While the Tulsa Race Massacre has grown to occupy a prominent position in the history of America’s struggle with race, the event itself was preceded by smaller, lesser-known events that set the stage for the Massacre of 1921.
In 1917, as America became directly involved in World War One, Oklahoma Governor Robert Lee Williams appointed 5 people from Tulsa’s most elite circles to the newly formed Tulsa Council of Defense. With the Oklahoma National Guard deployed to fight in the War, the Council took it upon themselves to create a new militia group in their place called the Tulsa Home Guard, a sort of private police force for the wealthy and powerful of the day.
In October of that year, the home of oil executive J. Edgar Pew was bombed. The blast was seized upon as an excuse to promote war hysteria. Immediately, the Tulsa Daily World reported that members of the International Workers of the World, or Wobblies, were behind the bombing and that they were enacting vast and sinister conspiracy. The Wobblies were a self-proclaimed socialist labor union that was the enemy of many powerful businessmen. This was their chance to get rid of the Wobblies once and for all.
The brutal outburst that followed has come to be known as the Tulsa Outrage and is now seen as the birth of the modern Ku Klux Klan in Oklahoma. Our guest today is Randy Hopkins. Hopkins is a lawyer and historian who has written a series of stories for The Chronicles of Oklahoma and the Center for Public Secrets, including a complete account of the Tulsa Outrage in his article “Birthday of the Klan: The Tulsa Outrage of 1917.”
Our host is Michael Mason.