By Randy Hopkins–
Sarah Beaver (third from left) would eventually become Sarah Page, a central figure in the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. Image courtesy Juanita Ruebke Spitzenberger.
On Memorial Day 1921, a young, white Tulsa, Oklahoma elevator operator named Sarah Page had a confrontation with a black teenager named Dick Roland. The incident in Tulsa’s downtown Drexel Building soon spiraled into the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. Much like Roland himself, Page remains known today only through the accumulated legend of sparse news articles and the speculations of historians. As it turns out, most of Sarah Page’s legend is untrue. Fortunately, it is now possible to meet the real person at the center of Tulsa’s race war.
She began life as Sarah Elizabeth Beaver. Her folks called her “Sarie.” She was raised on a family farm near Cedar Township, Arkansas close to the Missouri state line. It wasn’t that far from Oklahoma either. She was the fourth of many siblings. She was described as much fun and a person who loved life.[i]
Her birthday was July 27, 1899. That meant that she was twenty-one when she was working on a Tulsa elevator on Memorial Day, 1921. She was not then an orphan. While her father Allen Jefferson Beaver died in September 1920, her mother Nancy Davis Beaver lived until 1938.[ii] The Tulsa Tribune’s infamous article of May 31, 1921 - Nab Negro for Attacking Girl In an Elevator - got both those things wrong, along with much else.
A surviving family photo shows an attractive family. The judgment of the sons of bank presidents and oilmen who made up the Tulsa High School senior boys’ club - that she was not much to look at - was another suspect characterization of Sarah Page.[iii]
In March 1918, at the age of eighteen, Sarah made her escape from the farm by marrying Robert H. Fisk, twenty-eight and a self-employed contractor from Lincoln, Nebraska. The marriage did not last. By January 1920, she was again Sarah Beaver, living as a single, unemployed lodger in Springfield, Missouri.[iv]
In February 1920, at the age of twenty, she married Springfield’s Raymond M. Page. He was twenty-six and had served in the U. S. Army during the War to End All Wars, rising to the rank of corporal. He was a taxi driver.[v]
Feb. 14, 1920 newspaper announcement of the Page and Beaver marriage courtesy of the Springfield Missouri Republican.
Exactly one year later - the waiting period required by Missouri law - Ray Page opened divorce proceedings in Springfield’s Greene County Circuit Court. His divorce petition was served on Sarah on March 7, 1921, by Tulsa County Sheriff Willard McCullough.[vi]
In June, after Tulsa's race war, Sheriff McCullough was quoted that “if half the charges alleged in the petition of her husband for divorce are true, she is a notorious character.”[vii] This lurid sketch has bled into colorful, alternative versions of what was going on between her and Dick Roland on May 30, 1921, including a dangerous romance and/or prostitution with a pimp named Diamond Dick. Like Nab Negro, McCullough’s rendition of Sarah Page was also false. The divorce petition said no such thing.
Ray Page’s sworn petition reveals that the Pages’ marriage was celebrated on February 13, 1920, but that the couple lived together only until April 20, 1920, a scant nine weeks. But the marital union had been shattered at the outset. After legal boilerplate that Ray had faithfully discharged his duties as a husband, while Sarah had disregarded hers, the petition outlines Sarah’s “indignities” as follows:
"Within a few days after the marriage, Sarah became dissatisfied with married life and told Ray that “she did not care to be married and did not want to live with him.” These complaints were “continuous” up until April 20, 1920."
The petition then reveals that sometime before April 20, the couple left their Missouri home to reside in Tulsa. The reason for the move was not given. Given Sarah’s consistent declarations, it is possible that she chose to remove herself to Tulsa and Ray Page trailed her there. The move did not revive the marriage. On April 20, compelled by unemployment and in order to get a job, Ray returned home to Springfield. There, he claims to have obtained employment and immediately wrote Sarah and asked her to return to Missouri. This she refused to do and “continued to refuse to come here ever since.”
