Alias: James Jones and "Diamond Dick" Rowland

– By Randy Hopkins



James Jones, also known as "Diamond Dick" Rowland, seated third from left, front row. Courtesy of Booker T. Washington High School

 

The title picture shown above is that of James Jones taken from the 1921 yearbook of Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Booker T. Washington High School. Jones has long been viewed as the teenager at the center of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre

"Diamond Dick" Rowland. Now, thanks to the efforts of his high school classmates, it is possible to view previously unpublicized photographs of the mysterious James Jones, as well as other, remarkable new evidence.

 

In July 1978, graduates of Tulsa’s Booker T. Washington High held an expanded fifty-year reunion. Celebrated over the course of three days, the reunion honored the school’s Classes of 1916 through the 1920s. The culmination was a formal gala held at Tulsa’s Mayo Hotel, shown in the following photograph. [1]

Courtesy of Princetta R. Newman Collection, NMAACH.

 

The core of the 1978 Reunion Committee consisted of Race Massacre survivors. The President was Robert Fairchild, who gave extensive interviews to Eddie Faye Gates and Ruth Avery Sigler concerning the great calamity. Other survivors included the Committee secretary, Wilhelmina Guess Howell, and the majority of various designated chairpersons, including W. D. Williams and Robert Moreland, who had been athletic teammates of Jones.


As part of this celebration, the 1978 Reunion Committee solicited and collected “rare pictures and other valuable data” from alumni and published them in an “album of memoirs” for the reunion attendees. This class photo album was titled Down Through the 1920s. Fortunately, a copy belonging to Eunice Cloman Jackson survives. She was a junior in 1921. She and her husband, Samuel M. Jackson, later ran a series of Greenwood funeral homes and were well-known and respected in the community. Eunice Jackson’s copy, partially autographed, is now lodged in the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African American History & Culture, having been donated there as part of the Princetta R. Newman Collection of Family Photographs.

Courtesy of Princetta R. Newman Collection, NMAACH

 

The Newman Collection consists of 145 photographs documenting “life in Tulsa and the businesses of Black Wall Street, particularly the Jackson family and their funeral home, the oldest business in North Tulsa.” The Newman Collection is available online at the National Museum’s website. Eunice Jackson’s copy of Down Through the 1920s is located on the seventh page of the Newman Collection’s index. All the images from the reunion memoir album are reproduced there.

The rare student photos begin on page eleven of Down Through the 1920s. The very first photograph is that of James Jones, who many consider to have been the “Diamond Dick” Rowland, whose alleged assault of a white orphan led to the Race Massacre.

Courtesy of Princetta R. Newman Collection, NMAACH

 

The principal evidence of the Jones-Rowland connection was provided by Damie Rowland Ford. In a 1972 interview with Ruth Sigler Avery, Damie reported that a “skinny, little barefoot, black boy” came into the grocery she was running in Vinita, Oklahoma. She determined that he was an orphan named Jimmie Jones, who was then living on the streets begging for food with two sisters. [2] She decided to take him in and to care for him “just like as mother,” with the approval of Jimmie’s two sisters who then disappear from the story. [3] Damie further explained that Jimmie later changed his surname to Rowland and began using “Dick” as a first name. She related that his friends began calling him “Diamond Dick,” after he purchased a diamond ring as a birthday present for himself. [4]

The young woman pictured with James Jones was Vyola Webb. Vyola was a Booker T. junior in 1921; James Jones was a sophomore. [5] One of Vyola’s brothers, Walter, was Jones’ teammate on the 1921 football team. Vyola’s father was Staley Webb, who became a Tulsa County deputy sheriff in 1920. Before that, he was a Tulsa city policeman and before that a Tulsa County constable. He was still a Tulsa deputy sheriff in 1935.

