house partly open. About two o'clock we were called for by some White friends and brought back to our home to find everything considerable tumbled around, but no serious damage done.
We found a White gentleman in charge of the house, who related to us that himself and son and a few neighboring White friends had prevented any further molestation of our home. They stated that they were ready to stay with us all night if we thought it necessary to insure that we would not be molested.
My principal loss was a two-story brick building on Greenwood Street. (Of course, we lost some clothes, shoes, money and other things in the house that we did not consider worthwhile.)
As to preventing such mob violence, I refer you to my statements in the Oklahoma Sun, Tulsa, Okla., the Black Dispatch, Oklahoma City, The Muskogee Scemiter, Muskogee, Okla. That is the best solution I know of for race riots and mob violence.
RICHARD J. HILL, Atty.,
International Bible Student."
According to a June 30, 1974 article in the Tulsa World, Brother Arthur Claus went to Convention Hall to get Brother Hill and his family released. This article also stated that Brother Claus gave talks at Brother Hill's home in north Tulsa despite Jim Crow laws*. "This favorable impressed many and added to the growth of Tulsa's second congregation."
Brother Hill was the son of a slave. He was born in Indian Territory in 1872.^ Sometime in the early part of the 20th Century, he moved from Beggs, OK to Tulsa with his family. In 1918 he began writing articles for the Tulsa Star newspaper for the black community. He held Sunday meetings every other week at the Masonic Hall at 618 E. Archer. In 1920, he rented or purchased a building next to his house on Easton Street and advertised meetings 5 nights a week including Sunday. All meetings were free. No collections taken.
Brother Hill was a member of the Oklahoma Bar Association and the U.S. Supreme Court.
He was a Creek Freedman and his wife was a Choctaw Freedwoman. They had a daughter born in 1920 named Suntalia. The 1930 Census shows her name had been changed to Cedar Point! Did the 1922 convention in Cedarpoint, Ohio have anything to do with the name change?
Richard Hill also held two large debates at the Convention Hall (a/k/a Old Lady on Brady, Brady Theater).
What happened to Richard Hill and his family after the Race Riot? The City Directory shows that they lived in Tulsa through 1954.
As the above account relates Brother Hill and about 6,000 other blacks+ were taken there. One report states that after they were inside the doors were locked and they were gunned down. However before that happened our white Brothers removed the black Brothers at risk to their own lives.
June 1st 1921 early morning, white mobs round up black persons and march them to Bryant Hall. This would have taken several hours to gather about 6,000 persons from around Greenwood. Brother Hill was at Bryant Hall from early morning until about 2pm when the white Brothers showed up. Since the round-up started just after midnight June 1st the picture would have been taken around 11am. In 1921 the cameraman depended on natural lighting and if you look closely at the shadows they are at about the 11 O’clock position, they are not directly overhead. Brother Hill puts his rescue at “about 2pm”, so sometime between 1:30 and 2pm. So he and other Friends would have been held for about 2 and a half hours.@
The men to the right have long guns, they are not Brothers. The men in the white shirts around the truck with the body of the apparent dead man, some have guns, they are not Brothers. The white men on the steps have pistols and long guns, not Brothers. The black men are entering the building some with arms raised. This photo was taken in the morning as the black Brothers were being taken in along with other black men. Brother Hill would have been somewhere among them. Now look at that crowd again, how many guns, how much evil, how much hate. In about 2 short hours our white Brothers would approach this white evil mob and seek entry to remove and save their black Brothers. Why? Jim Crow laws were in effect. These black Brothers for the most part were ex-slaves, why would a white man in 1921 risk their life to save a black man? In all this evil and all this hate what we see here is LOVE that surpasses all boundaries and doors. Just a day before Brother Rutherford stood in this very Hall and spoke about Jehovah God and His Kingdom and His love for all people, and now these white Brothers expressed their love by risking their lives to remove their black Brothers before the massacre started. You say you would have walked into the Hall, the day after as they did to save them? Remember this was 100 years ago, blacks were viewed…sadly much the same as they are now…but a white man saving a black man then…would you?
Only you know the answer.
UPDATE June 6th 2021
*The Jim Crow laws forbid blacks and whites to congregate together anywhere... in schools, restaurants, churches, etc.
#I am unable to verify this statement about the Photo-Drama of Creation. However there were several versions of it, some were simply slide shows that went to smaller towns. At the Time Tulsa would have still been small. The Watchtower of 1915 does list the first Class or Congregation of Bible Students and gives the number as 26.
^Oklahoma was called Indian Territory until it became a state in 1907.
+The total number of 6,000 comes from several unconfirmed sources. I was unable to document any source as reliable. Since all evidence of this account was destroyed there is no way to prove an accurate number, as is the case of any form of genocide and mass murder.
@ There is no way to know for sure but it seems logical to conclude that some of the Bible Students traveled from other areas to Tulsa. In fact the Watchtower mentions the fair rates of trains to Tulsa for the convention. So it could be that some traveling Bible Students from other parts were caught up in the round-up with Brother Hill.
Jehovah’s Witnesses—Official Website: jw.org
The Black Dispatch
Proclaimers Book published by WTBTS
Golden Age 1921
Watts - Wimpey Family Tree - Published May 1975 Shirley Ward
Mary E. Jones Parrish's book, Events of the Tulsa Disaster, pages 25 and 26, as published in 1923 (I purchased the book - you can click the link to go to Amazon to purchase the book. I do not make any money from it.)
CBS News Sources
CNBC: Black Wall Street was shattered 100 years ago. How the Tulsa race massacre was covered up and unearthed.