BARNEY CLEAVER

THE FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN POLICEMAN IN TULSA

As a proponent of racial uplift, Andrew J. Smitherman, editor and publisher of the Tulsa Star (1913-1921) newspaper often published biographic stories on Tulsa's Black citizens. The following is an excerpt from an article that appeared in the August 19, 1914 edition of the Tulsa Star.

"Barney S. Cleaver, the first African-American policeman in Tulsa, was born in Newbern, VA in 1865 (the actual date was January 2, 1867). In Newbern, he attended public school until he was fifteen. He then moved to Charleston, WV where he initially worked on a steamer and later worked in the coal mines. As an Oklahoma & Gulf Coal Company employee, he served as an immigrant agent, bringing more than four thousand employees from West Virginia to Oklahoma.
While living in Coalgate, OK, he was appointed special deputy U.S. marshal under Captain Grady. He moved to Tulsa circa 1907, was first appointed city patrolman, and later became deputy sheriff under Sheriff McCullough.
 

Deputy Sheriff Cleaver and his wife, Vernon Wren, lived at 508 North Greenwood (Street) in 1914 and owned interest in the building across the street from their home, the Cleaver-Cherry building. The insurance on his home and on the Cleaver-Cherry building shows the property to be worth about $26,000."

 

Subsequent articles about Cleaver in the January 9, 1915 Tulsa Star reported that Cleaver had opened a detective agency in the building he owned, the Cleaver-Cherry Building. The firm, the Colored Detective Association was said to be the first colored owned company in the country. Later, he received a state charter for the Barney Cleaver Detective Agency which was said to be worth $1,000.

 

Cleaver is cited in numerous stories in the Tulsa Star that relate to his work has a police officer and deputy sheriff. He did not always enjoy full support in the Black community although he was credited with keeping order in "Little Africa", the pejorative term used for the Black community of Tulsa. Cleaver was actually terminated from his police position in May 1912. According to the Tulsa Star, the dismissal was political. He was later hired as a deputy sheriff.

 

It is reported that Cleaver twice convinced the Black men, who came to the Tulsa jail house to protect a young Black man, Dick Rowland from a white mob, to leave the courthouse. However, a third time when a group of Black men returned to the court house the incident occurred that reportedly lit the fuse initiating the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. Cleaver later testified in the inquiry regarding the riot that the men had laughed at him and threatened to beat him. Like other prosperous Black Tulsans, Cleaver lost his home and property on Greenwood Street in the riot.

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BLACK WALL STREET PIONEERS