Sarah was quoted, “That she was not going to live with plaintiff anymore and for him to get a divorce and if he did not do so, she would, as she never intended to live with him again.”[viii]
The petition contains no mention of infidelities, scandals or the remotest of notorieties. The reasons for Sarah’s immediate and persistent refusal to continue the marriage to Ray Page were not given. That she was abused or in some way injured during either or both of her two marital forays cannot be dismissed out of hand.[ix]
The Page divorce decree courtesy of the Greene County Circuit Court.
This petition, and possibly the reasons behind it, throw a different light on what transpired inside the Drexel elevator. If Sarah was not McCullough’s Jezebel, the elevator becomes less fraught with images of prostitution or a romance on the rocks. The image of Diamond Dick the pimp also begins to fade.
In their stead, the impact of Dick Roland’s power-forward sized foot coming down hard on Sarah’s foot after an accidental trip and fall comes to the fore, with pain and anger in its wake. That was Roland’s explanation.[x] With her hands apparently free from a sexual assault, Page seized her purse and began pounding Roland with it. She showed the broken purse to her neighbor an hour later.[xi] Perhaps it was just the pain and the anger. Possibly, racial animus added force to the blows. The specter of a former husband’s abuse may have momentarily been at work. Roland then admits grabbing her arms. A scream later, the Renberg’s clerk arrived and Roland ran. Sarah Page was left to explain.
A day later, the likely cause of the elevator rage was transformed into the Tulsa Tribune’s tale of attempted sexual violence. Sarah’s aggressive purse-wielding was replaced by a hapless young orphan’s scratched face and torn clothes. The Tribune’s managing editor later admitted that these inflammatory claims were untrue.[xii] Sarah Page was not responsible for inventing them. She did not mention them to her neighbor Anna Green. Green didn’t mention them in her interview with the Tribune.[xiii] The police talked to Sarah on Monday and would have noticed scratches. A torn dress or blouse would have been Exhibit A. According to the police, Sarah denied those claims on Tuesday, June 1, and had not filed charges against Roland as of June 2.[xiv]
Seeking a fallback culprit, attention has been turned to the consistently unnamed Renberg’s clerk, sometimes cast as a white supremacist whose bigotry caused him to read the darkest motives into the event. “Racist” and “bigot" were not the terms employed by Roscoe Dunjee of Oklahoma City’s The Black Dispatch after the Race Massacre. On the front page of his newspaper, under the headline Loot, Arson, Murder!, Dunjee called the clerk “an honest man.” Dunjee had employed an investigator - whom Dunjee characterized as “white man of unquestioned integrity and honesty” - and this investigator talked to “the man who went to the girl when the difficulty happened.” The clerk said, “she was not bruised nor her clothing disarranged in any way.”[xv] The unidentified clerk was Clarence Poulton, who was also a tailor. He worked for Renberg’s until at least 1940.[xvi]
If neither Sarah Page nor Clarence Poulton were responsible for inflating the story, then who was? All trails lead to the 1921 Tulsa police force, headed by chief John Gustafson.
The police were likely telling the truth in the beginning when they claimed that they were far from convinced a crime had been committed on Monday. They were also likely telling the truth at the end, when they announced on Wednesday that Page had denied the Nab Negro article was true in its details and, further, that Page’s version was substantially the same as Roland’s.[xvii] It was in the middle where they lied.
The motivation for the detour from the truth was due to the identity of the possible culprit in the elevator. He was none other than the flashy, outgoing, oversized and diamond-wearing negro teenager working a shine stand around the corner from the police station and right across the street from Gustafson’s detective agency. The one who “presented” himself as “Diamond Dick.” In his 1922 deposition, Gustafson could not remember Roland’s last name, but he certainly remembered the moniker of Diamond Dick.[xviii] Roland even dressed better than they did, as shown in his high school picture.[xix]
Dick Roland (seated third from left) courtesy of the Booker T. Washington High School Media Lab.