According to the 1920 Census, Vyola, her parents, sisters, and brothers were living in an apartment building run and occupied by J. H. Smitherman, then a Tulsa city police officer. Smitherman was the first Black detective in the Tulsa police department and the brother of Andrew J. Smitherman, publisher of the Tulsa Star newspaper. [6]

Vyola’s father Staley was likely the “Webb” who accompanied O. W. Gurley from Greenwood to the Tulsa County Courthouse around 6:00-6:30 p.m. on May 31, 1921, to check on rumors that the youth called "Diamond Dick" was going to be lynched. While there, deputy sheriff Staley likely conferred with his boss, Tulsa County Sheriff Willard McCullough, who appears to have protected the prisoner through the course of events. [7]

The James Jones in the Jones-Webb photo appears leaner and older than his photos appearing in the 1921 Booker T. Washington annual and other athletic team photos. [8] This suggests the photo was taken well after high school days. Both Jones and Vyola are dressed to the nines. Their complementary outfits would have even been appropriate for a wedding.

It is possible that the Jones-Webb photo was provided by the Vyola herself, as she was the chairperson of the 1978 Reunion’s registration committee in her married name Vyola Berry. Mrs. Berry was the long-time attendance clerk and secretary at Booker T. Washington high school. [9]

A second photo of James Jones appears on page thirteen of Down Through the 1920s. It is the same photo of the 1921 Booker T. Washington basketball team that appeared in the school’s 1921 yearbook. The yearbook version contained no identifying names, but the 1978 version does and it confirms James Jones is the player holding the ball marked “championship.” Photos of the 1921 basketball team later reproduced in the 1963 Booker T. Washington yearbook identify him as J. W. Jones, as do various other 1921 basketball and football team photos. [10]

Courtesy of Princetta R. Newman Collection, NMAACH

 

Standing in front of Jones is Bill Williams, the team captain. Williams’ family owned the Dreamland Theater and other Greenwood businesses. More commonly known as W. D., Williams served as a Booker T. teacher for decades. History was his subject. Williams may also have been in charge of assembling Down Through the 1920s in his position as chairperson of the 1978 Reunion’s brochure committee.

The only football team photo in Down Through the 1920s was from 1924. There are no surviving pictures of the 1920 football team, who played their games in the fall of 1920, but Jones was as a 1920 team member. [11] Surviving photos of the 1921 football team show Jones, identified as J. W. Jones, sitting front and center and again holding a ball. But the 1921 team played its games in the fall of 1921, after the Tulsa Race Massacre. According to the Tulsa County jail log, Dick Rowland was a prisoner until September 28, 1921. [12] If Jones was Rowland, then he returned to school and made a bee-line for the football team after leaving jail. Jones’ 1921 team went undefeated and began the season with a 96-0 thrashing of Okmulgee. Perhaps the team was taking out some frustrations from earlier in the year. Perhaps Jones was as well.

Courtesy of Booker T. Washington High School

 

The third and final James Jones photo in Down Through the 1920s is found on page eighteen. Jones looks younger than in the Jones-Webb photo and is clad in overalls and spiffy shoes. The woman standing next to him and apparently shielding them both with an open umbrella was identified as Virginia Carter, another Booker T. student. [13] To the immediate left of the Jones-Carter photo is a photo of Robert Fairchild, president of the 1978 Reunion Committee and a freshman in 1921. The photo immediately to the right of Jones is that of Tuleta Duncan, a sophomore in 1921. Like Vyola Webb, Tuleta Duncan went on to be employed at Booker T. Washington High School for over forty years. She served as the Cafeteria Manager. [14]

Courtesy of Princetta R. Newman Collection, NMAACH

 

In interviews, Robert Fairchild named the bootblack at the core of the Massacre as Rowland, even as he declared him innocent. History teacher W. D. Williams spoke of Rowland quitting school and becoming a bootblack, but also ridiculed the notion that Rowland was guilty. [15] None of Jones’ classmates appear to have ever “outed” a connection between him and Rowland. While this may suggest that Jones was not Dick Rowland, the much more likely possibility is that, like Fairchild and Williams, they all believed him innocent and were protecting him. In the memoir album Down Through the 1920s, the 1978 Reunion Committee reclaimed and vouched for James Jones as their classmate. He was one of the few to get three pictures in the book.

