By Lee Roy Chapman –
W. Tate Brady (seated left) is surrounded by his family at their home in Tulsa.
This article originally appeared in the April 15th, 2021 edition of This Land. It is republished here with permission.
The seventeen men were terrified, and with good reason. They stood shivering in the November midnight air, their bare chests lit by the headlights of the parked cars surrounding them. In the dark, they could barely make out their captors, a group of about fifty men dressed in black hoods and robes.
Two hours earlier, during a special session of night court, Tulsa judge T.D. Evans had declared them all guilty of the crime of not owning a war bond—a conviction that smacked of political and ideological retaliation. All defendants but one were members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), a worker’s union. The “Wobblies,” as they were commonly called, were opponents of the war effort and of capitalism. None of the men had a criminal record, but all men were fined a hundred dollars. 
They weren’t expected to pay for their crimes, at least not in money. Once the trial ended, policemen rounded up the seventeen and loaded them up in squad cars. Instead of jailing them, the police delivered the convicted men into the custody of the black-robed Knights of Liberty,  who were waiting for the Wobblies at the railroad tracks near Convention Hall.  The Knights kidnapped the Wobblies at gunpoint, tied them up, threw them into their cars, and drove them into the area west of town. 
“We were ordered out of the autos, told to get in line in front of these gunmen, and another bunch of men with automatics and pistols,” Joe French, one of the Wobblies, would later testify. One by one, they were pulled from the lineup and tied to a tree a Knight then approached each man with a double piece of hemp rope and whipped the victim’s back until blood draped his skin. Another man stepped forward and slathered boiling tar on the victim’s back with a paintbrush, coating him from head to seat. In a final act of humiliation, the Knight then padded the victim’s back with feathers from a down pillow. 
“I’ve lived here for 18 years, and have raised a large family,” pleaded an older man in the group. “I am not an IWW, I am as patriotic as any man here.”