The reason Roland mattered was that Gustafson and his force were killers, who already had one successful lynching on their record. They notched that one nine months earlier when they entered into cahoots with a mob who removed Roy Belton from the Tulsa County Jail and lynched him amidst a theatrical display witnessed by thousands. Gustafson’s force helped stage-manage the show. Gustafson bragged to both of Tulsa’s white newspapers about the cleansing impact of Belton’s means of death.[xx] A successful lynching must have been an exciting, even addictive affair. Now, there was a far more towering target than the white teenager Roy Belton.
Even more tempting, the police could set up the hated Richard Lloyd Jones, owner of the Tulsa Tribune, to take the blame. Jones had been tormenting the police with sanctimonious editorials and outrageous headlines. Jones was also in league with the state attorney general’s investigation that brought the police even more public grief. So, the police who controlled the investigation gave Jones’ paper a scoop based on false, tarted up information - torn clothes here, a scratched face there, all belonging to a teenage white orphan cruelly treated by the hands of a negro bragging “to the police” that his name was the suddenly infuriating Diamond Dick.
After it was over, the police played innocent, solemnly announcing that Sarah Page denied the truth of facts printed in Nab Negro. They put everything down to Richard Lloyd Jones’ newspaper.
Chief of Detectives Jim Patton headed the investigation. On Wednesday, while the embers still glowed in Greenwood, he delivered a statement to the Daily World calling Jones’ Nab Negro article yellow journalism, colored and untrue, and as having incited a disastrous racial spirit. Patton concluded that “If the facts in the story as told the police had only been printed I do not think there would have been an (sic) riot whatever.”[xxi]
In other words, if the Tribune had only printed Sarah Page’s story, there would have been no event now called the Tulsa Race Massacre.
If the police and anyone above or behind them gave thought to other possible consequences of their scheme, they did not let it stop them. Later, when chaos replaced a lynching, the chaos was quickly repurposed. Barely seven hours passed between gunfire and the coordinated invasion of Greenwood with starting whistles and buzzing airplanes. That was more than enough time and planning to render the police, City of Tulsa officials, and others guilty of a premeditated “Loot, Arson, Murder!” as Dunjee called it.[xxii]
Sarah Page’s reaction to the catastrophe was not recorded. Both the Tulsa Tribune and Daily World made brief but unsuccessful attempts to locate her, but quickly lost interest and never secured an interview. The Great Forgetting was already underway.
On June 4, a Missouri judge put pen to paper and freed Ray and Sarah Page from the bonds of matrimony. It was default decree as Sarah, true to her word, made no attempt to contest it. After the divorce, Sarah reverted to her maiden name, though it was now spelled Bever. She also moved her residence back to Springfield.
Her last appearance as Sarah Page was in mid-June as a witness testifying before the Tulsa grand jury investigating the terrible disaster. Clarence Poulton was also listed as a witness.[xxiii] What they said and how it differed from their earlier versions, if at all, is unknown absent the grand jury records. The jurors indicted Dick Roland for assault and attempted rape, but there was only a minuscule chance that they would have set him free. After Greenwood was torched, were they going to say it was all a mistake? How would they be able to face their friends, neighbors, or parishioners if they let the negro known as “Diamond Dick” take a walk?
The Grand Jury witness list courtesy of The Avery Collection, Oklahoma State University-Tulsa Special Collections.
One of Dick Roland’s arresting officers, Henry Carmichael, also testified. He would have given the police department’s then-current version of the elevator incident. The most curious witness, however, was Fred E. Voorhies, who was the building superintendent for the First National Bank, located next door to the Drexel building. The Drexel itself was owned by the president of the Bank. What Voorhies told the grand jury also remains unknown.[xxiv] It was likely in support of Sarah, as things turned out.