Down Through the 1920s’ memorial page also contains a list of those graduates who had passed away, broken down by graduating classes. James Jones is listed under the Class of 1923. Years of death are not listed.

The reference to Jones’ passing links, albeit fitfully, to a “James Jones” grave marker located adjacent to the Rowland family plot in Tulsa’s Oaklawn Cemetery and first discovered by Tulsa historian Steve Gerkin. The death date of the crude Oaklawn marker is March 1921, before the Tulsa Race Massacre. But Jones shows up on the 1921 football team photo, taken after the Massacre. [16 ]

Courtesy of Steve Gerkin

 

There is also new evidence that not only did James Jones not die in 1921 but that he was in Tulsa on a later date: specifically, June 9, 1928. That’s the day Vyola Webb got married to Mr. Armstead Wilson Berry. The ceremony was performed by J. F. Mosely, pastor of the Mt. Vernon A. M. E. Church located then and now on Greenwood Avenue. The couple’s Certificate of Marriage identified two witnesses. The first — presumably the maid of honor — was Tuleta Duncan, using her then-married name Butler. As mentioned, both Vyola and Tuleta worked together at Booker T. Washington High and would do so for over forty years. [17]

The second witness to the marriage was J. W. Jones.

The Jones-Webb photo was one of the traditions of a wedding celebration - a posed photo of the bride and the best man. Jones stands respectfully and deferentially, his arms behind his back as if at attention. He stands behind Vyola, making her the center of the photo just as she was the center of the event being honored. Best man Jones is the portrait of chivalry, far removed from the Tulsa Tribune’s 1921 image of a cowardly elevator skulker. That is the image that the 1978 Reunion Committee of Booker T. Washington published upfront in their compilation of over fifty years of collective memories.

On the Certificate of Marriage, the space for J. W. Jones’ residence was left blank

Courtesy of Randy Hopkins

 

Endnotes: [1] Unless otherwise noted, all photographs included in this paper are drawn from the Princetta R. Newman Collection of Family Photographs housed at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African American History & Culture (NMAACH). The Newman Collection is online and can be accessed at https://nmaahc.si.edu/explore/search-collection/tulsa-objects-nmaahc-collection.

[2] Ruth Avery’s Interviews on the Tulsa Race Riot: Damie Rowland Ford, box 2, Ruth Sigler Avery Collection, Special Collections and Archives, Oklahoma State University-Tulsa, Tulsa, OK (hereafter the “Avery Collection”). Ironically, Ruth Avery pursued her interview with Damie Rowland Ford at the urging of Samuel M. Jackson, Eunice Cloman Jackson’s husband.

[3] Perhaps coincidentally, two young girls appear as “grandchildren” of Dave and Ollie Rowland, Damie’s parents, in the 1920 Census. One was named Earlean Roland, who is now buried in the Rowland family plot in Tulsa’s city-owned Oaklawn Cemetery under a married name. The other was named Thelma Clayton. A photograph of Thelma Clayton appears on page twenty-one of Down Through the 1920s, though the date or school year of the picture is unknown.

[4] While the name “Diamond Dick” may have had a triggering effect on people when read in context with an alleged attempted sexual assault of a so-called seventeen-year-old white orphan, there is another possible explanation for Jones’s attachment to both diamonds and the name “Dick.” When he was growing up, pulp magazines were the comic books/graphic novels of their day. One popular pulp hero was “Dashing Diamond Dick,” a chivalrous and heroic character who wore a costume covered with diamonds. Ironically, Dashing’s face was the whitest of white because of injuries suffered when his enemies tried to lynch him. “Diamond Dick,” Public Domain Super Heroes. www.pdsh.fandom.com/wiki/DiamondDick.