Any remote possibility that Sarah Page and Dick Roland were an “item” before Memorial Day, evaporated completely afterward. In early September 1921, Sarah Bever returned to Tulsa to begin a new life. On the way, she stopped in Claremore, there to enter into her third and final marriage. This one was to her grand jury co-witness, Fred E. Voorhies.[xxv] Voorhies was thirty-seven and had served in an engineering company with the U. S. Army.
The Voorhies-Bever marriage record courtesy of Randy Hopkins.
On September 27, after efforts by Roland’s lawyers to set him free failed two weeks earlier, Sarah was summoned to appear at a September 28 docket call. The court’s appearance docket notes that the “prosecutrix” failed to appear and that the case against Roland was dismissed. In a small back-page article, the Tulsa Daily World reported that she had sent a letter declining to pursue the case, though neither her name nor reasons were given.[xxvi] The Tulsa Tribune, whose article had triggered so much ruin, made no mention of the dismissal.
Fred and Sarah Voorhies remained together for the rest of their lives. By 1924, they had moved to California. Fred died in 1956, Sarah in 1967. Sarah’s grave maker is graced with the words “beloved mother.”
The gravestone of Sarah Voorhies courtesy of the author.
One lingering question is why Sheriff Willard McCullough would so wildly mischaracterize Ray Page’s divorce petition. Given all that he did to protect Roland during and after the Race Massacre, a reasonable conclusion is that he was convinced of Roland’s innocence. Whatever the cause, the white Tulsa County Sheriff appears to have been lying in order to help a black teenager stay safe and escape a false charge of attempted rape.[xxvii] Sarah Page’s reputation as a notorious woman was the collateral damage - until now, when her permanent record has been expunged of the Sheriff’s unkind cuts.
Acknowledgments: I wish to express my appreciation to Steven Haberman, Reference Archivist of the Greene County (MO) Archives and Records Center, for his remarkably fast location and production of the Ray Page divorce files. Kudos.
I send my thanks to Kris Rose, author of White Riot/Black Massacre: A Brief History of the
1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, for sharing research concerning Sarah Page. I also thank Juanita Ruebke Spitzenberger for sharing her family photos.
Endnotes: [i] U.S. Census Bureau, Twelfth Census of the United States, Cedar Township, Carroll County, Arkansas (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1900), ancestry.com; U. S. Census, Thirteenth Census of the United States, Cedar Township, Carroll County, Arkansas (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1910), ancestry.com. [ii] For July 27, 1899 birth date of Sarah E. Voorhies, U. S. Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014 [database on-line at ancestry.com]; State of California, California Death Index 1940-1997 [database on-line at ancestry.com]. Her father’s gravestone places his date of death as September 21, 1920. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/25673063/allen-jefferson-beaver. Her mother’s gravestone is dated January 1, 1938. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/25673100/nancy-ann-beaver. [iii] “DickRowland_09.pdf,” Ruth Sigler Avery Collection, Special Collection and Archives, Oklahoma State University-Tulsa (hereafter “Avery Collection”), 3. [iv] Robert Fisk-Sarah Beaver marriage license dated March 16, 1918, Arkansas, U. S., County Marriages Index, 1837-1957, ancestry.com; U. S. Census Bureau, Fourteenth Census of the United States, Campbell Township, Springfield City, Greene County, Missouri (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1920), ancestry.com. [v] “Marriage Licenses,” Springfield Missouri Republican, February 14, 1920, 4; Draft Registration Card, Raymond Maron Page, dated June 5, 1917, U.S., World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918 [database on-line at ancestry.com]; Draft Registration Card, Ray Marion Page, undated, U.S., World War II Draft Registration Cards, 1942 [database on-line at ancestry.com]. [vi] R. M. Page vs Sarah B. Page, No. 80,322, Circuit Court of Greene County, Missouri. All references to the court papers are drawn from the file in the Greene County Circuit Court archives. [vii] “Loot, Arson, Murder!,” The Black Dispatch (Oklahoma City, OK), June 10, 1921, 1. [viii] There is no indication in the divorce file that the couple ever lived in Kansas City, and the short duration of the marriage combined with their move to Tulsa argues against it. On the other hand, Roscoe Dunjee’s private investigator reported that the Pages had split up in Kansas City. “Loot, Arson, Murder!,” The Black Dispatch, June 10, 1921, 1. The Damie Rowland Ford interview in the Avery Collection also puts Sarah in Kansas City, along with the claim that she and Dick Roland later united there. There is no other evidence that Sarah Page ever lived in Kansas City and Ford was absolutely wrong about the later relationship, as will be shown. [ix] Beginning in 1926, Springfield city directories show Ray Page living or married to first one woman, then another, then back to the first, then onto a third who was sixteen years his junior. The latter was his longest known relationship, but by World War II, he was 47, unemployed, and the person who would “always know his address” was his sister. Springfield City Directory (1926), 299 (Ray & Bessie); Springfield City Directory (1928), 271 (Ray & Sadie); Springfield City Directory (1929), 264 (Ray & Bessie); Springfield City Directory (1932), 256 (Ray & Edna); Springfield City Directory (1940), 252 (Ray & Edna). All published in Springfield, Missouri by R. L. Polk & Co.’s. As for Robert H. Fisk, he last appears in the historical record at age 39, living alone with his 71-year-old mother in her house in Michigan. U.S. Census Bureau, Fifteenth Census of the United States, Union Township, Branch County, Michigan (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1930), ancestry.com. [x] Roland’s version of events is taken from “Loot, Arson, Murder!,” The Black Dispatch, June 10, 1921, 1. Dunjee’s investigator got it from “many Negroes who say they know his story.” [xi] “Girl Attacked By Negro Not At Home Today,” Tulsa Tribune, June 1, 1921, 4. [xii] Walter F. White, “Tulsa Riot Based on Girl’s Mistake,” New York Evening Post, June 8, 1921, 5 (Victor F. Barnett, managing editor or the Tribune, stated that his paper had since learned that the original story that the girl’s face was scratched and her clothes torn was untrue). [xiii] “Girl Attacked By Negro Not At Home Today,” Tulsa Tribune, June 1, 1921, 4. According to Green, Page showed bruises on her arms where Roland grabbed her and the purse broke when she struck him. The Tribune article confirms that the paper had not talked to Sarah Page before printing Nab Negro. It appears the paper never interviewed Page. Seeking to bolster its earlier disastrous report, however, the Tulsa Tribune assured its readers that Page had been attacked. By the time Anna Green’s story reached the Chicago Tribune, Page’s face was bruised during her fight with the “would-be rapist.” Unless the Chicago Tribune conducted a separate interview with Green, which seems unlikely, that paper simply processed the Tulsa Tribune’s article through its creative writing department. “Soldiers Subdue Big Race Riot; 77 Known Dead,” ChicagoTribune (ILL), June 2, 1921, 1. [xiv] “Story of Attack on Woman Denied,” Tulsa Daily World, June 2, 1921, 14. [xv] “Loot, Arson, Murder!,” The Black Dispatch, June 10, 1921, 1. [xvi] Tulsa City Directory, 1918, (Tulsa, OK: Polk-Hoffhine Directory Co., 1918), 515 (Renberg’s tailor); Tulsa City Directory, 1935 (Tulsa, OK: R. L. Polk & Co., 1935), 445; U. S. Census Bureau, Sixteenth Census of the United States, Tulsa, Oklahoma (Washington, D. C.; Government