[5] A copy of the 1921 Booker T. Washington yearbook is online at https://thislandpress.com/2013/05/09/the-pages-of-the-1921-booker-t-washington-high-school-yearbook. James Jones’ sophomore class picture is contained on page seventeen and his basketball team photo is on page twenty-eight. His name is listed as a member of the 1920 football team on page twenty-seven, though there is no team photo. Vyola Webb is listed as a junior on page eighteen.

[6] U.S. Census Bureau, Fourteenth Census of the United States, Tulsa, Tulsa County, Oklahoma (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1920). For Staley Webb as a city police officer, Ronald L. Trekell, History of the Tulsa Police Department 1882-1990 (Tulsa, OK: Tulsa Police Department, 1989), 389. For Staley Webb as county constable, For 1935, Tulsa, Oklahoma City Directory, 1935, ancestry.com, 565. Webb’s service as county constable may have coincided with one of McCullough’s earlier terms as County Sheriff. Also, Randy Krehbiel, Tulsa 1921 (Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma, 2019), 22-23.


[7] Randy Krehbiel, Tulsa 1921, 38. For actions of Sheriff McCullough and deputy sheriff Barney Cleaver to shield Rowland from mob and Tulsa police chief Gustafson, Randy Hopkins, “The Freeing of Dick Roland".


[8] A full inventory of James or J. W. Jones’ school photographs include: (1) those in the 1921 Booker T. Washington yearbook (sophomore class and basketball team photos); (2) 1921 basketball and football team photos included in the 1963 Booker T. Washington High yearbook, U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1999 [database on-line], ancestry.com; (3) 1921 basketball and 1921 football photos discovered by Steve Gerkin and included in a published homage to the 1921-1946 athletic teams of Seymour Williams, Booker T’s legendary coach; and (4) the 1921 basketball photo with name caption in Down Through the 20s.


[9] See, e. g., 1967 Booker T. Washington High School yearbook, online at U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1999 [database on-line], ancestry.com., 49.


[10] See endnote 8.


[11] 1921 Booker T. Washington High School yearbook, page 27.


[12] Randy Hopkins, “The Freeing of Dick Roland.

[13] The woman shown in the Jones-Carter photo may not be the same as the student photo of Virginia Carter shown on page twenty-two of Down Through the 1920s. The woman with Jones appears older, though the quality of the picture is poor. It is possible that the photo of Jones and an older woman was a prank, with the real Virginia Carter as the target. Perhaps there were rivalries still surviving after fifty years. James Jones did leave a reputation as a “ladies’ man.”

[14] See, e. g., 1967 Booker T. Washington High School yearbook, online at U.S., School Yearbooks, 1900-1999 [database on-line], ancestry.com., 50 (appearing under married name Tuleta Shawnee). [15] For Fairchild, Eddie Faye Gates, They Came Searching (Austin,TX: Eakin Press, 1997), 69-72; “Robert L. Fairchild, Jr. Interview at University of Tulsa Taken on April 18, 1976, Avery Collection). For W. D. Williams, Don Ross, “Prologue,” Tulsa Race Riot: A Report of the Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 (Oklahoma City, OK: Oklahoma Commission to Study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921, iv-vii; Scott Ellsworth, Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1982), 1-6. [16] For Gerkin’s groundbreaking research on the identity of "Diamond Dick" Rowland and the mysteries of the possible Oaklawn Cemetery burial sites for James Jones, Steve Gerkin, Hidden History of Tulsa (Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2011), 41-53; Steve Gerkin, “Diamond in the Rough,” Race Reader (Tulsa, OK: This Land Press, 2017), 43-47; “Is This The Face Of The Man at the Center Of The Tulsa Race Riot?,” Race Reader, (Tulsa, OK: This Land Press, 2017) 48-52. [17] Oklahoma, U.S., County Marriage Records, 1890-1995 [database on-line], ancestry.com. For Tuleta Duncan marrying George Butler in March 1928, see “Marriage Licenses.” Sapulpa (OK) Herald, March 19, 1928, 1.

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