Printing Office, 1940). [xvii] “Story of Attack on Woman Denied,” Tulsa Daily World, June 2, 1921, 14. Sarah’s quoted version to the police on Tuesday - “when he grabbed my arm, I screamed and he fled” - was substantially the same story she told to Anna Green on Monday. One modern writer has accused Page of backing down from her original version by Tuesday afternoon, but her stories appear consistent throughout. It was the police’s agenda that changed. James C. Hirsch, Riot and Remembrance (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2002), 82. [xviii] Deposition of John Gustafson, Stradford v. American Central Ins. Co.; Superior Court of Cook County, No. 370,274 (1921), 26. [xix] The Booker T. Washington high school photos were unearthed by Steve Gerkin. Steve Gerkin, “Is This the Face of the Man at the Center of the Tulsa Race Riot?, Race Reader (Tulsa, OK: This Land Press, 2017), 43-51. Bespeaking the quality of his dress, Roland was identified as a tailor in 1920. Tulsa City Directory 1920, (Tulsa, OK: Polk-Hoffhine Directory Co., 1920), 433. Thus, when he and Poulton had their momentary confrontation outside the Drexel elevator, it was a meeting of two tailors. [xx] For role of Gustafson and the police in Belton’s lynching, see detailed authorities cited in Randy Hopkins, “Racing to the Precipice: Tulsa’s Last Lynching,” The Chronicles of Oklahoma, 98, no. 3 (Fall 2020). [xxi]“Story of Attack on Woman Denied,” Tulsa Daily World, June 2, 1921, 14. [xxii] For more on the role of City officials and the Tulsa police department in connection with the attempted murder of Dick Roland and the resulting Race Massacre, see detailed authorities in Randy Hopkins, “The Plot to Kill “Diamond Dick Rowland & The Tulsa Race Massacre,” at https://www.centerforpublicsecrets.org/the-trail-of-atrocity. The article will also be included in a future issue of The Chronicles of Oklahoma, published by the Oklahoma Historical Society. [xxiii] Dick Rowland_07.pdf, Avery Collection, 2. They are also listed as witnesses in the information filed by Tulsa County Attorney Seaver in September 1921. State of Oklahoma vs. Dick Rowland, No. 2239, maintained the Tulsa County Court Clerk’s archives. [xxiv] For Voorhies as superintendent of First National Bank, “Tulsa City Directory 1922,” (Tulsa, OK: Polk-Hoffhine Directory Company, 1922), 607. For Grant McCullough as president of Bank and owner of Drexel, Randy Hopkins,”The Plot Kill “Diamond Dick Rowland” and the Tulsa Race Massacre - Part Two,” at https://www.centerforpublicsecrets.org/post/the-plot-to-kill-diamond-dick-rowland-and-the-tulsa-race-massacre-part-two, endnote xxiv. [xxv] Fred Voorhies - Sarah Bever Application for Marriage License, Rogers County, Oklahoma, U. S., County Marriage Records, 1890-1995, at ancestry.com; “No Hardship Whatever to Kiss the Bride,” Claremore Progress (OK), September 8, 1921, 2. The marriage license shows both Fred and Sarah were residents of Springfield, Missouri. Perhaps they had moved there together after all that had happened. It is possible they were dating even before Memorial Day. Performing the marriage in Claremore might have been a way to keep it below the public radar. Tulsa’s city directories show them residing together in Tulsa in 1922 and 1923. “Tulsa City Directory 1922,” (Tulsa, OK: Polk-Hoffhine Directory Company, 1922), 607; “Tulsa City Directory 1923,” (Tulsa, OK: R. L. Polk & Co.’s, 1923), 629. For Voorhies’ Army service as an engineer, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/69643711/frederick-edward-voorhies/photo. [xxvi] Appearance docket, State of Oklahoma vs. Dick Rowland, No. 2239, contained in the Tulsa County Court Clerk’s archives; “Continue Riot Cases,” Tulsa Daily World, September 29, 1921, 7. [xxvii] For Sheriff McCullough’s efforts to shield Roland from violence, see authorities cited in Randy Hopkins, “The Freeing of Dick Roland,” at https://www.centerforpublicsecrets.org/post/the-freeing-of-dick-roland.